Gifts: Rebirth. Creative-destructive power of fire combined with intuitive vision of air. Eternity. Healing powers. Integration of dualities. Power of death.
Challenges: Burning out. Restlessness from status quo and lack of change. Impatience. Arrogance.
Phoenix is a “mythical” creature—like Dragon, Unicorn, Griffin, and Ouroboros—that bursts into flames at the end of its life, to be reborn from its own ashes. Phoenix is immortal, so really “end of its life” means “end of this life.” It does not really die. It burns out and starts again.
When I connect with Phoenix, I feel the meaning and the emotion in Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”: “You may shoot me with your words,/You may cut me with your eyes,/You may kill me with your hatefulness,/But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Phoenix teaches you that no matter what is done to you, you do not have to be done. No matter if you lose, fail, get rejected, or go broke, you can still rise. This rising isn’t an easy, clean, deus ex machina type of rescuing. It’s a dirty, messy, burn everything to the ground, save yourself conscious rebirth. It is Warsaw being destroyed by the Nazis and rebuilt just as it was before. It is South Africa, demolishing apartheid and rising with Nelson Mandela.
While Phoenix is reborn as a literal baby, you get to choose the form you will take. When we speak of someone rising like a Phoenix, we usually mean that they have evolved and grown, stronger than before, after a period of hardship or destruction. Robert Downey, Jr. Malala Yousafzai.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry sees Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix companion, suddenly burst into flames. “About time, too,” Dumbledore says, referring to how “dreadful” the Phoenix had been looking. This is no mere children’s story. It is a lesson that you can choose to burn out and start again.
With Phoenix as your spirit animal, you may ascribe to Neil Young’s line that “it’s better to burn out than fade away.” Kurt Cobain of the rock band Nirvana quoted that line in his suicide note. My father chose to commit suicide rather than burn down what wasn’t working in his life and rise from the ashes.
Therein lies the challenge: Not to burn out too soon, not to give up too soon. You may be tempted to metaphorically—or literally—self-immolate rather than face continued pain and suffering. Phoenix certainly approves of the burning out, but not as a way to escape prematurely.
If pain can help you grow, if suffering can spark evolution, then it’s not time to burst into flames. You may choose to use this Phoenix gift as a means of escape. “Well, this isn’t working. I’ll just quit.” But the true rebirth comes from bursting into flames in order to be born into a higher form—a more evolved, enlightened you—not checking out and being done with it.