The Ankh sign, also known as the “Key to Life” or the “Key to the Nile,” is an ancient Egyptian symbol. It embodies life and is a metaphor for life itself. It’s often referred to as the Ankh Cross because of its resemblance to a cross.


The Origin and Symbolism of the Ankh

Currently, there’s still no consensus among scholars on the origins of the Ankh sign. However, its overall shape resembles that of a cross, with the vertical upper bar of the cross replaced by a teardrop shape. As far as we know, the use of this symbol can be traced back to the first dynasty of ancient Egypt, about 3,100 to 2,900 years ago.


The Ankh symbol represents life in ancient Egypt, but in addition, it also has several symbolic meanings: it signifies the elements of water, air, and the sun, which are necessary for life and meant to provide and protect life in ancient Egyptian culture. Moreover, because it was often found on sarcophagi, it was believed to safeguard the life of the dead after death. In another interpretation, it was used as a symbol of balance between opposing forces, such as the balance between masculinity and femininity. This sign has also been used in various amulets and thus acts as a symbol of the protection of life.


The Meaning of the Ankh Symbol through its Shape

The circle at the top of the Ankh symbolizes that there’s no beginning and no end, and represents the heavenly world or the spirit of the sun god in ancient Egypt. The circle above can also be seen as the handle of a key, held by ancient Egyptian deities. According to another theory, it was used to open the gates to the underworld, symbolizing eternity.


Ankh Cross and Ancient Egyptian Culture

We can find that in ancient Egyptian culture, artifacts and handicrafts often depict images of the pharaohs and Egyptian civilization, and the Ankh is often used to represent blessings and wishes for longevity. As one of the oldest symbols in ancient Egypt, the Ankh was often used as a decorative motif for art and architecture, on various objects such as fans, mirrors or ceramics, and even on temple walls or pillars.


Ankh and Egyptian Mythology

The Ankh sign’s symbolism is both important and full of stories in ancient Egypt because it’s often found in the tales of Egyptian gods and goddesses. In the following three narratives, you’ll find that the Ankh Cross has an inseparable relationship with Egypt.


  • The Ankh and the Goddess Isis

Known in ancient Egypt as the goddess of fertility and nature, Isis was not only the wife of Osiris, the ruler of the underworld, but also the daughter of the god of the earth. She was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife. Isis is described as preferring to place the Ankh on the lips of a soul in the underworld, thereby reviving them and giving them eternal life. Thus, the Ankh symbol becomes a sign of eternal life. In art, the goddess Isis is portrayed as a woman with a throne-shaped headdress and an Ankh in her hand.


  • The Ankh and the Goddess Neith

Another Egyptian goddess of war and wisdom, Neith, is also deeply associated with Ankh. According to legend, during Neith’s festival of lights, Egyptians burned oil lamps to reflect the stars in the sky, creating a mirror image of the sky on Earth. Therefore, the Ankh symbol is often thought of as a mirror.


  • The Ankh and the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten

Akhenaten is an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, who rejected the traditional Egyptian polytheism and foretold that Aten would replace all previous gods. Legend has it that the Ankh symbol appeared in the beam of light from the disc of the sun god Aten, symbolizing life for those who believed. When Akhenaten died, his son Tutankhamun succeeded him. He was encouraged by the priests of the traditional polytheistic religion to re-establish the faith in Amun, the king of the gods, but preserved the Ankh symbol.


Why the Ankh Is Also Called the Key to the Nile

The Ankh also represents the union of man and woman, symbolizing the joint creation of life through this union. The Egyptians believed that every year, the union of Osiris and Isis would bring rain, which would fill the Nile with water and bring life to Egypt through irrigation and fertilization of the land. This is why the symbol is also called the “Key to the Nile” and is considered to be the origin of life.


The Ankh is one of the best known and oldest symbols of Egypt and has been given various emblems and meanings by the Egyptian deities. It has also passed down through the dynasties of Egypt, and the legends of the Ankh continues to be told to this day.


What Does the Ankh Cross Pendant Symbolize Today?

As we all know, this sign is most often found in necklaces because it’s a very energetic symbol – one that gives us tremendous strength. It’s a symbol of hope when enduring hardship and difficulty and tells us to be cautious while moving towards success.

Further Reading

The 10 Most Popular Crosses➣The 10 Most Popular Crosses

Do you know the meaning behind the 5-pointed star? ➣The Symbolism of 5-Pointed Stars