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The Ankh was, for the ancient Egyptians, the symbol (the actual Hieroglyphic sign) of life but it is an enduring icon that remains with us even today as a Christian cross. It is one of the most potent symbols represented in Egyptian art, often forming a part of decorative motifs.

The ankh seems at least to be an evolved form of, or associated with the Egyptian glyph for magical protection, sa. However, what the sign itself represents is often disputed. For example, Sir Alan Gardiner thought that it showed a sandal strap with the loop at the top forming the strap, but if so, the symbolism is obscure and so his theory has found little real favor early on. However, this interpretation seems to have received some acceptance among modern writers. It would seem that the ancient Egyptians called that part of the sandal 'nkh (exact pronunciation unknown). Because this word was composed of the same consonants as the word "life", the sign to represent that particular part of the sandal, was also used to write the word "life".

An Osiris Pillar of Senusret I from the 12th Dynasty
 An Osiris Pillar of Senusret I from the 12th Dynasty;

Wolfhart Westendorf felt it was associated with the tyet emblem, or the "knot of Isis". He thought both were ties for ceremonial girdles. Winfried Barta connected the ankh with the royal cartouche in which the king's name was written, while others have even identified it as a penis sheath. The presence of a design resembling a pubic triangle on one ankh of the New kingdom Covering all the bases with an ankh, djed and was-sceptre as an amulet seems to allow for the idea that the sign may be a specifically sexual symbol. In fact, guides in Egypt today like to tell tourists that the circle at the top represents the female sexual organ, while the stump at the bottom the male organ and the crossed line, the children of the union. However, while this interpretation may have a long tradition, there is no scholarly research that would suggest such an exact meaning. 

The ankh, on some temple walls in Upper Egypt, could also symbolize water in rituals of purification. Here, the king would stand between two gods, one of whom was usually Thoth, as they poured over him a stream of libations represented by ankhs. 

The ancient gods of Egypt are often depicted as carrying ankh signs. We find Anqet, Ptah, Satet, Sobek, Tefnut, Osiris, Ra, Isis, Hathor, Anibus and many other gods often holding the ankh sign, along with a scepter, and in various tomb and temple reliefs, placing it in front of the king's face to symbolize the breath of eternal life. During the Amarna period, the ankh sign was depicted being offered to Akhenaten and Nefertiti by the hands at the end of the rays descending from the sun disk, Aten. Therefore, the ankh sign is not only a symbol of worldly life, but of life in the netherworld. Therefore, we also find the dead being referred to as ankhu, and a term for a sarcophagus was neb-ankh, meaning possessor of life.  

It is at least interesting that the ankh word was used for mirrors from at least the Middle Kingdom onward, and that indeed, many mirrors were shaped in the form of an ankh sign. Life and death mirror each other, and in any number of ancient religions, mirrors were used for  purposes of divination.  

In fact, the ankh sign in ancient Egypt seems to have transcended illiteracy, being comprehensible to even those who could not read. Hence, we even find it as a craftsman's mark on pottery vessels.

As the Christian era eclipsed Egypt's pharaonic pagan religion, the sign was adapted by the Coptic church as their unique form of a cross, known as the crux ansata.

ankh of the death


Ankh of the deathFertility does not simply apply to the Egyptian population themselves. They saw the great Nile River as their source of life. Prayers for fertility of their crops were blessings of the Nile, and ankhs were chiefly used in those practices.

Besides being carved or painted on walls as a hieroglyph, there has been speculation that ankhs were carved from wood or stone and used around the home. Perhaps they were a blessing for a long life, good health, and happiness. Some scholars have suggested additional uses. Ankhs may have been used when taking an oath, such as we swear upon a Bible today. Another theory was that they could even have been used as a spindle for primitive kites!


One thing is sure; it has become a sacred symbol and is common throughout the world. Alchemist texts often depict a staff with an ankh at the top. I have seen caduceus drawings, the serpent entwined wings of medicine and health, where the ankh bears the wings itself.


Ankh of the death

Some people believe it was a symbol of a life in eternety, but in another place or dimension. It could only be achieved through death. And that this was the savior from the world, as we know it. This world we live in is the lowest place in the universe, and only knowlegde (gnostic), could detetmine wether we will live in eternety or not.