A phoenix tattoo isn’t just a cool depiction of a mythical bird; this creature has deep symbolism and is featured in many mythologies from cultures around the world.
While there is nothing wrong with getting a tattoo just because you like a design, diving into the meaning behind phoenix tattoos and the stories that surround this bird can give you a whole different perspective on your tattoo choice.
Though the phoenix does appear in many different cultures with different connotations, there are some ideas that appear wherever this bird makes an appearance.
A phoenix generally represents rebirth.
“A new phoenix rises from the ashes of its dead predecessor. This is symbolic [of] rebirth, hope, renewal, progress, end of oppression, and eternity… Through these legends and literary representations, the phoenix has become a symbol of the renewal of time. In fact, it has generally become the symbol of any kind of renewal that, with it, brings a period of happiness and good fortune,”World Birds
Now, let’s dive deeper into the stories woven by the fiery wings of the phoenix:
How The Legend Of The Phoenix Was Inspired
Once upon a time in Ancient Egypt, there was a deity named Bennu. This heron-like bird is said to be a precursor to the red, flaming phoenix we know today that inspires many tattoos.
“The cycle of birth and rebirth is identical to that of the Phoenix (though the timeline is different). Instead of being reborn every 1,000 years, Bennu was reborn every 500 years,”Mythology
This god-like creature was linked to the sun, creation, and rebirth – so it’s easy to see how it inspired the legends of the phoenix.
The Phoenix In Greek Mythology
It was the Ancient Greeks who came up with the word, “Phoenix”, which means the color crimson or red-purple.
Not only was this bird eye-catching, but apparently it has a voice that could literally stop the sun moving across the sky. As New World Encyclopedia tells,
“At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Apollo stopped his chariot (the sun) in order to listen to its song.”
Due to its association with immortality, the Romans were also rather enamoured with this mythical bird – so much so, that they put its likeness on their coins.
The Fiery Bird Of Good Fortune In China
The Ancient Chinese immortal bird is known as Fenghuang, and can be a symbol of more than just resurrection.
“In the first chapter of the Shanhaijing (3rd century BCE–1st century CE; “The Classic of Mountains and Rivers”), the fenghuang appears to be a symbol of Confucian values, wearing the characters meaning virtue, duty, ritual, compassion, and trust on various parts of its body. If seen, it is a sign of world peace,”Britannica
If the philosophy of Confucianism resonates with you, a phoenix tattoo can have special significance.
Feng Shui And The Phoenix
The phoenix is still a popular symbol in the Chinese practice of Feng Shui, the aim of which is to bring balance and harmony in your home through promoting good energy.
One way to encourage good energy in your home is with phoenix symbolism.
“By itself, the celestial bird is also associated with good fortune and the epitome of opportunity luck. Therefore, it is often the symbol of choice for those that are experiencing bad luck as it is capable in turning around adverse circumstances,”Fengshuied
The Spruce says that the phoenix is the queen of all birds in Feng Shui, and you can take things to the next level in your home by partnering it with a dragon.
“In most representations, the dragon and the phoenix form a dance or a circle of two energies, forming a shape resembling the classic yin-yang symbol. This pairing of symbols is one of the most powerful motifs in all Chinese imperial designs and it remains a popular element in Chinese clothing, jewelry, and many home decor accessories.”
The Ho-Ho In Japanese Culture
The phoenix in Ancient Japan was known as the Ho-ho bird, and was seen as a messenger of goodwill.
As Mythical Realm says,
“The Ho-[ho] is often depicted as nesting in a paulownia tree and was thought to only appear at the birth of a virtuous ruler and was said to mark a new era by descending from the heavens to do good deeds for people only to return to its celestial abode to await a new era. In other traditions, the Hou-[ho] appears only in peaceful and prosperous times.”
A style of tattooing that can result in an attention-grabbing phoenix design is the traditional Japanese Tebori, a hand-poking tattoo technique.
“While it may be true that more exacting fine details can possibly be achieved by well accomplished tattoo artists with machines, tebori offers a much more saturated color look in the skin, a very different and unique feel of the artwork compared to machine work and it has true to tradition authenticity, also the time required for handmade tattooing is comparable to a machine when performed by a skilled tebori tattoo artist,”Authentink
A phoenix never truly dies. When it senses the current stage of its life is at an end, it will prepare a nest, set itself on fire, and be consumed by the flames. Going through this fiery experience is worth it, as it is reborn.
This can resonate with many people who have entered a new phase in life and are focusing on being reborn into a new stage.
Phoenix tattoos can represent persisting through adversity and emerging better. Looking towards the Asian depictions of this bird, a phoenix tattoo can also remind the tattooee that good things are on the way.
“The phoenix bird tattoo means to its wearer that they should believe in their potential to grow, adapt. Also, it reminds them to find peace in difficult times because they should trust in their own capability to find creative ways to power through, to learn more, to be flexible,”Tattoo Stylist
What Compliments A Phoenix Tattoo?
Due to its mythical bright plumage, phoenix tattoos are a great opportunity to go colorful. Reds, oranges, and yellows can give the tattoo artist opportunities to get really creative with your design. If you want to go the color route, you can also consider a watercolor design, which can make your ink look like a painting come to life.
If you’d like your tattoo to have a Chinese mythology theme, you can consider incorporating a dragon into your design.
“The combination of both in a tattoo is something to take note of; these mythical creatures represent a perfect balance. It is also considered to be the union of husband and wife. The dragon represents the ying, and the phoenix is the yang; in this way, this concept of dualism is thought to symbolize a man and woman,”The Trend Spotter
As the story goes, the phoenix rises from the ashes. So, a great compliment to a phoenix tattoo is fire. Incorporating flames or even ashes into your design can reiterate the symbolism of rebirth and overcoming adversities.
No matter which ancient story you’re a fan of, the phoenix – representing rebirth and life springing from the ashes – is a powerful choice for a bird tattoo.