The concept of immortality has fascinated humanity for centuries. One of the greatest questions most religions seek to answer is what happens after. And indeed, what does happen after? Most religions believe in an afterlife — a heaven and hell; Tartarus and the Elysian Fields. But what about rebirth? What about reincarnation? Well, there was a myth in which this was addressed, the concept of being reborn from the ashes of what came before. Of course, I am talking about the legendary phoenix.
The phoenix first made its appearance in Egyptian mythology, bursting from the heart of Osiris himself. They were large birds with red and gold plumage, crying out with beautiful voices, and living for no less than half a millenia. Only one phoenix was said to live at a time, and other creatures were said to fall dead when they saw it due to its beauty and sadness. However, the biggest piece of the myth is its death. You see, there are several stories describing how this happens, though one thing remains the same — the phoenix dies within flames and is reborn from its own ashes.
One version of the rebirth myth states that the phoenix fashions a nest for itself, made with aromatic boughs and spices, before setting it on fire while within. The phoenix would then die amid the flames. Once the fire died, leaving a pile of ash, the new phoenix would then burst from the ashes — the remains of its predecessor — and embalm the ashes in an egg of myrrh. This egg would be flown to Heliopolis — “City of the Sun” — and deposited on the altar for Re, the sun god. Another version of its rebirth states that the phoenix will fly to Heliopolis to die in a fire on the altar. Either way, the ashes left behind were said to be able to bring a man back from the dead, according to legend.
The phoenix is a creature that will live on in story — a bird who does not truly die, who is reborn from the ashes of what came before. And whether or not we believe in an afterlife,the phoenix represents something else, something more — the idea that not just us as people, but our ideas, our hopes and dreams, can be reborn from what came before.
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