THE DJED AND THE TREE OF LIFE
The Djed seems to be a pre-dynastic “fetish” which somehow was absorbed into the Egyptian language as the ideograph for stability. The best we can say is that in its original connotations, the djed was connected with fertility, the supernatural life energy of the grain itself. When the First Dynasty priests began their grand synthesis of Egyptian theology, the djed became one of the fourteen power or “kaw” of the Great God RA. Each power was given to one of the Memphis triad, and so Ptah ended up with the djed.
Ptah’s Djed was often shown with a Uas scepter sort of plugged into the top of it, along with the crook and flail that would later become the emblems of Osiris himself. It would appear that Osiris assumed those objects from the ideograph of the djed. Ptah has become associated with Sokar, the God of the Land of the Dead, which Osiris absorbed at the beginning of the Old Kingdom.
Fortunately, Egyptian is very logographic as well as ideographic and phonetic. This means that word signs can be spelled out using similar sounds and meanings to the sign. Djed is also the Egyptian word for “to speak,” “to declare,” “to say.” With emphasis, Ddd-jed, it is the sacred word itself, speech deified. Interesting as this is, it is the other roots that really strike a suggestive nerve. Djedd, same word, slightly different emphasis, means, “star,” or actually, the culmination or azimuth, of the star.
And now, suddenly we erupt into the Kabbalah. Again, the same word, djedd, is also a perfectly good Hebrew word dzeth, and they both mean an olive tree. The same word, in very similar pronunciation, is found in both Coptic and Arabic. Note also that the Hebrew letter teth, the serpent, spelled in full, is similar both in pronunciation and in numerical value dzeth is 417 and teth is 419.
The olive tree connection leads us to fertile ground. The olive tree is the original Tree of Life, perhaps even the burning bush of Moses (Again, see Koran 28:37). The combination of the idea of star and the image of the tree of life suggests an interesting cluster of meaning associated with the djed. Even more interesting, 417, in Hebrew, is the value for Noah’s Arc. The djed is an object that can safely carry us through the vast waters from one world to the next.
The concept of the Djed as a sacred object can be broken down into three categories:
1) Djed as an idea is found from early Dynastic times associated with the Uas and the Ankh, as in the three in one concept “life/stability/serenity.” From this came the verb djed, which meant stable, to be permanent.
2) The Djed-pillar is the sacred object worshiped in pre-Dynastic times in the Delta as the world tree. In a small Osiris shrine against the north wall of the Karnak complex, there is a beautiful relief of the World Tree blossoming from the djed.
3) The third category is the djed amulet, a small usually gold or bone replica of the djed pillar that was worn to ensure that the deceased had the permanence and stability of Osiris. The name, “backbone of Osiris,” is written as a djed pillar with a sperm-like tear drop shape moving upward toward an hemi-sphere. We can see this as emblematic of the sexual force, the sperm, moving upward to the dome of the cranium the rise of the force of kundalini.
This concept is made even clearer by the specialized word for astral light or psychic brilliance in Egyptian, which is also pronounced djed. Written as the combination of the “kaw” powers light and stability, this word has very definite magical connotations. The light ideograph, a sun disk shown radiating energy downward, has no phonetic value but indicates a being of light. In this sense it finds its way into the word aakhu, a spirit being, a description or title very similar to the Mayan Ahau. Light in this sense is divine light, the cosmic beam mediated through the vibrations of the sun itself. It also shows us the nature of the Equinox of the Gods and gives us a clue to creation of the twin soul RA/Osiris.
The Djed is the ancient image of the world tree as the focus of a sort of planetary kundalini force. To be disconnected, the Djed on its side, is to be out of touch with the greater galactic community. To raise the djed was to open a portal between the worlds, to reconnect the human community with the greater community of sentience in the galaxy. It was the function of the Pharaoh to perform this essentially magical feat, as it was the function of the Mayan Kings. Djed is the channel for the galactic communication beam, as well as the beam itself. The raising occurs in all of us as we become in tune with the flow of telluric kundalini, and then we become Djedi, the “stable ones.”
THE CAIRO CALENDAR
The Cairo Calendar is an ant-eaten piece of papyrus bought by the Cairo Museum in 1943. The second section of this work, whose title is something like “An Introduction to the start of Everlastingness and an end to Eternity,” gives a reading for each day of the year. (These concepts could be productively worked. They suggest the root of the concept of “spiritual consciousness,” a sort of self-remembering similar to that of the Sufis and Gurdjief). As part of determining whether or not a day is auspicious, the mythology related to that day is also given. The Cairo calendar is our only source for how some of these concepts relate to time and the framework of the year. The Calendar gives many pieces of several different mythologies, and ties them together by how these archetypal and mythic events impact upon humanity. A truly amazing document!
The Cairo calendar mentions the Djed three times. The first comes in September, the nineteenth day of the second month of Inundation. The Calendar tells us; “It is the day of the going forth of Nun to set up the Djed pillar in its place to compensate the gods in its presence.” Now this is most intriguing. If Nun is the primal water, the original being, then who are the gods? Two days before, on Day 17, we are told that the Major and Minor Ennead emerged from “the chaotic waters of Nun.” These are the gods before who Nun sets up the Djed. “In its place” would, of course, be the primal mound at Edfu, but how are the gods compensated by its presence? Why do gods need to be compensated? What does the Djed pillar do for these primal beings?
The next Djed date, October 25 in our reckoning, the 26th day of the third month of Inundation, is very important. “It is the day of establishing the Djed of Atum in heaven and on the land of Heliopolis at the moment of the uproar. The Two Lords are reconciled, causing the land to be in peace. All of Egypt is given to Horus, and all of the desert to Set. Tehuti goes forth to be judged before RA.”
The Cairo calendar is a curious collection of folkloric fragments. Its hieratic script dates it in the New Kingdom, but some of its phrases are extremely obscure, suggesting that they go back to the Old Kingdom and perhaps beyond into pre-dynastic times. Certainly this glimpse of the resolution of the conflict between Horus and Set is rather unusual, with its almost deus-ex-machina-like djed. “The djed of Atum” is an unique concept, which I can find no where else. Atum is the Heliopolitan creator god, the self-created lord of all. In the 175th chapter of the Book of the Dead, Atum addresses Osiris concerning the end of the world:
“I am but doing away with all that I have done since the earth emerged from the watery primal state of the abyss of Nun. I am fate and Osiris. I have changed into other serpents. Neither the gods nor mankind can perceive the double beauty I have created for Osiris, greater than all the gods. I have granted him the Mound of the Dead.”
This begins to resemble the image of a caduceus, the serpent-entwined rod of the Greek psycho-pomp Hermes. The serpents of course, are connections to the earth current, the word serpent is Egyptian, djed-ft, is related to the roots used in the Djed itself, indicating that the concepts were related. Atum’s statement, “I am fate and Osiris,” is the core of the mystery. We can read the meaning of this as close to the Buddhist’s “suffering and the release of suffering.” Granting Osiris the Mound of the Dead is to give him the position of the original Nun djed-pillar, as a sort of mediator among the worlds.
The last Djed day in the Cairo calendar is the sixth day of the second month of Emergence, January 3rd in our current reckoning. “It is the day of putting up the djed-pillar of Osiris. The gods are sad, with their faces downward when they remember Osiris.” The Calendar lists the other Djed days are very favorable, but this one is listed as very unfavorable. The sadness of the gods suggests their compassion for the human condition. In that sense, the “djed of Osiris” can be seen as a sort of divine rescue. Saddened by our fate, the gods gave us an escape mechanism, the Djed.
THE WORLD TREE
Now, let’s try to pull all of this information into a coherent picture. The djed began as a power object to the Neolithic cultures of the Delta. It symbolized “stability,” or rather “divine establishment.” The world tree or axis is a common motif in shamanic practices, indicating an awareness of the infra-structure of the universe. As this idea became a word, it was associated with similar sounding words in order to have a phonetic spelling. The root complex of the spelling of the word djed encompasses the concepts of speech, including divine speech, the culmination of a star and an ol;ive tree, the world tree itself. This tells us that the ancient Egyptians thought of the Djed as something divinely pronounced, a tree that links the earth and the stars.
Interestingly enough, the Indo-European group of languages have a complex of root words that are very similar to that which we have just outlined in Egyptian. The world tree in this case is the oak, *dorw in ancient Indo-Aryan. Just as the olive tree was the Tree of Life in the Mediterranean because of its ability to supply food, and therefore ensure stability, it was the oak that provided this stability for the ancient proto-Europeans wandering in the vast oak forests of the post-glacial warm spell. The word for oak also meant firm, strong, stable and enduring. Our modern English words truth, trust, and even tree come from these roots. Druid is also in the *dorw family, and means, “seer of the oaks.”
Whenever we trace the descendants of the root words of the oak family in the various Indo-European languages, from Ireland to India, we find that they are prominently featured in a religious usage. And in India we find large pieces of the puzzle.
A passage in the Rigveda echoes the notation in the Cairo Calendar: “Which is the tree, which is the forest from which they have fashioned Heaven and Earth, the stationery, undecaying, and giving protection to the deities.” The word for tree here, daru, is the direct derivation of *dorw. Daru is The Tree, the World Tree, the Cosmic Pillar around which the entire universe was thought to revolve. The world tree is often shown in ancient Indian folk art as a great tree crowned with the Pole Star. Polaris is called dhruva, another derivative, which meant the firm, or fixed one.
So far, we are no further along than we were in the Egyptian tradition. But in sixth century BC India, the methodology was scientifically recorded and therefore preserved. Pantajali left us a kind of psychology lab manual, a do-it-yourself handbook on enlightenment in his Yoga Sutras. This is a work containing very specific formulas for the systematic unfolding of consciousness.
This is not the place to discuss yoga or Indian philosophy. We are on an intellectual scavenger hunt for forgotten ideas, looking for the connections. The connection here lies in Formula 28 in the third section of Patanjali’s work, which is concerned with powers, or abilities. It states that “by performing samyama on the Pole star (dhruva), one gains knowledge of the motion of the stars.”
On the surface, this seems obvious. Watch the night sky from anywhere in the northern hemisphere of the planet and you can’t help but observe the relationship of the Pole Star to the motion of the other stars. This is not a “power” but an observation. What happens then when you make “samyama” on the “dhruva?”
We have no equivalent in English for the Sanskrit word “samyama.” To Pantanjali it meant a degree of meditation in which the three qualities of the mind merge. In essence, this means the ability to focus the mind, while permitting the mind to flow freely and, at the same time, unite the mind with the object of the meditation. It’s a sort of mental calisthenics, like patting one’s head simultaneously with rubbing the stomach: it produces a deep state of rapport with whatever one is focusing upon, be it an image of a deity, or the Pole Star. This intense rapport allows for an actual exchange of energy, a transferral of “power,” hence the name of the section. Some of this “power” is of course, knowledge.
Thanks to the explosion of interest in eastern meditation practices, we now have a large group of individuals who have learned the trick, but do not have the cultural infra-structure of the Hindu world view. In a sense, what the trained western meditators have done is provide a degree of proof for the contention that the methods are indeed scientific, and not culturally dependent. The technique and its expression in the Sutra, is very precise, and its results are repeatable, as has been demonstrated by an experiment at Maharishi University.
In the late seventies, Dr. Jonathan Shear put together an experiment based on the very Yoga Sutra in which we are interested. Published in the January 1981 edition of Metaphilosophy, his paper is extremely thought provoking. He states that, just as we have done, “one would expect to perceive the motion of the stars in the context of the heavens as we are accustomed to perceive and think about them.” But this doesn’t happen.
The early stages of the experience, the meditators reported, had that sort of imagery, but something else began to happen: “The Pole Star is seen at the end of a long rotating shaft of light. Rays of light come out from the shaft like the ribs of an umbrella. The umbrella-like structure on which the stars are embedded is seen as rotating… The whole experience is described as quite spectacular, blissful, colorful and melodious.” The meditators themselves were taken by surprise. They had no idea that this image of the World Tree was an actual archetype until they stumbled across it. Dr. Shear is emphatic when he states “the experience is the innocent by-product of the proper practice of the technique.”
Here is our archetypal Djed. The cosmology of the ancient Hindu Puranas echoes both Dr. Shear’s meditators and the legends of the Djed. Dharma, the Cosmic Law that resides at the highest point of the celestial structure, is also an oak-root word. The Rigveda tells us that “on top of the distant sky there stands/ The Word encompassing all.” The Djed is one of Plato’s Ideal Forms, as he describes in the story of the ascent of Er to the Realm of Ideal Forms in the Republic. It doesn’t matter whether the seer resides in India or in Egypt, Britain or Greece, when the glimpse comes, a great tree upon which the universe turns appears as a shaft of brilliant white light, its streaming branches clusters of galaxies.
Stability then becomes the link between earth and stars. We are stable only as long as we are connected to our stellar source. For the ancient Egyptians, this meant internal as well as external. They envisioned everyone as connected to a Khabs or star body. The djed, the spine of the individual, became the channel for that divine, or stellar connection. A person who had this internal stellar connection was seen as one who had control of the life force itself, a Djedi. There are many elements of sexual energy in this connection, suggesting both Hindu and Tibetan Tantric practices.
The Cairo Calendar gives us some tantalizing fragments of a Djed myth, one that connects Nun, Atum and Osiris in new and unusual ways. If this can be accepted as a fragment of Heliopolitan secret lore, and I think it can, then we have the key to the mystery of the djed.
Nun raises a djed, on the primal Edfu mound, to “compensate” the gods. For what? It can only be that they are no longer in “heaven” or the watery abyss of Nun, which is perhaps interstellar space. The Djed supplies their much needed connection to that heavenly base. The second appearance of the djed is a shock in both heaven and earth, an uproar, the Calendar noted it. A direct channel was opened so that the council of the gods, RA and the holders of his “kaw” could be physically present to judge the conflict. This djed of Atum is unique, perhaps the only time the Djed beam was used in this manner. The third djed is the memorial to Osiris. The gods take pity on mankind; the rescue is established.
The Djed is our connection to the galaxy; the Egyptian equivalent to the Mayan Xibalba Portal, the gateway to the Otherworld. The madness of Set caused the Djed to fall on its side. Pharaoh must raise it up, that is, re-establish the divine or extra-terrestrial connection. Our illness is the illness of aggression and violence, the power to destroy. Our cure is the sense of our place in the greater universe, an end to the isolation of humanity. These are concepts that the Egyptians were concerned with thousands of years ago. Let’s hope we understand them in time.