The ankh (// or //; Egyptian: IPA: [ʕaːnax]; U+2625 ☥ or U+132F9 𓋹), also known as breath of life, the key of the Nile or crux ansata (Latin meaning "cross with a handle"), was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read "life", a triliteral sign for the consonants ꜥ-n-ḫ.
It represents the concept of eternal life, which is the general meaning of the symbol.  The Egyptian gods are often portrayed carrying it by its loop, or bearing one in each hand, arms crossed over their chest. The ankh appears in hand or in proximity of almost every deity in the Egyptian pantheon (including Pharaohs). Thus it is fairly and widely understood as a symbol of early religious pluralism: all sects believed in a common story of eternal life, and this is the literal meaning of the symbol. This rationale contributed to the adoption of the ankh by New Age mysticism in the 1960s, to mean essentially the same tolerance of diversity of belief and common ethics as in Ancient Egypt.
It is by Egyptologists called the symbol of life. It is also called the "handled cross", or crux ansata. It represents the male triad and the female unit, under a decent form. There are few symbols more commonly met with in Egyptian art. In some sculptures, where the sun's rays are represented as terminating in hands, the offerings which these bring are many a crux ansata, emblematic of the truth that a fruitful union is a gift from the deity.
E. A. Wallis Budge postulated that the symbol originated as the belt buckle of the mother goddess Isis, an idea joined by Wolfhart Westendorf with the notion that both the ankh and the knot of Isis were used in many ceremonies. Sir Alan Gardiner speculated that it depicts a sandal strap, which is also written with the ankh hieroglyph.
In their 2004 book The Quick and the Dead, Andrew Hunt Gordon and Calvin W. Schwabe speculated that the ankh, djed, and was symbols have a biological basis derived from ancient cattle culture (linked to the Egyptian belief that semen was created in the spine), thus:
- the ankh, symbol of life, thoracic vertebra of a bull (seen in cross section)
- the djed, symbol of stability, base on sacrum of a bull's spine
- the was, symbol of power and dominion, a staff featuring the head and tail of the god Set, "great of strength"
The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, often at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person's mummy; this is thought to symbolize the act of conception. Additionally, an ankh was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean "strength" and "health" (see explication of djed and was, above). Mirrors of beaten metal were also often made in the shape of an ankh, either for decorative reasons or to symbolize a perceived view into another world.
A symbol similar to the ankh appears frequently in Minoan and Mycenaean sites[where?]. This is a combination of the sacral knot (symbol of holiness) with the double-edged axe (symbol of matriarchy) but it can be better compared with the Egyptian tyet which is similar. This symbol can be recognized on the two famous figurines of the chthonian Snake Goddess discovered in the palace of Knossos. Both snake goddesses have a knot with a projecting loop cord between their breasts. In the Linear B (Mycenean Greek) script, ankh is the phonetic sign za.
The ankh also appeared frequently in coins from ancient Cyprus and Asia Minor (particularly the city of Mallus in Cilicia). In some cases, especially with the early coinage of King Euelthon of Salamis, the letter ku, from the Cypriot syllabary, appeared within the circle ankh, representing Ku(prion) (Cypriots). To this day, the ankh is also used to represent the planet Venus (the namesake of which, the goddess Venus or Aphrodite, was chiefly worshipped on the island) and the metal copper (the heavy mining of which gave Cyprus its name).
- Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition pg 23. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
- Inman, Thomas. Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, Second Edition. New York: J. W. Bouton, 706 Broadway. Published 1875. Page 44. ISBN 978-1-4209-2987-4.
- A Guide to the Third and Fourth Rooms of the British Museum (London: s.n.: 1904), 210.
- Gardiner, Alan. Egyptian Grammar, Third Edition. Cambridge University Press. 1957. p. 508.
- Gordon, Andrew Hunt; Schwabe, Calvin W (2004). The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt First Edition. Brill/Styx. ISBN 90-04-12391-1.
- F. Schachermeyer. (1964) "Die Minoische Kultur des alten Kreta" pp. 161, 163–164
- Cristopher L.C.E Witcombe. "Minoan snake goddess". 9: Snake charmers
- M. Ventris, J. Chadwick
- The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press; AsiaMinorCoins.com
- Fisher, Fred H., Cyprus: Our New Colony And What We Know About It, London: George Routledge and Sons 1878, pp. 13–14.
- "Egyptian Religion", David P. Silverman, p. 135, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 0-19-521952-X
- "Ankh – Ancient Symbol of Life". Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
- Salaman, Clement and Van Oyen, Dorine and Wharton, William D. and Mahé, Jean-Pierre (translation) (2000). The Way of Hermes: New Translations of The Corpus Hermeticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Rochester: Inner Traditions.
- Three Initiates (1912). The Kybalion. Chicago: The Yogi Publication Society Masonic Temple.
- Media related to Ankh at Wikimedia Commons