Jan
03
2009

What was the Benben Stone?

Obelisk of Heliopolis (photo by Boston Public Library - PD)

Obelisk of Heliopolis (photo by Boston Public Library - PD)

The Benben stone was a massive, sacred solar obelisk in the Egyptian Old Kingdom temple of Heliopolis. It was designed to catch the first rays of the rising sun.  Legends had the Phoenix (the Benu Bird} living either on the stone or in a sacred willow tree.

The Phoenix’s flight was said to represent the capacity to leave the world and its problems behind, flying towards the sun in clear blue skies. It was considered sacred to, or a servant of Ra, the sun god of ancient Egypt and the sacred bird was described as a heron.

Approximately every 500 years when it felt the end was approaching, the Phoenix would build a nest to be used as a funeral pyre. The old Phoenix was consumed in flames and burned to ashes. A new Phoenix would arise from the flames. This is said to symbolize the rising and setting of the sun. After placing the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh it would fly it to  Heliopolis (City of the Sun) and place it on the sun god’s altar, the Benben Stone

The Benben stone was the basis for the design of later obelisks as well as the capstones on the pyramids.  The point at the top of  the obelisks and the cap stones of the pyramids themselves were gilded to also catch the first rays of the rising sun.

“O Atum the Creator (the Sun), You became high in the height  You rose up as the Benben Stone in the mansion of the Phoenix in Heliopolis.” -  From Labib Habachi, The Egyptian Obelisks, p. 5, The AUC Press, 1988

For more information about the Benben and Ancient Egypt.

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