Egyptian Symbology

The three most important symbols, often appearing in all manner of Egyptian artwork from amulets to architecture, were the ankh, the djed, and the was scepter. These were frequently combined in inscriptions and often appear on sarcophagi together in a group or separately. In the case of each of these, the form represents the eternal value of the concept: the ankh represented life; the djed stability; the was power.

The ankh is a cross with a looped top which, besides the concept of life, also symbolized eternal life, the morning sun, the male and female principles, the heavens and the earth. Its form embodied these concepts in its key-like shape; in carrying the ankh, one was holding the key to the secrets of existence. The union of opposites (male and female, earth and heaven) and the extension of earthly life to eternal, time to eternity, were all represented in the form of the looped cross. The symbol was so potent, and so long-lived in Egyptian culture (dating from the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt, c. 3150-c. 2613 BCE), that it is no surprise it was appropriated by the Christian faith in the 4th century CE as a symbol for their god.

THE UDJAT EYE

The udjat is another well-known symbol from Egypt: the Eye of Ra. The symbol of the eye is associated with the protective goddess Wadjet during the Predynastic Period and continued to be even though it was later more regularly linked to Horus, Ra, and others through the motif of the Distant Goddess.

The distant goddess story has many forms in Egyptian mythology but one consistent plot: a goddess in some way rebels against the king of the gods, leaves her home and responsibilities behind to journey to a far-off land and must be brought back (or tricked into returning) thus initiating some kind of transformation. The udjat either represented the goddess or was sent to retrieve her and could take many forms. As the Eye of Ra it was understood to symbolize his watchful presence over creation and is frequently depicted in myths (like those of the distant goddess) being sent forth to gather information for Ra. The udjat remained a consistently potent symbol throughout Egypt’s history.

To read more about Egyptian symbols click here.

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