What is an Ankh ?

What is an Ankh ?


The Egyptian ankh Hieroglyph, (symbolized in Egyptian hieroglyphics: ☥ ), also known by  the various names of annealed cross, cross of life, key of  life, Egyptian cross, Nile cross, is a hieroglyph  representing the word ˁn, which means "life". It was used by the ancient Egyptians to symbolize life.  The Egyptians believed that their time on earth was only  a part of a greater eternal life. The cross of life therefore  symbolizes not only mortal existence on Earth, but also  their immortal existence in the afterlife. Its origins and  meanings are not certain.Since the end of the twentieth century, the ânkh is again used  in a decorative way.  

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The ânkh consists of a long vertical bar, a smaller horizontal one and an oval at their intersection. It is thus shaped like a Latin cross but with a ring in place of the top vertical bar. The ânkh can take various colors.

In Egyptian art, the ânkh is therefore omnipresent among the deities. Indeed, it is worn by gods who hold it by the loop or carry it in each hand with the arms crossed on the chest. It often appears at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life to the mummy of the dead person. It is placed near the mouth and nose as if to breathe life. Represented near the feet, it offers divine protection to the dead. Different deities are represented with the ânkh. Most often the goddess Isis, but also Maat, goddess of truth, Atum, god of the sun and Sekhmet, warrior goddess. The pharaoh also holds the ânkh underlining his divine nature. Indeed, Pharaoh holds the ânkh as an accessory that the gods have entrusted to him. He often holds it in his hand in a passive way, but does not use it.

The ânkh appears in Egyptian tombs, on the walls of temples, steles, statues and on friezes. It is used many times in funerary art because it is a symbol of imperishable life force. It is usually painted or carved. Some mirrors were also carved in the shape of an ânkh. In Amarna art, the annealed cross is carried by the sunbeams (terminated by hands), symbolic of the sun giving life on Earth.

  Ankh Earrings


Unknown origin  

From the fourth millennium BC, the Egyptian civilization imposes itself with arts, sciences, its  agricultural techniques, its social organization and its management of the Nile floods, facilitated by  the implementation of a writing system. An alphabet composed of hieroglyphs which are  expressive and simplified images of objects, things of the everyday life and deities. Only one  hieroglyph is not concrete, the ânkh. The origin of the Egyptian cross of life is unknown. It was  used by the Egyptians from the beginning of the dynastic period from 3150 to 2613 B.C. It  accompanied all ritual ceremonies and served as a protective talisman.  

First Coptic cross  

The Christians of Egypt, called Coptic Christians, used a cross similar to the ânkh. The cross of the early Egyptian Christians  

is called "crux ansata" meaning "cross with a handle" or  "annealed cross" in Latin. The ecclesiastical author Sozomen - who died around 450 - reports that when Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria destroyed the great temple of the god Sarapis in 391 in order to exalt the victory of Christianity over paganism, the Egyptian cross was present on the walls that remained.

Ankh key of life

The Christians saw the resemblance with the cross of Christ Resurrected After death as an instrument of the triumph of life over death. The Copts then chose a cross similar to the ânkh as the Christian cross. This cross is similar to the ânkh but the oval ring of the ânkh is  replaced by a circle. Ânkh is one of the symbols of Isis among the Egyptians or of Mary in the Christian symbolism.  In the Moche culture, we find ringed crosses with a filled handle.

In the early Christian centuries in Egypt,  the annealed cross was Crux ansata often represented on fabrics or funeral steles. It is only with the peace established by Emperor  Constantine I, in the fourth century, that the cross begins to develop as a Christian symbol outside  Egypt. But with the Arab conquest in the 7th century, its use gradually disappeared.  

The ânkh has thus passed from a symbol of one religion to another. Coptic-church and other Christianity movements found their roots in Ancient Egyptian culture. The Monotheistic Christian cross is part of the artifacts of the "Pagan" History of Egypt.  

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Ancient interpreations

The word ânkh, anokh, or anok means "life" and "I am" in Egyptian. The Egyptians believed that  their time on Earth was only a part of a larger eternal life. The cross of life therefore symbolizes not  only their mortal existence on earth, but also their immortal existence in their afterlife. In Coptic, a  Chamito-Semitic liturgical language descended from ancient Egyptian, also includes the term  anokh. Similarly, biblical Hebrew includes the term anokhy in the first commandment of the  Decalogue. Anokh and anokhy then mean "I am God" and therefore "I am eternal".  

The meaning of the ânkh can vary according to its color. When the cross is blue, the ânkh is  associated with the divinities and the sky, gold and yellow, it is associated with the South, green it  is linked to the Green Nile and the North, bright silver corresponds to life on Earth, and finally  oxidized silver, it evokes the West and the world of the dead.  

The ânkh can be a symbol of eternal life. Based on the shape of the Latin cross, the vertical axis of  the ânkh could symbolize the divine dimension, and the horizontal axis the physical dimension.  The ânkh would then mark the period from creation to death and beyond death into eternal life.  The ancient Egyptians thus associated the ânkh with the spiritual life of the soul. Its oval shape  could symbolize the eternity of the living deities, and the cross coming out of it is a symbol of  continuation and extension. But the ânkh is also subject to other interpretations. 

Ankh priests

The ânkh could be the combination between the masculine and the feminine considered as the two  forces of life. The masculine is associated with Osiris and the feminine with Isis. It is the union  between the sky and the earth, their union allowed to save humanity thanks to the victory of Horus  over Set. The oval part would correspond to the vagina or the uterus, the vertical line to a phallic  form and the arms in extension the children created by the unification of the two sexes. The ânkh  again symbolizes life, and more specifically the creation of life through the harmony between man  and woman. The stylized uterus can also be a symbol of fertility.  

The ânkh could symbolize the Nile, source of life for the Egyptians, with the vertical bar  representing the Nile valley, which is Upper Egypt, and the horizontal bar the knot of Isis, which  unites the two parts of the river and, by extension, the country, as well as its delta, Lower Egypt,  which is the loop. This theory would be corroborated by certain representations of the ânkh on  which one can distinguish striations on the horizontal branch, in the image of the folding of a knot.  

The ânkh could symbolize the vertebra of a bull. Andrew Gordon, an Egyptologist, and Calvin  Schwabe, a veterinarian, assert that the origin of the ânkh is related to two other signs that often  appear together: the scepter, symbol of power and domination, and the Djed pillar symbolizing  stability. According to this hypothesis, the shape of each sign is drawn after the anatomy of a bull.  The ânkh would be the thoracic vertebra, the djed pillar the sacrum and the lumbar vertebra, and  the scepter the bull's penis. In Egyptian beliefs, semen was connected to life and therefore to  power. Texts indicate that the Egyptians believed that sperm was in the bones. This perspective  corroborates the bovine origin of the first letter of the Phoenician or Semitic alphabets which  refers to the same animal, symbol of power and civilizational strength. The bull is also in Chinese  symbolism the organiser of the zodiacal cycle (orb of the lung, master of Energy, 3h-5h).  

Ankh egyptian book of the dead

Contemporary interpretations

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the ânkh was also given magical significance. Endowed with a  vital force, mystics and lovers of secret knowledge considered it a powerful symbol of prosperity,  health, good fortune and protection against defeat, fall and total destruction. It was often worn as  an amulet by the Egyptians, either alone or in association with two other hieroglyphs, the Ouas  scepter meaning "strength" and the hieroglyph symbolizing "health:  

the whole  S34U28 S29

ˁn(=w), wḏȝ(=w), snb(=w) being a formula for eulogy in ancient Egypt.  

The ânkh can also represent the key to hidden knowledge to solve the mysteries of life and death.  From a spiritual point of view, the loop symbolizes the eternal soul because it has no beginning  and no end and the cross represents death.  

The ânkh could be a sandal strap with the buckle going around the ankle, which would then be a  metaphor for walking, movement, and therefore life since to live is to move. Alan Gardiner believes  that sandal straps as illustrated during the Middle Kingdom resemble the hieroglyph. The word for  sandal strap is also spelled ˁnalthough it may have been pronounced differently. The buckle of a  sandal is its knot, it allows you to put your toe in it so you can move forward. "The action of tying,  he, means to connect, to put  in relation. That is why this word will be related to a fundamental word: heka, which means magic  or the art of linking the distinct aspects of the world into a sympathetic unity."1 . His list of  meanings of hieroglyphs which places the ânkh in the category of clothing is still current. James P.  Allen in his introductory book on Egyptian language published in 2014 also states that the ânkh  symbolizes a sandal strap.

Victor Loret, an Egyptologist of the 19th century thought that the ânkh was in reality a mirror.  However, Loret recognized that the deities frequently wore the ânkh by the ring while passing their  hands through it. The ânkh therefore did not have the required solidity of the reflection surface  that a mirror would have had.  

The ânkh also evokes an angel or a religious person with open arms.  

Ankh dress african woman 

Resumed Facts about ankh 

Ancient Egyptian art and Egyptian hieroglyphs crossing along the Nile river give a depiction of Egyptian mythology and Monumental Egyptian history.

Worldwide known Monuments of Ancient Egypt like the Great pyramid or Sphinx of Giza make towns names like Saqqara, Luxor, Thebes, Abydos, or Karnak sound familiar to anyone.

When you search for Egyptian hieroglyphics drawings Symbolizing Breath of life or Gift of life , there is no one more qualified than the Ankh cross. 

The symbol of ankh 

  • The ancient Egyptian ankh cross Symbolizes Male and Female (Isis and osiris) Unification and Fertility.
  • It is also a symbol of life's eternity.
  • Religious beliefs and myths about life after death (afterlife) Existed in Ancient Egyptian civilization (Kemet) like other Ancient World Mediterranean neighbor Civilizations (Nubian, Hyksos ...etc

Which egyptian god uses the ankh ?

Pyramid texts (Papyri) Depicting Egyptian life and how they worshipped ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses.

Most of them have animal symbolism like hippopotamus, crocodile, Cobra, vulture, Egyptian scarab, and so forth...

You can find the ankh held by Egyptian deities like :

  • Amon (or Amen) 
  • Anubis the Jackal (Protector God of the underworld, Possessor of the Feather of Ma at during the balance of souls)
  • El Famoso Egyptian Goddess Isis Cult 
  • The Egyptian god Thoth, the scribe Ibis
  • Mother-goddess Hathor (aka the greek Venus), a variant of Isis
  • Sekhmet 
  • Bastet (or Bast) 
  • Horus the Falcon
  • Sun god Ra, the Sun-god Deity . Note that the Eye of Ra is not the Eye of Horus.

Egyptian cross eye of ra

Which pharaoh's used the ankh ? 

All Pharaonic Dynasties of Egyptian kings, Pharaohs, and Rulers used the ankh as symbol of eternal life. We can name: 

  • Cleopatra vii 
  • Djoser 
  • Nefertiti 
  • Amenhotep
  • Khufu 
  • Tutankhamen (aka Tutankhamun aka King tut)
  • Hatshepsut 
  • Akhenaten (Amarna period, when the Monotheism with the only Sun-disk god Aton was preached by both priests and Slaves)

The eternal life in egyptian culture 

  • The Priest makes the Funerary Purification Ritual of Embalming Mummification in the ancient Egyptian religion.
  • Egyptian Book of the dead & the Papyrus of ani (famous scribe) are the first comic books treating the Life-and-death and Afterlife Mortuary subject.
  • The greatest pharaohs' mummies were buried in the Valley of the kings Necropolis 
  • The sarcophagus is like Symbolic Coffin with Carved Statue covered by Hieroglyphic Inscription. Archaeological Egyptologists found Ankh Hieroglyphs Inscribed on an Egyptian tomb Preserved for Thousand years.
  • Priests did the immortality Ceremonial, and during Burial included in the Tomb Mirrors, Canopic jars, and other Egyptian antiquities for Eternal life After the Resurrection of the Mummified Deceased Ruler .


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The pharaoh's headdress is an Egyptian symbol

  • Egyptian symbols of Kingship and Reign, the White crown (represents Upper-Egypt over Nile delta and Nile valley) and Red crown (Lower-Egypt over the Fertile crescent) form a Double-crown to symbolize like the ankh the unification of Upper and lower Egypt , historically done for the first time by the first pharaoh Narmer .
  • You can find Ankh Girdle, Crux, Amulets, Statues, and other Antiquities in the British Egyptian museum and the Louvres. 

Evolution of Ankh

  • Old-kingdom : the ankh cross is represented in the form of a cross with a loop on top, the lower end of the cross was placed in the hole of the loop.
  • Middle-kingdom : The Ankh Cross has been used to symbolize the life gived by Egyptian gods and goddesses.
  • New Kingdom : The Ankh Cross is now worn by Egyptian men and women as a symbol of protection against evil spirits. Monks also wore the ankh cross during prayer ceremonies and in front of their stomachs as they walk to their temple.
  • Late-period: We used The Ankh Cross in the tomb of the Pharaohs as a symbol of protection.
  • Ptolemaic Dynasty: the pharaohs still use The Ankh Cross as a symbol of protection and power.


Modern uses  

More recently, the ânkh has become a popular symbol in the West, especially as jewelry and tattoos. The symbol resurfaced with the counter-culture movement of the 1960s with a strong interest in ancient religions. In the twenty-first century, the ânkh is more widely recognized as a symbol of African descent as an affirmation of cultural identity. The ânkh is also associated with the religion of Kemet, a religious movement based on the religion of ancient Egypt.

Ankh modern use

The sign is also popular in Gothic culture in which the ânkh is associated with vampires, most notably with the 1983 film The Hunger. In addition, many fans of the Coptic crosses It is used more generically by "new age" and neo-pagans as a symbol of life or sometimes of wisdom.

Today, the ânkh is commonly found as a symbol reminiscent of ancient Egypt. It is widely used in popular culture as a means of instant communication with distant history, mysterious life forces and/or spiritual magic:  

  • at alternative events such as Burning Man;  
  • necklace, symbolizing the Sanctuary, worn by a network of runners or fugitives, trying to escape their fate in the 1976 science fiction film, The Crystal Age, based on the William F. Nolan novel of the same title;  
  • Matthew Barlow, ex-singer of the American heavy metal band Iced Earth, wears a medallion of an ânkh cross that he often wears on stage.  
  • worn by David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, the lower  part hiding a knife used to drink blood, in the 1983 vampire film The Predators, based on Whitley Strieber's  novel of the same title;  
  • Ânkh adorning the Goblet  mausoleum in Alviella  (Belgium). 
  • In the comic strip The Mystery of the Great Pyramid, the symbol allows Mortimer to keep a  snake away;  
  • Also worn by Phoebe in the series Friends;  
  • In the Vertigo universe (DC Comics), Death wears an ânkh as a necklace;  In the trilogy of the Cycle of the Gods by Bernard Werber, the characters use an ânkh as a  tool;  
  • the ânkh is the emblem of the American neo soul singer Erykah Badu ; 
  • also displayed as a tattoo on the wrist of the singer Aaliyah;  
  • it is also one of the symbols worn by the Finnish gothic rock band The 69 Eyes ;  it is also a symbol worn by the Brutal death metal band, Nile, notably by the guitarist Karl  Sanders (en) ; 
  • worn around the neck by Tokyo in the Casa de papel ;  
  • worn by the French rapper Ateyaba (Joke) as a tattoo on his chest and cheek;  Professional wrestler Christopher Daniels has the ânkh tattooed on his chest and also as an  accessory in some of his costumes;  
  • The ânkh is also used by African American groups to revive the ancient religion of Kemet,  Egypt, through their interpretation.  
  • the annealed cross (crux ansata, cross with a handle) is used by the Coptic Church.  It is also found in the magic of the comic book character Doctor Fate, as well as in the manga  Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, one of the seven objects of the Millennium (magic objects), the key of the  Millennium is very similar to the ânkh;  
  • it is also found in the video game World of Warcraft2 , it is an object allowing the shamans to  come back to life by themselves ;  
  • it is also the symbol of the midwifery students in the  faluche ;  
  • the rapper, who died in 2018, XXXTentacion sported a tattoo of the cross on his chest.  

Notes and references  

  1. Fernand Schwarz, Le symbolisme de l'Égypte ancienne et  sa géographie sacrée, Éditions Nouvelle Acropole, 2010,  57 p. (ISBN 2-902605-48-X), page 17.  
  2. (en) "Ankh" (https://wowwiki-archive.fandom.com/wiki/An  kh), on WoWWiki (accessed on June 14, 2021)  


For Egyptian Antiquity advices, let the Archaeology to the Archaeologist Egyptology to the Egyptologist.


Ankh is the name of a series of adventure video games (point & click) composed of :  

  • Ankh: An Egyptian Adventure (2006),  
  • Ankh 2: The Heart of Osiris (2006),  
  • Ankh 3: Tournament of the Gods (2008) on PC 
  • Ankh: Curse of the Scarab King for Nintendo DS.  

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