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Djed: Level 1: Traditional Interpretations
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by Jon D. Jefferson

Traditional Western translations of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, (ala
Budge,Faulker,etc.), tend to be linear and analytic; however, word-for-word
translations of a symbolic language that the hieroglyphic type is, cannot truly
convey the meaning that the ancients intended. The Egyptians used a form that
was analogic in nature: each symbol is a combination of imagery, sound, poetry,
and mythic allegory; meant to envoke emotions, as well as intellectual meaning.
In this way, it can really be called a multi-dimensional, or multi-level,
form of communication. Each symbol was a synthesis of art, science, religion,
sound, as well as a physical reality; it is an associative thought process.
Thus, truly meaningful interpretive analysis must be approached on such a
multiple-level basis.
While in no way am I pretending to fully understand all this, ( i am a
student, not a PhD), I will concentrate on unraveling the meaning of just a
single symbol: the _djed_ pillar/column. Since this is a work in progress, I
hope to gain more insight as I go on with the research. [17]
Much thanks goes to Michael W. Mandeville, who is not only being so kind
in making this web-space possible, but who has also supplied the djed photo
web-pages you will see linked throughout these _Djed_ articles. Thanks again,
Michael, and we are all waiting for your _Phoenix_ to fly in print!

* * * * * * * * * *

The djed was originally associated from Old Kingdom times with the chief
god of creation, Ptah, who was himself called the "Noble Djed". In the tomb of
Nefertari in Thebes (19th Dynasty), Ptah is shown in front of a large djed
column, holding a staff that combines the _djed_ with the _ankh_ and _was_ [5]
signs,one atop the other. In the background, these are also in text format,and
are usually translated as "All protection, life, stability, dominion and health
are behind him" ; thus the term "stability" being attributed to the djed symbol.
In the New Kingdom, the djed became associated with the god Osiris, and
was used as a symbol of his backbone, or spinal column. Many New Kingdom coffins
have a djed painted on their bottom, where the deceased's spinal column would
rest; thus associating the dead one with the god Osiris in the underworld, as
well as with the Eygptian royal house. The ritual of "raising the djed pillar"
was performed as a final act in the rituals for the deceased king, and at the
new king's jubilee festival; this representing both the rebirth of the departed
king, and of the establishment of the new kings' reign, thus declaring for all
the continuity and "stability" of the royal monarchy. A painted wall relief [7]
from the temple of Seti I at Abydos is a splendid example of this royal ritual.
For non-royal commons, the ritual raising of the djed in their harvest
fields brings to us the base interpretation of the djed as a fertility sign:
a stylized depiction of a pillar with sheaves of grain tied around it. [8]
(A quaint rendering, don't you think?!)

The djed symbol is portrayed in many various ways, all requiring new and
different associated meanings. The 21st Dynasty Papyrus of Padiamun depicts the
djed as a standing pillar with eyes and arms holding a crook and flail; a var-
iation of this is the so-called personified Osirian Djed: a full bodied Osiris,
holding crook and flail, shows his entire head as a djed pillar with eyes;
atop is the royal crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. [5,12,13,14]
A similar portrayal is the djed of Osiris: here the gods' body is the
djed; eyes, plumes, horns, sun-disk, breastplate and pectoral all adorning
the pillar. (Bas-relief at Abydos). [9,10,18]
Yet another variation on the theme, one in which I find most intriguing,
and shall go into further detail later on, is the symbol of the djed column
with eyes; atop which is the _ankh_ sign, with uplifted arms supporting the
solar-disk. (Papyrus of Ani). [3]

The djed was also used in gold and silver jewelery, as pendants worn
around the neck, or as amulets, within which contained spells/prayers written
on papyrus, or small ritual objects, for personal protection. [1,2]

refs:
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_Reading Egyptian Art_, R.H.Wilkinson; Thames & Hudson, 1992.
_The Gods of the Egyptians_, E.A.W.Budge; Dover Books, 1969.
_The Papyrus of Ani_, E.A.W.Budge; Dover Books, 1967

(c) .jj./1997