Howard Washington Thurman National Memorial
Howard Thurman National Obelisk - The Magic of the Ben Ben Stone
It was the tendency of the ancient monument-builders of the Nile to codify their symbolic teachings in stone. Thus, for those who knew the "language," the physical structure and placement of a monument, temple, or other sacred building unveiled a deeper story.
The Ben Ben, or "obelisk," was such a monument that, during its New Kingdom heyday (1580-1200 BC), came to symbolize Kemit itself. The Ben Ben was clearly a sun---and-light symbol, dedicated to Ra, embodying the transcendence immanent in Ra's Light. The Ben Ben's soaring lines were meant to evoke this transcendence and its connection to the solar light was imbued in the capstone or pyramidion, coated in a gold-silver alloy called nub hedj ("electrum"), whose brilliant reflection could be seen 50 miles away on a clear day.
The term Ben Ben is a doubling of the old Kamite word ben meaning "man, phallus, beget." It is the source of the Hebrew ben or Arabin ibn meaning "son of." The ancient Nile dwellers clearly understood that the rays of the sun fructified the earth and all life upon it and therefore made that all-important heavenly body the archetypal symbol of the Heavenly Father whom they called Ra. The Ben Ben, though, is more than a mere "phallic symbol;" it is a sign of the sun (or Ra's) fructifying light-ray materialized in granite.
In the mind of the ancient priests of the Nile, light, consciousness, and understanding were synonymous. Thus the Ben Ben codified the process of enlightenment, achieved through the correct acquisition of knowledge and the slow revelation of cosmic wisdom. Under such influence, dark mysteries and unexamined secrets were made manifest.
The Ben Ben yet retains its power to inspire the imagination, to encapsulate transcendence. Again and again, the modern architect re-erects obeliskoid forms because the elegant, geometric harmony of the Ben Ben speaks a language that continually excites the creative instincts of man. Time and again, we return to this ancient architectural form not because we lack other models but because it expresses for us the cosmic imperative of our indwelling spirit. Through the Ben Ben, we pay homage to the Light Bringer, the Father of All, and the best of His Creation.
---Charles S. Finch, M.D.
Director of International Programs
Morehouse School of Medicine