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Ancient Egyptian sign Ankh, its Symbolism and Meanings

The Ankh

Symbols and Signs by Nataša Pantović

The ancient  and  of Ancient Egypt

Ankh, loved and despised by many, have you ever wondered why... An ancient Egyptian often drawn by our wise ancestors was the symbol used by priests and priestesses to represent resurrection and the holy spirit. Often interpreted as the word for "life", it traveled across the sees to many ancient civilizations and as the sign was used in the artwork of the Minoan civilization in Crete (Ancient Greece). Even the writing that Minoans used resembles ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.


Anch comparison of Minoan and Egyptian symbols 2500 BC

Anch Comparison Egyptian with Minoan Hieroglyphs 2500 BC

The ankh continued to be used after the Christianization of Egypt during the 400 AD. The sign was used by early Christians as a monogram for Jesus.


Ancient Script Anch as the Monogram for Jesus, 400 AC

The Minoans of ancient Greece in Crete, were one of the world’s first great civilizations,. The Egyptians, across the sea had a rich, ancient culture that undoubtedly influenced all who encountered it.

Minoans were the first Europeans to use writing, their artists were supreme, and they traded widely with surrounding areas, building numerous palace complexes in the center of each of their city states. Minoan society was largely matrimonial, and this woman worship was also a part of their religious practices. Worshiping goddess they did not use temples, instead, they had rituals in grottoes and caves.

Egyptian merchants (2500 BC) made written note of their exchanges with the Minoans, with details of the trades.

In Crete, too we find evidence of Egyptian influence. They share a belief in afterlife and, in the requirement of living a just life to attain life after death. 

The bull is at the center of Minoan religion.

The ankh was taken from the Egypt and integrated into their own sacred rituals and burial rites in worship of and .

The Ankh Spiritual Symbolism

A crux ansata in Codex Glazier a Coptic manuscript of the New Testament 400 AC

Ankh or ANX is one of the most recognizable symbols from ancient Egypt, known as "cross of life", dating from 3,000 BC. The symbol is an Egyptian hieroglyph for "life" or "breath of life" = nh = ankh = nX Tracing the sound back in time, we come across X, that was used by the Kings and Priestesses of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom.

It is carried by the ancient Egyptian gods, goddesses in tomb paintings and worn by Egyptians as an amulet, a golden cross if you wish, around the neck. Check The Art of Dying Well from Egypt to Jung to Malta

The ankh symbolism of everlasting life or a symbol of eternal life, got easily assimilated into the early Christianity of the region.

The Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934 CE), claims it originated from the belt buckle of the goddess Isis, symbolizing fertility. 

Deities such as Anubis or Isis, the goddess Ma'at, the god Osiris are often seen placing the ankh against the lips of the soul in the afterlife to awaken it to a life after death.

Ancient Egyptian Cross or Anc Anx Ank Ang

Ancient Egyptian Cross or Anc Anx Ank Ang

It was the cult of Osiris that was dominant as he was the god who had died and returned to life, thus bringing life to others. In time, Isis became the most popular goddess in Egypt and all the other gods were seen as mere aspects of this most powerful and all-encompassing deity. The cult of Isis promised eternal life through personal resurrection. In the same way that Isis had rescued her husband Osiris from death, she rescues those who placed their faith in her.

Hand mirrors were created in the shape of the ankh, the most famous being that found in the tomb of Tutankhamun 2,500 BC

Hand mirrors were created in the shape of the ankh, the most famous being that found in the tomb of Tutankhamun 2,500 BC

Mirrors were often used for divination purposes from the Middle Kingdom onward.

The ankh was a popular amulet worn in life and carried to the grave. During the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BC), during the cult of the god Amun, the ankh became associated with him. The ankh was used in temple ceremonies and became associated with the cult of Amun and royalty.

During the Amarna Period (1353 - 1336 BC), Akh(X)enaten banned the cult of Amun and raised the goddess Athen (aXeN) as the mono-theist Goddess of Egypt, the ankh became her symbol. The symbol is seen in paintings at the end of the beams of light emanating from the solar disc of Aten.

Anch on the carvings of Ancient Egyptian graves from 3,000 BC - 300 AC

The greatest ruler of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II (1279 - 1213 BC) employed the ankh in his inscriptions and it continued to be used throughout the remainder of Egypt's history.

The Ankh & Christianity

 As Christianity gained in popularity the ankh continued to be in use. The Coptic church of Egypt inherited the ankh as a form of the Christian cross, symbolizing eternal life through Christ.

The ankh as a symbol of eternal life eventually lost its loop at the top to become the Christian cross.

Check also Sumerian Temple Hymns

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