Sistrum “Symbol of Music & Good Fortune”
The sistrum was a sacred instrument in ancient Egypt. Perhaps originating in the worship of Bat, it was used in dances and religious ceremonies, particularly in the worship of the goddess Hathor, with the U-shape of the sistrum’s handle and frame seen as resembling the face and horns of the cow goddess. Another type of sistrum used during the worship of Hathor is naos-shaped; a small temple with an elaboratly adorned handle with the head of Hathor on top of it. The sistrum was exclusively carried by women or musical priestesses for ritualistic practices except for festivals when the king would use the sistrum in order to present something to Hathor. The sounds made by the percussive instrument along with the rhythm of the music was largely important for its calling upon of deities, as the repetitive sound was thought to aide in ritual healing, and to alter reality. The sistrum was also used outside of a religious context for other music, dancing, and merry making until the 18th dynasty when the use of the sistrum became increasingly more restricted until it was only used for religious purposes. It also was shaken to avert the flooding of the Nile and to frighten away Set. Isis in her role as mother and creator was depicted holding a pail, symbolizing the flooding of the Nile, in one hand and a sistrum in the other. The goddess Bast often is depicted holding a sistrum also, with it symbolizing her role as a goddess of dance, joy, and festivity. Sistra are still used in the Alexandrian Rite and Ethiopic Rite. Besides the depiction in Egyptian art with dancing and expressions of joy, the sistrum was also mentioned in Egyptian literature. The hieroglyph for the sistrum is shown.
The ancient Egyptians were very creative in every aspect of their lives including music as they constructed musical instruments such as the sistrum which consists of a handle and a U-shaped metal frame made of bronze or brass, between 30 to 70 cm in width, plus it carried small moveable rings that produced a sound. It was used as an important instrument in the Egyptian cosmogony in religious ceremonies in the worship of Hathor plus the shaken it was to avoid the flooding of the Nile. Isis the goddess of motherhood and Bast the cat goddess of protection was also featured with a sistrum. Note: The Sistrum is an ancient Egyptian symbol of music, good luck, good fortune, good health, joy, life, festival, dance, and eroticism. It was believed that this sound appeases and attracts the attention of the gods and goddesses so it was used to reduce the devastating effects of the flooding of the Nile.