Egyptian Symbols: Bennu Phoenix

The Bennu phoenix is an animal of great sacred importance to the ancient Egyptians. It resembled two of the most common types occupying the Egyptian side of the Red Sea – the gray heron and the larger goliath heron. It is often seen wearing the Atef crown of Osiris (the white crown with two ostrich feather plumes on each side) or the sun disk on crest of its head. Its name is derived from the word weben that translates into “to rise” or “to shine”.

The Bennu phoenix is considered a sacred bird especially in Heliopolis. People believed that it was the Ba of the sun god, Ra. In fact, the hieroglyph of the deity was that of the bennu bird in the Late Period. Its connection with Ra extended to the rising and setting of the sun where it was considered as the lord of the royal jubilee (a form of resurrection and rebirth like the sun). Another story says that the phoenix brought its the burnt old body to Heliopolis for final burning after the bird rose again.

The Bennu phoenix was also linked with the inundation of the Nile and the creation of all. As an aspect of Atum, it is believed that the bennu had sacred pillars known as ben-ben stone where these blessed bird has rested upon when the primeval waters of chaos (Nun) receded at the beginning of time. The same primeval mound where all creation began was the birthplace of the bennu phoenix. This bird’s cry marked the beginning of creation and of time making it the god of time where hours, days, nights, months and years were derived. It is also believed that creation started in the city of the Sun (Heliopolis).

Scholars also believe that the bennu was a form of the resurrected Osiris – a manifestation of the god. It is often seen perched in top of the sacred willow tree associated with the god. Many also believe that the bird is connected with the planet Venus that is named star of the ship of Bennu-Asar. (Asar is the Egyptian Name of Osiris)

The bennu phoenix is also a legendary sacred bird of the Greeks. Herodotus believed it came to Arabia every 500 years carrying the body of its father in egg myrrh. Before its death, it will create a nest made out of incense twigs where it will eventually lie down and die. From its minute frame, a worm would emerged that will become another phoenix by the power of the heat of the sun. However, this version of the bennu resembled that of an eagle with a plumage made of red and gold colors.