The Ancient Symbology of The Key
Updated: Feb 23
The crown has been a long-standing symbol of authority, however, the symbology of the key exceeds the authority of the crown, simply due to the responsibilities of guardianship a key holder carries. There are two sides to acting as the bearer of keys, on the one hand, the bearer may confine, on the other the bearer may grant freedom. We can therefore assume that one who holds the keys, has absolute power. Consider the position of the all-seeing and all-hearing Hollywood version of Heimdall, protector of the Bifrost in Asgard. This character being responsible for the fate of Asgard, serves as a fine example of guardianship, and true authority.
The key has been used to symbolize authority in gate keeping since ancient times. An instance of this is found in Phrygian culture with the goddess Cybele. Although Cybele is a Phrygian name, she is considered an Anatolian goddess as Phrygia became Anatolia. Phrygia, and Anatolia were located in what is today, modern Turkey. In ancient Rome, Cybele became known as Magna Mater. The Trojans were the ancestors of the Roman Caesars, and Troy was located in Phrygia. Archaeological evidence of her worship was found in Catalhoyuk, Anatolia. She is ancient Phrygia’s only known goddess. Her inspiration may have come from Kubaba of an earlier Sumerian Pantheon. When the Greeks conquered Anatolia, Cybele was considered to be Rhea, wife of the Titan, Chronos, and mother of the Olympian Gods. The Romans worshiped her as the great mother of the gods. She bore a key that opened the gates to an invisible world. For the Greeks she held the keys to the earth, which closed her in from the winter, and released her in the spring. She was also worshiped as Cardea, as the Roman Catholic Cardinals are named after her.
Another key bearing deity is Janus, the Roman god of the gates of heaven who represents the origin of time, and who guards the gates in which Jupiter (Iu-piter, the father) can travel back and forth. This position made Janus the first point of contact, gatekeeper, or secretary of the gods. Myth tells us he was the initiator of human life, and financial enterprises. He sees into the past with one face, and into the future with the other, similar to Heimdall. Leonard Schmitz suggested he was the most important god of the Roman pantheon, and was frequently invoked with Jupiter, (Iu-piter).
Prior to the second punic war, the Roman’s consulted an oracle regarding outcomes. They were told to bring their goddess back from their homeland. They brought Cybele back from Pessinus. Pessinus later became a Catholic Titular See. The Romans won the war with Carthage, and the war with the Galatians after establishing Cybelle within their culture. In approximately 190 BC Rome officially recognized Ilium (Troy) as the ancestral home of the Roman people. By 378 AD the Church of Rome was already talking about the Bishop holding the "Power of the Keys," making him Pontiff. The keys represent the power of losing and binding, handed down from Cybele, and Janus.
Alexander Hislop states on the keys of St. Peter in his book "The Two Babylons": "There was a "Peter” at Rome, who occupied the highest place in the Pagan priesthood: The priest who explained the Mysteries to the initiated was sometimes called by a Greek term, the Hierophant; but in primitive Chaldean, the real language of the Mysteries, his title, as pronounced without the points, was "The Interpreter”, as the revealer of that which was hidden, nothing was more natural than that, while opening up the esoteric doctrine of the mysteries, he should be decorated with the keys of the two divinities whose mysteries he unfolded.” Perhaps the keys of St. Peter here, are more accurately, the keys of Janus and Cybele, and the first Pope of Rome is Simon Magus, the interpreter.
The key symbolizes knowledge and guardianship on a Coat of Arms. Two keys crossed in saltire on a coat of arms is the emblem of St. Peter who held the keys to the gates of heaven, and this emblem is part of the insignia of his Holiness the Pope. The ancient arms of the Holy See of Rome show the keys crossed, being then called the “keys of life and death,” similar to the Egyptian Ankh, but this representation was likely carried over from the founder and first ruler of Rome, Romulus who like other Romans honoured the gods that represented new beginnings, life, death, and seasonal change. January is named after Janus, the god of new beginnings, who holds the keys to the kingdom, ironically, Jesus Christ tells us, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19