In the ancient times religion was directly connected to rituals modern people would call magic. Religion made a backbone of people’s lives helping them with their daily duties. Symbols were the language of religion used in architecture and art, in rites, were believed to have power to protect and cure.
As ancient Egyptians considered life only a short period given to prepare to the infinite afterlife, most of the symbols are connected with life, resurrection, development, growth, and death.
10 Egyptian Symbols You Should Know
- ANKH is Egyptian symbol of life. image: a cross with a loop on top. meaning: life, infinite life. history: an ancient symbol derived from the knot of Isis (tjet). Most promoted by pharaohs symbol appearing on shrines’ walls, tombs, paintings, and inscriptions. Widespread amulet.
Ankh resembles the key, and it was the key to eternal life one would use at the door of the underworld. Many gods were depicted with this symbol, most often we can see the patron of the dead jackal headed god Anubis holding ankh in his hand, as he was the one who lead the dead in the underworld to the Hall of Truth and then opened the justified souls the gate to eternal life. Osiris was also depicted with ankh, so probably all the gods connected with the underworld had the keys of infinity just in case.
- DJED: column with a broader bottom narrowing up and having four parallel lines crossing the top. meaning: stability. the four lines mean four columns. history: also one of the most ancient symbols that appears on the pieces of art and architecture till the decay of empire.
Can remind someone of a lighthouse and to some extent it is, for it shows a way leading to stability.
Associated with Osiris. Some egyptologists claim the symbol was connected with the myth on Osiris’s resurrection, where djed denoted the tamarisk tree meaning freedom and eternal life.
According to another myth, djeds stood on each of the four (a significant sacred number for ancient Egyptians) corners of the earth to hold it.
- WAS: scepter with the jackal or dog headed top. meaning: power, domination. history: seems to have appeared on the pictures of the ancient Egyptians along with the first king of Egypt – Narmer.
The Egyptians depicted different gods holding was and depending on the god’s dominion, they had some unique symbol attached to the bottom of the scepter. For example, Hathor held was with cow horns attached to the bottom, Ra had it with snake as a symbol of resurrection.
- SCARABEUS (or heart scarab called so because of the shape of his back). image: a dung beetle usually represented from above. meaning: growth and development history: appeared during the end of the Old Kingdom and was widely used until the Christian period.
The dung beetle lays eggs rolling it in balls, the process ancient Egyptians strongly associated with the sun disk rolling over the sky and described this activity as the full life cycle. Popular amulet.
- UAJET (also possible wadjet, udjat) is Egyptian eye symbol associated with the eye of Horus. image: almond shaped eye usually depicted with an eyebrow above, teardrop and curved tail reminding golden ratio beneath. meaning: protection and healing. history: was believed to be powerful symbol protecting pharaohs from evil as Horus was the patron of the kings. As one of the Egyptian god symbols, can be met on tombs and temples.
According to the myth, Horus lost his eye in the battle against Seth and Hathor restored it. The eye became ‘all-seeing’ meaning nothing happening on the earth can hide from the god of sun. This concept of omnipresence was borrowed and well adopted in the other cultures.
Wadjet is also referred to as the Eye of Ra denoting the destructive power of sun.
The eye symbol is still believed to be the powerful protection from the evil. Rings and pendants with uajet symbol became the top position in Viking Workshop along with ankh jewelry.
- SESEN or lotus symbol. image: a lotus flower or water lily reminding of the sun and sunrays with its shape meaning: sun, creation, and rebirth. history: widely used in Upper Egypt becoming its symbol. Appeared first in the time of the Old Kingdom.
One of Egyptian god symbols linked with the sun gods: Ra, Atum, Amon Ra.
Egyptians were observers, getting inspired from nature, and as well as they watched scarabs rolling their dung balls, they watched water lilies open in the morning and close before night seeing some sacred gods’ message in it.
- TJET (tyet) – the knot of Isis. image: the cross with a loop at the top and curved down arms on the sides. meaning: life, resurrection. history: ancient Egyptian symbol used in the funeral rites and put into hands of the dead. Often represented with djed, or ankh and was symbols.
When used with ankh, tjet symbolizes the support and protection the soul can have from Isis and Osiris. Tjet was usually made of red stone or glass denoting Isis’s blood.
- URAEUS is the symbol of royal power meaning ‘the risen one’. image: cobra. meaning: protection. history: in the beginning it was the symbol of Lower Egypt before the papyrus plant.
Snake symbol is associated with Egyptian gods and pharaohs. The famous sarcophagus of king Tutankhamun has uraeus on top of his crown, and uraeus usually went on the headdresses and crowns of the pharaohs.
- AMENTA is Egyptian symbol for death symbolizing the land of the dead. image: resembles the upside down boat with two masts, one of them shorter, but without a sail. meaning: rebirth history: symbol appeares in the Book of the Dead.
In ancient Egypt the dead were traditionally buried where the sun set – at the west bank of Nile river, consequently, the place was called Amenta Land meaning ‘the land of the dead’.
- SHEN in Egyptian means ‘to encircle’: round loop of rope without the end or beginning. meaning: infinity, protection. history: found on the jewelry dating back to the Middle Kingdom. Used not only in Egypt, but also in Mesopotamia and Greece.
Also one of the popular Egyptian god symbols with many of the deities holding it in their hands or having it on their clothing. The bird like gods held it in their beaks. Sometimes drawn with the sun sun disk inside or the royal name of the one who needed protection written in the center. Egyptian cartouche reminds the protruded shen.