The Bennu Bird is an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth. According to Egyptian mythology, the Bennu Bird was a self-created deity which played a role in the creation of the world. It was said to be the Ba (soul) of the sun god Ra and facilitated the actions of Atum, the creator god. One of the creation myths of Heliopolis tells of the first dawn and a heron, the Bennu, flying over the primeval waters of chaos (Nun) until it landed on a rock, the Ben-Ben Stone. As it did , it opened its beak and its cry echoed over the water of the Nun; this was the call that determined the nature of creation. The cry of the Bennu Bird ‘determined what is and is not to be.’ The Bennu Bird, as an aspect of Atum, brought life and light to the world.
The Bennu Bird was believed to have created itself from a fire which burned at the top of the sacred persea tree in Heliopolis. The capstones of the pyramids, and the pyramids themselves, were thought to be a representation of the Ben-Ben Stone signifying protection of the Sun God, Ra. 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). The Egyptians believed the Bennu arose regularly to renew Egypt and is connected to the rising of the Nile.
The Bennu Bird resembled two of the most common types of herons in ancient Egypt, the gray heron and the 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 cycle of time, according to the ancient Egyptians, was divinely created with the Bennu’s call. The Temple of the Bennu Bird at Heliopolis was primarily involved with the regulation of the calendar and the division of time. An Egyptian civil calendar was created with time divided into the twenty four hour day with twelve hours for both daytime and nighttime, ten days that comprised the Egyptian week, thirty day months, and the year of twelve months. The lunar astronomical cycle, which revolved around the rising of the Sothis Star, was used for religious purposes and the civil and astronomical calendars diverged over the course of 1460 years to then became synchronized again.
The Bennu Bird in Magic
The following spell from the Egyptian Book of the Dead is one for being transformed into a Bennu Bird (which also could be called a Phoenix).
Spell 83: Spell for being transformed
I have flown up like the primeval ones,
I have become Khepri,
I have grown as a plant,
I have clad myself as a tortoise,
I am the essence of every God,
I am the seventh of those seven Uraei who came into being in the West,
Horus who makes the brightness with his person,
That God who was against Seth,
Thoth who was among you in that judgement of Him who presides over Letopolis together with the Souls of Heliopolis,
The flood which was between them.
I have come on the day when I appear in glory with the strides of the gods,
For I am Khons who subdued the Lords.
As for him who knows this pure spell,
It means going out into the day after death and being transformed at will,
Being in the suite of Wennefer
Being content with the food of Osiris,
Having invocation offerings,
Seeing the sun;
It means being hale on earth with Re and being vindicated with Osiris,
And nothing evil shall have power over him
A matter a million times true.
Also in the Book of the Dead, one can find the following statement, “I am the Bennu bird, the Heart-Soul of Ra, the Guide of the Gods to the Tuat.”
Clark, Rosemary (2000) The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications
David, Rosalie (2002) Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt London: Penguin Books Ltd
Draco, Melusine (2001) The Egyptian Book of Days London: Ignotus Press
Faulkner, R.O. (2000) The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead London: British Museum Press [Revised Edition 1985, originally published 1972 by The Limited Editions Club, New York]
Quirke, Stephen (2001) The Cult of Ra: Sun Worship in Ancient Egypt London: Thames & Hudson Ltd