the holy rattle

What was the sistrum?

The sistrum was a musical instrument, a sort of rattle. It was usually made of bronze. The pictures above show an original sistrum on the right, and my copy on the left. The colour of my copy is the colour of new bronze. After a long time it goes a darker brown.

There are three wires which carry metal discs. These make the sound. If you look carefully in the drawing on the top right you can see the wires were shaped like snakes, like the hieroglyph for 'dj'.


Head of Hathor, temple of Hatshepsut.

What was it used for?

The sistrum was mainly used in holy rituals in the temples. Priestesses like the one in the picture above would shake them to make a shimmering sound, which was pleasing to the gods.

How old is the sistrum?

The sistrum was used from the Old Kingdom, when it was shaped like a shrine. The hooped shape you see here was popular later, right through the Greek and Roman periods

Whose face is that?

The face on the handle belongs to Hathor, the goddess of music, dance, beauty, and love. Hathor was the wife of Horus, and her name, Hat-Hor, means the house of Horus. She was worshipped in her own temple at Dendara.

Hathor was usually shown as a woman with cow's ears, and sometimes cow horns. She was sometimes shown just as a cow.

Sistrum handle in the Manchester Museum