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The Egyptian Benu

The Egyptians were the first to speak of Benu, which later became the Phoenix in Greek legends. Benu is mostly depicted as a heron, with a long straight back, a head adorned with two erect feathers, and its plumage red and golden. It was the sacred bird of Heliopolis, city of the Sun, where it stayed on the ben-ben stone or obelisk, inside the town's sanctuary. Its true home was however the Arabian desert, it only came back to Heliopolis to die/be born. Benu was associated with the Sun god Ra and with Osiris, god of the Underworld, who is said to have given the secret of eternal life to Benu. It symbolises rebirth, as it rises from its ashes like a new sun rises when the old has died. It also symbolises a new period of wealth and fertility, when the Nile flooded the earth each year.

It is said that Benu had created itself from the fire that burned on the top of the sacred Persea tree in Heliopolis. Another story says that the heron Benu was the first life form to have appeared on the mound which rose from the watery chaos of the first creation, which links Benu to the nile and its periodical floods. The mound was called the ben-ben, and was the origin of the town of Heliopolis. Benu is, one way or the other, the personification of creation and life-force. After 500 years, according to Herodotus, Benu flew to the Sun temple in Heliopolis to build its funeral pyre with incense twigs. It then climbed onto it and waited for the sun's rays to consume it, singing a song of rare beauty as it did so. According to Pliny, from the ashes emerged a small worm that the sun's rays turned into a new Benu at the end of the day. It is also said that a new Phoenix rose immediately from it's father's ashes and flew with it's predecessor's emblamed remains to Heliopolis, accompanied by a flight of turtledoves.

The planet Venus was called the 'star of the ship of the Bennu-Asar' (Osiris), and is mentioned as the Morning Star in this invocation to the sacred sun bird, Benu:

I am the Benu, the soul of Ra, and the guide of the gods in the Douat *,
Let it be so done unto me that I may enter in like a hawk,
And that I may come forth like Bennu, the Morning Star.

* the Douat is the Egyptian Underworld.

~Source Unknown~