Phoenix Clan: The Only Way Out Is Through

by Liz Porter and Ben Schuman

Twilight Covening is a three-day institute of Earth spirituality held within an ongoing ritual in the Berkshire mountains each fall.  Participants work together in small groups called clans during the days and gather for community rituals at night.  Using the current of the season’s turning toward winter, we use focused practice to gather inspiration and insight to feed us through the dark months and help us deepen our practices.  This year’s event is October 10-13 and registration is open through September 26 online.  Learn more or register now.


Photo by Steve Jurvetson, used under a Creative Commons license

The Phoenix is an amazing creature whose life cycle symbolizes powerful transformation in our own lives. This transformation is facilitated through a process of death and rebirth. It is said that the Phoenix lives to be 500 years old (or 1,000 years, depending on the story). As it nears its final days, its bright plumage faded and beak worn from old age, the Phoenix builds its own funeral pyre, essentially preparing its own self-sacrifice. This preparation is significant because it implies not only willingness, but wisdom. The Phoenix knows that it has reached the end of one of its many lives and acknowledges this passage readily and completely. Who among us has been capable of such complete knowledge and acknowledgement when we have reached the end of the line regarding a certain situation, behavior, or relationship?

The Phoenix then proceeds to kindle its own fire, lighting the pyre upon which it sits, hastening its own death. It burns so completely that it leaves only the essence of the creature behind in the pile of ashes. Who among us could knowingly put ourselves onto a funeral pyre and then also be the one to strike the match? Who among us could so completely sacrifice the situation, behavior, or relationship that has come to an end?

Many people with a passing familiarity with tarot have had the experience of pulling the Death card (or its cousin, the Tower) and unknowingly dreading the implications. Both cards represent a transition point in the cycle of life. They say: “Something must change, but what?” Death itself is neutral – a phase shift, a release. Death is associated with loss, regret, remorse and guilt. It is also associated with transcendence, freedom, and release from pain and sorrow. Death is a deep valley of the unknown and while fear of the unknown is natural, we must brave this fear in order to transform.

If you have ever participated in some sort of ritual releasing, either at Twilight Covening or elsewhere, you may have thrown something amorphous like ‘fear’ or ‘jealousy’ into the fire. Or, you may have gotten specific and thrown in a job or a relationship. Often, however, we find that whatever we think we have just released is still with us. Indeed, we may have released the same thing into the fire several years in a row. Why is this?

What we wish to get rid of – these self-sacrifices – are like weeds. Pull the weed at the surface, and it will appear to be gone. But it will grow back. To fully rid ourselves of these “weeds” we must pull them out by the roots – even digging them up out of the ground if necessary. The issues that we wish to be rid of are similarly “sedimented” — that is, what is on the surface is just the topmost layer of our challenge and a good deal of what we need to be rid of exists beneath the surface.
The process of acknowledging what must be released so fully that we can build our own funeral pyre, and prepare to burn it to the ground, is a deeply personal journey of self-examination and willingness. We must be willing to look beneath the surface of our challenges, to see what is sedimented, or rooted to us. And, we must brave the unknown of what may come once we are truly free.

If we are releasing fear or jealousy or anger, we must seek out the roots to ask – what are we really afraid of? What is the basis of our fear or jealousy? Where does it come from and how are we feeding it? If we are releasing a person or a situation, we must be similarly brave and pull back the curtain to see what we are doing to contribute? How are we connected to the outcomes we are living through? Where in our bodies do we house the pain and stress generated by this situation?

Some stories claim that after the Phoenix is burnt, the essence remains. It is said to be a worm that burrows into the ashes, taking comfort, protection and nourishment from the ruins of what once was. This is reminiscent of the earthworm, which burrows deep into the earth, gaining warmth and nourishment from the richness of the soil. A new Phoenix shortly begins to emerge through the ash — at first small and newborn, it quickly grows into a young bird with bright plumage and a powerful beak and talons.

In Phoenix Clan, we will facilitate the exploration of our sacrifices so that we can release more completely and prepare for death and rebirth. We will support each other through this intense process, holding energy for each other’s brave examination of their own sediment. We will name our sacrifice, listen in silence, stand before death unburdened, and be reborn to the world anew.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr.  Used under a Creative Commons License.