See also free ankh pictures and clip-art.
The Ankh Cross represents life (immortality) and death, male and female, balance. It can also represent zest, joy of life, and energy. It's closely related to the looped cross that can mean fertility and life.
The Ancient Egyptians used the ankh to stand for a word meaning life. It is also called crux ansata, Latin for cross-with-a-handle.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed to have had a vision of death outside the walls of Jerusalem he made the symbol of punishment and death (the cross) synonymous with Christianity; Constantine's cross was made from a sword and a spear, a sign that a soldier could make, and non-Christians learned to hate and fear the brutality that was associated with this symbol for over a thousand years. As a result, the Ankh Cross, like the swastica usurped by the Nazis, has become associated also with Christianity.
Like most religious or spiritual symbols, the Ankh Cross doesn't have a single simple meaning. The following extracts from books on symbols might help you get a feeling for it, though.
Ankh. Egyption hieroglyph for life, possibly originaly a representation of a sandal strap. As a symbol is denotes eternal life and when held to the nose of a dead pharaoh ensures his everlasting existance. It is held by many deities, in particular Atum, the sun-god of Heliopolis, and (when seated) Sekhmet, the lion-headed war-goddess of memphis. A was Sceptre combining the djed column and ankh is the attribute of Ptah. On the walls of temples it gives divine protection to the deceased. The Coptic Church adopted it as a form of the Cross, called ansate (having a handle).
Hall's illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art, James Hall, published by John Murray in 1994
The ancient Egyptian staff sign or god staff ankh, which is also believed to be the hieroglyph used to symbolize reproduction and sexual union. According to other sources means life and zest for life. The best summary of its meaning is future life, life after death.
Hathor, who was both the goddess of the zest for life and the goddess of death, carried and gave life with it. This contradictory character in many ways corresponds to the Venus goddess Inanna, Ischtar, Astarte, and Aphrodite. For a derivation of the relation between , and , see , in Group 29.
The hieroglyph is sometimes called the key of the Nile. The symbol is associated with Imkotep (living aroung 3000 B.C.), physician for the pharaoh's family. Long after his death Imkotep was made the god of medicine of healing in Egypt. That is why this symbol is used as the logotype for a multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer.
The same sign structure, but with the closed element filled in, , has been found in Peru used by the Mochica culture around the seventh century.
The above entry sign was adopted by Christian symbolism and given the name crux ansata or Coptic cross. The crux ansata, or handlebar cross, was also drawn .
Compare with in Group 41:b and also with in this group.
This sign has been used to represent copper during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries instead of the more common .
Dictionary of Symbols, Carl G. Liungman, 1991; originally published as Symboler - vásterlämdskala ideogram in Sweden in 1974, translated to English by the author.
Ankh (see also Cross, Knot) The Egyptian crux ansata, or looped tau-cross. This magic knot or cross, known as Nem Ankh, the key of life, was often used in the iconography of opposites. The loop over the tau-cross could stand for the Sun, for Heaven and Eath as the macrocsm and for man as the microcosm. It is generally interpreted as a symbol which expresses the reconciliation of opposites of the integration of active and passive qualities. This is amply confirmed by the fact that, when recumbent, the ankh symbolizes both male and female sexual attributes in precisely the same way as the very realistic Hindo depiction of a Hermaphrodite standing on a Lotus flower. Champdor gives a more traditional interpretation as:
the symbol of the millions of years of the life to come. 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 cross erpresents the state of trance in which te neophyte struggled, or, more precisely, the state of death, the crucifixion of the chosen victim, and in some temples the priests used to lay the neophyte on a bed shaped like the cross... The possessor of the geometric key to the hidden mysteries, of which the symbol was this very looped cross, was able to open the gates of the Kingdom of the Dead and penetrate the hidden meaning of eternal life. Cham, p.22
Gods, kinks and Isis (almost invariably) 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 when it suggested the shape of a key and in reality was the key which opened the gateway of the tomb into the Fields of Aalu, the realm of eternity. Sometimes the ankh is placed on the forehead, between the eyes, and then it symbolizes the duty of the adept to keep secret the mystery into which he has been initiated - it is the key which locks these secrets away from the uninitiated. Blessed by the supreme vision, endowed with clairvoyance to pierce the veil of the beyond, he cannot attemot to reveal the mystery without losing it for ever.
The ankh is often set in the same category as the Girdle of Isis, as a symbol of eternity. This is not because its straight lines may be lengthened in the imagination to infinity, but because they converge upon and meet in a closed loop. This loop symbolizes the inexhaustible essence of the life force identified with isis, from whom life flows in all its forms. it is therefore carried by all those who wish to share her life. Hence the ankh may be identified with the Tree of Life, with its trunk and foliage.
The significance of the Girdle of Isis is far more complex. Like ropework or plaited hair round the arms and the loop of the cross, it infuses the concept of life and of immortality with the concept of the knots which tie down mortal life on Earth and which must be unravelled to enjoy immortality. `Free your bonds,' says The Egyptian Book of the Dead, `untie the knots of Nephthys.' And again: `Shining are those who carry the girdle. Oh! Bearers of the Girdle.' The same meaning is conveyed by the Tibetan Buddhist book called The Book of the Untying of the Knots. While the plain looped cross symbolizes divine immortality, sought orattained, the Girdle of Isis makes clear the conditions under which that immortality is obtained - by the untying of knots - dénouement in the true sense of the word.
A Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, translated from the French by John Buchan-Brown, Blackwell, 1994 (the French edition was originally published by Éditions Robert Laffront S.A. in 1969, 2nd ed. 1982)
If you get this book, try and get the hardback edition: the reviews at Amazon say the Penguin paperback is on cheap paper, at least in the US.
Note also that the English edition is not illustrated.
Some other Web pages about the ankh:
- The Afrocentric Experience said The Ankh is defined as: The symbolic representation of both Physical and Eternal life. It is known as the original cross, which is a powerful symbol that was first created by Africans in Ancient Egypt.
- pantheon.org says 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 meaning of the ankh as womb, thus fertility and reproduction, is well-illustrated in this particular legend.
See also the wikipedia, and also I have some free ankh images.