Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A percussion instrument of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, and Rome consisting of metal rods or loops attached to a metal frame.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An ancient Egyptian musical instrument, to be shaken, consisting of a metal frame holding percussive metal beads.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • An instrument consisting of a thin metal frame, through which passed a number of metal rods, and furnished with a handle by which it was shaken and made to rattle. It was peculiarly Egyptian, and used especially in the worship of Isis. It is still used in Nubia.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A musical instrument much used in ancient Egypt and other Oriental countries. It was a form of rattle, consisting of an oval frame or rim of metal carrying several rods, which were either loose or fitted with loose rings. In either case the sound was produced by shaking, so that the rods might rattle or jingle. It was an attribute of the worship of Isis, and hence was commonly ornamented with a figure of the sacred cat.

Etymologies

Middle English, from Latin sīstrum, from Greek seistron, from seiein, to shake.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin sistrum, from Ancient Greek σείστρον, from σείω ("shake"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • A sistrum is a type of rattle that produced a clanging metallic sound.

    The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt

  • Coming forward between the two rows of officials, she shook in the air above her head a small temple bell called the sistrum,

    The pillar of fire, or, Israel in bondage

  • Though officially labelled as "sistrum" in the CHIC database, I cannot shake the feeling that this is in fact a kithara - an original primitive one.

    The kithara

  • The other one is a sistrum-like sign with the value "KI" perhaps *kithara, if we accept a transfer of meaning to "a small corded instrument".

    A Mediterranean flute wanderword

  • Because of the large screw on its side that could be used to tighten the cords, I do not think that it is a sistrum.

    The kithara

  • Offered to the gods, these objects were a token of renewal and strengthened the seduction of their owner, which the texts describe as “mistress of the sistrum,” “lady of the menat” and “whose pure hands hold the sistrum to charm her father Amon with her voice ….”

    Exhibit of Egyptian Queens

  • France, which had preserved the antique ceremonies of the worship of Isis, the sistrum, the cymbals, the dance of Isis, the prophesying, and the art of robbing hen-roosts.

    A Philosophical Dictionary

  • And so no doubt he would have of strigil and sistrum, if, instead of currycomb and cymbal, (which are the English names dictionaries render them by,) he could see stamped in the margin small pictures of these instruments, as they were in use amongst the ancients.

    An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

  • But they were so attentive to us that there was no opportunity of stealing a thing until, having left Giton with them, I craftily slipped out of sight and sneaked aft where the statue of Isis stood, and despoiled it of a valuable mantle and a silver sistrum.

    Satyricon

  • Around the statue I'd arranged a necklace of turquoise beads, a vase of fresh flowers, a sistrum, and a cobalt-blue glass pyramid.

    Changeling

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Comments

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  • " ... The sistrums clanked aghast/
    as always and bees unstitched the marjoram as in the old
    time and we non of us thought much about it . ..."
    - "Saps at Sea" by John Ashbery, in Quick Question

    October 11, 2014

  • From "C. Musonius Rufus" by Guy Davenport

    January 19, 2010

  • The sistrum was a sacred instrument in ancient Egypt. Perhaps originating in the worship of Bast, 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. It was also 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 too is often depicted holding a sistrum, symbolizing her role as a goddess of dance, joy, and festivity.
    _Wikipedia

    The sistrum is also used in rites to propitiate the goddess Sekhmet.

    February 11, 2008