Click to learn more about the meaning of the Djed Pillar The Tet or Djed Pillar is the oldest symbol of the resurrected god and was of great religious significance to the ancient Egyptians. It is the symbol of his backbone and his body in general. The Djed is represented on two ivory pieces found at Helwan dating to the first dynasty, evidence that the use of this symbol is at least that old. 2 In these early times it is said that Osiris was probably represented by the Djed alone, and that he had no other form. Alan Gardiner describes the Djed as a column imitating a bundle of stalks tied together and ascribes to it the meaning 'be stable' and 'enduring'.  Other possible interpretations are that it represents a segment of the backbone of Osiris, a tree trunk with its branches lopped, or the four supports of the sky combined as one pillar.

The Legend of Osiris told to us by Plutarch describes the death and resurrection of the Osiris.  His body becomes concealed in the trunk of a magnificent sized tree. The King then chops down this tree and the part containing the body of Osiris is made into a pillar for his House.  The basic themes of the legend are preceded in the Pyramid Texts in such utterances as 574, in which the body of Osiris becomes enclosed in the trunk of a tree and is associated with the Djed pillar.

The Legend of Osiris was probably based upon one of the most sacred of all Osirian festivals -  the 'Setting up of the Djed pillar'.  This resurrection ritual took place in 'The House of Osiris' or Per-Asar, which the Greeks called Busiris.  Often the word Djedu, meaning "Village of the Djed Pillar" is also translated as the "House of Osiris".Some of the titles of Osiris were Asar-Neb-Djedu; "Osiris - Lord of Djedu", and Asar-em-Het-Djedet; "Osiris in the House of the Djed pillar".

The internal chamber system and connecting passageways of the Great Pyramid viewed from the south or the north bears a striking resemblance of a crowned man facing the setting sun, his legs buried underground like the roots of a tree. The appearance of the four granite layers situated above the ceiling of the King's chamber are also reminiscent of the four 'blades' that form the top section of the Djed pillar, the crown of Osiris-Djed (pictured above-right).  This image contains the same elements of the Legend of Osiris: the body of Osiris inside the Pillar in the House of the King.

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'This King is Osiris,  this pyramid of the King is Osiris,  this construction of his is Osiris...'
Pyramid Texts, Utterance 600

The above utterance is from a pyramid belonging to the Fifth Dynasty.  It reveals how the Kings of the pyramid age regarded the relationship between himself, his pyramid and the god Osiris. There can be little doubt as to the meaning of this statement. It is clear that the King's pyramid was seen as an embodiment of Osiris and that he himself was this Osiris.  

Alexandre Piankoff writes about the personification of the pyramid and its identification with the King in the Introduction of his book, The Pyramid of Unas:

"The embalmed body of the king lay in or under the pyramid, which, together with its entire compound, was considered to be his body.

The pyramids were personified and the title of the queens of Dyn. VI shows that the name of the royal pyramid stood for the name of the deceased himself.  Thus the daughter of Unas is "the royal daughter of the body of (the pyramid) 'Perfect Are the Places of Unas' "

Here he rested, as Osiris in the Netherworld, and received his sustenance through an elaborate ritual.  But at the same time, the pyramid represented the solar mountain, the Benben, the obelisk point dedicated to the sun."

This dual function of the pyramid described by Piankoff, that is, to personify the body of the the dead King as Osiris and at the same time represent the solar mountain or pillar, is apparent in the structural design of Khufu's pyramid. The diagram of the complete internal layout of the chambers and passageways as viewed from the south depicts what appears to be a colossal figure of Osiris combined with the Djed Pillar standing inside the pyramid.  This is the place where the King will again be conceived and reborn as expressed in another claim made by Ancient Egyptian Kings found in the first chapter of the Book of the Dead:

"I am He of the Djed pillar
the son of He of the Djed pillar
I was conceived in Djedu
I was born in Djedu"

The enclosing of the body of Osiris in a pillar inside the house of the King and his subsequent regeneration is described in the Legend of Osiris and supported by various parts of the the Pyramid Texts.  The body of the King, the body of Osiris and the Pyramid of the King were considered by the ancient Egyptians as being synonymous with one another as we saw above in utterance 600.  It follows that if the King is Osiris and his Pyramid is Osiris, then by constructing the chambers of his pyramid in such a way that they form an image of the resurrected Osiris, Khufu had in effect ensured his own resurrection.

Texts relating to the reunification of the body of Osiris such as those found in the pyramid built by King Teti, who reigned just two hundred years after Khufu, describe this being undertaken by the goddess Nephthys in her form of Seshat, an archaic goddess who's worship goes back to the earliest of dynasties.

The Mother of King Teti is recorded in Ebers papyrus as "the Royal Mother of Teti, Sheshat" though her real name was actually Seshseshat, the same name she gave to her pyramid. n the texts of Teti's pyramid, the Goddess Seshat reunites the members of his body and is associated with his pyramid:

"Nephthys has reunited your members in the name of Seshat,
the lady of the buildings through which you have passed."
Pyramid Texts of Teti § 268. 

Seshat was involved in the planning and orientation of buildings by the aid of the stars in the northern polar region of the sky.  Texts in the temple of Horus at Edfu record the speech of the king during the ritual of aligning the foundations:

"I hold the peg, I grasp the handle of the club and grip the measuring cord with Seshat.
I turn my eyes to the movements of the stars.
I send forth my glance to Ursa Major... [Thoth?] stands beside his merkhet.
I make firm the corners of thy temple"

Khufu's pyramid is renowned as the most accurately oriented of all the pyramids.  Its four faces are aligned within the astounding accuracy of less than a twelfth of a degree to the four cardinal points, providing enduring stability to the foundations of his pyramid by association with the four pillars of heaven. 

Khufu was not the only king to include the Djed pillar in the architecture of his tomb.  Djoser was the first king to have a stone pyramid built and according to one chronology only 60 years passed between the completion of the Step pyramid of Djoser and the beginning of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

Inside his step pyramid complex at Saqqara, doorways are surmounted with rows of Djed pillars supporting the arch above.  As well as incorporating Djed pillars into his pyramid complex, Djoser had Osirian-style statues made of himself, which can be found standing unfinished on the east side of the courtyard.

Khufu's Father, Sneferu, had a pyramid built at Meidum which he called Djed Sneferu. The innermost walls of later tombs such as those belonging to Horemheb and Nefertari also depict large Djed pillars, sometimes with arms to illustrate the personification of the Djed.

The texts mention the God Khnum working with Seshat.  In chapter 57 of the Book of the Dead for example, it reads:

My mouth and nostrils are opened in the Djedu,
and I have my place of peace in Annu, wherein is my House;
it was built for me by the goddess Seshat,
and the god Khnum set it up for me upon its walls."

In chapter 30b of the Book of the Dead the God Khnum is described as the re-uniter of the body of Osiris, in a similar role as that of Seshat. KhnumKhnum The Djed pillar with arms is the hieroglyphic sign used to illustrate the god Khnum as shown on page cxxxiv of Wallis Budge's Egyptian Hieroglyphic dictionary, or with horns on page cxiii. 

Khnum is one of the oldest gods in Egypt dating to Predynastic times and texts of all periods state that Khnum was the 'builder' of Gods and Men.  It was believed that at a person's birth, both the ka and the body were fashioned by Khnum and after the king died he was refashioned by Khnum.

Sometimes Khnum is shown with four ram heads on one neck and according to Brugsch, each head symbolized each of the four elements air, water, fire, and earth.  In this form Khnum was known as Ba-Neb-Djedu,  "The Ram, Lord of Djedu".  Originally a form of Re, Ba-Neb-Djedu was later made to included within himself, not only the Soul of Re, but the Souls of Osiris, and Geb, and Shu. In utterance 324 of the Pyramid Texts, the god Khnum is referred to as a "Pillar of the Great Mansion" reminding us once again of the theme described in the Legend of Osiris.

The Four Granite roofed chambers situated above Khufu's burial chamber form the top section of the Djed pillar of the Great Pyramid. Inside these so called 'relieving' chambers is the only place in the pyramid where there can be found hieroglyphs. These are not part of religious inscriptions, but are roughly daubed on the blocks in red paint by the workers at the quarry as directions to the builders.  This was a common practice of the quarry workers and stones in other pyramids have also been found with similar inscriptions sometimes telling the date, the name of the King or the destination of the stone.

The inscriptions on some of the stones in the granite chambers found above Khufu's burial chamber contain his cartouche, evidence supporting the fact that Khufu was the owner of this pyramid. Khufu's Horus name, Medjedu was also found on the walls of these upper chambers. Also found in these chambers was another cartouche, Khnum-Khufu, which is regarded as Khufu's full name.  It has been translated as 'Khnum is his Protection'.

Considering Khnum's close association with the Djed Pillar, Khufu's full name could be understood to mean:

'The Pillar of the Great Mansion is his Protection'

The full translation of the quarry marks found in the fourth relieving chamber, also known as Lady Arbuthnot's chamber read: 'Khnum-Khufu, Sekhem Hedjet, shems aper' which translates as 'Khnum-Khufu, Powerful White Crown, followers crew'.

Sometimes Khnum is depicted wearing the White Crown normally associated with Osiris.  Usually translated simply as 'white', the word Hedjet is spelled using the mace of Horus hieroglyph listed in Alan Gardiner's sign list as T3 and stems from its allusions to the rising sun, a metaphor that was regularly used to denote the rebirth of the King.  The same word is used to signify the meanings "dawn, daybreak, white, anything bright, shining".

Although it is usually identified as the crown of the king of Upper Egypt, the 'white' crown, or Hedjet crown could be understood as the 'Crown of Resurrection' or 'Crown of Rebirth'.

This notion of the 'Rising Sun' and 'Crown' also exists in the word for 'Coronation', kha.  This hieroglyph is translated by Alan Gardiner as meaning 'sunrise', 'appear in glory'.

The location of the sunrise in the eastern horizon is a powerful symbol that plays a prominent role in the parts of the texts dealing with the King's rebirth.  The very name that Khufu gave to his pyramid is Akhet, the place where Re ascends into the sky after having triumphed over darkness, the sun's "Going Forth by Day". 

A later depiction of the Re in human form, found in the temple of Hathor at Denderah, shows him crowned with a stylised 'sunrise' hieroglyph.

Gardiner points out that the 'sunrise' hieroglyph is identified with the White Crown in a 'Hymn to the White Crown':

"PRAISE TO THE WHITE CROWN: Hail to thee, that Eye of Horus, the great one,
when she rises in the eastern horizon. Thou art the mistress of glorious appearances."

In the Pyramid Texts the white crown is identified with the mother of the deceased:

"I know my mother, I have not forgotten my Mother the White Crown... 9
Pyramid Texts, utterance 470

The white crown, like the god Khnum, as well as the Djed pillar are all related to the resurrection of the dead king.  Considering the above information, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the representation of the God of rebirth, Osiris-Djed, was intentionally incorporated into the substructure of Khufu's pyramid in an effort to ensure the continuation of the King's existence.

A closer look at the dimensions of the pyramid's substructure will help in understanding the intention behind its design and whether the proportional relationships between key architectural features relate to the proportions of the human figure, or more accurately, to the proportions of other existing Ancient Egyptian figures.

For more information on Osiris & the Djed and the Four Sons of Horus & Khnum: Click Here


1. Excerpt from 'The Hymns of Ani the Scribe', pAni.  Faulkner translates the word kha-ti in this instance as 'to appear' rather than 'coronation'.  See Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, pg. 185, 186.  See alsoEgyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, pg. CXXV.
2. "Although the god Osiris is not attested by name until the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, the probable antiquity of many of these texts makes it not unlikely that he was recognized at an earlier period, perhaps under the name Khenti Amentiu. A central element of the later Osiris myth, the pairing of Horus and Seth, is attested from the middle of the First Dynasty, 'antedating the first attestations of Osiris by six centuries or more' (Quirke 1992: 61).  It may be significant that two ivory objects in the form of the Djed-pillar, later one of the emblems associated with Osiris, were found amongst the grave goods in a First Dynasty tomb at Helwan (Saad 1947: 27, pl. XIV.b)."  Toby Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, page 292.
3. See Otto Firchow, Grundzüge der stilistik in den altägyptischen Pyramididentexten (Berlin, 1953), p. 238.  C. Wilke, "Zur Personifikation von Pyramiden," ZA, LXX [1934], 56-83.  P.Montet, "Reins et Pyramides," Kêmi, XIV (1957), 92-101.
4. "He of the Djed Pillar" is a title of Osiris, see Egyptain Hieroglyphic Dictionary, vol 2, page 914a.  See same page for interpretations of the word Djedu (Ddw), which is usually referred to by the Greek word Busiris (Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, p. 325) meaning "House of Osiris".  See also Egyptain Grammar, page 498 for alternative interpretations of the "village" hieroglyph, O49. 
5. Toby Wilkinson, Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, page 173.
6. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, page 583.
7. Egyptian Grammar, page 489.
8. Egyptian Grammar, page 380, 381, footnote 2.
9. Mention of the Crown Goddess appears in the Horus names of both Khufu and his son Djedefre.


The Concept of the Pyramid


The Measures

Canon of Proportions

The Pyramid and the Body