FireBird and the Gold Apples: A Tale of Inspiration
Once upon a time there was a lovely palatial garden filled with swaying palms and fruit trees, birds of paradise and the fragrant scent of roses and lavender, such as we enjoyed in Santa Barbara before the Fire, and will surely again after, with even greater intensity, if only we can heed the moral of this tale…
In this garden lived a tree dripping with precious, golden apples. One day, an exquisite Firebird with a tail more glorious than any peacock’s flew in from the East, and began to feed on the luscious fruit. Her wings were pure red and gold; her ample plumage sparkled even more than the apples themselves in sunlight: her feathers were iridescent golds, purples and greens, and her eyes shone as two sparkling emeralds. The king was awestruck by the beauty of Firebird, and very irked that she would steal his valuable apples! When His Highness would take his stroll through the garden every evening and wave her off, she would fly away, but every sunrise she returned to consume more of the sweet and precious fruit. At his wit’s end, he tasked his three sons with the illustrious job of catching Firebird.
The first two sons tried their best, but failed. The youngest and third son, Ivan—whose name means “gift from God”—devoted his full being to the quest, and took to sleeping among the apple trees. One morning, in between dreams and waking, the Firebird landed on a branch just above his head. “You are such a beauty!” He marvelled and whispered to her. He reached for her with the most gentle of movements, and she let him touch her, just long enough to pull a single, golden feather from her body, and then she flew away into the Sunrise. Ivan took the magical feather to his father, the king. The feather lit up the whole castle, which pleased them all very much, and when placed in the Tower window, glowed for the delight of all the villiagers. The eternal Firebird went off to distance lands, in search of other royal gardens, and other golden fruit.
This is one version of the Russian faerytale of Firebird. According to Mythologist Dr. Keith Himebaugh, Firebird is an imaginal figure, whom, like its relation Phoenix, is only truly present in the combustive act of emerging from the ashes, or the twilight of day. This is why the bird is so elusive, and perfect as a metaphor for creativity. You can’t ever hold it. You can’t contain it. You have to respect its autonomy and meet it in the luminal space. It is only truly alive in its becoming, in the moment of inspiration. The figure itself is a poetic moment.”
Firebird is a muse; a creative force, a dream. She is the embodiment of epiphany that cannot be enslaved, or caged; only glimpsed, only stroked when we approach her with enough praise and reverence. Firebird ignites our wildest fantasies and romantic longings, and inspires us to be brilliant, innovative, idea-rich, hope-full and God-like.
This story can be an allegory for making dream medicines; finding the right dosage of fire and air; the right mixing of crimsom and orange of the sun and black of the night to make alchemical gold. Those who never allow this lofty creature into their garden of imaginatings are dull and depressed. Those who try to entrap her or shapeshift into her for too long become mad or manic (which has its pros and cons.) Yet to fly long and well requires learning how to balance in the sky; how to dance on air. The gift of a single golden feather, when dipped in the ink of midnight’s imaginings, can help you become a holy Scribe who writes sacred words on the wings of the wind that whisks men up to the heights of eagles, safely placing them on their feet at the end of the day, or tucked into the nest.
In these faery tales, Firebird’s favorite food is the golden apple. This provides a hint: such a spectacular creature needs to be fed the very best we have to offer! “We are what we eat.” Mystic poet Kahil Gibran tells us we should save our very best sustenance for our “friend”, which is a pseudonym for the Divine; for Firebird:
"And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter,
and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."
What does it mean, “it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness?” The word “emptiness” hints at it’s opposite: “fullness”, so the word “need” is much richer than would at first appear. “Need” is full of want and desire, but even more so, it contains that which we cannot live without: it is full of the stuff of life itself and that which is life giving: hunger, thirst, warmth, breath, belonging, esteem, love, procreation. Need is also infused with passion and yearning: it begs for satiation and carries the promise of fulfilmment, for “to fill” can mean, “fulfill”, as in “to satisfy”, and it can also mean “to pour into”; prompting the Friend to put something inside of our need, inside of us, that will amplify the need even more. Need carries its own potential for satiation and insatiable desire. The need becomes fully felt, fufilled, and felt again, perpetually. This is creative inspiration. This is solar power. This is what the Prophet teaches us is the duty of the Friend. Emptiness does not belong in the garden of the golden apples where Firebird feeds!
Practically speaking, what does fullment by the Friend look like? If you want magic and creative inspiration to fly into your proverbial or literal garden, make an offering fit for a king: cook a feast to delight the Gods; dance with frienzy on the hillsides with your lover under the full moon, at the club with your homeys, or alone, naked in your living room; don the colors of the Firebird to attract others who show their full plumage. If you are in a dark space and did not harvest enough of your own succulent fruit to last throught the bitter winter (in other words, if you are feeling too “stuck” and dreary to do this) seek the company of a wildly creative acquaintance. You know the type: an artist, poet, musician, intuitive, actor, social activist, or any healthy child: the ones who wear invisible coats made of Firebird feathers. Birds are flock creatures after all, and so are humans.Their potential is best fulfilled and manifested in community. As Dr. Himebaugh articulates,
Much can be said about Firebird’s feather, as well. This small token is valuable, because it gives us something concrete to hold onto, a tangible piece of hope. While we cannot hold onto the source of light and creative life, we can hold onto a piece.”
With something material in hand, we can hold on to the proof of the magical visitation: this may be an inspirational painting, a home-made holiday gift, a wacky invention, the poem we just had to write after waking in the middle of the night from a dream. When we marry the material to the imagination, we ARE bringing treasures forth from the Dreamtime. Here is an example of one such “feather,” which I often hold on to in the light in my darker days, and offer to you as a “golden apple.” It is most surely a “Firebird poem”, written by William Butler Yeats:
The Song of Wandering Aengus
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun
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