Bennu, the Egyptian God of creation, was described as the original Phoenix reborn in fire. This animal, with its vibrant colors and beauty, was a popular subject for ancient Egyptian artists. Here we explore how the Bennu came to be and what it means to be reborn from fire and ashes.
The phoenix is a mythical bird of ancient Egypt that is associated with the sun. The phoenix is a symbol of life, death, and rebirth. Many people are familiar with the phoenix from the Harry Potter series in which there is a magical creature named Fawkes that Dumbledore says is a phoenix.
The phoenix has a rebirth myth that goes back thousands of years, however, given most people’s knowledge of the phoenix and how it is associated with the sun, it’s easier to look at the origin of the phoenix as it relates to this animal.
The Egyptians knew of fire and the burning nature of many plants. Ancient Egyptian architecture shown stones that were more than 6,000 years old and mentioning magnesium and clay as ingredients for a copper statue of a god. People were familiar with the idea of a god walking among the pyramids and temples with demonstrations of gods rising up out of the ground to light the pyramids.
People believed the gods could change form into animals and were embodied in flame like the phoenix that was reborn from its own ashes. The Egyptian belief regarding the phoenix is that it caused its own death.
The Egyptians associated the burning of a god or goddess with rebirth, a great pyramid helping the gods to rise out of the ground to light a new life. Therefore, many gods were associated with pyramids and individuals could see how a god had been reborn.
It’s in Egypt, unfortunately, that the phoenix god, in modern times, has found a modern-day interpretation. The phoenix is now a mascot for Red Bull and a thing some people are calling the dawn of a new Roaring ’20s.
It’s not known when the phoenix had its own association with the company but in 2010, Red Bull made the brand official. In an interview with Fast Company, Red Bull’s senior director of marketing, Jens Rohland said, “Generally speaking, the word phoenix inspires a lot of emotion because people associate it with death.
Bennu: Reborn From Fire
Bennu is an ancient Egyptian deity, usually depicted as a heron with a long beak and two pairs of tall, white plumes, sometimes with a human head and arms. Bennu was a self-created being said to have played a role in the creation of the world. In Egyptian mythology, he emerged from the fire he lit himself, often seen carried away as a kind of phoenix.
In the Bible, it’s said that whenever the branch of the tree of life is trimmed or damaged (known as a ‘firḥada’ in Hebrew), its body detaches and a new one grows in its place. The biblical metaphor for the formation of new life is that of the phoenix rising from its own ashes. With this metaphor in mind, it seems likely that ancient Egyptians in many ways used this idea as a metaphor for the transformation of a person after death, as it would seem that the component parts of the tree they burned to create a new tree would eventually grow again.
According to Egyptian iconography, gods would often hold divine fire in their hands as they spread their influence and power throughout the world. (For example: seen accompanying Setekh’s effigy in the 18th Dynasty pyramid at Saqqara in today’s Egypt.) This corresponds to the Bull of Heaven’s imagery of ancient Israel, where the Greek name for the biblical figure (Shekinah) meant ‘God of War,’ and possibly also a female counterpart.
It would also seem that this same association extends to gods emerging from death. As mentioned above, the biblical prophet Jonah reportedly swallowed two birds with fiery breath — one alive, the other burnt to death. He later saw both birds rising from the dead, emerging from both their own and previous deaths. This image appears to have inspired the Egyptians to depict the Phoenix rising from its own ashes, perhaps by dropping from the Torah.
Today, the entirety of the Egyptian pantheon — without doubt, the most popular — is worshiped in one way or another in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Bennu, the Emblem of Osiris
Bennu was a white heron with a long neck and beak and the shape of the sun disc between its eyes. This heron was a representation of the soul of Osiris. As a symbol of rebirth, the Bennu was noted for its ability to regenerate itself. The Bennu bird was also said to be the ba of Ra.
Bennu, the Emblem of Ra
The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra. The pharaohs claimed to be direct descendants of Ra, and the pharaoh was thought to be Ra incarnate on earth. Ra was also the god of rebirth and regeneration. One of Ra’s symbols was a heron. The heron carries three-legged perch that it can use to fly.
In ancient Egypt, there were six gods related to Ra. The most important one was the falcon god Anubis. According to mythology, Anubis was a reanimated human corpse that could assume the living persona of a falcon. Eventually, Anubis became the god of mummification and was related to the afterlife. Mummies were commonly buried with four limbs, and this enabled Anubis to rise from the dead as a living human (see image above).
The falcon god is one of the most popular gods in Egyptian mythology, and the coronation ritual of Anubis is known as the ‘Anubis Flight Ceremony’.
Life in Ancient Egypt was difficult for many of the people. The ruling class was slaves who were forced to work hard in the fields to grow food to feed their families. The inhabitants of Ancient Egypt, like most of the ancient peoples, were hunter-gatherers. To feed themselves and their families, the Egyptian people relied heavily on agriculture.
As a result of Egypt’s reliance on agriculture, crops failed more often than not, leaving them hungry and the poor population struggling. Many individuals turned to the dangerous underworld or the gods in search of food and salvation. Thus the Egyptians created gods to help the people in their desperate situations.
Animals were often made into gods to help people through difficult times. Taro, the king of gods, was often created from the carcass of a chicken (carnivore) that died of starvation. The risen God would then take on the form of the chicken, grow feathers and take on human shape. The reason this particular Egyptian god (Taro) was so popular is that he provided the people with food, prosperity, and rebirth.
Bennu, the Emblem of Thoth
Bennu is an Ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth. He is typically depicted as a heron with a long beak and a two-feathered crown on his head. His name is believed to mean “He Who Comes Into Being”, which refers to the sun as a creator. Several stelae bearing the image of the Phoenix feature prominently in Egyptian and Chinese religious celebrations, and holy images such as this were often shown in tombs.
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