What Does The Crook and Flail Symbol Mean?

crook and flail
In ancient Egypt, religion was integrated into the daily lives of people. The spiritual world was utterly present in the material and physical world, and symbols represented this understanding. The most prominent images of the regalia are crook and flail, as kings held them across the chest. The crook looks like the shepherd's staff and is a scepter that symbolizes the government and may relate to the thought of a shepherd leading the flock.

What Do The Crook And Flail Symbols Mean In Ancient Egypt?

The crook & flail are the most famous symbols originating from ancient Egypt. They are a symbol of the king’s power as well as majesty. 

What Is An Egyptian Crook?

The shepherd used the tool crook or heka to keep the sheep from danger. It is a long staff that has a hooked end. The Egyptian crook usually bears the colors blue and gold in alternating stripes. 

The crook or the shepherd’s staff helps scare predators. It is also responsible for ensuring that the herd is grouped in one place and guarantees that the sheep do not go astray.

crook and flail

Why Does Osiris Hold A Crook In His Hands?

The symbols first appeared during the reign of the first king, Narmer, in the Early Dynastic Period and associated the king with the first king of Egypt, Osiris. Both these signs are associated with Osiris and symbolize his early rule of the land. 

According to Egyptian myths, Set usurped the kingdom of Osiris by murdering him, but his sister-wife Isis resurrected him. She gave him a son named Horus, who defeated Set and restored order to the land. 

Upon avenging his father and defeating Set, Horus took his father’s crook and flail to represent his legitimate reign. 

While the crook was a tool the shepherds used, the flail helped herd goats and harvested a shrub called the labdanum. Osiris was a deity of agriculture or fertility and was associated with these implements from the Predynastic Period. 

They were reminders of the past and highlighted the importance of traditions. The shepherd’s short crook was the symbol of the legitimacy and power of the king but also indicated Egyptian kingship.

crook and flail
As the god of agriculture, Osiris is often depicted holding a shepherd’s crook.

What Is An Egyptian Flail?

The flail, also called nekhakha, is a rod that has three beaded strings attached to it. Similar to the crook, it has stripes of gold and blue color on the rod, while the beads may vary in color and shape. 

The most common belief surrounding the flail’s use is as a weapon that protects the sheep from predators. Besides that, historians believed it could have been used to goad the sheep or serve as a whip or tool for punishment by the shepherd.

crook and flail
Like the crook, a flail is a tool commonly used by shepherds in Egypt.

What Do The Crook and Flail Symbolize?

Apart from being a symbol of royalty in Ancient Egypt, the crook and flail symbol has many other meanings. Some of these meanings linked to the tools in the ancient Egyptian civilization are:


The deep-rooted connection between Osiris and other deities of Egypt and the symbol of the crook and flail represents spirituality through the two tools.

Journey To Afterlife 

Osiris is the god of the dead, as per Egyptian myths. According to early Egyptians, the crook and flail, apart from being the symbol of Osiris, also depicted the journey to the afterlife, where Osiris judged them with a scale, the Feather of Truth, and their heart.

Power and Restraint

The crook and flail symbols depict opposite forces, such as man and woman, power and restraint, and mind and will. While the crook indicates the merciful side, the flail, on the other hand, represents punishment. 


In the case of pharaohs, the crook and flail symbols hold a lot of importance. When an Egyptian pharaoh died, they placed the crook and flail crossed upon the chest to demonstrate the balance between restraint and power or even mercy and severity of rulers. 

The balance one achieves after death is the cause of enlightenment that might lead to rebirth or passing the trial of God Osiris.

crook and flail
Pharaoh’s are often depicted holding the crook and flail since they serve as both shepherd and defender of the people.

What Is The History Of The Crook And Flail Symbol?

The two symbols were used separately initially. In ancient Egypt, the flail or flabellum was used for high-ranking officials much before the recorded use of the crook or both Egyptian symbols. 

The earliest record of the use of flail for influential men of Egypt was during King Den’s reign in the First Dynasty. On the other hand, the first use of the crook was in the Second Dynasty, according to the depictions of King Nynetjer.

However, the most prominent use of the crook and flail across Egyptian history is in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. King Tut’s crook and flail survived the change of time, seasons, and even reigns. 

The staffs are made from bronze, gold, obsidian, and blue glass stripes, while the flail beads come from gilded wood.

crook and flail
King Tut is the most famous depiction of the crook and flail.

What Was Anubis’s Weapon?

Anubis is the Egyptian god of lost souls and the dead. A jackal often represents him or a man with a jackal’s head. He murdered his brother Osiris. Anubis is often depicted with him wearing a ribbon and holding a “flail” in his arm.

crook and flail
The god Anubis shepherds souls and is often depicted holding a crook,

What Is The Most Powerful Weapon In Egyptian Mythology?

The most iconic, powerful, and feared Egyptian weapon was the Khopesh, a curved sword in the shape of a sickle. It evolved from the battle ax. Khopesh is a recognizable sword as the blade has a distinct shape that starts straight but curves outwards. 

There are numerous images of pharaohs and Egyptian gods wielding the Khopesh sword in their tombs. Some pharaohs also took it to the afterlife by getting the sword sealed in the tombs with them after death. 

crook and flail
An image of the Khopesh, a curved Egyptian sword.

What Does The Crook And Flail Tattoo Mean?

Pharaohs used the crook and flail to depict their authority and strength while ruling ordinary people. People continue to use these symbols in modern times as well in the form of tattoos. Crook and flail tattoos are symbols of power, strength, and steadfastness. 

Be sure to keep learning about Egyptian symbols and check out this great article on the Thoth symbol.


Vanessa's liberal arts background has prepared her well for Symbol Scholar. A self-proclaimed theology nerd, Vanessa has interests in world religions, Reformation theology, history, and more. When she's not working, Vanessa enjoys spending time with her family, reading, exercising, and watching professional basketball.

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