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of amulets seems universal stemming from the human desire for protection.
The existence seems to extend from the cave dwellers to the present. As
objects they come and go with fashion, taking on different designs and shapes,
but their purpose remains the same. No matter how civilized a culture may
be, the amulets are present.
The term amulet is derived from either the Latin word amuletum
or the old atin term amoletum which means, "means of defense."
Pliny, the Roman naturalist, described three types of amulets: those which
offered protection against trouble and adversity; those which provided a
medical or prophylatic treatment; and substances used as medicine.
Among ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabs,
and Hebrews great importance was placed on the use of amulets. The Egyptians
employed them everywhere. The frog protected fertility; ankhs symbolized everlasting
life and generation; the udjat, or eye, was for good health, comfort,
and protection against evil; the scarab beetle was for resurrection after
death and protection against evil magic. One of the most notable amulets of ancient Egypt is
the Eye of Horus.
Cylinder seals were used as amulets by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Within
them were embedded semiprecious and precious stones; each stone supposedly
possessed its own unique magical powers. There were various animal shaped
amulets; such as, the ram for virility; and the bull for virility and strength.
The Arabs, too, had amulets protecting them against evil. Small sacks containing
dust from tombs were worn. They also wore pieces of paper on which were
written prayers, spells, magical names or the powerful attributes of God
such as "the compassionate" and "the forgiver."
The Hebrews wore crescent moons to ward off the evil
eye and they attached bells to their garments
to ward off evil spirits.
In Africa the natives were discovered having amulets too which the Western
explorers and missionaries called fetishes. The fetish symbolized
protection to the natives.
Historically the two most universal symbols of amulets have been the eye
and the phallic symbols. Eyes are thought to protect against evil spirits
and are found on tombs, walls, utensils, and jewelry. The phallic symbol,
represented by horns and hands, is protection against the evil eye.
The names of God and magical words and numbers have generally been thought
to provide protection and fashioned into amulets. These methods of gaining
protection extend back to antiquity and were extremely popular during the
Renaissance to the early 19th century. Accompanying these were the grimoires,
books of magical instruction written for and by magicians. In magic, using
the name of a deity is the same as drawing down divine power. This is the
reason why portions of grimoires resemble prayer books.
The Tetragrammation, the Hebrew personal name for God- -YHWH and pronounced
Yahweh"- - , is believed to be very powerful in magic operations and
has been fashioned into amulets by different spellings. It is believed to
help magicians in conjuring up demons and give him protections from negative
The SATOR square (see Magic Squares) has also been fashioned into amulets. Throughout the
centuries attempts have been made to decipher the squire but it still remains
unintelligible. It was discovered on walls and vassals of ancient Rome.
In amulet form it is considered to be protection against sorcery, poisonous
air, colic, pestilence, and for protecting cow's milk against witchcraft.
Most all cultures hold the belief that sacred religious books such as the
and Bible possess protective powers. Bits of parchment containing quotes
from these books are carried in leather pouches, silver boxes, or like containers
as amulets. Ancient pagans wore figurines of their gods as amulets. The
remnant of this custom is still seen in the Catholic religion where some
members still wear scapulars and medals of the saints.
Many pagans and witches presently wear jewelry fashioned in amuletic designs
with their protective purpose in mind. A.G.H.
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