02 Apr 6 Sacred Symbols of Ancient Egypt
The culture and religion of Egypt was incredibly rich, featuring a complex mythology, a diverse pantheon of gods, and some of the strangest and most elaborate customs and rituals to be found anywhere in the ancient world.
They also developed the first written language, called hieroglyphics. They invented an alphabet of pictures and symbols. Symbolism was very important to the ancient Egyptians – it was how they communicated, how they worshiped the gods, and how they made sense of the natural world around them. Here are 6 of the most important sacred symbols of ancient Egypt, and the meanings behind them:
The ankh is one of the most common and familiar of all Egyptian symbols, and resembles a cross, but with a loop or handle at the top. It is in fact a hieroglyph, which meant simply “life.” In a deeper, religious sense, it was a symbol for eternal life.
The gods, goddesses and pharaohs from different city-states were all depicted with ankh in hand, making it a unifying symbol across every sect and priesthood.
The scarab (or dung beetle) was a symbol of creation and rebirth. The ancient Egyptians observed how the insect would lay it’s eggs in a ball of dung, then roll it away and bury it in the sand. Then, later – new life would emerge! So they assigned the scarab symbol to the gods, like Atum or Khepri, who were creators, and self-created.
The Sphinx is an ancient mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. Often represented as a guardian, the Sphinx represents wisdom, mystery and secret knowledge. According to legend, it would ask visitors a riddle, and eat those who didn’t answer correctly.
The Sphinx may also represent power and kingship, or worship of the sun god Ra. Some have interpreted it to be a symbol of the dominion of the Higher Self (reason, will, intellect, spiritual knowledge) over our baser animal nature. For thousands of years, people have puzzled over the meaning and purpose of the the monumental statue of the Sphinx at Giza – appropriate for an ancient symbol of mystery…
4. Eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus is another well known sacred symbol from ancient Egypt. This image is a reference to a mythical battle between Horus, the sky god, and his evil uncle Set. Horus had his eye torn out in the fight, and Thoth (the god of knowledge) had to use his magical powers to heal and restore the lost eye.
Since then, the image has been a symbol of healing and protection. It was often worn as a pendant or other jewelry to ward of evil, and to ensure the wearer’s safety and well-being.
5. Winged Sun
The image of the winged sun also originates in ancient Egypt. At first it was a symbol of the sky god Horus. According to myth, he assumed the form of a winged sun in one battle against his enemy, Set. Later, the symbol came to be more strongly identified with Ra, the sun god.
The symbol also appears in many other cultures throughout Mesopotamia, and signifies royalty, kingship, power and divinity; as well as a symbol of the soul, the innermost self, shining, radiant, free and eternal.
And speaking of famous Egyptian symbols, who could forget the pyramid?! The pyramid was obviously an important symbol to the ancient Egyptians – why else would they devote so much time, effort, and materials to building such massive monuments? But what do they mean, exactly?
For one thing, they represent the “primordial mound” from their creation myths; the first land which rose up from the sea of Chaos at the dawn of time.
The Egyptian word for pyramid was per-neter, or “house of the Divine.” So they were believed to be the temple or dwelling place of the gods. Or this could simply be a reference to the pharaoh, who was thought to be a god-man, the living incarnation of Ra, the sun god; and who would be buried there at the time of his death. Thus, the pyramid would be his house for all eternity, in the afterlife.
Finally, a theory has been put forth which claims that the pyramids of Giza were built to perfectly line up with the three stars of Orion’s belt, which the ancient Egyptians associated with Osiris, the god of the Underworld. So they could be a sort of monument to the heavens – literally!