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The Benben stone was closely related to the myth of creation, and is often classified among the most prominent symbols of ancient Egypt. It had associations with the gods Atum, Ra, and with the bennu bird. Apart from its own symbolism and perceived importance, the Benben stone was also an inspiration for two of the most important architectural feats of ancient Egypt – pyramids and obelisks.
What Was the Benben?
The Benben stone, also called a pyramidion, is a pyramid-shaped sacred rock, venerated in the Sun Temple at Heliopolis. While the location of the original stone is unknown, there were many replicas made in ancient Egypt.
According to the version of the ancient Egyptian cosmogony followed in Heliopolis, the Benben was the primordial stone or mound that emerged from the waters of Nun at the time of creation. In the beginning, the world consisted of a watery chaos and darkness, and there was nothing else. Then, the god Atum (in other cosmogony myths it is Ra or Ptah) stood on the Benben Stone and started creating the world. In some accounts, the name Benben derives from the Egyptian word weben, which stands for ‘to rise’.
The Benben Stone had remarkable properties and functions in Egyptian Mythology. It was the place where the first sun rays fell every morning. This function connected it with Ra, the sun god. The Benben Stone gave powers and enlightenment to anybody in its surroundings. In this sense, it was a coveted item.
Worship of the Benben Stone
Due to its importance, scholars believe that the Egyptians kept the Benben stone in the city of Heliopolis. The city of Heliopolis was the religious center of Ancient Egypt and the place where the Egyptians believed creation had taken place. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, since the Benben stone was a significant part of their culture, the Egyptians guarded it as a sacred relic in the sanctuary of Atum in Heliopolis. However, at some point in history, the original Benben Stone is said to have disappeared.
Associations of the Benben Stone
Apart from its associations with creation and the gods Atum and Ra, the Benben stone had strong connections with other symbols inside and outside Ancient Egypt.
The Benben Stone was associated with the bennu bird. The bennu bird had a central role in the myth of creation since the Egyptians believed that its cry set about the beginning of life in the world. In these stories, the bennu bird cried out while standing on the Benben Stone, enabling the Creation the god Atum had started.
The Benben Stone in Temples
Due to its associations with Ra and Atum, the Benben stone became a central part of the solar temples of Ancient Egypt. Just as the original stone in Heliopolis, many other temples had a Benben Stone in or on top of them. In many cases, the stone was covered with electrum or gold so that it would reflect the sunrays. Many of these stones still exist and are exhibited in different museums around the world.
The Benben Stone in Architecture
The Benben Stone also became an architectural term due to its form, and the stone was stylized and adapted in two main ways – as the tip of obelisks and as the capstone of the pyramids. Pyramid architecture underwent several different stages during the Old Kingdom, or ‘Pyramid Golden Age’. What started as several mastabas built one on top of the other, each smaller than the previous one, evolved into the smooth-sided pyramids of Giza, each with a pyramidion on top.
Symbolism of the Benben Stone
The Benben Stone had connections with the powers of the sun and the bennu bird. It maintained its importance throughout the history of Ancient Egypt for its associations with the Heliopolitan myth of creation. In this sense, the stone was a symbol of power, solar deities, and the beginning of life.
Few symbols in the world have the importance of the Benben Stone. For starters, the pyramids are a central component of Egyptian culture and were usually furnished with a Benben Stone.
Due to the power and mysticism associated with this stone, it came to represent a symbol of strength. Together with other figures and magical items, the Benben Stone plays in modern days a well-known role in occultism. The superstition surrounding this symbol has only kept growing throughout the millennia.
The Benben Stone is one of the foremost symbols of Ancient Egypt. Present since its beginning, this primordial stone influenced the events of creation and the Egyptian culture. Its mystical component and might cause powerful men of different periods to look for it.