The Simurgh is a mythological creature very similar to the phoenix. It is described as having the claws of a lion with a head of a dog, but sometimes has a human face. The prefix “Si” means thirty, and it is thought that is is the size of thirty birds, or has thirty colours. In the stories the bird is predominantly female and is considered to be so old, she has seen the world destroyed three times. By her sheer age, she was thought to be all-wise and all-knowing.
The Simurgh featured in a few different stories (such as this one) but the most famous was written by Hakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Firdowsī Tūsī, known as Ferdowsi, an 11th century Persian who wrote the Shahnameh or “The Book of Kings”, considered to be one of the most important works of Persian heritage.
In the story, a Persian king named Saam had an albino son and fearing he had been cursed by demons, abandoned him on the base of Mount Damavand. The Simurgh heard the child’s cries and rescued him. She brought him up with her own children and taught him all of her knowledge and wisdom. When Zal reached adulthood, he wished to rejoin the world of men. The Simurgh then gifted him with one of her feathers. Burning it would call her in a life threatening time. Eventually he did burn it, when his wife and unborn child were about to die in the birthing room.
She came and suggested a method similar to a caesarean, thus his wife and son, the hero Rostam survived.
The Simurgh is a symbol of wisdom, fertility and purification. When she appears, she brings the rains as well as seeds of plants from the Haoma tree (the Zoroastrian tree of life) which is where she roosts.
The above is a Sassinid plate from the 7th century. The Simurgh has also been used in textiles, statues and mosaics. In modern times, the Simurgh is used as a medical symbol in Iran.
Simurgh–Persian Mythological Griffin by Paula I. Nielson.
Simurgh as a Medical Symbol in Iran by T. Nayernouri. Via Google Docs.
The Simurgh: A Symbol of Holistic Medicine in the Middle Eastern Culture in History by Nil Sari. On MuslimHeritage.com.
Simorgh by urban seagull (blog).