An amulet (Latin amulētum) can be any object whose most important characteristic is its alleged power to protect its owner from danger or harm. Amulets are different from talismans as a talisman is believed to bring luck or some other benefit, though it can offer protection as well. Amulets are often confused with pendants—charms that hang from necklaces—any given pendant may indeed be an amulet, but so may any other charm which purports to protect its owner from danger.
Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words in the form of a magical spell or incantation to repel evil or bad luck.
Amulets in folklore
Amulets vary considerably according to their time and place of origin. In many societies, religious objects serve as amulets, e.g. deriving from the ancient Celts, the clover, if it has four leaves, symbolizes good luck (not the Irish shamrock, which symbolizes the Christian Trinity).
In certain areas of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, it is traditionally believed that the jackal's horn can grant wishes and reappear to its owner at its own accord when lost. Some Sinhalese believe that the horn can grant the holder invulnerability in any lawsuit.
In the Philippines, the local amulet is called agimat or anting-anting. According to folklore, the most powerful anting-anting is the hiyas ng saging (directly translated as pearl or gem of the banana). The hiyas must come from a mature banana and only comes out during midnight. Before the person can fully possess this agimat, he must fight a supernatural creature called kapre. Only then will he be its true owner. During holy week, devotees travel to Mount Banahaw to recharge their amulets.
Amulets and ancient Rome
The amulet is particularly prevalent in ancient Roman society, being the inheritor of the ancient Greek tradition, and inextricably linked to Roman Religion and magic (see Magic in the Greco-Roman World). Amulets are usually outside of the normal sphere of religious experience though associations between certain gemstones and gods has been suggested, for example, Jupiter is represented on milky chalcedony, Sol on heliotrope, Mars on red jasper, Ceres on green jasper and Bacchus on amethyst. Amulets are worn to imbue the wearer with the associated powers of the gods rather than for any reasons of piety. The intrinsic power of the amulet is also evident from others bearing inscriptions, such as vterfexix (utere fexix) or "good luck to the user." Amulet boxes could also be used, such as the example from part of the Thetford treasure, Norfolk, UK, where a gold box intended for suspension around the neck was found to contain sulphur for its apotropaic qualities.
Amulets and Ancient Egypt
Egyptian amulets were worn by both the living and the dead. Some protected the wearer against specific dangers and others endowed him or her with special characteristics, such as strength or fierceness. They were often in the shape of animals, plants, sacred objects, or hieroglyphic symbols. The combination of shape, colour and material were important to the effectiveness of an amulet. Papyri show that amulets were used in medicine, often in conjunction with poultices (a medicated dressing, often applied hot) or other preparations, and the recitation of spells. Sometimes, the papyri on which the spells were written could also act as amulets, and were folded up and worn by the owner.
One of the most widely worn protective amulets was the wedjat eye: the restored eye of Horus. It was worn by the living, and often appeared on rings and as an element of necklaces. It was also placed on the body of the deceased during the mummification process to protect the incision through which the internal organs were removed. Several of the spells in the Book of the Dead were intended to be spoken over specific amulets, which were then placed in particular places on the body of the deceased. The scarab was an important funerary amulet, associated with rebirth, and the heart scarab amulet prevented the heart from speaking out against the deceased.
This type of amulet, the image to the right, is a symbol of the god Amun, originated with the Kushite kings who ruled Egypt as Dynasty XXV. Their foreheads, like this ram's head, were often adorned with two cobras rather than the single cobra common on the heads of Egyptian kings. An exceptionally fine carving in hard stone, this amulet has links between the horns and head that may reflect a metal prototype.
Amulets in the Abrahamic religions
In antiquity and the Middle Ages, most Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Orient believed in the protective and healing power of amulets or blessed objects. Talismans used by these peoples can be broken down into three main categories: talismans carried or worn on the body, talismans hung upon or above the bed of an infirm person, and medicinal talismans. This third category can be further divided into external and internal talismans. For example, an external amulet can be placed in a bath.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims have also at times used their holy books in a talisman-like manner in grave situations. For example, a bed-ridden and seriously ill person would have a holy book placed under part of the bed or cushion.
Amulets are plentiful in the Jewish tradition, with examples of Solomon-era amulets existing in many museums. Due to proscription of idols, Jewish amulets emphasize text and names — the shape, material or color of an amulet makes no difference. Examples of textual amulets include the Silver Scroll, circa 630 BCE, and the still contemporary mezuzah. A counter-example, however, is the Hand of Miriam, an outline of a human hand.
The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the legitimate use of sacramentals in its proper disposition is only encouraged by a firm faith and devotion in God, not through any magical or superstitious belief bestowed on the sacramental. In this regard, rosaries, scapular, medals and other devotional religious Catholic paraphernalia derive their power, not from the symbolism created by the object, rather by the faith of the believer in entrusting its power to God. While some Catholics may not fully appreciate this view, belief in pagan magic or polytheistic superstition through material in-animate objects are condemned by the Holy See.
Protestant denominations in general do not share in this belief, but other Christian Evangelicals sometimes advertise in television prayer clothes, or coins, and wallet reminders claiming to have intercessory powers on its bearer.
The crucifix is one of the key sacramentals used by Catholics and has been used to ward off evil for centuries. The imperial cross of Conrad II (1024–1039) referred to the power of the cross against evil. Many of the early theologians of the Catholic Church made reference to use of the sign of the cross by Christians to bless and to ward off demonic influences. The crucifix is still widely used as a talismanic sacramental by Christians.
A well-known amulet among Catholic Christians is the Saint Benedict medal which includes the Vade Retro Satana formula to ward off Satan. This medal has been in use at least since the 18th century and in 1742 it received the approval of Pope Benedict XIV. It later became part of the Roman Catholic ritual.
Some Catholic sacramentals are believed to defend against evil, by virtue of their association with a specific saint or archangel. The scapular of St. Michael the Archangel is a Roman Catholic devotional scapular associated with Archangel Michael, the chief enemy of Satan. Pope Pius IX gave this scapular his blessing, but it was first formally approved under Pope Leo XIII.
The form of this scapular is somewhat distinct, in that the two segments of cloth that constitute it have the form of a small shield; one is made of blue and the other of black cloth, and one of the bands likewise is blue and the other black. Both portions of the scapular bear the well-known representation of the Archangel St. Michael slaying the dragon and the inscription "Quis ut Deus?" meaning "Who is like God?".
Catholic saints have written about the power of holy water as a force that repels evil. Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water and wrote that she used it with success to repel evil and temptations.
Ancient Roman amuletts from Pompeii showing a phallus
An amulet from the Black Pullet grimoire.
Magical mirror with Zodiac signs, Louvre
A talisman, American Indian medicine made by wolf skin, wool, mirrors, feathers, buttons and brass bell.
Winti- amulet, an Afro-Surinamese traditional religion's amulet
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