The Ankh is the symbol of life according to the beliefs of the Kemites (Kems) of ancient Afrika. Known as “the key of life” or the “cross of life”, it dates from the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 – 2613 BCE).
It is one of the most recognizable yet misunderstood symbols in all the world. The Ankh is described by some as the Egyptian Cross, despite the fact that it pre dates both Egypt and the cross itself by several thousand years.
The symbol is a hieroglyph for “life” or “breath of life” (`nh = ankh) and, as the Kemites believed that one’s earthly journey was only part of an eternal life, the ankh symbolizes both mortal existence and the afterlife. It is one of the most ancient symbols of Kemite, often seen with the djed and was symbols, carried by a multitude of the Kemetic gods in tomb paintings and inscriptions and worn by Kem as an amulet.
The ankh is the perhaps the most enduring symbol of the Kemetic philosophy. The true meaning of the ancient symbol will still spark vigorous debate. I will do my best define my understand.
The Ankh is the symbol of eternal life. It represents both female energy with its crown and male energy with its shaft. Its is the combination of these that we find eternal life.
Still others will reference is visual similarity to the reproductive organs of a woman for its connection to life a rebirth. The crown representing the womb, the two stems being the filopen tubes, and the shaft repesents the birth canal
THE ANKH & THE GODDESS ISIS The ankh came into popular useage in Kemet during the Early Dynastic Period with the rise of the cults of Auset and Ausar.
Auset is a mother goddess associated with fertility. But she is also the beloved wife who resurrected Ausar after his murder at the hands of chaos in the form of Set.
Auset became the most popular goddess in Kemet and Nubia and all the other gods were seen as mere aspects of this most powerful and all-encompassing deity. The cult of Auset promised eternal life through personal resurrection. In the same way that Auset had rescued her husband Ausar from death, so could she rescue those who placed their faith in her. The association of the ankh with such a powerful goddess imbued it with greater meaning in that now it was linked specifically with the great goddess who could save one’s soul and provide for one in the afterlife.
During the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE), when the cult of the god Amun was increasing in power and stature, the ankh became associated with him. The ankh was used in temple ceremonies regularly at this time and became associated with the cult of Amun and royalty.
During the Amarna Period (1353 – 1336 BCE), when Akhenaten raised the god Aten as the sole god of Egypt, the ankh continued in popular use. The symbol is seen in paintings and inscriptions at the end of the beams of light emanating from the solar disc of Aten, bringing life to those who believe. After Akhenaten’s death, his son Tutankhaten (whose name contains the ankh symbol and means “living image of the god Aten”) took the throne, reigning 1336-1327 BCE, changed his name to Tutankhamun (“living image of the god Amun”) and reinstated the old religion, retaining the ankh with the same meaning it had always held.
The ankh remained a popular symbol even though Akhenaten’s reign. The greatest ruler of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II (1279 – 1213 BCE) employed the ankh regularly in his inscriptions and it continued in use throughout the remainder of Kemet’s history history.
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 Kemet, Kush and Nubia 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.
The mortal genius Imhotep who became deified as the god of medicine became associated with the ankh and its healing aspects.
The same sign structure, but with the closed element filled in, ankh with solid loop, has been found in Peru used by the Mochica culture around the seventh century.
The loop is the perfect symbol of what has neither beginning nor end and stands for the soul which is eternal because it has sprung from the spiritual essence of the gods.
The possessor of this geometric key to the hidden mysteries of creation, will be able to open the gates of the realms beyond and penetrate the hidden meaning of eternal life.
Gods, are depicted holding the ankh to show that they command the powers of life and death and that they are immortal. The dead also carry it at the time their souls are weighed or when they are aboard the Boat of the Sun God, as a sign that they seek this same immortality from the gods. Furthermore the ankh symbolized the spring from which flowed divine virtues and the elixir of immortality. Therefore to hold the ankh was to drink from that well. It was sometimes held upside down by the loop – especially in funeral rites in this case represents the key to entering the realm of eternity.
Sometimes the ankh is placed on the forehead, between the eyes, and then it symbolizes the duty of the enlightened to keep secret the sacred knowledge into which he has been initiated.
If one is Blessed by the supreme vision, endowed with the clairvoyance to pierce the veil of the beyond, he must guard this knowledge from the undisciplined. This loop symbolizes the inexhaustible essence of the life force, from whom life flows in all its forms.
That The Ahkh remains a highly visible symbol today is a testament to its enduring power and connection to mankind.