World over people can easily identify ancient symbols because of how conspicuous they look. Not only does their beauty and significance captivate but also their magical visage is really unique.
Many of these symbols were depicted in hieroglyphics which is an ancient Egyptian writing system which used object symbols to represent words.
There are many ancient Egyptian symbols although some were more popular than others. Some of them were used by people as amulets in order to bring good fortune or protection.
Others still were used in magical and religious rituals of the ancient Egyptians.
In this article, we shall discuss what is perhaps the most common of all ancient Egyptian symbols and genesis of the Christian cross: the Ankh.
What is the Ankh?
The Ankh is represented by a cross with a loop at the top. It can sometimes be found decorated with symbols and flourishes although most times it was crafted in plain gold.
It is also known as the “cross of life” or “key of life” and dates from the early dynastic period of 3150-2613 BCE. Since the Egyptians believed in the afterlife, the Ankh symbolizes both earthly life and the afterlife.
Because it was a sun-symbol the Ankh was almost never crafted or drawn in silver.
On most occasion, important examples of it were mainly crafted from the metals such as gold and highly polished copper that were associated with the sun.
Origins of the Ankh
The exact origins of the Ankh have never been known. However various historians and Egyptologists have different theories. One such Egyptologist is Sir Alan H. Gardiner.
He thought that it originated from an ancient sandal strap. This is because the Egyptian word for sandal was “nkh.” This word comes from the same root as “Ankh” and because the sandal was part of ancient Egyptian life the symbol came to represent life. his theory is still disputed, however.
Another Egyptologist Wallis Bulge also came up with a different theory. He claimed that the symbol came from the belt buckle of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Wallis equated the Ankh with another Egyptian symbol called the tjet. The tjet or “knot of Isis” is a ceremonial girdle that is worn to symbolize female fertility and genitalia.
Where was the Ankh used?
Inscriptions of the Ankh featured prominently in ancient Egyptian tombs as paintings and other art. Here deities such as Isis and Anubis were seen holding the Ankh against someone’s lips.
This symbolized the gods revitalizing the soul and opening it to a life after death. Symbols of the Ankh were also placed on caskets, tomb amulets and on sarcophagi.
Normal Egyptian folk also carried the Ankh as an amulet much like how a Catholic today carries a crucifix with them.
Mirrors were also shaped to look like the Ankh either for purely decorative purposes or to symbolize the perceived view of the afterlife.
The Ankh and Christianity
As Christianity gained widespread acceptance in the 4th century Egypt most of the old symbols were banned or simply forgotten.
The ankh however took a new role while still retaining its promise of mortal life and the afterlife. It was adopted by Coptic Christians who used it as a symbol to signify Christ’s promise of life after death in heaven.
The ankh eventually lost its loop at the top to become the modern cross which is today worn by billions of Christians all over the world.