The Phoenix and Olive Branch: What’s in a Name?

The Phoenix and Olive Branch: What’s in a Name? June 29, 2012

What kind of obscure title is that, anyway? What does it mean?

My favorite Phoenix necklace, purchased from Cosmic Rebirth on Etsy.

It’s a symbol of the way my thinking has changed since leaving fundamentalism. Let me explain.

I was raised to be a dove.

Gentle, innocent, inoffensive. Daughters of Christian Patriarchy must be meek, obedient, quiet, modest and pleasant. Submissive. Nurturing. Smiling. At all times. Or else.

The story of Noah’s Ark includes such a dove. After forty days and nights of floating on top of a drowned world, Noah sends the dove out repeatedly to search for dry land. At last, it returns with an olive branch: evidence of plant life.

The olive branch symbolizes peace. I was taught that it was a sign that God’s wrath was over and that Noah’s family was free to land and get busy replenishing the earth (pun intended). The dove is a messenger of peace and the olive branch is its proof.

The olive branch says, “You’re safe now. You are no longer under judgment.”

Thing is, it’s not enough to be just a dove. Jesus said so himself:

Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. –Matthew 10:16

Jesus urged his disciples to take on the nonviolence of doves, but not to emulate them in every aspect. Tell me, how often does a fundamentalist patriarch urge his congregation to be wise as serpents? Jesus actually encouraged critical thinking, which is pretty much antagonistic to fundamentalism. Fundamentalists would have its daughters be just like doves, with just enough “wisdom” to do as they’re told.

The dove in the Flood story is obedient to Noah, the patriarch. It must report back to Noah. It carries out Noah’s wishes and features in the story because it tells Noah what he wants to hear.

In short, the dove is a pet.

I was raised to be a pet, too.

Not so much by my mother – for which I’m ever grateful – but by my church, definitely. If they’d had their way with me, I’d have been kept in the house unless supervised. Forbidden to work on my own. Made to obey my father and then my father-chosen husband. Made afraid of the outside world so that I’d always come flying right back. My only mention in the great Christian drama would be when I gave birth, fulfilling my patriarch’s desires.

What is a Phoenix?

A Phoenix is a guardian, a protector. It’s independent, associating with whom it will, flying where it will. It’s nobody’s pet. It’s a bird of prey, possessing great power. Indeed, it is able to protect because of its power.

The Phoenix knows suffering and death. It has been annihilated in the fire and risen again in a defiant burst of life. The Phoenix can be trusted, relied on because it’s gone through the fire once and isn’t afraid. It won’t shrink away from other people’s fires.

This beautiful phoenix was drawn by Nigerfur on deviantart.

The Phoenix is not under orders from anybody, but chooses to use its strength to protect the weak.

It does not need to obey; it acts voluntarily.

Daughters of Christian Patriarchy have gone through the fire of fundamentalist judgment and come out the other side, into a new life. We have changed from the obedient dove to the radiant Phoenix – a bird that needs no compass but its own heart. When we write, we do so voluntarily, to help others escape, to defend others who are being burned.

When the Phoenix carries an olive branch, it does so willingly.

A bird of prey, a mythical animal of power, with a genuine desire to help those in need of rescue and defense. I think that’s a better guarantee of peace than a bird in captivity, don’t you?

I believe that it’s all but impossible to truly help others unless you have come into your own power, realized your own potential and tapped into your own strength. How can you lead others down a path you’ve never traveled? How can you offer your strength to another person if you haven’t found it yet?

There’s one more part to this story.

We’re all familiar with the image of the Phoenix rising out of the ashes, reborn. Indeed, those who have undergone the scourge of leaving fundamentalism know that feeling of death and revival well. But here’s a question: what does the Phoenix do after it rises? What does it rise for in the first place? Inspiring though it is to imagine the Phoenix reborn, what drives it to keep living? What makes sense of its fiery death?

Carrying an olive branch. Reassuring those who have come after it that they are no longer under judgment. That they will find peace. Flying ahead to warn others of pitfalls. Hovering nearby to defend new pilgrims from the snares of their old life. Marking the way to freedom and peace.

The Phoenix doesn’t just rise. It has work to do.

That’s what I had in mind when I gave my blog its very odd name.

Welcome back to life.

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