The Ankh, also known as key of life, the key of the Nile or crux ansata (Latin meaning “cross with a handle”), was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read “life”, a triliteral sign for the consonants ꜥ-n-ḫ. It represents the concept fertility and the eternal tree of life, which is the general meaning of the symbol. Mirrors of beaten metal were also often made in the shape of an ankh, either for decorative reasons or to symbolize a perceived view into another world.
Apparently, there was a connection between the ankh, the symbol of life, and goddess cults – to be more specific, snake goddess cults – in both Egypt and Ancient Crete. Minoan women wore knots on either the back of their necks or on ceremonial girdles to signify their affliation with this cult.
A symbol similar to the ankh appears frequently in Minoan and Mycenaean sites. This is a combination of the sacral knot (symbol of holiness) with the double-edged axe (symbol of matriarchy) but it can be better compared with the Egyptian tyet which is similar. This symbol can be recognized on the two famous figurines of the chthonian Snake Goddess discovered in the palace of Knossos. Both snake goddesses have a knot with a projecting loop cord between their breasts. In the Linear B (Myceanean Greek) script, ankh is the phonetic sign za.
The ankh also appeared frequently in coins from ancient Cyprus and Asia Minor (particularly the city of Mallus in Cilicia). In some cases, especially with the early coinage of King Euelthon of Salamis, the letter ku, from the Cypriot syllabary, appeared within the circle ankh, representing Ku(prion) (Cypriots). To this day, the ankh is also used to represent the planet Venus (the namesake of which, the goddess Venus or Aphrodite, was chiefly worshipped on the island) and the metal copper (the heavy mining of which gave Cyprus its name).
The Egyptian gods are often portrayed carrying it by its loop, or bearing one in each hand, arms crossed over their chest. An ankh was often carried byEgyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean “strength” and “health” (Djed and Was).
The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, often at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person’s mummy; this is thought to symbolize the act of conception.
The origin of the symbol remains a mystery to Egyptologists, and no single hypothesis has been widely accepted. The origin of ankh is highly debated and it is represented by an oval or point-down teardrop set atop a T shape. Though lacking actual evidence, one of the commonly repeated explanation is that it is a union of a female symbol (the oval, representing the vagina or uterus) with a male symbol (the phallic upright line).
Mika Waltari, who wrote the fictionalized documentary/novel The Egyptian in 1949, wrote of the origin of monotheistic culture in ancient Egypt, where the ankh first appeared as the symbol of this following.
The first pharaoh to take on the name “ankh” within his own was the well known boy king, Tut-ankh-amon. According to this young king’s father, Amun was the only God, symbolized by the sun resting on the horizon; thus the circle resting on a horizontal bar.
It is a common misconception that Tutankhamon did not die a natural death, but was challenged in to a situation which brought about his injury and death. This, allegedly, (and quite possibly, through romantized fiction) was performed by those against this early monotheism.
To this day, the ankh is also used to represent the planet Venus (the namesake of which, the goddess Venus or Aphrodite, was chiefly worshipped on the island) and the metal copper (the heavy mining of which gave Cyprus its name).
An image of Mary Magdalen wearing a similar Girdle, possibly hinting at some special role.