In Russia, as in many countries, folklore is a part of the people’s tradition and culture. Tales of grandeur and fallen heroes, as well as stories to promote good morals, have been passed down through generations. These tales are often used to teach the younger generation valuable lessons, creating heartwarming family moments around the table as the older family members share the folklores of Russia with their appreciative younger listeners. One mythic character that is found in the country’s folklore, and various versions are found across the world, is the Firebird, or Zhar-Ptitsa.
The Firebird is known to many as the Phoenix. It is a mythical bird that lives in five hundred year cycles, which is able to regenerate from injury and is therefore, immortal. With plumage of red and gold that illuminates its flight, the Phoenix is as much a symbol of divinity as it is of fire and many legendary tales have evolved around its existence. Its most spoken about quality, that has inspired stories of encouragement or been compared to adversities that have been overcome, is that the Phoenix, nearing the end of its life cycle, builds a nest where he sets himself and the nest on fire. From the ashes left behind, a young Phoenix rises, to take the place of the older.
In Russian folklore, the Firebird can symbolize many things. Some see the Firebird as a creature of blessing, while others believe that the Firebird will bring doom to anyone who captures it. In some tales the Firebird is a symbol of wealth and of power, and in many stories it is an object that the hero of the tale has been ordered to capture. One such a story tells of a tsar that sends his sons to capture the Firebird, as it would fly across his orchard and eat his golden apples. One son succeeds in grabbing hold of the Firebirds’ tail, but it escapes his grasp and leaves behind one of his feathers. The glow from the Firebird’s feather was powerful enough to light up an entire room. It is also believed to bring hope and relief to the suffering and in need, and one story in particular tells of pearls falling from the Firebird’s beak to the peasants below, for them to trade for food.
Over the ages, the Phoenix, or Firebird, has inspired many artists, such as Igor Stravinsky, who in 1910 immortalized the legend of the Firebird, in his ballet score of the same name. From being a symbol of doom to hope, the Firebird’s rise from its ashes has given many the inspirations to rebuild their lives and to believe that there is light in even their darkest moments. The Firebird holds a sacred place in the folklore of Russia, as a creature that is in itself as much of a mystery as the legendary tales.