The Ankh - Meaning & Power Of The Ankh Symbol

The Ankh - Meaning & Power Of The Ankh Symbol

What Is The Ankh?

Known as the “key or life” or the “cross of life” the Ankh is a cross with a tear drop shaped loop at the top- usually plain gold in colour (as it is a symbol associated with the sun), but it can have symbols or decorative patterns etched into it.

Ankh carved into wall

The Ankh is one of the oldest symbols of ancient Egypt. It is an Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of “life” or “breath of life” and represents not only the physical life, but also the afterlife and is often seen in tomb paintings being held by Egyptian gods. The deities are depicted in this way to represent their life-giving power (the Ankh being a symbol of life).

 

 

The Anatomy Of The Ankh

The symbol of the Ankh consists of a cross, with a teardrop shaped loop replacing the vertical bar at the top.

The loop at the top is thought to symbolize eternal life or the afterlife, a reminder that the soul’s journey dd not end with the death of the physical body. The cross beneath the loop represents the path of life, anchoring the symbol to earth.

Within the cross of the Ankh , the horizontal line beneath the loop represents the material and physical path and the challenges faced along the journey of life, while the vertical line, pointing upwards, relates to the soul’s journey and the quest for enlightenment.

What are the origins of the Ankh?

The actual origin of the Ankh is unknown, however there are several theories. Many scholars believe that the Ankh symbolises a knot made from flexible material such as cloth or reeds.

Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934) theorised that it originated from the tjet or “knot of Isis” which is a ceremonial girdle, representative of female genitalia and a symbol of fertility.

goddess isis

Egyptologist Alan Gardiner thought that the Ankh was representative of sandal straps and was a form of hieroglyphic writing.

Thomas Inman, an amateur mythologist of the 19th Century thought the Ankh represented the male and female reproductive organs, joined in a single sign.

As with most ancient symbols, there is very little consensus as to the actual origin of the Ankh , but all seem to agree that it is a powerful symbol.

Who Adopted The Ankh?

Early examples of the Ankh are seen from the First Dynasty (c. 30th to29th BC) and since then, the Ankh has been adopted by various religions and groups.

Like the Pharaohs, many Egyptians wore the Ankh as a powerful amulet during life and were buried with it after death.

crux ansata

In the 4th Century CE the Ankh was adopted by the Coptic Christians and adapted into the crux ansata (pictured on the left), a variation on the Christian cross. The crux ansata is similar to the Ankh , but with a circular shape atop the cross instead of the teardrop shape.  This symbol is meant to represent Christs promise of eternal life.  In fact it has been said that the  Ankh was actually one of the few Egyptian symbols that continued to be in use following the Christianisation of Egypt during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.

During the Early Dynastic Period, the popularity of the cult of Isis (the mother goddess associated with fertility) rose, and with it, the symbolism of the Ankh (Isis is often depicted with a staff or papyrus in one hand and an Ankh in the other).

In modern times, the Ankh has become associated with goths and the Neopagan belief system, and during the 1960’s the Ankh was adopted as a symbol of African cultural identity.

To this day, the Ankh remains an enduring symbol for many groups of people worldwide.

Symbolism Of The Ankh

It is of no doubt that the Ankh has always represented life and the afterlife. Amulets made in the shape of the Ankh were worn from the time of the Old

ankh pendant

Kingdom (c. 2700 to 2200 BC) until the First Millenium BC. These amulets were worn in daily life and, at the time of death, were placed in tombs to ensure the wellbeing of the deceased in the afterlife.

In artworks from Egypt, the Ankh is often seen in the hands of the Egyptian gods, being given to a pharaoh (who was thought to represent the whole of Egypt). These images represent the gods power to sustain life and to revive human souls in the afterlife.

According to Adele Nozedar, the Ankh was also said to be a key to the gates of death and what lay beyond in the afterlife. It is this association with the afterlife that the Ankh is often seen on caskets and amulets placed in tombs.

Aside from the associations with life, and the afterlife, the Ankh has also been associated with the sun, air, water, and light, as well as fertility, and the promise of eternal life.

god giving ankh to pharaoh

As a representation of air, the Ankh is often seen being held by god's up to the king’s nose, thus offering him the breath of life.

Various artworks depicting ritual purifications of kings or deceased commoners, also show the Ankhs association with water. In these cases, the zigzag lines that would often symbolise water in these paintings were replaced with chains of ankhs.

 

Being associated with the goddess Isis, the Ankh has also been used as a symbol of fertility.

What Is The Power Of The Ankh & How Can You Incorporate It Into Your Daily Practice?

The power behind the Ankh lies in its thousands of years old history and deep symbolism. Since its conception it has represented, in one way or another, the continuity of life- connecting the physical life and the afterlife. This makes the Ankh an ideal symbol to utilise within any spiritual practice and it is clear as to why so many groups, from the Egyptians to the Christians and the Wiccans have incorporated it into their practices.  

So how might you incorporate this symbol into your own practice? Firstly, you need to figure out if the symbol of the Ankh resonates with you. There is no point

brass ankh tiles

in having something just because someone else says that you should. If the symbol resonates with you, you may choose to wear the Ankh as an amulet, such as a necklace; use an Ankh altar tile (like the ones we sell here) on your altar or wall as a connection between the physical and spiritual planes or use the ankh in your artwork.

Whether you wear or use an Ankh to connect you to the afterlife; as a reminder of the continuity of life, or as a fertility symbol and connection with the goddess Isis, there is not doubt that this decorative symbol holds a lot of power. If used with respect the Ankh can be a constant and comforting reminder that the journey of life does not necessarily end at the death of the physical body.  

 

References:

Mark, J. J. (2016, September 19). The Ankh. Word History Encycopedia. Retrieved February 20, 2024, from https://www.worldhistory.org/Ankh/
Wikipedia contributors. (2024, February 4). Ankh. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:30, February 21, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ankh&oldid=1203107582
EZ Tour Egypt (n.d.). Unlocking the Ankh Meaning: Symbolism, Significance, and Interpretations. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from https://eztouregypt.com/ankh-meaning/
Wikipedia contributors. (2024, February 9). Isis. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:42, February 27, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Isis&oldid=1205518277

 

 

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