Egyptian Ankh

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ank1This is the ancient Egyptian symbolic representation of both physical and eternal life or life after life. The Ankh is known as the original cross. Ankh is given to the deceased to have a blessed after life. This is a highly sacred sign worn by Egyptian to get a long life full of blessings. The ankh may represent the life-giving elements of air and water. It was often shown being offered to the king’s lips as a symbol of the “breath of life.” Anthropomorphic pictures of the ankh sometimes show it holding an ostrich-feather fan behind the pharaoh in a variant form of this idea. Similarly, chains of ankhs were shown poured out of water vessels over the king as a symbol of the regenerating power of water. Libation vessels which held the water used in religious ceremonies were themselves sometimes produced in the shape of the ankh hieroglyph. Found widely in Egyptian art, the ankh has come to symbolize life after death.

In Egyptian art, especially that depicting funeral ceremonies, their gods and goddesses are shown clutching the ankh by its loop as if it were a key. In this manner, it is believed that the ankh would open the gates of death on to immortality. It is also known as the Key of the Nile, representing the union of Isis and Osiris. It is said that this mystic union would initiate the annual flooding of the Nile, providing Egypt with her various means to survive.

The ankh symbol was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean “strength” and “health. A similar symbol was used to represent the Roman goddess Venus. This symbol, known benignly as Venus’ hand-mirror, is much more associated with a representation of the female womb. In astrology the same symbol is used to represent the planet Venus, in alchemy to represent the element copper, and in biology to identify the female sex. This is also a god health charm.

ank2Another theory holds that the ankh was symbolic of the sunrise, with the loop representing the Sun rising above the horizon, which is represented by the crossbar. The vertical section below the crossbar would then be the path of the sun. The ankh was used in funeral ceremonies as well. When someone died, the dead also carried the ankh at the time their souls were weighed, or when they would board the Boat of the Sun God, as a sign that they sought this same immortality from the gods. It was sometimes held upside down by the loop – especially in funeral rites when it hinted at the shape of a key and in reality was considered the key which opened the gate to the tomb of the Fields of Aalu, the realm of eternity. Therefore, the dead were sometimes referred to as “ankhu”, and a term for a sarcophagus was “neb-ankh”, meaning possessor of life.