The Ankh - everything you need to know

The Ankh - everything you need to know

The Ankh is one of the most recognisable icons from ancient Egypt, known as "the cross of life" and "the key of life", and dates from the Early Dynastic Age c. 3150 - 2614 BCE. A cross with a loop on top is occasionally decorated with symbols or ornamental flourishes but most often simply a gold cross. The Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for "life" and "breath of life" and, as the Egyptians believed that one's earthly experience was only part of eternal life, the Ankh represents both mortal existence and the afterlife. It is one of the most ancient emblems of ancient Egypt, frequently seen with the djed. It was a symbol carried by many Egyptian gods inside tombs, paintings and inscriptions and worn as a charm or talisman by Egyptians.

The Ankh's link with the afterlife made it an incredibly potent symbol for the Coptic Christians in the 4th century in Egypt, who carried it as their own. The Ankh, as a symbol of Christ's oath of everlasting life through his sacrifice and resurrection, is the origin of the Christian use of the cross today as a symbol of faith. The early Christians of Rome used the fertility symbol of the fish, symbolising their faith. They would not have believed in using the image of the cross, a form of execution, Similar to someone today who would never choose to wear an electric chair amulet. The Ankh cross is established as a symbol of life, loaned itself easily to assimilation into the early Christian faith and resumed as that religion's symbol.

Ankh gold

Origin & Meaning

The origin of the Ankh is unidentified. However, the Egyptologist Sir Alan in 1879 - 1963 CE thought it evolved from a sandal strap with the top loop wrapping around one's ankle and the vertical post connected to the sole at the toes. Gardiner concluded that because the Egyptian word for "sandal" was "nkh", which came from the very root of "ankh", and, further, because the sandal was part of dad to day life in ancient Egypt and the ankh sign, then became to signify life. 

Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge 1856-1934 CE, who proclaims it derived from the belt buckle of the goddess Isis, is considered more feasible but still needs to be universally acknowledged. Wallis Budge correlated the Ankh with the Egyptian symbol tjet, known as the "knot of Isis", a ceremonial girdle believed to symbolise fertility and represent female genitalia. This theory of Ankh's origin arose from a fertility symbol and its definition throughout ancient Egyptian history and beyond to the current day. Egyptologist Wolfhart W b. 1924 CE supports Wallis Budge's claim, noting the Ankh's similarity to the tjet and the use of these symbols from an early date in Egypt's history. Furthermore, the Ankh has always been associated with the promise of eternal life, the sun, light and fertility. Scholar Adele N writes:

The magnitude of the meaning of such a simple symbol is awe-inspiring. The Ankh symbolises the male and female genitals, the union of earth and heaven and the sun coming over the horizon. This connection with the sun means that the Ankh is gold - the colour of the sun - and never drawn in silver as it relates to the moon. Also, its resemblance to a key indicates another definition of this mystical symbol.

The afterlife was as significant as the present one, and the Ankh supplied the key to death's gates and the realms that lay beyond.

For this reason, ankh figures so prominently in tomb paintings and inscriptions. Deities such as Anubis or Isis are seen putting the Ankh against the lips of the soul in the afterlife to revitalise it and open that soul to live after death. Ma'at, The goddess, is frequently depicted holding an ankh in both hands, and the god Osiris holds the Ankh in several tomb paintings. In addition, the gods made it a prominent symbol on caskets and amulets.

The Ankh & Issis

The Ankh became popular in Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period due to the rise of the cults of Osiris and Isis. The link between the Ankh and the tjet mentioned earlier is shown by early images of Isis with the tjet girdle before the appearance of the Ankh.

The cult of Osiris became very popular in Egypt until the cult of Isis - who carried the same story and promised the exact rewards - dominated it. As a result, Osiris became a secondary character in the narrative of his resurrection and rebirth. In the early Dynastic Period, the cult of Osiris was dominant; he died and returned to life, bringing life to others. At this time, Isis was a mother goddess associated with fertility but soon joined Osiris as his loving wife, who saved him after his murder by Set and brought him back to life. The Egyptologist Flinders Petrie states: 

Isis became connected to the Osiris worship and appeared in later myths as the wife and sister of Osiris. However, Isis always remained on a unique plane to Osiris. 

Isis's worship and priesthood were extremely popular than those of Osiris. People were named after her much more often than after Osiris, and she appeared far more often in life activities. Her union with the Osiris myth by no means expanded her independent position and importance as a deity. However, it gave her widespread devotion. The union of Horus with the association of Isis as the mother goddess was the primary method of her importance in later times. Isis as the nursing mother was only shown in the twenty-sixth dynasty; then, the type became more known until it outgrew all other religions of the country.

Many of the gods of Egypt are displayed holding the Ankh, but Isis is more frequently than most. Gradually Isis became the most popular goddess in Egypt. Isis was respected as the most powerful and all-encompassing deity. The cult of Isis swore eternal life through personal resurrection. In the same way that Isis had saved her husband Osiris from death, she could rescue those who placed faith in her. The Ankh, with such a powerful goddess infused with greater meaning, was linked specifically with the renowned goddess who could save one's soul and nourish one in the afterlife.

The History of the Ankh in Use

The significance of the Ankh was the instant glory of what the symbol stood for. Those who could not read could have comprehended the symbolism of objects such as the Ankh or the djed. The Egyptian Ankh was never exclusively associated with Isis - as mentioned, many gods depicted holding the symbol- but as the djed became linked to Osiris, the Ankh descended more into the realm of Isis and her cult.

In the Old Kingdom c. 2612 - 2182 BCE, the Ankh was well-established as a mighty symbol of everlasting life. The deceased was referred to as ankhu (having life/living), and caskets and sarcophagi, decorated regularly with the symbol, were known as neb-ankh (containing life). During the Middle Kingdom 2041-1781 BCE), the word nkh was used for mirrors. As a result, several hand mirrors were created in the shape of the Ankh in the tomb of Tutankhamun, the most famous being found. Egyptians believed the afterlife was a mirror portrayal of life on earth and mirrors contain metaphysical properties. 

Goddess Neith, of the festival of the Lanterns, is another deity seen with the Ankh. All Egyptians would burn oil lamps through the night to reflect the stars in the sky and assemble a mirror image of the heavens on earth. This was accomplished to assist the veil between the dead and the living, so one could speak to those loved ones and friends who passed over to paradise in the Field of Reeds. Mirrors were used for divination intents from the Middle Kingdom onwards.

The Ankh was also a popular talisman worn daily and carried to the grave. Historian Margaret Bunson writes:

The amulets were made of metal, wood, faience, terracotta, or stone. They were believed to contain magical powers, providing the wearer with intangible charms and benefits. The amulet's power was determined by the shape, material, colour or spell of origin. For example, Egyptians wore Ankh amulets as pendants, and the deceased had amulets placed in the linen wrappings of their coffins. Various styles of amulets were created at different times and for different purposes. For example, some were carved as sacred symbols to attract a particular deity's attention, ensuring the god's intervention on behalf of the wearer. The djed was a very popular amulet, just like the Ankh. However, the most typical amulet in ancient Egypt was the sacred scarab beetle. During the New Kingdom 1571-1069 BCE, when the cult of Amun increased in stature and power, the Ankh became associated with him. Within the temple ceremonies, the Ankh was regularly used at this time. It became associated with the cult of Amun and royalty.

In the Amarna Period 1352 - 1335 BCE, Akhenaten banned the cult of Amun and the rest of the gods. Aten was raised as Egypt's sole god; the ankh sign persisted in popular use. The symbol is seen in inscriptions and paintings at the end of the rays of light emanating from the solar disc of Aten, which brings life to those who consider it. After Akhenaten's extinction, his son Tutankhaten whose name includes the ankh symbol and means "living vision of the god Aten") took the throne, reigning 1337-1328 BCE, altered his name to Tutankhamun, meaning "living image of the god Amun" and reinstated the old religion, possessing the Ankhs meaning it had consistently held.

The Ankh remained a famous symbol even though Akhenaten's reign was hated, and Tutankhamun's successor Horemheb 1320 - 1292 BCE, tried to obliterate all proof of the Amarna Period from Egyptian culture and history. However, the most amazing ruler of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II 1278 - 1214 BCE, used the Ankh regularly in his inscriptions and continued in use throughout the rest of Egypt's history.

The Ankh & Christianity

As Christianity became more widespread in the 4th century CE, numerous symbols of the old religion fell into disfavour and were forgotten about or forbidden. The djed symbol, linked closely with Osiris, was one of these; the ankh cross continued in use. Scholar Jack Tresidder writes of the Ankh:

Its shape is understood as the rising sun on the horizon, the union of male and female, or other opposites. It is a key to esoteric knowledge and the afterworld of the spirit. Egypt's Coptic church inherited the Ankh as a form of the Christian cross, symbolising eternal life through Christ.

While other traces of the old religion declined away, the Ankh took on a new position while retaining its old importance of life and the promise of eternal life. Adele Nozedar comments, "Powerful symbols frequently stray into many other cultures despite their origins, and the Ankh is no exception. Because it represents immortality and the universe, it was originally borrowed by the fourth-century Coptic Christians, who used it as a symbol to strengthen the message of Christ that there is life after death". The Ankh cross symbol of eternal life, someday removed its loop at the top to become the cross of a Christian cross, just like the ancient Ankh, is worn by Jesus Christ believers in the present day to identify with their god and all that god promises.


The Ankh is also called the Female Cross. The Circle represents the woman, the womb, the vagina, chaos, nature, death and spirit. The cross-the-line represents a border from spiritual to physical. The shaft, or phallic, represents the penis. This shaft always represents humans, the only species walking erected or upright. The Ankh was the sign of Auset Isis. Ankh is also called the Vampire Cross; the circle means death, and the shaft means life. The cross represents the border from Living to Dead. If you read the teachings of Thoth (Hermes), he explains this was the old, real, natural cross.

So Thoth created the cross. Christians wear a cross of a Penis, which means pure Physical World, as the Spiritual word is seen as dead (except to those who live in its existence). The Ankh would mean the Spiritual above Physical Cross. Or the Woman (Spiritual) above the Man (Physical). Pre-Dynastic Kemet only had priestesses, which they painted in Gold Skin and always had their breasts out (which means the Great Giver). The woman is also the Great Receiver. Men are a woman if they look past the physical aspects. A male is the protector (Gives), and a male also receives Love (Receiver).

As Above, So Below.

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