Lilinah's Introduction to Magic
Focus on the Near and Middle East

Chapter 7:
**** Amulets and Talismans ****


Amulets and talismans are often confused and confounded in the archaeological texts and even in contemporary magical literature. Here is an example in a definition of amulet from Budge: "an object which is endowed with magical powers, and which of its own accord uses these powers ceaselessly on behalf of the person who carries it, or causes it to be laid up in his house, or attaches it to some one of his possessions, to protect him and his belongings from the attacks of evil spirits or from the Evil Eye." In addition, Budge says "The amulet is supposed to exercise its protective powers on behalf of the individual or thing continually, whereas the talisman is only intended to perform one specific task." [and possibly for a limited time]

An amulet or talisman can be a natural object of special quality. It can be an animal part, such as a tooth, an ear, a foot, or tail, from a particular animal who has certain desirable traits associated with the purpose of the magical object. It can be a plant, an herb, or mixture of herbs in a bag or tied or otherwise secured in place on a specific body part. Or it can come from the mineral world, as a stone of particular shape or quality (in its "natural" state). Especially potent are meteoric bits which are often magnetic, stones with naturally made holes in them, or geodes which are more or less spherical stones with a rough exterior and a crystalline interior, occasionally containing water.

Manufactured amulets and talismans take many forms. They can be words or symbols written, drawn, incised, or otherwise formed in clay, stone, metal, paper, parchment, wood, wax, or cloth, and often encased in metal, leather, or cloth. Another common and popular form is the semi-precious stone, such as carnelian or agate, often engraved with mythical scenes, symbols, prayers, charms, names of deities, or other magical words or carved into a particular shape. Strung on cord the gem can be worn around one's neck or upper arm. Or the stone can be inset in a piece of jewelry, such as a ring, bracelet, or pendent. Metal can also serve as an amulet or talisman, especially as a consecrated piece of jewelry, often inscribed with magical information. Three-dimensional figures or images (of clay, stone, faience, metal, etc.), are dealt with elsewhere in this book.

To be efficacious, it has to be consecrated, usually with burning incense, libations, and in the ancient past with animal sacrifice. Then the amulet or talisman can be worn or carried on a person, hung or placed in a house or other building, put into things such as boxes; or finally, it can be tied on animals for protection from harm or to promote fertility. Protection is the primary function of amulets. If apotropaeic, it can protect against or cure ailments and injuries and counter demonic influences responsible for them. A prayer or incantation is usually recited as the amulet or talisman is put on the person.

Talismans especially are used to gain or achieve something, such as love, luck honor, wealth, power, or victory in combat or competition. And finally amulets and talismans can be used to regain something, particularly health.

Egyptian Talismans

HERE usually where it says amulet, he means talisman

The color of the stone was very important to its purpose. If a person could not afford a carnelian amulet, then a faience amulet with a red glaze might do.

Often the material an amulet was made of was crucial for the magic to work. (p. 141) Many were of semi-precious stones, the most common being carnelian, green feldspar, lapis lazuli, serpentine, steatite, and turquoise. Some were metal, such as gold, silver, tin, lead, copper, bronze, or, rarely, iron. Some were of wood or bone. But by far the most commonly used material was (p. 142) faience, a paste of clay and high-quartz sand. Faience amulets were mass produced. The paste was pressed in molds, then fired in a kiln. When fired the glaze migrated to the surface producing a smooth, glassy surface.

In fact, many sorts of amulets were mass produced by the thousands throughout Egypt. To prepare a mold, first a "master" amulet was made of some durable material, such as stone. This was then used to make an impression in a lump of soft clay. When baked, the clay became hard, and this was the mold used to produce the amulets. Any number of molds could be made from the master amulet and any number of amulets could be made from each mold.

Most common is a scarab-beetle, (p. 149) but it may take other shapes, for example, a hedgehog or a fish.

Text-based Amulets

The written amulet is common in the Near East. It consists of words of power, occasionally accompanied by drawing of a deity. One example from a manual for magicians involves the following steps. First, draw the conventional form of the deity whose protection was being invoked [see Brier pp. 162, 164, 165]. Place drawing on client's neck, then recite the appropriate spell. State problem to be overcome, particularly mention hostile actions directed to client. Call forth (invoke) the powers of the deity; identify the client with the deity, saying, "His flesh is your flesh, his bones are your bones." Make clear the intent to direct the evil toward deity and not the person bearing the amulet. Finally magician convinces adversary that confrontation would be fatal to him.

Such an amulet was a long thin papyrus roll on which magical spell written. It was placed in either leather or wood container and worn around neck to protect child from any and all misfortunes. The usual format: First write the name of the deity or deities who promised to protect the child. Then state in considerable detail what dangers the amulet covers. Always mention the child by name, the names of the parents, and the protections promised. Written amulets in Egypt first appeared in 21st Dynasty (1087-945 BCE). They were used for only about 200 years. The reason why they went out of use is not known

from the Graeci Papyrae Magicae
1st C. BCE, to protect against or cure inflammation
A Charm of the Syrian Woman from Gadara
for any inflammation:
The most majestic goddess' child was set
Aflame as an initiate -- and on
The highest mountain peak was set aflame -
And fire did greedily gulp seven springs
Of wolves, seven of bears, seven of lions,
But seven dark-eyed maidens with dark urns
Drew water and becalmed the restless fire.

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1997 Lilinah biti-Anat

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