The djed column is an Egyptian hieroglyph representing stability. It was often displayed artistically in combination with the was staff and the ankh, which created a combined meaning of strength, success, longevity and long life.
Because Egyptian culture survived for such an immensely long time – more than two thousand years – it contains many contradictory myths as well as vastly different meanings for various symbols. These evolve over time as old ideas become incorporated into new myths or gods ascending in popularity start taking over aspects of other deities.
Ptah, the Noble Djed Ptah, the god of craftsmen, was often depicted holding a staff bearing marks of the djed, was and ankh. He was even described as the Noble Djed. While Ptah remained an important deity throughout Egyptian history, Osiris adopted many facets of him as he rose in importance. Funerary Meanings While the djed column has been associated with multiple deities, it is most commonly connected with Osiris, god of fertility, the underworld and resurrection. Sometimes it is described as his spine, and it was painted on the bottom of coffins where it would line up with the spine of the deceased. Amulets in the shape of the djed column might also be included with a mummy. These measures were meant to protect the deceased and help ensure his soul remain intact for eternity, which was of primary importance within Egyptian funeral customs.
Appearance of the Column Exactly what the djed is meant to resemble is debatable. One suggestion is that it represents bundles of reeds. Physical columns in Egyptian architecture bore capitals representing local plants such as papyrus, which are also reeds, so the motif would certainly be familiar with Egyptians. Egypt has almost no trees, so support columns would presumably often be of reeds and canes lashed together for strength, except for the very grandest buildings which used stone.
It may also represent the tree that grew around Osiris's own coffin in one version of his story of death and rebirth. This tree was cut down by a king and used as a palatial column until Isis, Osiris's wife, discovered Osiris within it. It is through Isis, along with her sister Nephthys, that Osiris is eventually resurrected.
Raising the Djed During planting season, a ceremony known as "raising the djed" was performed in which a physical djed column was raised. Here the column becomes phallic, celebrating the fertility of the land and ensuring continuing fertility. Images of the raising commonly involve the pharaoh and Isis.
Modern Understandings Today, the djed can certainly be seen as a symbol of strength and stability, a grounding point on which to center.
But some people who work with the symbol today see it as an axis mundi, a bridging between worlds. There is this world, where a column could physically exist, but it is planted into the ground, the realm of Osiris and the underworld, as well as the origin of new life with every seasonal cycle.
Stretching upward, it is a bridge to a more spiritual existence, a common goal of new agers using such symbolism. In funeral rites, the djed amulets were meant to help the deceased with his transition from the physical to the eternal spiritual with is essence intact. Rather than waiting for death for such spiritual transformation, new agers frequently seek spiritual enlightenment and elevation during this life.