I have a phoenix tattooed on my arm. I’ve had it for about six years now. Before that, I had an earlier version of the same thing which was done by the world’s worst tattoo artist, so when I had the money I had it covered over.
Here’s the story of why I got the phoenix. A long time ago my girlfriend at the time and I were doing a bunch of drugs (damn, I hope my mom isn’t reading this) and we had that sort of drug conversation where you ponder such deep topics as how big the universe is or why Donald Duck wears a towel around his waist when he gets out of the shower but never wears pants, that sort of thing. And the subject of spirit animals came up. I said I’d never felt that drawn to any one particular animal. I like animals of all types and shapes and sizes. Had rabbits when I was a kid. I currently own a dog but I used to own a cat, so I’m not really a dog person or a cat person. I feel drawn to birds of prey, but for no particular reason. And then it hit me. The phoenix.
Now, as it turns out, my astrological sign is the Scorpio. All signs have at least one animal to go along with them. Scorpio has three. The scorpion, the eagle, and the phoenix.
The phoenix, for those of you who don’t already know, is a mythical bird found just about everywhere in the ancient world from Latin America to the fertile crescent to China which sets itself on fire and rises anew from its ashes. It’s a symbol of rebirth, of change, of transformation. And I felt immediately drawn to an animal, mythical or no, that represents the impermanence of this life. I felt, at the time, that I had already gone through many changes and knew I’d go through many more in the future. And there’s something very lasting and permanent about tattoos. So to use this symbol of change for something unchanging seemed more than appropriate.
I’m always surprised when folks look at my tattoo and recognize it for what it is. Not many people do. (I blame that on the fact that we live in an age where our mythology and folklore come from Skywalker Ranch.) But this past weekend someone I’d just met saw my arm and recognized it immediately. It was a fleeting moment. We didn’t talk about it and the conversation went somewhere else before I’d even realized what had happened. Over the past couple of days, I’ve thought more and more about the tattoo and its significance to me. I’m going through some more changes. Things are getting shook up over here. It feels very much like the first few days of the ritual where the phoenix alights on the pyre. And I can’t quite see the other end.
It’s both terrifying and thrilling. All I can do is trust that I will see myself through to some new and ultimately beautiful place.