The symbols ofthe flail and the shepherd’s crook were used as the prime symbols of Egyptian kingship. In the favored funerary furniture of Tutankhamen, the last of the Amarna pharaohs, they were portrayed as the central piece of iconography for the departed king. Two blue and white striped rods crossed boldly together over the pharaoh’s chest, as though warding off intruders or protecting the mummified body concealed within. The real symbolism of these two items of royal regalia is rather uncertain but it appears to be not one of protection for the deceased, but rather as symbols of divine power and also allied to vague concepts of magic. In fact these were probably symbols of royal office that were used in daily rituals, rather than imagery reserved for the necropolis.
The crook and flail were not only carried by the pharaohs, but also by the gods Min and Osiris. They were used throughout dynastic Egypt but more notably during the New Kingdom era. For these items to be displayed so prominently they must have been central to Egyptian theology and yet, presumably because the majority of the royal and priestly rituals were arcane and hidden from the population, the meaning of these primary symbols of office seems to have been lost to us.
Prior tothe Middle Kingdom (circa 2000 B.C.) the imagery displayed is almost without exception just the flail on its own, draped over the pharaoh’s right shoulder. This is plainly evident in the statuette of the pharaoh Khufu and also in the reliefs of Senusret I.
During the Middle Kingdom, the imagery has definitely changed and it is quite evident that the flail and crook are now being shown together.
Finally, when we reach the middle of the New Kingdom (circa 1250 B.C.), the carved granite statue of Ramesses II discovered by Drovetti portrays just the crook on its own resting on the pharaoh’s right shoulder.
Egyptian theology was more concerned with astrology and astronomy than agriculture, and so for a proper explanation of the flail and the crook we must look to the stars and the cosmos. The flail and the crook were symbolic of the constellations of Taurus and Aries. And in time, just as the constellations had changed in the sky from Taurus to Aries, the symbols of office had likewise changed from flail to crook—with an intermediary period of flail and crook being shown together.
During this intermediate phase, the pharaoh, by crossing these two symbols over his or her chest, was symbolizing the crossing point or the crossover between the two constellations of Taurus and Aries. When rising in the east at the Vernal equinox, the Sun in this era was sitting in between the two constellations. The pharaoh himself was a manifestation of the Sun God, Ra. Thus by holding these symbols of the heavenly constellations of Taurus and Aries across his chest, the pharaoh was creating a graphic representation of the heavens above. The Sun in this New Kingdom era lay at the crossing point between the two constellations and in the royal imagery the heart of the pharaoh also lay at the crossing point of the crook and flail.
But of course, all this is just theory. The mysteries and intrigues of ancient Egypt will never cease to amaze the curious traveler… and sooner or later your travels will eventually bring you to Egypt, to marvel at mysteries like the one of the Egyptian crook and flail, prime symbols of Egyptian kingship.