The Ankh symbol appears in most ancient Egyptian carvings as a hieroglyphic character. Still, many need clarification on what precisely this symbol is and what it represents.
The Ankh Symbol resembles a cross, but it has a petal-shaped loop instead of a vertical upper bar.
The cross-like symbol has many names, but the most known are “Key of life” and “Key of the Nile.” The symbol has had many interpretations, but the predominant one is that it represents eternal life. Another theory that will be difficult to put down once discussed is that the Ankh is the first —and original— cross created.
When it comes to the ancient Egyptians and the symbols they used, there is always a sea of information and a plethora of interesting stories. This is mainly because the ancient pharaohs always had a theory or a meaning for everything they did and made. Today, we will learn some facts about the Ankh Symbol and its intriguing history.
1. The Ankh symbol symbolises the union of Male and Female Powers
The first thing you should keep in mind is that anything related to the ancient Egyptians may have numerous theories; some are odd yet fascinating.
Most of the theories presented below on the Ankh symbol are based on an original story about the marriage of two important ancient gods in Egyptian mythology, Isis and Osiris. Because of their marriage, many believe the Ankh cross combines Osiris’ T shape (male sexual organs) with the oval of Isis at the top (female uterus). So, simply put, the combination of the two symbolises the union of opposites and the life cycle that begins with reproduction.
The Ankh symbol represents both genders or, in other words, the harmony between the sexes. The lower T of the cross represents male sexual characteristics, while the upper part, the cross’s handle, stands for the uterus or the woman’s pelvis. Together, they represent the unity of opposites.
If you connect the dots, you can see how the key of life got its name, as it represents reproduction and, thus, the cycle of life.
The Key of Life represents the balance of opposing forces, namely femininity and masculinity. It can also refer to other aspects of life that require harmony between these two powers, such as happiness, energy, and, of course, fertility. It’s no wonder the Ankh is synonymous with such features, showing how important they were regarded in ancient Egypt.
2. The Ankh symbol is worn as an amulet by some people
You’ve probably seen someone wearing the key of life symbol and wondered, “What does wearing the Ankh symbol mean?” Of course, everything has a deeper meaning, and this is the case with the oldest civilisations.
Let us travel back in time to ancient Egypt, when people wore an Ankh and Eye of Horus pendant as an amulet. They believed that wearing an Ankh would protect them from harm.
Now, let us come back to the present time. Many wear the Ankh and Horus eyes talismans to attract good fortune and luck. It is believed that wearing both the Ankh and Horus eyes on your chest will give your heart chakra extra power. In addition, many believe that wearing both symbols on your throat encourages creative and honest communication.
The real question is, do you believe in such a thing? And which symbol would you get? the Ankh or Horus eye?
3. Many people confuse the Ankh with the Isis Knot
The Ankh and Isis Knot are two different symbols that many confuse together, so let’s learn the difference between the two ancient Egyptian symbols.
It’s unknown how the Isis Knot came to light. It is a symbol portraying a knotted piece of cloth. Some think its hieroglyphic sign was originally a modified version of Ankh. When you think about it, the mysterious symbol is similar to an Ankh in one way or another, except that its transverse arms are curved downward.
Tyet —also written Tiet or Thet— is another name for the Isis Knot. According to some sources, the meaning of this symbol is very similar to that of the Ankh.
Ancient Egyptians mainly used the Tyet symbol for decoration. It can be found alongside the Ankh and Djed signs and the sceptre— all symbols that frequently appeared in ancient artefacts and the ancient Egyptian language. The Isis Knot takes the form of a sculpted animal head placed atop a long, straight staff with a forked end.
The symbol was connected to Isis during the New Kingdom, possibly because of its frequent connection to the Djed pillar. As a result, the two characters became related to Osiris and Isis. It was named “the knot of Isis” because it resembles the knot that secures the gods’ garments in many pharaonic cravings. It’s also known as “Isis’ girdle” and “Isis’ blood.”
To clear up any confusion: the difference between the Ankh and the Isis Knot is only in shape; both serve the same purpose, but one —the Key of Life— is more commonly seen and used than the other.
4. The Ankh symbol was buried with the majority of ancient Egyptians
We all know that ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife or that death is only a transitional phase to the afterlife or eternal life. That is why you will find mummies buried with all their belongings, including their organs, mummified.
Ancient Egyptians always placed an Ankh on the lips of the deceased to help them open the door to a new life—the afterlife. This consequently gave rise to the symbol being referred to as the “Key of Life.” Most of the mummies from the Middle Kingdom are found with mirrors in the shape of the Ankh. The most famous Ankh-shaped mirror was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The association of mirrors with Ankhs was not by chance; ancient Egyptians believed that the afterlife was only a mirror image of the life they had on Earth.
5. The goddess Ma’at is the keeper of the Ankh
In several tomb paintings, the goddess Ma’at is illustrated holding an Ankh in each hand while the god Osiris grasps the symbol. As previously stated, the Ankh’s connection to the afterlife and the gods made it a well-known amulet in tombs and on caskets.
Another god, Anubis, and goddess Isis are frequently seen in the afterlife placing the Ankh against the lips of the soul to revive it and open that soul to live after death.
Interestingly enough, not only is one god associated with the Ankh, but there are a few that we know from the current artefacts. It’s possible that even more deities have one story or another with the Egyptian cross that Egyptologists have yet to discover or reveal.
That’s All There is to the Key of Life Symbol
You probably had no idea the Ankh held more significance than being just a pretty accessory, which is the beauty of the ancient Egyptian era. The more you dig, the more interesting information you find about the life of the old, proud civilisation. It is safe to say that there is at least one unusual story behind every symbol related to ancient Egyptians. A trip to the historical sites in Cairo or a long vacation in Luxor would definitely help you feast on the rich history of Egypt.
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