WHAT WAS THE ANKH?
Here's just one of many male Immortals the ancient Egyptians showed as carrying
an ankh. This one, said to be Heru-Ur, holds it in his left hand:
Unlike the 'Was Sceptre' carried by male Immortals only, the Ankh was carried by
female Immortals as well. Here's Sekhet with an Ankh in her right hand:
By the much later time of king Tutankhamun, a mortal pharoah in about the 1400s
BC, the Ankh had become a small ornamental amulet. This and the Was Sceptre
were thought to have magical properties. Nobles, scribes, and peasants wore
small copies of these objects, hanging from their necks, just as today many people
wear small crosses for pendants (and amulets), 2000 years after the time of Jesus
of Nazareth. Here is a (rather poor quality) reproduction of the Tutankhamun
The Ankh is said to mean 'life.' Because it's often shown in ancient illustrations on
the base of an Immortal's throne, like this:
it has been proposed that it had something to do with sandal straps. I grew up in
a house about 500 years old where the front door key was about 5 inches long
and about 2 inches wide, made of solid iron. It was very similar to an Ankh to look
at. I suggest that what we are looking at with an Ankh is an ancient key. That is
why, I think, both male and female Immortals carried them. The Immortals were
very careful to keep well away from ordinary human beings, and it is logical to
deduce the Immortals kept their private residences locked. These residences were
at the top of huge ziggurats, where only very carefully selected personal human
attendants (priests) were permitted entrance to the ante-rooms. What the Ankh
sign would have been originally was the key to the life led by the Immortals. Only
very few mortals attained that distinction. Apparently Enoch, the Hebrew patriarch,
was one (Genesis 5.22.4); Elijah, the Bible prophet, was another (2 Kings 2:11);
and Ganymedes, a beautiful youth of Phrygia, son of Troas, King of Troy, was
another, taken to 'heaven' by Jupiter (Zeus). Ganymedes became a cupbearer
to the Immortals. A fourth was Hercules, a half-immortal son of Jupiter and
Alcmena. After many trials and tribulations Hercules found himself with an
incurable disease caused by Dejanira's mystic tunic. Hercules tried to commit
suicide but was swept up to 'heaven' by Jupiter in the same way as was Elijah in
an altogether different society. (Jupiter to the Romans was Zeus to the ancient
Greeks). Over a period of some several thousand years the Ankh key of the
Immortals turned into a symbol, and a symbol for 'life' because the Immortals had
been remote and long-lived during the time they were on this planet.
The Immortals are sometimes shown handing an Ankh to a (human) king, It has
been said that this represents giving the king the breath of life. But it seems to me
the king received the Ankh 'key' (originally actually, later symbolically) so that he
could attend the Immortal councils. These were convened to decide on some
course of action the king would be required to put into effect for the governance
of the subject people, or when he attended to ask for advice. The phrase ' the key
to the kingdom' lasted in Europe until the early 20th century, and ceremonial 'keys'
are still occasionally presented by city mayors to visiting dignitaries.
The ancient Egyptians differentiated very clearly between the Immortals and the
mortal kings appointed by the Immortals. The king Horus was said to be the son
of Osiris and the mortal female Isis. What we see when we look at Horus, the half-Immortal king, is that he does not have an Ankh or Was Sceptre. He has a human
face, he wears a different head-dress, the crown of which is a combination of the
crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt combined. He holds a crook and flail:
It has been suggested that the flail is a fly swatter, or a shepherd's whip, or that
it was 'originally an instrument used by goatherds for collecting ladanum.'
It seems to me much simpler than that. The clue to what is going on here comes
from Genesis 4,2b (King James Version):
2.b. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the
ground an offering unto the Lord.
4. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock
The Hebrews reportedly spent many generations in Egypt. They were also later
conquered by the Assyrians and many of them were transported to Mesopotamia.
That's why the Bible has so many echoes of both Egyptian and Mesopotamian
ancient traditions. According to ancient Sumerian (early Mesopotamian) literature,
from humans who had previously been hunter-gatherers the Immortals 'fashioned'
a type of human who became agriculturalists, operating the two staple industries
the Immortals had created: herding and farming. Next the Immortals set up the
kings to organize these uncouth elements into coherent societies of subject
peoples. We have an example of this in the Biblical book of Exodus, where Yhwh
organizes his new subject people, the Israelites, using Moses as a king in all but
name. That's why Horus, as a king, has a crook and a flail. The crook is the
shepherd's crook and the flail was used to winnow the chaff from the wheat or
other grain on the threshing floor of a granary. Horus the king was (later, and
symbolically) ruler of the sheep herders and the grain farmers.
In the next chapter we'll talk about the axe and double axe, which played an
important part in the earliest civilized societies.