The Flaming Phoenix and its Heavenly Origins

by

Bernard Paul Badham

Copyright © 2016 Bernard Paul Badham.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this article may be reproduced, mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying, without written permission of the author.

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.   Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  While the phoenix typically dies by fire in most versions of the legend, there are less popular versions of the myth in which the mythical bird dies and simply decomposes before being born again.  According to some legends, the phoenix could live over 1400 years before rebirth. In the historical record, the phoenix could symbolize renewal in general as well as the sun, time, resurrection, life in the heavenly Paradise, Christ, Mary, virginity, the exceptional man, and certain aspects of Christian life.

The Bennu-bird

The Bennu bird of early ancient Egypt is the equivalent to the sacred Greek phoenix, and is therefore probably one of the sources of its ancient mythology.

bnw

‘Bennu Bird, Phoenix’

According to ancient Egyptian myth, the Bennu Bird had created itself from a fire that was burned on a holy tree in one of the sacred precincts of the temple of Ra.  Other versions say that the Bennu Bird burst forth from the heart of Osiris. This would mean that Ra reincarnated himself through Osiris, creating a precedent for Pharaohs. The Bennu Bird was supposed to have rested on a sacred pillar that was known as the benben-stone. The Egyptian priests showed this pillar to visitors, who considered it the most holy place on earth.

bnbnt

‘Benben Stone, Pyramidion’

The Book of the Dead says, ‘I am the Bennu bird, the Heart-Soul of Ra, the Guide of the Gods to the Duat.’  Some of the titles of the Bennu bird were ‘He Who Came Into Being by Himself,’ ‘Ascending One,’ and ‘Lord of Jubilees.’  While Bennu is the common name given to the bird in English, the original vowels of the name spelled as bnn by Egyptian scribes are uncertain,  it is similar to the word wbn  meaning ‘to rise brilliantly,’ or ‘to shine.’

In Greek mythology, a phoenix (Ancient Greek) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.

Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  During the Classic period, the name of the bird was variously associated with the color purple.  According to the 6th and 7th century scholars the name of the phoenix derived from its purple-red hue.  Classical scholars refer to its potential origin in Ancient Egypt.  This was confirmed by the discovery that the ancient Egyptians in Heliopolis venerated the Benu, a solar bird observed in some respects to be similar to the Greek phoenix.  It was not unusual for the ancient Greeks or Romans to adopt ideas originating in ancient Egypt, for example, the calendar, columns in building, certain gods and goddesses etc.

The Phoenix is said to live for 500 or 1461 years and is described as a bird with beautiful gold and red plumage.  At the end of its life-cycle the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises.  The new phoenix embalms the ashes of the old phoenix in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of On, Heliopolis (the city of the sun).  The bird was also said to regenerate when hurt or wounded, thus being almost immortal and invincible, a symbol of fire and divinity.

Originally, the phoenix was identified by the Egyptians as a stork or heron-like bird called a Benu, known from the Book of the Dead and other Egyptian texts as one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, closely associated with the rising sun and the Egyptian sun-god Ra.  The phoenix is also described as a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colourful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends).  The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self.

The remains of the Sun Temple of the 5th Dynasty Pharaoh
Nuserra (2445 - 2421 BC). 
The remaining stone block base once supported a large squat obelisk.

At the Sun Temple of Nuserra at Abu Gurab there is an inscription on a broken piece of granite with an image of a squat obelisk sat upon a stone base the whole reaching some sixty metres high.

Inscribed image of the Sun Temple Obelisk.

An early inscription found at the site, depicts instead of the obelisk, the presence of a single tall pole with a rounded bulbous top, a natural perch for the sacred Benu bird.

 

A 3D reconstruction of the Sun Temple of Nuserra

The Benu Bird’s appearance at dawn represents the sun-god’s self creating power.  The phoenix was symbolic of the rebirth at dawn not only of the sun-god but of cosmic beings in general.  In The Book of The Dead, Chapter 83 entitled ‘Spell For Becoming the Bennw Bird’, the phoenix claims: ‘I am the seed corn of every god…’

His power of self-creation clearly symbolized the emerging (rebirth) of celestial bodies (gods) at dawn from the underworld, the land of the dead below the horizon.

Associated words and their meanings for the root word Benw:

Benwt: hard sandstone                
Bia: heaven, firmament
Biaw: wonders, marvel                
Bia: metal                                          
Biaw: mining, region of mine
 
Two interesting phrases in ancient Egyptian are: Bia n ta ‘metal of the earth’ and Bia n pt ‘metal of the sky:’

biA n tA

‘metal (iron?) of the Earth’

biA n pt

‘metal (iron) of the sky’

Note: to the ancient Egyptians the heavens were thought to compose of this black hard metal, ‘iron’ and as such, the night sky is the colour of iron, it seems only natural that meteoric iron fell from the sky.
 
Taking into account the stellar destiny of the dead pharaoh and his astral ‘iron-bones’, the Benben stone’s supposedly cosmic origin and most particularly its ‘conical’ shape, it is almost certain that this sacred ancient stone was a conical iron-meteorite.

Iron Meteorite

A Conical Meteorite

The idea in antiquity that meteorites were ‘shooting stars’ or ‘falling stars’ needs no further emphasis.  Factually, meteorites are debris from space, mostly from broken up asteroids, which fall on our planet, and which can be recovered, most burn up on entry.  Meteorites are classified into three main groups: iron-meteorites (usually 90% iron/10-12% nickel), stony/iron-meteorites, and stone-meteorites. The largest known are the iron-meteorites as these tend to survive the impact with the ground more easily than the others types for obvious reasons.

The largest single known meteoritic mass is the ‘Hoba’ iron-meteorite, and still lies in the place where it fell near Grootfontein farm in Southwest Africa.  This meteorite is estimated to be a 60 ton chunk of iron.  In the case of an iron-meteorite, the odds of survival with minimal damage in such cases is good.  Also, many meteorites often retain their orientation in the direction of flight; this causes the front part to melt and flow toward the rear.  The result, especially for the iron variety, is a meteorite having the characteristic shape of a rough cone.  These are known as ‘oriented’ meteorites.  Several oriented iron-meteorites weighing from 5 to 15 tons are known.  The best examples are ‘Morito’ (10 tons) and ‘Willamette’ (14 tons), the names are usually of the places the meteorites were found.  Morito is a well-preserved conical iron-meteorite, and is displayed in Mexico City.  It measures about 110 cm. in height and the base is about 150 cm. and does indeed look eerily like a pyramidal-cone. Willamette is displayed in the American Museum Of Natural History, New York.  There was a widespread belief among ancient Mediterranean people, including the Egyptians, that iron actually came from heaven; clearly here an allusion to its meteoritic origin.
 
The probability, of observing the fall of a large iron-meteorite and also recovering it was higher in our remote past than it is today.  Indeed many sacred stones which were believed to have ‘fallen from heaven’, and accordingly worshipped in temples or shrines, were almost certinly meteorites.  The Ephesians (Acts xix-35), for example, are said to have worshipped in the temple of Diana ‘that symbol of her which fell from heaven’.  In the temple of Apollo in Delphi a stone, probably shaped like an ovoid cone was believed to have come from Cronnos the sky-god, and was the object of much veneration.  This ‘stone of Cronnos’ was most likely a meteorite.  A conical iron-meteorite is said to have also been worshiped by the Phrygian in the 7th century BC.  The conical black stone known as Elagalabus was worshipped in Emessa and was a meteorite.  Not far from Emessa, in the temple of Heliopolis-Baalbek, were venerated black, conical stones. The Nabataean god, Dushara, was worshipped in the form of an obelisk or ‘an unhewn four cornered black stone’.  Indeed, a modern example of such stone-worship is the much venerated black stone kept in the Ka’aba shrine in Mecca, Western Saudi Arabia, which is thought by geologists to be a meteorite recovered in antiquity.

biA m sH nTr
‘metal adze in the Divine Booth’

The name of the metal instrument used in the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony, Bya-em-Seh-netjer.  The heir to the throne was ‘chosen’ to perform this ceremony with a sacred iron adze.  The ‘splitting of the mouth’ act enabled the deceased to breathe and speak in the afterlife.

‘With that chisel of metal with which he opened the mouth of the gods.’  Book of the Dead

The next pharaoh Ay dressed in the leopard skin of the Sem-priest performing the opening of the mouth ceremony on the mummy of Tutankhamun.  Notice the adze has a black iron cutting edge and is mounted by bindings onto the wooden handle.
 
Among the 107 objects discovered on Tutankhamen’s body was an ornately decorated iron dagger that he carried on his belt.  Presumably fashioned from meteoritic iron, which was very rare and much harder and tougher than the other metals available at the time.  His iron dagger was considered so precious that the king would certainly want it with him in the afterlife.  In an age dominated by the smelting of copper and its stronger alloy, bronze, iron was more valuable than gold.

Tutankhamen had with him a truly royal weapon: an iron dagger with a hilt and sheath of gold decorated with rock crystal.  The dagger blade had not rusted in more than 3000 years, and we do not know how it was forged, but because of it is an alloy of high iron content it is considered as being of meteoric origin.   A set of 16 small iron chisels was also buried with the king. 

Bones of the gods
Man-made iron from terrestrial ores rarely contains nickel, whereas meteoritic iron contains a high proportion of this element, on average 12 percent.  Ornamental beads made of iron date back as far as Pre-Dynastic times and have been analyzed and shown to contain high levels of nickel, confirming their meteoritic origin.  Significantly the word ‘Bia’ meaning iron in ancient Egyptian also meant the ‘material of which heaven was made’.  It is therefore highly likely that meteoritic-iron was also imagined the substance from which were made the reborn kings as star-gods.  Certain passages in the Pyramid Texts are indeed very  suggestive of such a concept:
 
 ‘The king’s bones are iron and the king’s members are the imperishable stars…’ (pyr.2051).  ‘I [the king] am pure, I take to myself my iron bones…my imperishable limbs are in the womb of Nut’ (pyr.530).  “...my bones are iron and my limbs are the imperishable stars’ (pyr.1454).
 
It is also likely that chunks of iron-meteorite, which generally have a lustred, black appearance, were associated or even confused with black hard stones such as diorite, basalt and dark-grey granite found in Upper Egypt. To a primitive mind unfamiliar with iron and its chemical properties, the resemblance can be uncanny.  Not surprisingly, black basalt was called ‘Bia-Kem’ meaning ‘black iron,’ suggesting that basalt, and possibly similar black hard stones such as diorite and dark granite, were associated to meteoritic ironstone, and consequently to the ‘bones’ of star-gods.   Most capstones of monumental pyramids were probably made of granite.  The almost-black granite capstone of the pyramid of Amenemhet III in the Cairo museum is a fine example of this.

On one side of the Pyramidion capstone are carved two large eyes surmounted by a disc with feathered-wings; the inscription below states that ‘the face of Amenemhet is open, he sees the Lord Of The Horizon as he sails in the sky.’  

This curious winged-face is also depicted in the Pyramid Texts in conjunction with ‘iron’: 

‘He has appeared upon the Stone, upon his throne, he has sharpened the iron by means of it…raise yourself, O king, gather your bones, take your head…O king, raise yourself as Min (the Phallic fertility God), fly up to the sky and live with them, cause your wings to grow with your feathers on your head…” (pyr.1945-8).

Another inscription on the Amenemhet III capstone states: ‘…the soul of King Amenemhet is higher than the heights of Orion…’

The hieroglyphic sign for the word ‘pyramid’ was sometimes depicted as a pyramid with a yellow apex, suggesting that the granite capstones of pyramids may have been gilded.   An inscription found at the pyramid of a queen called Udjebten supports this hypothesis, for it speaks of the gilded capstone of her pyramid. 

In ancient Egypt the heavenly gods had bone of iron and flesh of gold.  Iron being for its hardness and Gold for it does not perish, in other words it immortality:

‘O King, raise yourself upon your iron bones and golden members, for this body of yours belongs to a god… may your flesh be born to life and may your life be more than the life of the stars in their season of life…’ (pyr. 2244). 

‘I (the king) row Ra when traversing the sky, even I a star of gold…” 
(pyr. 886-9).’
                     
Similar to many other cases of meteoritic worship by ancient peoples, it is also likely that the Benben stone once worshipped in the ‘Mansion of The Phoenix’ was a meteorite.  Its conical shape and its association with the pyramid’s capstone made of ‘iron bones’ is very suggestive of an oriented iron-meteorite, possibly a mass within the 1 to 15 ton range.  Such objects fallen from heaven were generally representative of ‘fallen stars’, and likely provided the Egyptian clergy with a tangible sample of a star-object.

 

Conclusion


There are some interesting clues in the mythological accounts of the sacred Benben Stone of Heliopolis and the worship of the Benu Bird (Phoenix) which cyclically returns to rest and rejuvenates itself upon the Benben Stone atop a squat obelisk at the Sun Temple.  Although the Benu bird may have had its colourful earthly appearance of a heron or such like, the origins of the Benben Stone are almost certainly meteoric (iron meteorite) and the accounts of the nature of the flaming Phoenix also seems to point to the fact that it is an heavenly astronomical cyclic apparition, the only thing which fits this bill is a cyclic comet.  Think of the similarities, cyclic appearance, flaming bird rising from the ashes, colourful plumage and fiery tail, some comets fit theses descriptions and very importantly comets carry with them debris which give rise to meteorite showers whenever Earth in its orbit comes near the orbit of theses cyclic comets.  Long period comets of a few hundred years have already been discovered by modern astronomers.  It may very well be that the meteoric Benben stone may have come from the same material as the Benu Comet, falling to the earth in a ball of flames, but sill returning.

Some examples of comets with ‘fiery tails’:

The Sun Temple with the Benben meteoric Pyramidion stone sat atop a squat obelisk:

Copyright © 2016 Bernard Paul Badham.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this article may be reproduced, mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying, without written permission of the author.


Kemet Scribe

Bromyard, Herefordshire, England, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2016 Bernard Paul Badham

All rights reserved. No portion of this website or the material within may be reproduced – mechanically, electronically,

or by any other means, including photocopying – without written permission of the author.