The Egyptian cross, also known as Ankh or Anj, was originally an Egyptian hieroglyphic used to represent the word “life”. By extension, this cross became primarily a symbol of life.
As usual in many symbols of religious or spiritual origin, there is no single meaning for this symbol. Throughout history, this symbol and its variants have been used by different cultures and religions that have given it different meanings.
Among the Egyptians it was primarily a symbol of life or immortality. In this sense, he also had a certain relationship with death and the rites associated with death.
The Ankh symbol has also been interpreted as a symbol of balance between opposing forces, for example, between masculinity and femininity. It can also represent joy, energy and fertility.
One of the interpretations of the meaning of this symbol ties it with sexual union and therefore with fertility and life. This allows to understand this symbol not only as a symbol of present life but also as a symbol of future life and immortality.
Despite having its origin in Ancient Egypt, this cross has also been important in Christian culture in which it has been known as ansata crux. In recent years, the Egyptian Cross has also had remarkable importance among different modern cultural movements.
ANKH MEANS IN EGYPT CULTURE
Within the Egyptian hieroglyphic system, the Ankh represents the set of three consonants: Ꜥ-n- ḫ. This sequence of consonants appears in different words from the ancient language spoken by the Egyptians.
The most important word in the ancient Egyptian language containing these three consonants is the word life. This sequence also appears in the words to design a mirror or bouquet of flowers.
Despite the great importance of this hieroglyphic in Egyptian writing, its origin is still a reason for debate among experts.
Egyptian hieroglyphics always represented an object with a physical representation in the real world: a fish, a house, a bird, etc. In this sense, there is no consensus on the object that this hieroglyphic might have represented.
Some experts claim that this hieroglyphic represented some sort of important knot in Egyptian culture. This theory may be reinforced by the fact that the older versions of this hieroglyphic appear with slightly curved arms and of different length.
According to other theories, this hieroglyphic could have represented the strap of a sandal, a mirror, or a union between male and female sexual attributes.
In Egyptian art, the Ankh symbol often appears as a representation of life. Thus, it is very common to represent Egyptian gods holding an Ankh symbol by its upper arm. This symbolized that life was in gods hands.
It was also common for the representation of a god holding a symbol of this cross near the mouth or nose of another god or a pharaoh. This scene represented the power of the gods to give life to the pharaohs and secure their eternal existence.
One of the goddesses most often appeared represented holding this cross is the goddess Hathor. Within Egyptian mythology, Goddess Hathor played an important role. Hathor was considered the mother of god Horus and god Ra. This made her associated with the feminine aspects of the god Ra. Some of her main roles were related to joy, dance, music and sexuality.
Within Egyptian culture, the Ankh symbol was also used in all kinds of charms. The charms were associated with the attributes of god or virtue they represented. In this case the Ankh amulet was used to represent life. The Egyptians used them in their everyday life but also as an offering for the dead to accompany them in life after death.
The charms with this shape were mostly blue black or blue. The materials used for their manufacturing were gold, gold and silver alloy, as well as ceramic. It is possible that the material and color of these charms also had a particular importance among the Egyptians.
Among Egyptian culture, the Ankh was also known as “the key to the Nile”. The key to the Nile was also a representation of the union between opposites. In this case it represented the union between Isis and Osiris. According to Egyptian beliefs, this union and the fight between these two elements were the source that led to the annual flood of the Nile.
ANKH IN MODERN CULTURE
In modern western culture of the 20th century the Egyptian cross has resurrected as a symbol and has been often used for tattoo and jewelry designs. In this sense, it has been mainly used as a symbol of vitality and immortality.
The Ankh has had a special importance within some current subcultural movements. Among them, the Gothic Movement.
It has also been the main symbol of Egyptian kemetism or neopaganism, a modern religion based on the practices of ancient Egyptian mythology.
The Ankh symbol has also been linked to the knot of Isis or Tyet. This symbol is also a symbol of eternity and holds a certain geometric similarity to the Ankh. The main difference is that in the case of Tyet, the side arms of the cross are bent down. It is likely that within Egyptian culture the Isis knot had a very similar meaning to that of the Ankh.
IN ALCHEMY AND ASTRONOMY
It is likely that the symbol of the ansata cross would also serve as an inspiration for the creation of some scientific symbols used from the 17th century.
This symbol holds some similarity to the symbol originally used to represent the planet Venus. This symbol was used among the first astronomers, although today the International Astronomical Union discovers its use. It’s still being used by astrologers today.
By extension, the same symbol was used among alchemists to represent the copper element. A material initially associated with planet Venus.
This symbol related to planet Venus was also associated with femininity. Along with the symbol associated with planet Mars is one of the current symbols to indicate gender.
Also the gods Atum and Sejmet were habitually represented holding the Ankh. Atum was considered the first god, able to have created himself. Sejmet, on her part, was considered the goddess of war and her representation with the Ankh represented the protection she offered to the pharaohs during the war.