At least as early as 77,000 years ago the TWA (so-called Pygmies) of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa wore the “Cross” around their necks as jewelry and as amulets for protection.
Sometime thereafter, Very Ancient African Sages said their “life force” arose from the spirit of God and it imparted the personal “Aliveness” needed for acquiring a pure spiritual essence as well as for communicating with Higher Powers. To the modified Cross of Primitive Africans they fashioned a Circular Cross which originally may have been a knot with mythical, practical, and/or religious significance. The Circle represents the immortal and eternal part (absolute reality) while the Cross represents what is mortal and transient (illusion-matter). As a looped Cross symbolizing “Life”– both in the “here and now” as well as in the “hereafter” — it includes within itself the three elementary powers of creation: Emen-Ra; Reh, the sound which caused creation; and Waters of Nu (Waters of Chaos) (Saleem, Book of Dead, p41). Later, this esoterically symbolized the Annu Khet or “Stream of Cosmic Life Energy” animating all Life, emanating from the Godhead Annu (personified as Sun Goddesses). The Loop, called the Shen (the symbol of eternity), is equated to the top part of what is now known as the Ankh Symbol. That top is associated with the Cartouche — a rope of sunlight or Life Force harnessed into the form of a Circle, meaning that which is encircled by the sun will always be eternal. Thus, the Ankh has been consistently depicted with hands holding the Solar Disc — called Aten by Ancient Egyptian and Chakra by the Hindu — of the Sun Gods who lead Aten aspirants along the 11 ascending spiritual planes elaborated upon by the Tree of Life.
This path involves the process of human deification or Rebirth as a Human-God or as a Spiritual Body (or Ba). In Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, a Cartouche is an oval or oblong figure that encloses characters expressing the names of rulers or gods. Some say the word “Ankh” is an Ancient Egyptian root meaning transfigured Spirit. Others say it is an Akan language word for “Life”. Still others say “Ankh” refers to ones inner spiritual illumination — an illumination thought by Ancient Africans to convey the spirit of God or “life force” present in all real things — “a kind of individualized fragment of the Supreme Being.” Therefore the “life force” present in humans formed the Highest or Divine Self — the image of God — the “Soul”—the “Self”. Thereafter, the Ankh became known as the African “Cross” of Life and the earliest and most sacred symbol of Ancient Egyptian religion (Darkwah). The Ankh symbolizes many things. One is the Ancient Egyptian word “Spirituality” — “the breath (Spirit) as a manifestation of the Cosmic Life Force” — the vital essence of an individual. A second, by having a similarity to the female symbol, alludes to the regenerative, formative properties of the Ankh (Ashby, Egyptian Yoga p89). Third, the Circular Cross, being an Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic term, originally meant both “Life” and the “hand mirror” of the goddess Isis-Hathor. How both came about relate to the belief that the sacred and mystic marriage between God (Osiris) and Goddess (Isis) took place at the source of the Nile.
Supposedly, this initiated the yearly flood of the Nile upon which the life of Egypt depended. This + its form suggest a key which opens the gateway of the tome into the Fields of Alu, the realm of eternity. Thus, the Ankh is also called the “key of life” or the “key of the Nile.” Fourth, it symbolizes the Union of Opposites. This means Life literally occurs as a result of the union of Spirit and Matter—the union of Heaven and Earth—the union of Male and Female Principle sexual symbols (i.e. a female oval surmounting a male cross) and all aspects of God. Such a union, which goes beyond the concepts of Duality, transforms one into an androgynous being—the union of opposites — the two becoming One. Put another way, the Ankh symbolizes the African originated (Bailey, Echoes p86) Yin/Yang-type balance between the two forces of life—positive/negative, light/dark, long/short, male/female. If there is no unity or Oneness, the Ankh still expresses Reconciliation of Opposites or the integration of active and passive Qualities. Note in the “Ankh Cross” that the loop at the top (female) and the cross at the bottom (male) are only tied together. This makes it possible to loosen the bonds (knots) that tie the Spirit to the body and thus make it possible for the Soul to attain Enlightenment. Subsequently, “Ankh” has also implied “to smell, to feel, to be alive” as well as to other forms of life. As a result of its core significance in humans, the Ankh is thought to be the most impregnable structure to protect ones Name against attack. In addition, associated with the root “akh” are aakhu (“endowed with spirit”), aakhut (“wise instructional folk”), Askhu-t (a name for Isis, Sothis, or Sirius); the dead being referred to as ankhu; and neb-ankh (possessor of life), a term for a sarcophagus. Yet, most commonly the meaning of “Ankh” signifies everlasting life; the word for physical life; and the “sap of life” (i.e. milk).
“From first to last, the Egyptian gods are seen carrying the Ankh in their right hands because it symbolizes their powers over Life and Death and because it gave life to their kings and the servants presenting it to them. Those holding the Ankh were displaying the sign of Life associated with royal and divine power. In fact, they had the power of Life and Death in their hands and were the exclusive preserve of the ruler of the gods. For example, the goddess Ma’at is often depicted in Egyptian art as giving life to a pharaoh by holding the Ankh to his nostrils. Several Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses – e.g. Ma’at, Anqet, Ptah, Satet, Sobek, Tefnut, Asar (Osiris), Ra, Auset (Isis), Hathor, Anibus as well as African kings – are frequently depicted as carrying Ankh signs, often placed in front of their faces to symbolize the Breath of Eternal Life. To them the Ankh signified the Life process which sustains Creation and living beings. Hence, Egyptian hieroglyphs and paintings of the Ankh convey thoughts of Rebirth and Resurrection. The Ankh is associated with funerary rites at death, frequently placed in the hands of the Dead as an emblem both of Incarnation and of new life to come. Support for this derives from the sign of the Cross being commonly formed by the folded arms of the Deceased, as always found on the breasts of mummies (Gadalla, p92). When carried by the Dead it signals a safe passage between this world and the next. When held upside down it is the key that unlocks the gates of Death into Eternity. The Dead are said to carry the Ankh at the time their Souls are weighed or when they are aboard the Boat of the Sun God, as a sign that they seek this same immortality from the gods. Furthermore, and to this day, many caretakers of monuments carry a key with the handle in the shape of the Ankh.
Inside and later outside Africa the Ankh was (and is) applied in rituals, especially in those involving royal cults, and it had special significance when used in various temple ceremonies. Their meditation and rituals used the Ankh as a Hekau (word of power or Mantra)—chanting repeatedly (aloud or mentally) while concentrating on the meaning behind the symbolism. Sometimes it is seen placed on the forehead between the eyes, linking it with clairvoyance. The early Coptic Christian Church of Ancient Egypt adopted the Nkwa symbol as the symbol of their Church and called it Crux Ansata, representing eternal life granted to humanity by the sacrificial death of the Savior. From early Christian times the Greeks, with whom the Copts were associated, said the Egyptian Ankh was “common to the worship of Christ and Serapis (a Greek-Roman name for the African Asar, Osiris) (Ashby, Ancient Egyptian Buddha p136). From here, it was taken to Rome and there it became a European Christian symbol with only a slight variation in design. Meanwhile, because it spread widely outside of Ancient Africa (including the image on the “feet of Buddha”), the Ankh, the Divine Life process, became the unifying symbol which forever linked Egypt, India, and Christendom. Similar to the early Indians of India, the early European Christian Church embraced the African Ankh, not because of its resemblance to the Cross, but for its esoteric meaning of Renewal and Resurrection. These early European Christians knew Egyptians had a certain letter-hieroglyph that “stood for the life to come”. This letter had the form of a Cross. “The Cross” is mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas as a symbol, not of death, but eternal spiritual life.
Early Christian writers referred to the Ankh as: “The Symbol of Eternal Life of the Egyptians.” Ben-joch (Black Man of The Nile, p362) says about this over-simplification: “Of course they were as wrong as they had been in most of everything they had ever written before about the religions of the indigenous Africans of the Nile Valleys and everywhere else in Alkebu-Ian [Africa].” Though this symbol was the Ancient Egyptians’ sacred religious symbol, it served to reinforce as a sacred European Christian symbol the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Yet, it was not until the 3rd century AD did the Cross come to be applied as the symbol of Christ. As a continuation of the ancient European Church de-emphasizing the esteem in which Africans held the Feminine Principle, the Christian version of the Cross of Life, which did not appear in Christian art until after the 5th century AD, significantly lacked the feminine oval and kept only the masculine part of the figure (Walker, Myth p38). In recent years the Ankh has become an emblem of various organizations.
Meanwhile, the Ankh and what it stands for have always been significant in maintaining the backbone of the African Family System. This is not simply parents and children, as Europeans speak of family—but a kinship group embracing the living descendants of a common Ancestor as well as the honorable Dead Ancestors. In other words, an African family applies widely to people past and present who bear the same family name. It was the duty of the Ancient African family and villagers alike to guide their children on how to recognize the worth in people and Nature (i.e. the Substance of God); how to properly rank the recognized worth in relation to an individual’s other qualities; and how to enjoy what is ranked high. To this end, the Ankh was often used. In having daily Family Talks with children, as I did with my family, the principles associated with Ankh symbols work wonderfully well in laying the foundation for discussions on “How Shall I Live”? Other purposes are suggested by the Ankh’s continuing world-wide influence in doing such things as Meditations. Staring at an Ankh symbol, either alone or in conjunction with other types of Hekau, will mentally help steady the mind during deep concentration (Ashby, Egyptian Yoga p78). To this day, to give an Ankh to someone is to wish that person life and health, which is contained in ones spiritually derived Name. The same applies to even giving the wish of an Ankh to someone in thought or deed. So, Ankh, Udja, Seneb means Life, Vitality, and Health! [Reproduced from Bailey, Ancient African Bible Messages]