Egyptian Symbols: Crook and Flail

The Crook and the Flail is symbolic the respectable position of kingship – it signified pharaonic dominion over the land of Egypt. Both of farming origin, the crook symbolized that the pharaoh is the shepherd or the carer of the people and flail is the scourge of necessary punishment to maintain order in society. Together, usually held in both hands crossed on the chest, they are the most prominent insignia of the royal regalia of ancient Egypt that symbolizes divine authority. They are usually seen carried by the pharaoh during state festivals.

The crook (otherwise known as the heka) was cane with a crooked handle normally made of gold and reinforced with blue copper bands. It is believed to have originated from the man-high staff used by shepherds known as the awet. It is symbol of state power that is not only exclusive to the pharaoh’s use but also to some high-ranking officials as well. Its earliest representation was that of king Ninetjer of the Second Dynasty carrying it. On the other hand, the flail or flabellum (known as the nekhakha)was rod attached with three beaded strands. Its earliest representation was that of King Den during the First Dynasty believed to waiting for the Sed festival. Both symbols are reminiscent of the role of the pharaoh’s as the cattle of god and the herdsmen of humanity. Despite more commonly seen used by deities, these royal insignias are a few of the symbols that the ruling pharaoh takes to his grave.

The crook and the flail were associated with several deities. It started as symbol of Geb as the original ruler of Egypt. It was inherited by Osiris when he took over the position as king. During this time, he acquired the epithet, “The Good Shepherd”, presumably because these instruments were used by farmers. Other deities associated with these symbols included Andjety known as the foremost of the eastern nome and eventual aspect of Osiris, Horus as Osiris’ heir, and Khonsu, a known aspect of Horus. However, some gods may be seen bearing only the flail including Min and Anubis (especially in his jackal form) who were both associated with Osiris.

Despite these symbols predominantly being a emblems of regalia, it may very rarely used by commoners as amulets. During the Third Intermediate Period, Ushabtis or commoners use this in order to enhance their chances of afterlife because of the crook and flail’s connection with Osiris who rose from the dead.