Ankh Meaning in Rastafari
Among the African symbols less known by the non-initiated to Rastafarianism, the Rasta cross holds an important place. But what exactly is this cross? What is its meaning?
I am Adry, founder of Rasta Colibri and passionate about the Rastafari universe since my teenage years. Through this article, I intend to answer all your questions in the best possible way.
The Rasta cross is a major reference to the history and the land of origin of Rastas. The Ankh cross and the Ethiopian cross symbolize the divine oneness, the connection to Africa and the path to Zion and eternal life. Major precepts for Rastafarians all over the world.
The rasta cross in details
We are not going to repeat the history of Rastafarianism, but before studying the Rasta cross in more detail, it is important to know that Rastas are linked to a long tradition that goes back to the Egyptians and the Hebrews.
It is therefore not surprising to find many symbols, such as the lion of Judea or the star of David among the Rasta emblems. Another prominent symbol is the Egyptian cross or Ankh. This ankh cross is recognizable among all with its looped top.
"Ankh" means "life". It refers to divine protection and the gift of eternal life. This cross has long been associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis. For the Egyptians, it symbolized protection in this life and in the afterlife. It accompanied the deceased on their journey to the next world and is seen in many paintings and sculptures.
Numerous testimonies indicate that it was worn by the majority of the inhabitants of Pharaonic Egypt as a simple good luck charm. In the Egyptian religion, this cross generally symbolized the vital forces, the sun, water and air.
But how did this object become a Rasta symbol?
a) Black Egypt
We have to go back a little bit to understand this relationship (so you won't escape history class!).
Many historians have linked ancient Egypt to a larger black African territory. This territory is then named Kemet, which means black. The black people also had an important part in the development of the Egyptian civilization with the close links that the country had with Nubia and Sudan, its neighbors. The very famous Nefertiti also had black origins.
In short, the relations between the black people and Egypt are numerous.
To understand the adoption of the Ankh cross by the Rastas, one must also refer to the powerful links of these people with Judaism and more particularly with King Solomon, from whom they claim to be direct descendants. We all know the different episodes related in the Old Testament taking place on Egyptian lands.
b) A long tradition that brings together different actors and principles
It is therefore no longer surprising to see major symbols of ancient Egypt returning to the hands of the Rastas.
The land of Egypt was home to many African slaves during the great phases of monument building. Mention of this can be found in the Old Testament. These oppressed people found favor in the eyes of the Rastas who identified with them.
The exodus from Egypt was also an important episode for Rastafarians.
The Ankh, symbol for the Rastafari movement
This ankh cross was adopted by the first Rastafarians for several reasons. Firstly because it refers to a history that they consider as their own. By getting closer to the ancient Egyptians, the Rastas find their origins to which they are so attached.
They could have naturally borrowed a different symbol but this cross represents life in this world and in the other. Major lucky charm of the Egyptian people, this cross of life will become an important talisman for the oppressed rastas.
It is found on many Rasta objects such as jewels, flags or clothes.
a) Life after death, a widespread concept in African traditions
It is not only in ancient Egypt that the concept of life after death is important. Whether it is resurrecting or attaining a place with one's creator, this idea helped many slaves survive.
This principle has also been associated by Rastas with a return to their roots, a return to their homeland, which was then considered the divine territory, Zion. This will is translated by a return to the African lands, which if it cannot be done physically can be practiced spiritually. This will then be done by respecting all the ancestors and the ancient principles. These ideas can be found in the Obeah, a movement that emphasizes respect for African traditions that has influenced Rastafarianism. Many representations of members of this movement wear headdresses - dreadlocks (you can read more about them in our article on Rasta hairstyles) - seen on pharaonic frescoes. So there is no chance: the links between Rasta, Africa and ancient Egypt are unavoidable.
b) The Ankh, a symbol taken up by Marcus Garvey
Is it useful to remind you who Marcus Garvey is? Yes ? Well, to sum up the founder of the Rasta movement. He was inspired by the precepts of the Obeah to develop the Rasta movement: fight against oppression, return to the promised land, liberation from the yoke of the slavers, return to traditions....
He will also link the Christian trinity with the Egyptian trinity, Isis and Osiris and their son Horus but also the unique god (Yahweh) to the Egyptian deity Amon. Garvey goes on to advocate ancestral African spirituality. Each deity is a part of the one god who unites both the god of Isaac and Osiris. This principle is central to Rasta thought. The link with Egypt is therefore again inevitable.
When we talk about Rasta crosses, we immediately think of the Ankh. But this is not the only cross that is used by the Rastafari movement. Indeed, we can also observe another cross: the Ethiopian cross.
Even if it is less visible, this type of cross has also a great importance in the eyes of the Rastafarians and there again, it is not a chance.
a) A legendary history
Let's go back for a moment to the time of King Solomon. The Queen of Sheba, suffering from an infirmity, visited the king and stayed for a while on his land. The king decided to help her and put a precious wooden cross on the queen's foot. This one will then heal. But the story does not stop there since Solomon falls under the charm of the queen and will marry her. A son was born soon after: Menelik, the first king of Ethiopia, a very important figure for the Rasta movement. He was indeed the founder of the Lion of Judah dynasty.
The legend around this primitive cross mentions that it was made of a particular wood. Carried by a merchant who had to go to Jerusalem to bring materials to the construction site of Solomon's temple, this wood was worked to create this miraculous cross and will also be used to build the cross of Christ.
The cross then became a major good luck charm and is known today as the Ethiopian or Coptic cross. Remember that the Copts were the first Christians in Egypt.
To this day, this cross has remained an important amulet both in Ethiopia and among the Rastas who see in it a strong link between the Ethiopian land, the biblical history and their precepts.
It can take different forms from the most refined to the most decorated. However, it retains a diamond shape, similar to the Maltese cross.
b) So which cross best represents the Rasta movement?
As you may have noticed, both crosses have complete and quite similar symbolism.
Whether it is the Ankh or the Ethiopian Orthodox cross, the reference to history is obvious. The cross connects the Rastafarians with the people of the past, their ancestors, but also the lands occupied centuries ago.
It is of course also a strong divine symbol. The first refers to the divine trinity of Egypt, the second to Christ and from there to Judaism. These are also two major axes of Rasta beliefs.
Finally, one or the other is a good luck charm.
So what is the cross most used by Rastafarians? In fact, it will depend on the preferences of each person. Generally, when we talk about Rasta crosses, we are talking about the Ankh for the general public. We see a lot of them on the murals of the streets of Kingstown, on the neck of the rastas or simply put inside a house in Jamaica.
The orthodox cross is a less common symbol. Its values are more intimate since it refers to Ethiopia, a land of major importance to Rastas. It is enough to recall that Haile Selassie was the emperor of this country. The purists of the movement will more easily wear the Ethiopian cross.
Talismans of eternal life
You understood it, the rastaman has not one but two rasta crosses. Both carry a very old and important history for millions of people.
Thanks to this article you know a little more about the history of Rastafarianism. You know where these crosses used by Rastafarians come from and you are also able to tell the history of each of them. Finally, you are perfectly capable of explaining the meaning of the Rastafarian cross.
As a good Rasta, it's time for you to wear your lucky charm too, so that you can get all the positive vibes you need and guarantee yourself a direct path to Zion.
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