Ancient Egyptian Symbols, Meaning and History
Full of mystery and spirituality, the mythology and culture of the ancient Egyptians are undoubtedly an important part of the history of civilization.
SUMMARY OF EGYPTIAN SYMBOLS :
- EYE OF HORUS
- EYE OF RA
- AMEMPTAH or AMENTA
- BEETLE or EGYPTIAN SCARAB
- THE DJED PILLAR
- TYET, THE ISIS KNOT
- SYMBOL OF KA or “The spirit of Ka”
- THE EGYTIAN SYMBOL “BA”
The symbol of Ka or the spirit of Ka
It is certain that, to a certain extent, we are now able to understand hieroglyphics, which represent events that took place during the time of the Pharaohs. That said, knowledge of Egyptian symbolism is essential to a good understanding of these times.
The Meanings of Modern & Ancient egyptian Symbols
So, for those who are wondering what these symbols mean,
here is a list of the most important Egyptian symbols and their meanings:
- 1- The Ankh
It is the most widely used symbol of all ancient Egyptian symbols. The Ankh (also known as “cruxansata” by Coptic Christians) represents life and immortality.
It has also been used as a symbol of the union between men and women, and in particular the union between Isis and Osiris, which was created to bring about the flooding of the Nile, thus bringing fertility to Egypt. This is the reason why the Ankh is also called the Key of the Nile.
It also represents the purifying and invigorating power of water, and clairvoyance (the ability to see the “afterlife”). It was also thought that the Ankh was “the key to eternity” and “the key to the underworld“.
Sometimes this symbol was drawn on the walls of temples because it was thought to attract divine protection.
Read More about Ankh Symbol : Meaning of the Egyptian Cross “Ankh”
- 2- Eye of Horus
Also known as Wadjet (Udjat, Uadjet, Uto, Wedjoyet, Edjo and Uto), the symbol of Horus’ eye represents protection, healing, good health and royal power. It is also considered as the symbol of the moon. The ancient Egyptians believed that the amulets that wore Horus’ eye had healing powers. The Horus Eye has also been used as a medical tool to measure ingredients in the preparation of remedies.
According to the myth, Horus and Seth clashed to replace Osiris after his death and Seth wounded Horus in the left eye. Hator (or Toth) would have cured the eye using magic but Horus would have offered his eye to his father Osiris, to bring him back to life. This is why the eye of Horus is also known as a symbol of sacrifice.
The Eye of Providence (the Masonic eye that sees everything) present on US dollars would come from the eye of Horus.
- 3- Eye of Ra
There are different myths about the origin of this symbol. However, the majority of experts believe that the symbol was actually the right eye of Horus, who would have converted into the eye of Ra in antiquity. The two symbols represented the same concepts for the most part. That said, according to other myths, the symbol of the eye of Ra would have represented the personification of many goddesses of Egyptian mythology such as Wadjet, Hathor, Mut, Sekhmet and Bastet.
Ra, also known as Ra, is the sun god of Egyptian mythology. That is why the eye of Ra represents the sun.
Read More : Meaning of the Re/Ra eye
- 4- Ouroboros
The ouroboros, in Egyptian mythology, was one of the symbols of the sun, because it represented the journeys of Aten, the solar disk of Egyptian mythology. In addition, the ouroboros represented rebirth, recreation of life and perpetuity.
In the Book of the Dead, the image of the “snake that eats itself or the snake that eats its tail” is closely associated with Atum, the first god born of the chaotic waters of Nun (the primordial water, from which creation would come first) who was born of these waters in the form of a snake that renews itself every morning.
The Egyptians passed the symbol of the ouroboros to the Phoenicians, who eventually passed it on to Greek culture. The name ouroboros was given to the symbol by the Greeks.
Also known as the symbol of infinity, the ouroboros is a symbol commonly used throughout the world, including in Nordic mythology, where it is known as Jörmungandr.
Read More about The Ouroboros : The symbolism of the Ouroboros
Read More about Jormungandr : The Giant Sea Serpent in Norse Mythology & Viking Culture
- 5- Amemptah or Amenta
The symbol of the Amenta, in ancient Egyptian culture, represents the land of the dead (the earthly world). The Amenta, originally, was used as a symbol of the horizon, where the sun sets. Over time, it has been used to represent the western edge of the Nile, which is also the place where the Egyptians buried their dead. This is the reason why the Amenta would finally have become the symbol of the Inframonde.
- 6- The Beetle / Egyptian Scarab
The beetle is one of the most important symbols of ancient Egyptian culture. The dung beetle represents the sun, the recreation of life, resurrection and transformation.
When they saw the dung beetles grow manure balls (their food source), the ancient Egyptians thought that these beetles recreated life. This is due to the fact that they confused the eggs laid and buried in the sand by the female beetles of the dung beetle breed with the manure ball that they use as food. That is why they thought that these beetles had “created the life of nothingness”.
Read More : Meaning of the Egyptian Beetle/Scarab
- 7- The Djed pillar
The Djed pillar, also known as “the spinal column of Osiris“, is a symbol that represents strength and stability in the culture of ancient Egypt.
He is associated with Ptah, the god of creation and Osiris, the god of the infraworld and the dead. Although it was first known as the symbol of Ptah, the symbol of the Jed pillar has been adopted by the cult of Osiris over time. Hence the name “Osiris’ spine”.
The Egyptians thought that the Djed pillar was, in reality, the combination of the four pillars that supported the four corners of the earth.
Read More :
- 8- Tyet – The Isis knot
Tiet or Tyet, also known as the knot of Isis or the blood of Isis, is an Egyptian symbol that closely resembles the symbol of the Ankh. Its meaning was also considered to be similar to that of the Ankh. It is assumed to symbolize life.
It was associated with the goddess Isis and is mainly used with the Ankh and the Djed pillar of Osiris, because together they were considered as a representation of the dual nature of life.
There is no precise information as to why he was given the name Isis’ blood, but it is assumed that it was given to him because it represented Isis’ monthly blood and the magical powers it conferred.
- 9- The symbol of Ka or the spirit of Ka
The Ka symbol is one of the most complex Egyptian symbols of the hieroglyphic era because it represents three different spiritual concepts. Ka represented the fact of receiving the lives of other men and gods, the fact of being the source of these powers and the spiritual double of all living men.
The word “Ka” literally means “spirit” or “soul”. It is believed to represent the soul that would have been inhaled by the goddesses Heket and Meskhenet at birth.
The Ka was also the spiritual double that was born with each human being. He lived but would not die with that person, because he continued to exist as long as he had a place to live, that is, a body in which to live. This is one of the main reasons why the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead. It was thought that the dead lost the possibility of living an eternal life if their bodies decomposed, thus causing the death of the Ka.
- 10- The Egyptian Symbol “Ba”
Resembling a bird (more precisely a falcon) with a human head, the symbol of Ba was represented entering or leaving someone’s grave or was placed next to the mummified body.
The word “Ba” can be interpreted as “soul” or “spirit”, but “spiritual manifestation” would be a more precise translation. Because Ba was a part of the soul, in ancient Egyptian beliefs. More precisely, we thought that Ba was the uniqueness of an object. This definition is quite similar to the definition of the term “personality”, for want of a better word. According to this belief, even an inanimate object could have a Ba.
As noted in Coffin’s Texts, Ba is born after a person’s death and unites with his Ka, the essence of vitality in future life – but some people believe that it already exists before death and that it would have survived the experience. The famous Egyptologist Louis Žabkar thought that the Ba who resurrected after death was the person himself.
- 11- Ma’at’s feather
The Maat or Ma’at pen is one of the most commonly used Egyptian symbols in hieroglyphics. The goddess Maat represented justice in Egyptian culture; therefore, Maat’s pen would represent the concept of “guaranteeing justice” in ancient inscriptions. This is due to the fact that the ancient Egyptians believed that every man’s heart would be weighed and compared to the weight of Maat’s pen in the Salon des Deux Trités when his soul entered the Duat. If his heart weighed the same thing (or was lighter) than the feather, it meant that this man was virtuous and could enter the Aaru (the paradise ruled by Osiris). If not, his heart was eaten by Ammit, the goddess who ate souls, and man was cursed and condemned to wander the infraworld forever.
- 12- Deshret
Deshret, also known as the Red Crown of Egypt, is the symbol that represents Lower Egypt, the lands of the goddess Ouadjet. It is also used as a symbol of Kemet, the fertile lands of Seth’s territory.
- 13- Hedjet
Hedjet, the White Crown, is one of the two crowns of Egypt. It represented the kingdom of Upper Egypt and combined with the Red Crown of Lower Egypt to form the Pschent, the Double Crown of Egypt, during the unification of the country.
- 14- Pschent
The Pschent represented the Double Crown of Egypt, composed of the Red Crown and the White Crown, Deshret and Hedjet, which represented Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt respectively. It represented the unity of Egypt and the total control of the Pharaoh over that country.
- 15- The Chen ring
Shen is the spiral circle found in the culture of ancient Egypt. It represents the divinity. It was mainly used in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The symbol, which originally had a circular shape, was sometimes used as a cartridge. This type of use claimed to represent divine protection. This means that, according to the beliefs of the time, the person whose name was written in the symbol of Shen and who was often a king or a member of the royalty, was under divine protection.
- 16- Uraeus the cobra
Derived from the word “iaret”, which means “the risen one”, Uraeus is an important Egyptian symbol of antiquity that represents an ascending cobra. The symbol of Uraeus represented the connection between the gods and the pharaohs. Some of them were recognized by the Uraeus symbol they wore. Uraeus also symbolized the absolute authority and power of the gods and pharaohs.
It is believed that, in order for it to grant magical powers and guarantee the magical protection of the one who used it, this symbol had to be worn as an amulet.
- 17- The thief and the plague – Hekha and Nekhakha
The symbol of the pastor’s thief? in ancient Egyptian culture was the symbol of the state’s power over the people. The word “Hekha (HqA)”, which is also an epithet of Osiris, means “to govern”.
Similarly, the plague (Nekhakha) was considered as the symbol of royal power. The famous Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson believed that the symbol of the whirlwind represented the king’s coercive power and control over his subjects.
- 18- Menat
Closely associated with HathoryIhy, his son, Menat was the symbol of the goddess Hator. Indeed, “the Great Menat” was one of Hator’s numbers. The Menat symbol represented life, fertility, birth, rebirth, power and joy. The Egyptians wore amulets decorated with this symbol in the hope that it would bring them prosperity, fertility and fortune.
Relationship between the gods and Egyptian symbols
As already mentioned, religion in ancient Egypt was completely integrated into the daily life of the Egyptians. The gods were present from birth, throughout life and the transition from earthly life to eternal life, and then continued to care for souls in the other life. The spiritual world was always present in the physical world and this was symbolically represented in art, architecture, amulets, statues and objects used by the nobility and clergy in the performance of their duties.
These symbols, in a largely illiterate society, played a vital role in transmitting the most important cultural values to the Egyptian people, generation after generation. The peasant had no access to literature, poetry, or hymns that told the story of their gods, pharaohs and country, but they could see an obelisk or bas-reliefs on temple walls and discover their history through the symbols used.
Thus, each amulet or Egyptian representation had a meaning that conveyed the history of the gods and the symbolism that was related to it.