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Welcome to our extensive antique jewelry glossary with around 1,500 jewelry related entries.If you feel you are missing an explanation, feel free to let us know and we will add it.
An object attributed with magical value worn on a person.
An amulet (according to Pliny meaning "an object that protects a person from trouble"), is a close cousin of the talisman (from Arabic "tilasm", ultimately from Greek "telesma" or from the Greek word "talein" which means "to initiate into the mysteries.") consists of any object intended to bring good luck and/or protection to its owner.
Potential amulets include: gems or simple stones, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants, animals, etc.; even words said in certain occasions—for example: "vade retro satana" (Latin for "go back, Satan"), to repel evil or bad luck.
Since the Middle Ages in Western culture pentagrams have had a reputation as amulets to attract money, love, etc; and to protect against envy, misfortune, and other disgraces. Other symbols, such as magic squares, angelic signatures and qabalistic signs have been employed to a variety of ends, both benign and malicious.
The Jewish tradition is quite fascinating; examples of Solomon era amulets exist 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.
The Jewish tallis (Yiddish-Hebrew form; plural is talleisim), the prayer shawl with fringed corners and knotted tassels at each corner, is perhaps one of the world's oldest and most used talismanic objects. Originally intended to distinguish the Jews from pagans, as well as to remind them of God and Heaven, the prayer shawl is considered fascinating because of its name: it is very close to the term "talisman."
In antiquity and the Middle Ages, most Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Orient believed in the protective and healing power of amulets and talismans. Talismans used by these peoples can be broken down into three main categories. The first are the types carried or worn on the body. The second version of a talisman is one which is hung upon the bed of an infirm person. The last classification of talisman is one with medicinal qualities. This latter category of magical item can be further divided into external and internal. In the former, one could, for example, place a magical amulet in a bath. The power of the amulet would be understood to be transmitted to the water, and thus to the bather. In the latter, magical inscriptions would be written or inscribed onto food, which was then boiled. The resulting broth, when consumed, would transfer the healing and magical qualities engraved on the food into the consumer.
There is also evidence that Jews, Christians, and Muslims 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.
Christian authorities have always been wary of amulets and other talismans.
A little-known but well-worn amulet in the Jewish tradition is the kimiyah or "angel text". This consists of names of angels or Torah passages written on parchment squares by rabbinical scribes. The parchment is then placed in an ornate silver case and worn someplace on the body. Muslims also wear such amulets with chosen text from Quran. The text is generally chosen depending on the situation for which the amulet is intended. Generally however, usage of amulets and other talismans is considered superstitious among more radical and educated muslims.
The similarities between Jewish and Buddhist amulet traditions is striking.
The Christian Copts used tattoos as protective amulets, and the Tuareg still use them, as do the Haida Canadian aborigines, who wear the totem of their clan tattooed. Many Thai Buddhist laypeople are tattoed with sacred Buddhist images, called "sak yant", and even monks are known to practice this form of spiritual protection. The only rule, as with Jewish talismans and amulets, is that such symbols may only be applied to the upper part of the body, between the bottom of the neck and the waistline.