The Bennu Bird “Symbol of Regeneration & Rebirth” One of the most famous ancient creatures and symbols in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion is the Bennu bird which is also known as the Phoenix. The bird represents the concept of resurrection and the rising sun. The Bennus was known to represent the soul of Ra the sun god and took the city of Heliopolis as the headquarter. The tree of life also known as the sacred Ished tree in the city of Ra Heliopolis was the seat of the Bennu bird. The Bennu Phoenix was also linked with the inundation of the Nile and the ancient Egyptian concept of creation. The Bennu was seen as a lord of the royal jubilee which is a form of resurrection and rebirth like the sun. The name of the Bird is derived from the word “Weben” which means “to rise” or “to shine”. Note: The Bennu Bird’s association with the sun god Ra connects it to the daily solar cycle. According to ancient Egyptian belief, the bird would die and be consumed by fire each evening, only to be reborn and rise again with the sunrise. This cyclical process symbolized the regeneration of life and the continuous cycle of creation.
The Pyramid Texts, which date to the Old Kingdom, refer to the ‘bnw’ as a symbol of Atum, and it may have been the original form of Bennu. In this word the shape of a bird is used that is definitely not a heron, but a small singing bird. The old ‘Woerterbuch der Aegyptische Sprache’ surmised that this small singing bird might have been a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), but no clear reason is given. However, the same bird used in the spelling of a word ‘bn.t’ in a painted limestone relief wall fragment from the suntemple of the Vth Dynasty king Niuserre from the Old Kingdom, now in the Aegypisches Museum at Berlin (inv.nr. Aeg.Mus. 20038-20039), clearly shows traces of blue-grey paint on much of the body of this bird-sign, so that a different bird species was definitely meant. Shape and colour seem to point rather to a (Mediterranean) Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) for whom, however, another name was in use: ‘hn.t<y’= lit. ‘the one of the canals’. Traces of orange (brown) colouring existing on and also outside the chiseled glyph did originally not belong to this particular bird sign. They are caused by natural stains in the white limestone, as the higher lying layer of blue paint on the bird shows as well. The advantage of such bird identification might be, that a Kingfisher flying lowly over watery surfaces and shrieking loudly would be a reasonable mythical example for the creator deity Atum of Heliopolis as having risen from the first dark waters, called Nun, in order to start his creation of the world. If so, this Kingfisher ‘bnw’ or ‘bn.t’ is a good match for the mythical and cultic Nile goose (Eg. ‘smn’) of the creator deity Amun in later periods, imagined to having been honking loudly in the primeval dark above the still waters in order to bring forth all creation by its voice. New Kingdom artwork shows Bennu as a huge grey heron with a long beak and a two-feathered crest. Sometimes Bennu is depicted as perched on a benben stone (representing Ra and the name of the top stone of a pyramid) or in a willow tree (representing Osiris). Because of the connection with Osiris, Bennu sometimes wears the Atef crown, instead of the solar disk.