A. The first letter of Sanskrit, Greek and Roman alphabets. Vishnu, one of the supreme Hindu gods, said 'I am the beginning, the middle, the end of all creation; of letters I am the A.' 1 The letter A is one of a series of usually five mystical characters (Sk. siddham) uttered as syllables by Vajrayana Buddhists, especially the Shingon sect of Japan, in their devotions. Its magical power will conjure up the deity. Each letter denotes one of the five Dhyani-Buddhas, 'A', denoting the supreme Adi‐ Buddha, VAIROCANA [i]. The written character, on a lotus throne, is also an object of contemplation. On Roman funerary monuments the letter A indicates that the deceased was an only child. See also WORD; BUDDHA.
A and ω (or Ω). The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are a Christian symbol of God as the beginning and end of all things. It is found in early funerary inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and occasionally in Renaissance and later painting, where the letters may be inscribed on the facing pages of an open book held by God the Father, 2 particularly in representations of the TRINITY [ii].
Ankh. Egyptian hieroglyph for life, possibly originally a representation of a sandal strap [iii]. As a symbol it denotes eternal life and when held to the nose of a dead pharaoh ensures his everlasting existence. It is held by many deities, in particular Atum, the sun-god of Heliopolis, and (when seated) Sekhmet, the lion-headed war-goddess of Memphis. A was SCEPTRE combining the djed column and ankh is the attribute of PTAH. On the walls of temples it gives divine protection to the deceased. The Coptic Church adopted it as a form of the cross, called ansate (having a handle).
Circle (the pure form; see also RING for the annular form). Like the sphere, a symbol of the cosmos, the heavens, and the supreme deity, in East and West. Renaissance humanists likened it to God from its perfect shape. It formed the ground-plan of churches, especially from the 16th cent. [iv: dome, St Peter's, Rome]. Choirs of angels, representing heaven, may have a circular or hemispherical configuration. As a Taoist and Buddhist symbol, heaven and earth may be represented respectively by a circle enclosed in a square. Taoism also taught that the circle, divided into two in a certain way, symbolized the creative principle of the universe, the two parts being its female and male elements (see YIN AND YANG). Having no end or beginning a circle may denote eternity, sometimes depicted in the West as a