What Did the Cross Symbolize Before Christianity: A Dive into Ancient Meanings

Hey there! When you hear the word “cross”, the first thing that may come to mind is Christianity. After all, it’s one of the most well-known religious symbols in the world today. However, did you know that the cross has been around for thousands of years before Christianity even emerged? In fact, the cross has been used as a symbol in many cultures and religions throughout history. So, what did the cross symbolize before Christianity?

The cross was originally worshiped as a solar symbol in ancient Babylon, where it was believed to represent the sun god Shamash. In Ancient Egypt, the cross was a symbol of eternal life, and was used to represent the union of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, and Isis, the goddess of fertility. In Hinduism, the cross symbolized the union of the male and female principles, as well as the intersection of time and eternity. So, as you can see, the cross has a rich and varied history, and has been used to represent everything from the sun to the afterlife to the union of opposites.

Despite Christianity’s appropriation of the cross symbol, it’s important to acknowledge that it has a much deeper and richer history than many people are aware of. Regardless of religious or cultural background, the cross has always had a significant and meaningful presence in many different societies throughout history. Understanding the cross’s diverse origins can help us appreciate its continued relevance and importance in our world today.

The History of the Cross Symbol

The cross is a famous religious symbol that is usually associated with Christianity. However, the history of the cross symbol goes beyond Christianity, and it has been used by many cultures and civilizations throughout the world for centuries. The origins of the cross symbol can be traced back to ancient times when it was already used as a powerful emblem with significant meanings.

The following is an exploration of the history behind the cross symbol:

  • Ancient Egypt: In Ancient Egypt, the cross symbol was called the Ankh, which meant “life” or “eternal life.” The Ankh was also known as the “key of life” and was widely used in art and hieroglyphics. It represented the power of eternal life and was believed to give the pharaohs the ability to live forever.
  • Babylonian Empire: The Babylonian Empire, which existed between the 18th and 6th centuries BC, used a cross-like symbol called the “rosette” in their religious ceremonies. This symbol represented their goddess Ishtar and was believed to have magical powers, which could ward off evil spirits.
  • The Celts: The Celts were a group of people who lived in Europe during the Iron Age. They used the cross symbol as part of their religious practices, which included nature-worship and the worship of trees. The Celtic cross, which was a combination of the Christian cross and a Sun Wheel, symbolized the balance between Christianity and Celtic beliefs.

These are just a few examples of how the cross symbol has been used in various cultures and religions long before Christianity came into being. The meaning behind the cross symbol is deep and powerful, and it continues to be used by people all over the world to this day.

Cross-Like Symbols In Pre-Christian Cultures

Before Christianity, the cross symbolized many different things in various cultures across the world. Here, we will take a closer look at the different cross-like symbols and what they represented.

The Ankh Cross in Egypt

  • The Ankh cross, also known as the Egyptian Cross, was a symbol of life and immortality in ancient Egypt.
  • The loop symbolized the eternal soul, while the horizontal bar represented the earthly plane.
  • The Ankh was often used in hieroglyphics and artwork to represent eternal life and divine power.

The Swastika Cross in India

The Swastika cross was a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism for thousands of years before its use by the Nazi Party.

  • The Swastika represented good luck, prosperity, and spiritual purity.
  • The four arms of the cross symbolized the four directions and the cyclical nature of life.
  • This symbol was commonly used in Hindu and Buddhist temples and was believed to ward off evil spirits and negative energy.

The Tau Cross in the Mediterranean

The Tau cross, also known as the Saint Anthony’s Cross, has been used by many cultures for centuries.

  • In ancient Egypt, the Tau was the symbol of the god Osiris and was believed to bring protection and good fortune.
  • In Christianity, the Tau represented the sign of the cross and Saint Francis of Assisi used the Tau as his signature.
  • The Tau was widely used by pilgrims and monks during the Middle Ages as a symbol of faith and devotion.

The Solar Cross in Europe

The Solar Cross, also known as the Celtic Cross, was a popular symbol in ancient Europe.

Solar Cross SymbolismMeaning
The four armsRepresented the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.
The circleSymbolized the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
The centerRepresented the unity of all things.

The Solar Cross was believed to bring protection and healing and was often used in artwork and architecture in ancient Europe and beyond.

In conclusion, the cross symbol has had many meanings throughout history and in various cultures. From representing eternal life in Egypt to good luck in India, each cross-like symbol has a unique significance that reflects the values and beliefs of the people who created them.

The Use of Cross Symbols In Pagan Religions

The Cross is a symbol that has been in use for centuries, long before the advent of Christianity. In Pagan religions, the cross had significant religious, cultural, and historical significance, and it was used in a variety of different ways and for different purposes.

  • The Number 3
  • One of the most important symbolic meanings of the cross in Pagan religions is its connection to the number 3. The number 3 was considered a sacred number in many Pagan cultures, and it was often associated with the triple goddess or the three realms – the earth, the sky, and the underworld. The cross was seen as a physical representation of this sacred number, and it was often used in rituals and ceremonies that honored these beliefs.

  • The Four Directions
  • Another way that the cross was used in Pagan cultures was to represent the four directions – north, south, east, and west. Many ancient Pagan cultures believed that the world was made up of these four directions, and that each direction had its own unique energy and symbolism. The cross was seen as a way to connect with these energies and to invoke the help and guidance of the corresponding spirits.

  • The Cycles of Life
  • Finally, the cross was often used as a symbol of the cycles of life – birth, death, and rebirth. Many Pagan cultures believed in reincarnation and the idea that the soul continues on after death, and the cross was seen as a way to connect with these eternal cycles. The horizontal bar of the cross represented the physical world, while the vertical bar represented the spiritual world. Together, they symbolized the continuous cycle of life and death.


The use of cross symbols in Pagan religions was complex, with multiple meanings and associations. The number 3, the four directions, and the cycles of life were just a few of the ways that the cross was used to connect with the divine and to honor the sacred beliefs of these ancient cultures. To this day, the cross remains a powerful symbol with a rich and diverse history.

Symbolic MeaningPagan Culture
Connection to the number 3Celtic, Norse, Native American
Representation of the four directionsMayan, Native American, Inca
Symbol of the cycles of lifeDruid, Celtic, Viking

Table 1: Examples of Symbolic Meanings of the Cross in Pagan Cultures

The Celtic Cross and Its Meaning

The Celtic cross is an ancient symbol that has a rich history dating back to pre-Christian times. This symbol was originally used by Celtic pagans and Druids to represent the four elements of nature – earth, air, fire, and water. The four arms of the cross were meant to represent these elements, with the circle at the center signifying the unification of these elements. The Celtic cross was a powerful spiritual symbol that was believed to offer protection against evil and negativity. It was also seen as a symbol of hope and faith.

  • The Celtic cross was eventually adopted by early Christians in Ireland and Scotland, who used it as a way to incorporate pagan symbols and beliefs into their new faith. They believed that they could use the Celtic cross to help convert the pagan Celts to Christianity.
  • The early Christian church also gave new meanings to the elements represented by the Celtic cross. For example, they saw the four arms of the cross as representing the four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The circle at the center of the cross came to represent the sun or the Son of God, and the combination of these elements created a powerful symbol of Christian faith.
  • The Celtic cross has remained an important symbol in Celtic culture and in Christianity to this day. It is often found in cemeteries, roadside memorials, and other places where people want to remember loved ones who have passed away. It is also used in jewelry and other decorative items as a symbol of Irish or Scottish heritage.

Today, the Celtic cross is still seen as a symbol of hope, faith, and protection. It is used by many people as a way to connect with their Celtic roots or as a way to express their Christian faith. Whether you see it as a symbol of pre-Christian paganism or as a uniquely Christian symbol, the Celtic cross continues to be an important part of our cultural heritage.

For those interested in exploring the symbolism of the Celtic cross further, the following table illustrates some of the different meanings associated with each element:

EarthStrength, groundedness, stability
AirFreedom, spirituality, intellect
FirePassion, transformation, energy
WaterPurification, emotion, intuition

Ultimately, the true meaning of the Celtic cross is one that each individual must decide for themselves. Whether you see it as a symbol of ancient paganism or as a powerful symbol of Christian faith, the Celtic cross remains one of the most iconic and enduring symbols of our cultural heritage.

The Ankh Symbol and Its Significance

The Ankh symbol, also known as the Key of Life or the Egyptian Cross, is one of the most recognizable symbols from ancient Egypt. It was thought to represent the concept of eternal life and was widely used in religious and funerary artwork. Although it has become closely associated with Christianity due to its similarity to the Latin cross, its origins and meaning predate Christianity and have a rich history of their own.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Ankh symbol is its relationship with the number 5. The Ankh itself consists of a loop at the top, representing the feminine aspect, and a straight line at the bottom, representing the masculine aspect. Together, they form a shape that resembles the number 5, which was considered to be a sacred number in ancient Egyptian culture.

  • The number 5 was associated with the five fingers on a hand, which symbolized divine power and authority.
  • It was also linked to the five senses and the ability to experience the physical world.
  • In addition, the ancient Egyptians believed that there were five parts to the soul, each of which had its own specific role to play in the afterlife.

The Ankh symbol was believed to contain this sacred number and therefore held great power and significance. It was often depicted being held by gods and goddesses, who were the only ones believed to possess the power of eternal life. It was also commonly used in amulets and other jewelry that was worn for protection and good luck.

Today, the Ankh symbol is still used in modern spiritual practices, although its meaning and significance may vary depending on the interpretation. For many, it continues to represent the concept of eternal life and serves as a reminder to live in harmony with the divine.

AnkhEternal Life
Scarab BeetleRebirth and Regeneration
Eye of HorusProtection and Healing

The Ankh symbol and its significance offer a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual beliefs of ancient Egypt. Despite the passage of time and the rise of new religions, its enduring power and appeal continue to captivate and inspire.

The Swastika Symbol and Its Origins

Before Christianity, the swastika symbol had a completely different meaning than the negative connotation it has today. This ancient symbol was used by different civilizations and cultures as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and auspiciousness. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit language, and it means “well-being.”

  • The earliest known use of the swastika symbol was in the Indus Valley Civilization, which dates back to 3000 BCE. This ancient civilization used the swastika symbol as a representation of the sun and its daily rotation.
  • The swastika symbol was also used by ancient Chinese and Japanese civilizations as a symbol of good luck and longevity.
  • In many Native American cultures, the swastika symbol represented the four cardinal directions and the four seasons.

Unfortunately, the swastika symbol’s association with the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II has made its use in art and religious contexts taboo for many people. However, the original meaning of the swastika symbol should not be forgotten.

The cross, another ancient symbol, has a similar story. Before Christianity, the cross symbolized different things in different cultures. For example:

CultureCross Symbol Meaning
Ancient EgyptiansThe ankh cross symbolized eternal life and fertility.
Ancient GreeksThe cross symbolized the four elements of nature: earth, air, fire, and water.
Ancient CeltsThe cross symbolized the meeting place of divine energies.

The swastika and cross symbols are just two examples of how symbols and their meanings can change over time and across different cultures.

The Cross in Ancient Egyptian Religion

The ancient Egyptians were one of the earliest civilizations that utilized the symbol of the cross long before the emergence of Christianity. The symbol had a deep-rooted significance, representing many different concepts in their religion and culture.

The Significance of the Number Seven

  • One of the most prominent uses of the cross in ancient Egyptian religion was through its connection with the number seven.
  • The Egyptians believed that the number seven had a sacred quality, representing the seven planets visible to the naked eye, seven parts of the soul, and even the seven-year cycle of the Nile floods.
  • The symbol of the cross was used to represent the four cardinal points of the earth, as well as the vertical and horizontal axes that intersected at the center.
  • This intersection formed a balance of opposites, such as the concept of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice, and cosmic order.
  • The cross also represented the journey of the sun as it moved across the sky each day, crossing the horizon at dawn and dusk and reaching its zenith at noon.
  • The four arms of the cross represented the four seasons and provided a framework for the annual agricultural cycles.
  • Finally, the symbol of the cross played a key role in Egyptian funerary practices, representing the journey of the deceased to the afterlife.

The Ankh

Another significant cross-like symbol in ancient Egyptian religion was the ankh, also known as the “key of life” or the “breath of life.”

The ankh was made up of an oval or loop at the top that represented the vagina, while the vertical line below it represented the penis.

The horizontal line separating the two represented the act of sexual union that brought forth life.

Oval or loopFemale genitalia
Vertical lineMale genitalia
Horizontal lineSexual union

The ankh was commonly held by ancient Egyptian deities, symbolizing their power over life and death. The symbol was also frequently depicted in tombs and funerary art as a representation of the deceased person’s journey to the afterlife.


Overall, the cross and its various forms held significant meaning in ancient Egyptian religion. From its connection with the number seven to its use in funerary practices, the symbol played a crucial role in their cultural and religious beliefs.

The Cross in Ancient Greek Religion

The cross has been used as a religious symbol for thousands of years, long before the advent of Christianity. In Ancient Greece, the cross was a symbol of the goddess Hecate, who represented magic, sorcery, and witchcraft. However, the cross also had deep mathematical and philosophical meanings in Ancient Greece that influenced its religious connotations.

The Number 8

  • In Ancient Greece, the number 8 was associated with the goddess Hecate and her cross symbol.
  • The number 8 was also connected to the Octave, or the eighth note in a musical scale, which was believed to have a mystical quality.
  • The Pythagoreans, followers of the philosopher Pythagoras, believed that the number 8 represented justice, balance, and cosmic harmony.

The Mathematical and Philosophical Meanings of the Cross in Ancient Greece

The cross symbol in Ancient Greece was not just a religious symbol but also had deeper philosophical and mathematical meanings. The cross was seen as a symbol of balance and harmony, and it was believed to represent the four elements of nature – earth, air, fire, and water. The intersection of the four arms of the cross represented the convergence of the four elements, creating a harmonious balance. The Pythagoreans believed that the cross was a symbol of the harmony of the spheres, representing the natural order of the universe.

The cross also had mathematical significance. The Pythagoreans believed that the cross represented the perfect harmony of numbers and geometry. The four arms of the cross created a perfect square, and the diagonals of this square created a perfect right angle. This perfect intersection of lines and shapes was seen as a symbol of mathematical perfection and cosmic harmony.

The Symbol of the Cross in Ancient Greek Art

In Ancient Greek art, the cross symbol was often used as a decorative motif. It was seen on pottery, coins, and jewelry and was often used as a symbol of good luck and protection. The image of the cross was also associated with the goddess Hecate, who was often depicted holding two torches or two snakes in the shape of a cross. This further reinforced the connection between the cross and the goddess.

Examples of the Cross Symbol in Ancient Greek ArtDescription
Cross symbol on ancient Greek potteryThe cross symbol was often used as a decorative motif on pottery.
Cross symbol on an ancient Greek coinThe cross symbol was also used on coins as a symbol of good luck and protection.

The cross symbol in Ancient Greek religion, mathematics, and philosophy represented balance, harmony, and perfection. While its meanings and uses have evolved through the centuries, the cross remains a powerful symbol of faith, protection, and hope.

The Cross in Roman Religion

Before becoming a potent symbol of Christianity, the cross had a rich and complex history in various cultures and religions. In the context of Roman religion, the cross was a symbol of various gods and goddesses and was used in different forms and contexts.

The Cross Symbolism in Roman Religion

  • The cross was an emblem of Jupiter, the king of gods, and was called the Roman cross or the Solar Cross. It was depicted with four equal arms and often carved on the breastplates worn by Roman soldiers.
  • The cross was also associated with Mars, the god of war, and symbolized his power and authority. When Mars was depicted with a cross, it was the martial or military cross and had eight points.
  • The cross was also present in the worship of Diana, the goddess of the hunt and the moon. It was associated with her lunar aspect and represented the four phases of the moon.

The Different Cross Forms

The cross took many different forms and shapes in Roman religion, and each had a particular meaning and symbolism. Here are some of the most common:

  • The Roman cross or the Solar Cross was made of four equal arms and symbolized the four seasons, the four elements, the four winds, and the four corners of the earth.
  • The martial or military cross had eight points and represented strength, power, and victory in battle.
  • The Crux Ansata or the Ankh Cross had a loop at the top, symbolizing eternal life, regeneration, and the union of heaven and earth. It was associated with the goddess Isis.
  • The swastika cross had a design of arms that bent at right angles and was a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and fertility. It was used in various cultures worldwide, including Roman religion.

The Cross in Practices and Rituals

The cross played a significant role in Roman religion’s practices and rituals and was considered a potent symbol of power and protection. Here are some examples:

  • The cross was often used in inscriptions, mosaics, and other architectural decorations in temples, public spaces, and private homes, serving as a visible reminder of a god’s presence and favor.
  • The cross was used in divination practices, such as the casting of lots, to interpret and predict future events or seek divine guidance.
  • Priests and other religious officials used the cross in purification and cleansing rituals, where they would draw it in the air or on the ground to bless and sanctify a person, place, or object.

The Bottom Line

The cross is a symbol that has transcended time and religion. Before becoming primarily associated with Christianity, the cross had many different meanings, shapes, and uses, including in Roman religion. Whether a symbol of power, victory, or the union of heaven and earth, the cross has always held a potent and multifaceted significance for cultures and religions worldwide.

The Cross in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the cross symbolizes the convergence of the physical and the metaphysical worlds. It represents the union of the gods and goddesses, and it is often seen as a symbol of harmony and balance.

  • The Swastika: One of the oldest known cross symbols, the swastika has been used in Hinduism for thousands of years, and it represents good fortune, prosperity, and well-being. It is usually depicted with four arms that represent the four elements – earth, water, fire, and air.
  • Shiva’s Trident: The trident, or “trishula,” is a cross-shaped weapon with three points used by Lord Shiva, the destroyer of evil and the god of transformation. The three points represent the three aspects of consciousness – waking, dreaming, and deep sleep – and the three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas – which are the three qualities of nature.
  • The Chakra: The chakra is a cross-shaped symbol that represents the wheel of time and the cyclical nature of life. It is often used in Hindu art and is associated with Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. The chakra represents the power of the divine and the unity of all things.

The cross is also associated with the concept of “dharma,” which is the principle of cosmic harmony that governs all aspects of life. It represents the ultimate goal of human existence – the attainment of spiritual liberation and the realization of one’s true self.

In Hinduism, the cross is also used in meditation and yoga as a focal point for concentration. It is believed that meditating on the cross can help to balance the chakras and awaken the kundalini energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine.

Cross SymbolMeaning
SwastikaGood fortune, prosperity, and well-being
TrishulaTransformation and destruction of evil
ChakraThe cyclical nature of life and the unity of all things

The cross holds a deep spiritual significance in Hinduism, and it is deeply rooted in the cultural and religious traditions of India. It represents the interconnectedness of all things and the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth.

FAQs: What Did the Cross Symbolize Before Christianity?

1. What is the origin of the cross symbol?

The cross symbol predates Christianity and can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, India, and China. It has been used as a symbol of life, fertility, and the four elements.

2. What did the cross represent in ancient Egypt?

In ancient Egypt, the cross symbol represented the union of Osiris and Isis and was associated with resurrection and eternal life.

3. What did the cross symbolize in ancient India?

In ancient India, the cross symbol represented the four directions and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

4. What did the cross symbolize in ancient China?

In ancient China, the cross symbol represented the union of heaven and earth, and was used in divination and spiritual practices.

5. What did the cross symbolize in ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the cross symbol was associated with the sun god Apollo and represented balance and harmony.

6. Did the cross symbol have any negative connotations in history?

Yes, in some cultures the cross symbol was associated with death, sacrifice, and punishment.

7. How did Christianity adopt the cross symbol?

The cross became a prominent symbol in Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is now widely recognized as a symbol of sacrifice, salvation, and redemption.

Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Reading!

I hope this article has shed some light on the fascinating history and significance of the cross symbol. Although it is now mostly associated with Christianity, the cross has a rich and diverse cultural history that spans millennia. Thanks for reading and please visit us again soon for more interesting articles on a wide range of topics.