Oct 7, 2009

Flaming Feathers Flock Together

The Benu Bird

The Benu Bird is the Egyptian likeness of the Phoenix. Both are birds of the sun... both are self created rather than being born from other creatures and both die and rise anew becoming symbols of regeneration. The Egyptian sunbird is identified with Ra, the Sun God. The word Benu in Egyptian means both purple heron and palm tree. The Benu was identified with the Temple of the Sun God at Heliopolis, which was revered by the Egyptians as the sacred mound from where the Sun god, in his aspect of the Benu Bird, rose again and again to renew Egypt... another thing the Phoenix and the Benu Bird had in common.

The Phoenix

The Greeks knew the Egyptian Benu Bird as the Phoenix. A legendary bird without parents and offspring... it nurtured itself on sunlight and sea spray. Brilliant in appearance, its feathers were gold, red and white; its eyes were green as the sea. A semi-immortal being, the Phoenix had a lifespan of 500 years and when about to die, it drew new life from the primal elements of fire and water and was born again. It would build its nest in the form of a funeral pyre and a single clap of its wings would ignite it. Then, when consumed by the flames, a young Phoenix would arise from its own ashes. The Greeks considered the appearance of the Phoenix as a herald of important events to come.

Many think that the myths surrounding the Phoenix were simply a misunderstanding of the Egyptian myths of the Benu Bird. It is possible that the legend comes from what Herodotus wrote of the Benu Bird. “I have not seen a Phoenix myself, except in paintings, for it is very rare and visits the country (so at least they say in Heliopolis) only at intervals of 500 years... on the occasion of the death of the parent bird. To judge by the paintings, its plumage is partly golden, partly red, and in shape and size it is exactly like an eagle.

There is a story about the Phoenix: it brings its parent in a lump of myrrh all the way from Arabia and buries the body in the Temple of the Sun. To perform the feat, the bird first shapes some myrrh into a sort of egg as big as it finds, by testing, that it can carry; then it hollows the lump out, puts its father inside and smears more myrrh over the opening. The egg-shaped lump is then just the same weight as it was originally. Finally, it is carried by the bird to the Temple of the Sun in Egypt.”

The Benben Stone

The Benben stone was a massive, sacred solar obelisk in the Egyptian Old Kingdom temple of Heliopolis. It was designed to catch the first rays of the rising sun.  Legends had the Phoenix (the Benu Bird) living either on the stone or in a sacred willow tree.

The Benben stone was the basis for the design of later obelisks as well as the capstones on the pyramids.  The point at the top of  the obelisks and the cap stones of the pyramids themselves were gilded to also catch the first rays of the rising sun.


Sloan said...

Really cool post Liz! I must say I really like the Benu Bird!

Bridgett said...

This is fascinating.
The description of the phoenix sounds amazing.

And that obelisk looks amazingly like the Washington Monument. Go figure. :)