The djed pillar is an emblem of stability and support and is one of the most common symbols of ancient Egypt, after the ankh and the udjat (the Eye of Horus). It has been thought to represent a pillar made from reeds or corn sheaves, a tree, and/or the spine of a bull or of Wesir (Osiris) (Who has been called “the Bull of the West”). As a reed-pillar, it may have been associated with fertility or good harvests; as a tree, it could refer back to any of the sacred trees in a largely treeless nation; and as Wesir’s spine, it harkens to the eternal stability of the dead king’s rule in His kingdom. As an extension of this, the djed pillar can also indicate the strength, stability, and duration of a human king’s reign.
The djed has been linked to three gods: Ptah, craftsman and creator; Sokar, falcon-headed god of darkness; and Wesir, king of the dead. Though its association is primarily with Wesir in modern-day interpretations, one of Ptah’s epithets is “the noble djed,” and He has been shown carrying a staff that combines the djed with an ankh. However, the djed has not only symbolized Wesir’s spine but also Wesir Himself, particularly when shown with eyes and a crook and flail. Early sources also implied that the djed symbol was a pillar holding the sky up, perhaps relating it to Shu, god of wind Who holds His mother Nut, the sky, separate from His father Geb, the earth.
Raising the djed pillar was an important ritual in ancient Egypt, celebrated on different days for different gods, including Ptah, Tem, and Wesir. In particular, a festival called Heb Sed celebrated the continued reign of a Nisut (pharaoh) and symbolically renewed the Nisut, typically once he had reigned for 30 years. Not only did raising the djed pillar link the renewing monarch to Wesir Who was renewed after His death, it also symbolized the triumph of the forces of order or ma’at over the forces of chaos or isfet. Though Set cut His brother down, Wesir was reestablished as king, and Wesir’s son Heru-sa-Aset (Horus the Younger) took His place as king over the living gods; so, too, would the Nisut establish himself as rightful king over all rebels and adversaries.
In funerary settings, djed amulets were commonly placed around a mummy’s neck to lend the deceased the power to sit up like Wesir could. Djed pillars were often painted on coffins and other areas of the tomb, including literal pillars, as both symbol of support and a direct link to Wesir and His successful resurrection. Where the ankh symbolized life, the djed could partner with it to symbolize the journey of the dead through the Duat and into Wesir’s kingdom.
In modern Kemeticism, the djed can be an inspiring symbol of our own strength, support, and foundation, both in our lives and in our spiritual practices, as well as an emblem of rebirth and regeneration. Contemplating what comprises our own djeds and how we can raise the djed for ourselves – in jubilation, in renewal, in reaffirmed stability – can be both a moving and pragmatic exercise to continue to grow and develop along our chosen paths.
- Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art (Richard Wilkinson)
- Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Geraldine Pinch)
- The Kemetic Orthodoxy Calendar (Tamara Siuda)
Last year’s first D post was on the desert.