Bennu “The Phoenix God” is an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the Sun, creation, and rebirth. He may have been the original inspiration for the phoenix legends that developed in Greek mythology.
Roles According to Egyptian mythology, Bennu was a self-created being said to have played a role in the creation of the world. He was said to be the ba of Ra and to have enabled the creative actions of Atum. The deity was said to have flown over the waters of Nun that existed before creation, landing on a rock and issuing a call that determined the nature of creation. He also was a symbol of rebirth and, therefore, was associated with Osiris. Some of the titles of Bennu were “He Who Came into Being by Himself”, and “Lord of Jubilees”; the latter epithet referred to the belief that Bennu periodically renewed himself like the sun was thought to do. His name is related to the Egyptian verb wbn, meaning “to rise in brilliance” or “to shine”.
Description 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’.