The Sign of Silence

As children often make noise, an adult will often tell us in a hushed tone ‘shhhhh’, placing their index finger to their mouth. This hand gesture is a sign of silence. But its origins have an obscurity to them. This gesture can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, with this hieroglyph meaning children or child.

Hieroglyphic Symbol for Child

This gesture of the hand raised to the mouth may indicate a hungry child, or the desire for the child to be fed. Either way this sign was incorporated into a symbol of Horus, who as a child was known to the ancient Greeks as Harpocrates, the child Horus. 

Horus was often used to depict time, and is heavenly connected with the sun. In the fifth Egyptian dynasty, Ra the solar deity merged with Horus to create Re-Horakhty, the sun of the two horizons.


Horizon, the word can be broken down to mean Horus – eye – sun. Horus loses this eye to his evil uncle set. Horus’s eye is symbol of the Sun. Horus is the god of Upper Egypt were the sun will rise, but Horus loses his eye (the sun) to Set who is ruler of Lower Egypt, were the sun sets. Hence the SET-ting sun. Our word for hour is a direct descendent from the word Horus, in Greek it began as ‘Hora’, and eventually became hour in English. As Horus who is a falcon would fly over the sky, as he is a sky god, like the sun he would cross over the sky from horizon to horizon. 

The index finger which in palmistry is known as the Jupiter finger, which is located between his father Saturn (middle finger) and his symbolic mother Venus (thumb) to represent the son/sun of these two figures. As Horus is the child of Osiris and Isis, and is a symbolic representation of the sun. 

The ancient Greeks saw this hand gesture differently, they interpreted as a gesture of silence and secrecy. The reason for this is uncertain, they may have misinterpreted this hand gesture as a way of stopping our lips from moving, or as a potential plug for the mouth. Either way they adopted a new understanding of the hand sign.

The Greeks invented the god Harpocrates due to their understanding of the Egyptians culture. Harpocrates was still connected with the Sun, this is most likely were the phrase ‘Silence is Golden’. Golden like the sun. And as children are often mischievous like Harpocrates they must remain silent like the sun to appease their parents. 

Harpocrates developed wings and become Harpocratic Eros, which in turn become Cupid. Cupid is linked specifically with being a child, and the connection with wings suggests the influence of Horus’s falcon wings, that spanned the sky. representing the young morning sun. 




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