Did you know that the cartouche was originally called “Shenu” in Ancient Egypt?
During the French invasion in the 17th century, Napoleon’s soldiers saw amulets on the tombs of pharaohs and thought they resembled gun cartridges. They then called these amulets “cartouches”— cartridges in French.
When the French returned to the Western World, they used cartouche jewelry as a symbol of love and admiration for their loved ones— a tradition that continues into the present. But what did the Shenu originally represent in Ancient Egypt and why were they decorated on the tombs of the deceased?
Keep reading to find out.
What Do They Look Like?
Cartouches are gold or silver plates with an oval outline and a horizontal line that runs along the bottom. The center has Egyptian hieroglyphs that spell out the names of pharaohs and some deities. They are most often vertical in shape but may be horizontal to fit more characters.
What Were They Used For
Pharaohs wore cartouches, a.k.a. Shenu, to protect themselves from evil entities in both life and death. The oval is representative of a divine rope that’s tied at the bottom to seal the protective energies. In death, the cartouche labeled on a pharaoh’s tomb protects him from evil and helps with identification.
The Ancient Egyptian’s engraved cartouches onto the tombs of pharaohs to help them identify their bodies in “purgatory.” In Egyptian mythology, it‘s believed that we‘re split into two energies after death— the Ka and Ba.
The Ka is the life-force or less solid form of ourselves, similar to the concept of an astral body, that stays with our physical form when we die. The Egyptians used to offer food and drinks to the Ka for sustenance. While the Ka could not eat the physical food, they believed it could derive the energy and consume it that way.
The Ba is representative of the soul and travels the mortal world during the day to deliver air and food to the Ka. In the evening the Ba leaves for the underworld to heal their earthly troubles before judgment.
After healing and passing judgment, the Ba and Ka come together to form what’s known as the Akhu. The Akhu is the immortal part of man that continues living in the riches of the afterlife. But, if the Ba and Ka cannot reunite, every part of the person, body, mind, and soul would cease to exist.
If a cartouche wasn‘t visible on the tomb, they believed the soul would never be able to find itself or eternal rest. Therefore, Egyptians helped the Ba and Ka find each other with personalized cartouches.
Get Your Own Personalized Cartouche Jewelry
Now you know the rich history behind gold and silver cartouche jewelry. In Ancient Egypt, cartouches were a symbol of protection and guidance in the afterlife used to identify the tombs of pharaohs. They were believed to help our souls unite and pass peacefully into the afterlife.
Today we use cartouche jewelry to show our loved ones the depth of our admiration. If you want to design your own custom cartouche with personalized lettering and unique characters, visit our shop!