The charm, amulet, or mascot, derives from fetishism, the
belief of people that a small object or fetish could contain a
spirit. Amulets are said to be of two classes those which are
worn as (1) fetishes, i.e., the dwelling place of spiritual entities
who are active on behalf of the wearer; or (2) mascots to ward
off bad luck or such influences as the evil eye. The amulet, a
protective device, is thus distinguished from a talisman, a magical
charm used to accomplish some end.
There is little doubt that charms were worn by prehistoric
peoples, because objects similar in appearance and general description
to amulets have been discovered in neolithic tombs.
The ancient Egyptians possessed a bewildering variety of amulets,
worn by both the living and the dead. Indeed, among the
latter, every part of the body had an amulet sacred to itself.
These were, as a rule, evolved from various organs of the gods;
for example, the eye of Isis, the backbone of Osiris, and so
forth. Among savage and semicivilized peoples, the amulet
usually took the form of necklaces, bracelets, or anklets, and
where belief in witchcraft and the evil eye was strong, the faith
in these and in charms was always most intense.
Stones, teeth, claws, shells, coral, and symbolic emblems
were favored amulets. These item were seen to carry specific
characteristics of the animal from which they were taken or to
correspond to reality specific to the culture. For example, the
desert goat is a sure-footed animal; accordingly, certain Malay
tribes carried its tongue as a powerful amulet against falling.
Beads resembling teeth were often hung around the necks of
Kaffir children in Africa to assist them in teething, and the incisor
teeth of the beaver were frequently placed around the necks
of Native American girls to promote industriousness.
Certain plants and minerals were believed to indicate by
their external character the diseases for which nature intended
them as remedies. Thus the euphrasia, or eyebright, was supposed
to be good for the eyes because it contains a black pupillike
spot, while the blood-stone was employed for stopping the
flow of blood from a wound.
When prehistoric implements, such as arrowheads, were
found, they were thought by the peasants of the locality to be
of great virtue as amulets. Some light is cast on this custom by
the fact that stone arrowheads were in use among medieval
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Amulets
British witches. But in most countries they were thought to descend
from the sky and were therefore kept to preserve people
and cattle from lightning.
Certain roots, which have the shape of snakes, were kept by
Malays to protect them against snakebite. This correspondence
of root to animal likeness is known as the doctrine of signatures.
The Celts used many kinds of amulets, such as the symbolic
wheel of the sun god found frequently in France and Great
Britain, pebbles, amulets of the teeth of the wild boar, and
pieces of amber. The well-known serpent’s egg of the Druids
was also probably an amulet of the priests. Indian amulets are
numerous, and in Buddhist countries their use was universal,
especially where that religion had degenerated. In northern
Buddhist countries, it was common to wear an amulet around
the neck. These generally represented the leaf of the sacred fig
tree and were made in the form of a box that contained a scrap
of sacred writing, prayer, or a little picture. Women of position
in Tibet wore a chatelaine containing a charm or charms, and
the universal amulet of the Tibetan Buddhist priests is the
thunderbolt, supposed to have fallen direct from Indra’s heaven.
This is usually imitated in bronze or other metal and is used
for exorcising evil spirits.
Many Muslims wear amulets, and it is said that the prophet
Mohammed believed in the evil eye. The Koran is sometimes
carried as an amulet, or extracts from it are copied out for that
purpose. Suras 113 and 114 are directed against witchcraft.
Other powerful charms for amulets include the names and attributes
of gods, the names of the suras in the Koran, names of
prophets, planets, angels, and magic squares.
Amulets were also widespread among Jewish people, particularly
from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The
phylacteries still worn in certain rituals are believed to be a protection
against evil. One, derived from the legend of Lilith,
bearing the name of three angels, is given to babies to protect
them from her. In Jewish folklore, names of God, biblical verses
and names of angels were regarded to be powerful amulets.
Such amulets have been copied by non-Jewish occultists and
used in ritual magic.
With the magical revival of the nineteenth century and the
belief in occult powers being directed to various goals by magical
practitioners, amulets once again came into widespread use.
They were a necessary side effect of the development of talismanic
magic, an important part of magical practice featured in
the writings of Francis Barrett and Éliphas Lévi. Today, magicians
and Wiccans learn the preparation of amulets as part of
their basic magical training.
Budge, E. A. W. Amulets and Talismans. New Hyde Park,
N.Y. University Books, 1961.
Lippman, Deborah, and Paul Colin. How to Make Amulets,
Charms, and Talismans. New York M. Evans, 1974.
Pavitt, William T., and Kate Pavitt. The Book of Talismans,
Amulets, and Zodiacal Gems. Detroit Gale Research, 1972.