Ancient Egyptian Symbols – People fully integrated religion in ancient Egypt into their daily lives. The gods were present from birth, throughout life, in the transition from earthly to eternal life, and continued to care for the soul in the afterlife in the Reed Fields. The spiritual world was always present in the physical world. They symbolized this understanding through images in art, architecture, amulets, statues, and objects used by the nobility and clergy to perform their duties.
Symbols in a largely illiterate society serve the vital purpose of passing on the culture’s most important values to the people generation after generation, and so it was in ancient Egypt. The peasant would not have been able to read the literature, poetry, or hymns that told the stories of their gods, kings, and history, but he could see an obelisk or a relief on a temple wall and read it through the symbols used.
The three most important symbols frequently appearing in Egyptian artwork, from amulets to architecture, were the ankh, the djed, and the scepter. These were often combined in inscriptions and often appear on sarcophagi together or separately. In each case, the form represents the eternal value of the concept.
Ancient Egyptian symbols have shaped Egypt throughout time. The symbols represent the confluence of Egyptian civilization’s spiritual and physical parts and have become the foundation of the culture. They were written on the walls of temples and obelisks and used in magical and religious ceremonies for both the living and the dead. As such, ancient Egyptian symbols played an essential role in passing culture from one generation to the next.
What does each Egyptian Symbol mean?
Egyptian symbols were used during different periods of Egyptian civilization to represent all kinds of concepts and ideas from their mythology. Many of these symbols were related to some Egyptian gods and Egyptian Pharaohs. The Egyptians used these symbols to decorate their temples, to represent their gods in their inscriptions, and to make amulets face difficulties.
Some of these symbols were inherited from earlier civilizations, while others appeared during different Egyptian civilization periods. In some cases, the following symbols also have their equivalent within the hieroglyphic-based Egyptian writing system.
Don’t miss to check out to read about Ancient Egyptian Creation Myth
Top Ancient Egyptian Symbols and their meanings
1. The Ankh
The ankh is a cross with a bow on top that, in addition to the concept of life, symbolizes eternal life, the morning sun, the male and female principles, the heavens, and the earth. Its shape embodied these concepts in its Key Shape; carrying the ankh held the key to the secrets of existence.
The union of opposites (man and woman, earth and sky) and the extension of earthly life to eternal, time to eternity, were all represented in the cross with a loop. The symbol was so potent and enduring in Egyptian culture (dating to the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt, c. 3150-2613 BC) that it is no surprise that it was appropriated by the Christian faith in the 4th century as a symbol of its god.
The origin of the ankh symbol is unknown. Still, Egyptologist E. Wallis Budge claims it may have developed from the tjet, the ‘Knot of Isis,’ a similar symbol with the arms at the side associated with the goddess. Female deities were so popular and seemed more powerful (as in the example of the goddess Neith) in early Egyptian history. Perhaps the ankh developed from the tjet, but this theory is only sometimes accepted.
However, the ankh was closely associated with the cult of Isis, and as its popularity grew, so did the symbol. Many gods are depicted holding the ankh, and it appears, along with the Djed Symbol, on virtually every type of Egyptian artwork, from coffins to tomb paintings, palace adornments, statues, and inscriptions. As an amulet, the ankh was nearly as famous as the scarab and the djed.
2. The Djed
The djed is a column with a broad base that rises to the capital and is crossed by four parallel lines. It first appeared in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c.6000-3150 BC) and continued to be a symbol of Egyptian iconography until the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 BC), the last to rule the country before the coming of Rome.
Although the symbol represents stability, it also reminds us of the close presence of the gods, as it also referred to the god Osiris and was therefore linked to resurrection and eternal life. The djed was meant to represent the backbone of this god and often appears at the bottom of coffins to help the newly arrived soul rise and enter the afterlife.
The symbol has also been interpreted as four columns rising one after the other, as the tamarisk tree on which Osiris is placed in his most famous myth, and as a fertility pole created during festivals. Still, in each case, the message of the form returns to stability in life and hope in the afterlife provided by the gods.
In the interpretation that sees the symbol as four columns, the number that appears most often in Egyptian iconography is represented: four. This number symbolizes completeness and is seen in art, architecture, and funerary objects such as the Four Sons of Horus on canopic jars, the four sides of a pyramid, and so on. The other interpretations also symbolized concepts associated with the Osiris-Isis myth. The djed, seen as the tamarisk tree, speaks of rebirth and resurrection as, in mythology, the tree holds Osiris until he is freed and brought back to life by Isis.
The fertility pole is also associated with Osiris, who caused the waters of the Nile to rise, fertilize the earth and flow back to its natural course. In each case, whatever object it claimed to represent, the djed was a potent symbol often joined with another: The Was Scepter.
3. The Was scepter
The Was scepter was a staff topped with the head of a canine, possibly Anubis, in New Kingdom times (1570-1069 BC), but before that, probably a totemic animal such as a fox or dog. The was scepter evolved from the first scepters, a symbol of royal power, known as the Hekat, seen in depictions of the first king, Narmer (c. 3150 BC) of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BC). By King Djet (c. 3000-2990 BC) of the First Dynasty, the Was scepter was fully developed and symbolized his rule and power.
The Was scepter was usually forked at the base, but this changed depending on which god or mortal was holding it, as well as the color of the staff. Hathor, associated with the cow, holds the forked Scepter at the base in the shape of cow horns. Isis had a similar object, but with the traditional bifurcation representing duality. The Was scepter of Ra-Horakhty (“Horus on the Horizon”), god of sunrise and sunset, was blue to symbolize the sky. In contrast, the sun god Ra was represented by a serpent attached to it, symbolizing rebirth, just as the sun rose again every morning.
Each god Was a scepter and denoted his particular domain in one way or another. The early dynastic god Ptah holds a Scepter that combines all three symbols, the ankh, djed, and was, with a circle at the bottom symbolizing unity. The combination of the symbols naturally matched their power which was only suited to this god associated with the creation and known as the “Earth Sculptor.” The three Symbols at the top of Ptah’s Scepter and the circle at the bottom convey completeness and wholeness in the number four.
4. The Scarab Beetle
The Scarab Beetle is the famous beetle image seen in Egyptian art and iconography representing Scarabaeus sacer, a species of the scarab beetle. The dung beetle was associated with the gods because it rolled dung into a ball where it laid its eggs; the manure served food for the chicks when they hatched. In this way, life came from death.
They were closely identified with the god Khepri, who believed in rolling the sun ball across the sky, keeping it safe in its travels through the underworld, and pushing it towards dawn the next day. When Ra became the pre-eminent sun god, Khepri continued in that role as an assistant. Scarabs became popular amulets during the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BC) and remained so throughout Egyptian history until the rise of Christianity.
5. The Tyet
The tjet (tiet, tjet), also known as “the knot of Isis” and “the blood of Isis,” resembles an ankh with arms at the sides. The symbol dates from the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BC) but is probably older. The tjet has been interpreted in different ways: as female genitalia, the folds of a woman’s dress, and the knot of a belt, but in all cases, it is associated with the goddess Isis.
It represented protection and security and was often associated with the ankh, thus offering the dual security of Isis and Osiris. The tjet was often carved into bed posts and temple walls and was most popular during New Kingdom times when the cult of Isis was at its height.
6. The Crook and Flail
The staff and the flail are two of the most well-known ancient Egyptian symbols, showing the king’s power and importance. The Heka (Staff) and the Nekhakha (Flail) were originally symbols of the god Osiris, but over time they came to represent the power of the pharaohs. In particular, the staff showed that Pharaoh was a shepherd to his people, while the flail showed that Pharaoh fed his people.
The Scepter and whip (flail) are among the most famous symbols of ancient Egypt, symbolizing the power and majesty of the king. Both items were associated with Osiris and represented his early rule of the earth. The symbols appear in the early dynastic Period during the reign of the first king, Narmer (c. 3150 BC), and link the king with what would have been the first king of Egypt, the god Osiris.
According to the myth, the kingdom of Osiris was usurped by Set, who murdered him, but he was resurrected by his sister-wife Isis. She bore him a son, Horus, who defeated Set and restored order to the earth. The king was associated with Horus (with some exceptions) in life and with Osiris in death. Once Horus avenged his father and defeated Set, he took his father’s Scepter and whipped to represent the legitimacy of his reign, and so did the kings of Egypt who identified with these gods.
The Scepter was one of the first tools used by shepherds, while the whip was a means of herding goats and was also used to harvest an aromatic shrub known as labdanum. Osiris was originally an agricultural and fertility deity, he was associated with both Predynastic Period implements and served as reminders of the past and the importance of tradition, but they were also symbols of the king’s legitimacy and power.
7. The Shen
The shen is a rope circle with a knot that forms an uninterrupted process, symbolizing perfection and infinity and serving as protection. The name comes from the Egyptian word for “surround.” Shen amulets were often worn for safety, and images of the symbol appear on a type of support, which makes it similar to the Greek omega. However, this “support” should be understood as the knotted rope completing the circle.
Shen probably developed during the Old Kingdom or 1st Intermediate Period but became popular during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BC) and has remained so. Horus and the goddesses Nekhbet and Isis are often seen holding the shen, but other gods are associated with the symbol. The shen appears on sarcophagi, in temples and tombs, and in personal inscriptions. The Egyptians valued symmetry and completeness highly, so the shen was quite popular and often performed.
8. Eye of Horus Egyptian Symbol
The Udjat is another well-known symbol of Egypt: the eye of Ra. The eye symbol was associated with the protective goddess Wadjet during the Predynastic Period and continued to be so. However, later it was more regularly linked with Horus, Ra, and others through the Distant Goddess motif.
The distant goddess story takes many forms in Egyptian mythology. Still, one plot runs as follows: a goddess somehow rebels against the king of the gods, leaves her home and responsibilities to travel to a distant land, and must be brought back ( or be driven to return), thus initiating some transformation.
The Udjat represented the goddess or was sent to retrieve her and could take many forms. As the eye of Ra was believed to symbolize his watchful presence over creation, it is often depicted in myths as being sent to gather information for Ra. The Udjat has remained a consistently potent symbol throughout Egypt’s history.
9. Eye of Ra Egyptian Symbol
People have differing views about how appropriate it is to use the Eye of Ra symbol in different situations. People often think that this sign represents the right eye of Horus, which the ancient Egyptians called the Eye of Ra.
The two badges stood for about the same in their own cultures. People thought that the Eye of Ra was linked to many Egyptian goddesses who were women. There are many examples, such as the stories of Wadjet, Hathor, Mut, Sekhmet, and Bastet. Ra, which can also be spelled Re, is the Egyptian name for the Sun God. This gives the impression that the Eye of Ra is the sun, the center of the solar system.
10. The Sesen (lotus flower)
The sesen is the lotus flower that frequently appears in Egyptian art and symbolizes life, creation, rebirth, and especially the sun. The symbol dates from the Early Dynastic Period but became more popular in the Old Kingdom. The lotus flower closes at night and sinks underwater; then, at daybreak, it opens again; this pattern identifies her with the sun and, therefore, with life.
The flower also represented rebirth for the same reason and was associated with the god Osiris. The Four Sons of Horus, regularly depicted on canopic jars, are often shown together on a lotus in the presence of Osiris. The lotus flower appears in many different types of Egyptian art, from earthenware statuary to sarcophagi, temples, shrines, and amulets. It was the symbol of Upper Egypt as the papyrus plant symbolized Lower Egypt, and the flower is sometimes depicted with the stem intertwined with that of the papyrus plant.
11. The Ben-Ben
The ben-ben was the primordial mound on which the god Atom stood at the beginning of creation. It’s easily the most recognizable symbol of ancient Egypt after the ankh, even if you don’t recognize the name. The pyramids of Egypt, wherever they are found and at whatever time, represent the ben-ben as they rise from earth to heaven.
According to one version of the Egyptian creation myth, there were only the ever-moving dark waters of chaos at the beginning of time until the ben-ben rose like the first dry land. Atom (or, in some stories, Ptah or Ra) was in the ben-ben to begin the work of creation. Pyramids and other similar structures symbolized creation and eternity, invoking the image of this myth.
The ben-ben as a symbol dates to the Early Dynastic Period but became more widespread during the Old Kingdom when the monuments at Giza were constructed. It may have been used as an amulet, but more likely, it was among works of art produced during the 1st Intermediate Period as a figurine. The ben-ben appeared in many inscriptions from the Old Kingdom to the Late Late Period (c. 525-323 BC) and was engraved on temple walls, tombs, and sarcophagi.
12. Ka ancient Egyptian Symbol
The Egyptians’ hieroglyphic representation of the letter Ka is one of the most complicated I’ve seen. Why? This is because it has not just one, but three different magical ideas.
The word “ka” stands for the beginning of one’s life and the people and gods from whom one gets their power. The name “ka,” which could mean “spirit” or “soul,” is said to stand for Heket’s and Meskhenet’s eternal souls.
In the form of Ka, everyone has a spiritual twin. Even though the person’s life ended when he died, he would still exist as long as he had a place to live that he could call his own.
There is still a chance as long as his dead body is present. Because of this, it was an essential part of the ancient Egyptian practice of embalming the dead to keep them from rotting. If a person’s body rots away to the point where their ka is no longer alive, it is thought that they have lost their chance at living forever.
13. Ba ancient Egyptian Symbol
BA Since it is always pictured as a bird with a human head and the features of the deceased person, as if it were a reference to his personality and spirit, it is thought to be the heavenly spirit and human nature in the spirit world, where she leaves the body after death, lives in the stars, and sometimes returns to the body between Anne and another. This is because it is always thought of as a bird with a human head that looks like the person who has died.
On many Egyptian eulogies found in tombs, temples, and on papyrus, Ba is shown hovering over the grave of the owner while the body lies still. This picture makes it look like a resigning power keeps coming back to check on the body she is still attached to.
14. Feather Maat Egyptian Symbol
The Egyptian symbol of Maat connects justice, truth, and law. Matt wore the ostrich feather hair ornament that women in art have worn throughout history.
The Egyptians thought that when a person’s time on earth was over, they had to stand before Osiris to be judged. On one side of a scale, the heart of the dead was placed, and on the other, the feather of Maat was placed. If all the bad things a person did in their life on earth made their heart heavier than a feather, that person would spend eternity in hell.
No “human” lie could fool Maat’s pure and truthful writing in this way. This symbol is closely linked to justice, balance, and wisdom.
15. Deshret Egyptian Symbol
Lower Egypt, where Wadjet was born and raised, is represented by Deshret, the Red Crown of Egypt, which is also one of his titles. It is also a picture of the thriving country of Kemet, which is a part of Seth’s home continent.
16. Hedjet Egyptian Symbol
17. Pschent Egyptian Symbol White Crown was one of Egypt’s two crowns and was usually associated with the kingdom of Upper Egypt. During the unification of Egypt, it was joined with the Deshret, the red crown of Lower Egypt, to make the Pschent, the double crown of Egypt.
17. Pschent Egyptian Symbol
It was a sign that the Pharaoh had complete control over the Egyptian people and that his leadership had brought the country together.
The Pschent also called the “Double Crown of Egypt,” comprises the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the White Crown of Upper Egypt. This is what happened when the two crowns were put into use.
18. Tree of life Egyptian Symbol
This symbol is ubiquitous, especially in Celtic culture, but it was also used in Ancient Egypt to show the passing of time, wisdom, and the line between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
19. Winged Sun Disc
The winged sun disk symbolized ancient Egypt, but other cultures also used it. This symbol was also called Behdety because it was used in temples to represent the god of the midday sun, the god Behdety.
Egyptians who wore this symbol as a charm thought it would keep them safe. It has also sometimes been shown as something that other Egyptian gods had.
20. Seba Egyptian Symbol
Ancient Egyptians had a lot of respect for the constellations and star gods that the star emblem Seba represented.
In Egyptian mythology, the Duat stars connected to the afterlife are called “Osiris’ followers.” The Seba Duat is shown by the glyph that can be found inside the circle.
Meaning of the number in Egyptian symbols
The combination of symbols has always had a specific meaning. Wilkinson writes, “One of the most important principles for understanding the numerical symbolism of Egyptian representational works is that of the extension of numbers” (138). A two-dimensional work of art, such as an image of a god or goddess, is often represented so that the number four is implied. This practice applies to many numbers so that, as Wilkinson observes, “the number represented must be mentally “extended” to properly understand its meaning in the composition” (138).
Examples of this are representations of the djed as four columns, each rising behind the other. Although the number four represents completeness, the multiplication of four that extends towards the horizon would add the equally important concept of eternity. The djed symbol used throughout the Djoser pyramid complex at Saqqara is an excellent example.
In Djoser’s compound, the djed appears on the temple lintels, holding up the sky. If the djed is interpreted as four columns multiplied infinitely, then the concept of eternity is emphasized through architecture. The Ankh, djed, and was in architecture are often employed in such a way as to double, triple, or quadruple. Wilkinson writes
These symbols, singly or together, adorned items Egyptians regularly used in their daily lives. Amulets were used by all classes of Egyptian society, with the djed among the most popular, followed by the scarab, the ankh, the tjet, the shen, the was, and others. These other potent symbols were often paired with or associated with the three most commonly used.
All of these symbols contributed to the rich culture of ancient Egypt. Although religious, they were never considered “religious symbols,” as a modern mind would interpret the term. Nowadays, especially in Western countries, religion is regarded as a separate sphere, distinct from its role in secular society, but in Egypt, there was no such separation.
The priests and priestesses of Egyptian deities, the kings, scribes, and the nobility used these symbols regularly, of course. Still, they appeared on amulets, inscriptions, and sculptures of all classes of Egyptian society, from the greatest king to the lowliest member of a community.
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