The Egyptian ankh is a well known symbol that has been used extensively in both ancient and modern times. Today it is seen as an ankh charm, on clothing and on decorative items. It is a little like the Christian cross except that it has a loop above the bar. The ankh's origins are still virtually unknown and there have been many theories of where it was first used and how the design arose. It is the Egyptian symbol for 'everlasting life' and is found as a decoration on many objects that were left in tombs to accompany the occupant to the afterlife. Some objects, such as mirrors, were also made in the shape of an ankh.

The Origins of the Ankh

There are several theories with regard to it's origins from the idea that it was a bow used on ceremonial or sacred garments, a sexual symbol or the strap of a sandal. The most accepted theory is that it represents an intricate bow with the lower segment being the ends of the bow, as it is frequently made up of two pieces. The ankh is often carried in images of Egyptian gods and clearly symbolises life in these images. It is frequently shown being offered to a king as a figurative 'breath of life' and ankhs were frequently painted as chains, flowing from libation vessels symbolising the ankh's life giving abilities. Vessels used as water containers in religious ceremonies were regularly made in the form of an ankh.

A Sign of Life

As a representation of life it was also seen as a symbol of fecundity, life in future generations. An alternative name for the ankh is the Key of the Nile as it represents the coming together of Osiris and Isis, which was thought to initiate the annual Nile flooding, which was so vital to the Ancient Egyptians. Numerous Egyptian gods were shown with an ankh in their hands, often in both hands crossed over the upper body as seen in a sculpture of Osiris or a sceptre in one hand and an ankh in the other as Anibus, Hathor,Isis,Tefnut and many more are often seen. The symbol also embodies life in the afterworld and the dead may be referred to as ankhu and neb-ankh is the name for a sarcophagus.

Mirrors and many other household objects, were often made in the shape of an ankh and ankh was the word for mirror. A mirror casing was found in the Tutankhamun's tomb and sistrums (a type of musical instrument) and spoons have also been found in this form.

How the Ankh is used in the Modern World

These days the ankh is extensively used as an ornamental sign, it's use ranging from pop culture in the US to an image depicting spiritual values. During the 1960's and 1970's it was a prevalent symbol worn by the hippies as an affirmation of life and disdain for the materialism of the times. It is linked in the Goth world with vampirism and is a present in countless vampire films.


The ankh is a well recognised symbol which may be worn as simply a decorative item or to indicate a deeper, spiritual significance. It is a lovely symbol that is often seen on charm bracelets and on fine jewelry such as earrings, pendants, necklaces and rings.