Phoenix – The Legendary Firebird and myths about it in Slavic culture

The flaming bird that inspired countless generations and tales to this day

Mysticsartdesign (CC0), Pixabay

Phoenix In Slavic folklore is commonly called as just the Firebird and it is seen as a majestic flaming bird that glows in bright red-orange color. Legend says that it’s feathers do not case to glow if one removes them, so just one feather could light a large room if not covered.

In later medieval iconography the usual Firebird form is imagined as a small fiery peacock, proudly wearing a red crest on his head and “fiery eye” tail feathers.

Bird of Myths and Legends

Legendary bird “Phoenix” is known in many cultures and people in our world, who as it seems shared time in which they lived in. In most of the stories and cultures this bird was always described as red bird with gold plumage, and literal translation of word Phoenix would be “purple”. Acording to ancient tales and legends this mythical bird doesn’t eat any living being, but in face she would only drink dew. Phoenix is a messenger of gods and as such celestial creatures it became the witness of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of forbidden fruit. But firebird has older roots than Christianity, in original form it was connected with the cult of sun and revival of new life, usually it would show itself during summer solstice. In ancient times it would always arise from the ashes and recreate itself as a new burst of life (just like spring), but Phoenix was always self-consious and it could feed the approach of it’s death. This is why each year Phoenix would wove a nest of wood and resin before winter, this nest during summer or spring would flare up under under the hot sun and revive the bird with it’s flames again.

How Slavs call the Firebird in their tongues:

  • Russian: Жар-пти́ца, Zhar-ptitsa;
  • Ukrainian: Жар-пти́ця, Zhar-ptica;
  • Serbian: Жар-птица or Žar-ptica;
  • Croatian: Žar ptica;
  • Bulgarian: Жар-птица, Zhar-ptitsa;
  • Macedonian: Жар-птица, Žar-ptica;
  • Polish: Żar-ptak;
  • Czech: Pták Ohnivák;
  • Slovak: Vták Ohnivák;
  • Slovene: Rajska/zlata-ptica

The Secret Doctrine says that the nature of this bird symbolizes life on earth when the world was alternately destroyed by fire flood and then revived again. In a way it is a symbol of the human soul, which is leaving and coming back to earth again with death and birth cycle. In ancient times, the Phoenix is a symbol of divine and royal power.

Phoenix in Eastern culture

In ancient Eastern (Chiniese notably) mythology Phoenix is one of the four sacred animals. This red creature for the ancient Chinese symbolized their sacred signs of ying-yang and the sun as the beauty of our world. The appearance of this symbolic creature is linked with stability, peace, wealth, prosperity and general well being. Japanese on example associated it with loyalty, justice and sun beginning and we all know that sun is one of the major symbols for Japan. There were a lot of rural folk legends that would say “if a pregnant women would dream of a bird in her sleep it would mean her child would be healthy and it would have great future”.

If you would have a Phoenix talisman it would give you the power in difficult situations that had would seem as if nothing could help you (according to folk belief of course). In general this bird teaches a man about emerging as victorious from any difficulties in their life, when you are pushed down to get up and win!

The legend of immortality

Among the Jews and their Kabbalah, Phoenix was the only creature that didn’t taste the forbidden fruit in Garden of Eden. In the eyes of God he has seen Phoenix as a loyal companion and rewarded him with immortality. Yet it was no average immortality, but the one where he would have to go through painful death in order to be reborn again. This is also a common symbol in Christianity with lord Jesus Christ who would resurrect after torture by Romes population. Simply, it was a death-life cycle that in turn would create eternal life.

Slavic fairy tales and mythology

Being such magnificent creature that stroke awe and admiration in most cultures, no wonder Slavs praised it highly as well. The Firebird has become one of the main character in Slavic fairytales and even national myths, especially in Russia.

It produced beautiful feathers from its tail and as such it was a main pray that many wanted to catch as a symbolism of ones wish to fulfill his desires. It is connected with Phoenix because Slavic Firebird finished it’s life in the autumn, and it was revived again in the spring to make people happy with his singing and beauty. But Slavs didn’t imagine Firebird as a flaming peacock but in fact as a falcon, because in most of Slavic countries falcon is a symbol and epitome of masculinity, strength, valor and courage. In many Slavic countries Falcon is seen as a national protector, a warrior of justice from the skies and as such a firebird.


What national stories about fire bird do you know?

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