Saturday, June 22, 2013

Phoenix, Feng Huang, Firebird - same or different?

These three mythical birds often get confused - Phoenix, Feng Huang (also known as the Chinese Phoenix), and the Firebird. Why is that? Maybe they are really all the same creature just coming from different cultures?  Certainly the Phoenix is known in western cultures, the Feng Huang is from China, and the Firebird is Russian.

So let's figure out if they're really the same.

Phoenix Rising


First, what is similar about them? Well, the Phoenix is considered immortal as is the Feng Huang, so that's a good similarity!

But wait, the Phoenix lives eternally by going through a process of birth, death through burning in a fire, to rebirth as it emerges anew from the fire with a new body all young again. Sounds good doesn't it. And, it sounds kind of like a "Firebird" (and see the picture of the Phoenix Rising all aflame, definitely looks like a Firebird!)

So the Phoenix seems to be similar to both the other two, although in different aspects.

Prince Ivan and the Firebird


So now, let's take a look at the Firebird. It's not on fire! What it does have is these amazing tail feathers that glow. In the image they look bright but not as colorful as I've heard tell they can be - yellow, orange, red, the colors of fire.

These tail feathers are incredible, they don't stop glowing when detached from the bird! In the painting you can see Prince Ivan pulling a feather from the bird. That feather is bright enough to light up a whole room at night. That's impressive!

However, the Firebird isn't always a blessing on the one who captures it, or even just steals a feather. Such a person, often the Russian Prince Ivan since the Firebird is known in Russia, has to go on a quest where he faces many dangers and misfortunes. So a Firebird isn't all good fortune. As far as I know a Phoenix is all good news and, looking ahead, the Feng Huang is an omen of good fortune too. So it looks like this Russian version has some differences.

Feng Huang, The Chinese Phoenix

Feng Huang

Meanwhile, what about the Feng Huang or Chinese Phoenix. Is that the same as the Phoenix? Indeed they are both immortal, but the Feng Huang just never dies (or at least no-one ever sees it die). It's just the most beautiful bird with the sweetest song that is said to contain the five notes of the Chinese musical scale. Certainly the painting looks like a beautiful bird!

But that's not all. The Feng Huang lives far away from people, only appearing when an emperor is born who will bring an age of peace and prosperity. In fact, the Feng Huang is considered the emperor of all the birds. Together with the dragon, the Feng Huang symbolizes harmony and happy marriage. Very wonderful, and immortal too.

However, this really doesn't sound much like the Phoenix I know, the one that dies and gets reborn, an inspiring symbol of Christ. Also known for healing people with its tears (like Harry Potter!) No, I think the Chinese Phoenix is not the same as the Phoenix.


So, here's my conclusion - they're three different mythical birds! Yes, there are some similarities, which is kind of interesting. But they are not the same. Which is great, I think, because it means there are three mythical birds to enchant us. Perhaps they can even all meet some day!

If you want to know more about each of these fantastic creatures, check them out here:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Gryphon, also known as the Griffin

Gryphon & Mock Turtle Poster Print by A Rackham

I just happened to be reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the other day and I got to the part where the Queen wakes up the Gryphon to take Alice to see the Mock Turtle. There's a little note that says a gryphon is a "Mythical creature with an eagle's head and wings and a lion's body; also spelled 'griffin.'" Funnily enough Alice is not sure it's safe to go with a creature that's part eagle and part lion, but since the Queen spends most of her time saying "Off with their heads" she reckons she'll stay with the gryphon. Good choice!

Their meeting with the Mock Turtle, who is so sorrowful he is constantly sobbing, is hilarious. They begin by discussing school, where the Mock Turtle studied "Reeling and Writhing" and the different parts of Arithmetic - "Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision." The gryphon enlightens Alice who says she's never heard of "uglification" by telling her she knows what beautification is so she must know what uglification is. Then, they do the "Lobster Quadrille," a dance which seems to involve dancing with lobsters except they do it without the lobsters.

Now the griffin (or gryphon if you prefer) has always been one of my favorite mythical creatures. It probably would be quite dangerous if you really encountered one, but they do look rather magnificent standing up  all regally as lions do, and with their eagle wings raised up. Much more impressive than the silly gryphon Alice met!

For more information about griffins, and more pictures, check out this page on Griffins and Griffin Mythology

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Growing up in Scotland how could I not be fascinated by Nessie, the creature believed to inhabit Loch Ness. I've even been there on a couple of occasions, and stared out across the waters of the loch looking for signs of the monster. With all that mist swirling around and the deep dark water it's quite easy to imagine seeing something, if not actually the famous creature itself. You can read about my adventures, as well as much more about Loch Ness Monsters here.

Of course, for many Scots, the sight of tourists and scientists making vain attempts to locate Nessie is a constant source of amusement. It's also a source of income though, and for that reason at least they continue to support the legends. But I reckon there's plenty of Scots who have sighted Nessie, or at least think they have. So you never know, there might be something down in the depths of Loch Ness after all!

Here's an interesting photo of Nessie, with a challenge by the photographer to readers to prove it's a fake. Check it out at My Amazing Nessie Photo!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Feng Huang Tale

The Feng Huang is the legendary Chinese version of the phoenix. Like the Western phoenix, the Feng Huang is immortal, but unlike the phoenix which goes through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth to attain its immortality the Feng Huang just lives forever, or so they say. Also, unlike the Western phoenix which exists in isolation, only one ever encountered at a time, the Feng Huang mates and has offspring. Originally, the Feng Huang was actually two birds, the male Feng symbolizing Yang and the female Huang symbolizing Yin, who were eternally united in harmony, a great symbol of marital bliss.

Perhaps the most important feature of the Feng Huang though is that it is a symbol of peace and prosperity, only coming from its home far away from human society in peaceful times. Linked to the emperor, who was the most important figure in Chinese history in determining whether or not the period would be one of peace and prosperity, legend has it that the Feng Huang would appear and nest in or near the palace when a good future emperor was born.

So there is a similarity with the Western phoenix, but also a bunch of differences, which is about right for a mythical creature that features in both Oriental and Western cultures. Like the dragon, which is predominantly dangerous and fearsome in Western culture, needing to be killed by brave knights, and the Chinese dragon which is a bringer of good fortune. Anyway, this is the understanding I had of the Feng Huang, it's immortal like the Western phoenix and it's a good omen.

Then, recently, I read a story about the Feng Huang that doesn't quite fit. But it's nice anyway! The story goes like this. There was a young man traveling along the road. He met another man who was a successful merchant. This man had a bird in a cage, and he was planning to sell it to make money. The bird was actually a golden pheasant but while the man was walking along he was talking about the Feng Huang, and the young man overheard him and though he was talking about the bird in the cage. So the young man was all excited and asked if it was really a Feng Huang. The merchant was smart enough and said it certainly was, and of course it was rare and very lucky. The young man immediately offered to buy it, even though he thought it looked like a golden pheasant, and the merchant happily sold it to him and went back home.

The young man was very happy with his bird, and decided he should give it to the emperor as a special gift. No doubt he was thinking that would bring a time of peace and great prosperity. In any case, he arrived near the palace and found a room to stay in for the night. He told everyone that he had a Feng Huang as a gift for the emperor. Unfortunately, though, before the young man could present the gift, the bird died. Well, gosh, it was only a golden pheasant not an immortal Feng Huang! But somehow the story doesn't notice this, and goes on to tell how the emperor was so moved when he heard (no doubt through the busy grapevine) that the young man wanted to give him the Feng Huang, that he called the young man to the palace and rewarded him handsomely. So everyone was happy, I guess!

I just wonder why it wasn't noticed that the immortal Feng Huang shouldn't have keeled over dead in the cage before being presented to the emperor. Oh well, not everything makes sense in these tales! But I guess the moral of the story is that good intentions toward the emperor get well rewarded even if they don't quite come through in practice - remember this is a Chinese legendary creature so the moral of the story fits Chinese culture!


This is where I get to write about all those fantastic legendary creatures, also known as mythical or mythological creatures, even imaginary creatures. That's so exciting! There are just so many kinds, and they all have such amazing stories, not to mention fascinating shapes and forms and abilities. They really reflect great imagination and creativity! 

I know some people are skeptical, and just reject all these legendary creatures as just that, imaginary, made up through the ages by story tellers usually with some ulterior motive like "encouraging" children to be good. And then there are the artists who put their imagination into visual form, creating chimeras of various beasts to produce new, maybe improved, versions like a flying horse, the pegasus, or intriguing and beautiful sphinxes, or the half-human half-horse centaur. Yes, you can be skeptical that any of these amazing creatures are or ever have been "real" in having a physical existience. But, to rule them out as nonexistent and just "fairytales" seems to be missing the point, losing sight of their purpose, and maybe denying the existence of very real creatures.

Some mythical creatures like mermaids and unicorns seem to transcend  cultures, appearing in narratives around the world, while others like the Irish Leprechaun and the Yeti of the Himalayas and Nessie from Loch Ness are specific to a particular location and culture. While scientists or cryptozoologists search high and low for evidence of such creatures, it is often the casual passer-by or the humble local person who has the encounter. Are these people "special," chosen in some way, lucky, or just foolish?

Whatever the answers, and there may be different ones for different mythical creatures, I'm excited to go on a journey to find out more about them. Feel free to join me!