The Egyptian ankh is a familiar symbol seen as ankh charms, on decorative items, on T shirts and many other places in the modern world. It is similar in appearance to the Christian cross with a loop above the bar. It's origins are still a mystery but it's meaning is clear. It is the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'eternal life' and is seen in decorative work in tombs and on household objects left in the tombs, which were either shaped in the form of an ankh or decorated with this symbol.
The Origins of the Ankh
There are many theories about it's origins ranging from a knot used on ceremonial or religious garments, a stylized sandal strap or as a sexual symbol. The most popular theory is that it represents an elaborate bow with the lower section often being composed of two parts which make up the tails of the bow. The ankh is transported in depictions of Egyptian gods and clearly symbolizes life in these images. It is often seen being offered to a king as a symbolic 'breath of life' and ankhs were often symbolized as flowing in chains from water vessels symbolizing it's life giving properties. Vessels used for water containers in religious ceremonies were often made in the shape of an ankh.
A Symbol of Life
As a symbol of life it was also seen as a symbol of fertility, life in the generations to come. Another name for the ankh is the Key of the Nile and as such represent the union of Osiris and Isis which was thought to begin the annual Nile flooding, so important to the Ancient Egyptians. Many Egyptian gods were shown carrying ankh, often in both hands crossed over the chest as seen in a statue of Osiris or an ankh in one hand and a scepter in the other as Hathor, Isis, Anibus, Sobek, Tefnut and many more are shown. The symbol also represents life in the netherworld and the dead may be referred to as ankhu and a sarcophagus as a neb-ankh.
Mirrors and many other household objects were made in the shape of an ankh and it was also the word for mirror. A gilded mirror case was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and sistrums (a type of musical instrument) and spoons were also made in this shape.
The Use of the Ankh in the Modern World
Today the ankh is widely used as a decorative devise today from American pop culture to a symbol depicting spiritual beliefs. In the 1960's and 1970's it was a popular sign used by the hippies as an affirmation of life and disdain for the materialism of the times. It is associated in Gothic subculture with vampirism and has appeared in many vampire films.
Whether you wear an ankh for it's purely decorative affect or for a deer, spiritual meaning it is a well known and loved symbol that can be found in exquisite gold and silver jewelry, as ankh charms, earrings, necklaces or pendants.