There are no doubts that the ancient amulets and talismans of the archaic community of hunters or gatherers differ greatly from those of the most elaborate societies like ours, because the particular value, that is given to them, corresponds to the needs of each culture. The ancestor hunter knew he could not dominate all the conditions of its activity, so he wore a wild animal's horn or a tuft of prey hair to feel safer and to avoid the risk of failure in his action. His psychological attitude was not so different from that of the driver, who is traveling today and brings a porte-bonheur, or a student who must pass an exam, or the showman who must face the judgement of the audience. All the people, in different terms and with different amuletic gimmicks, try to resolve a conflictual situation determined by the uncertainty of the human work. New lucky charms, such as traditional amulets, try to solve what Freud called the "psychopathologies of everyday life".
Lumpy seeds, tiger nails, holed coins, coral horns, cosmic diagrams, pendants with abstract symbols. What do they have in common all these objects? A magical idea of the vital force released from them, a superstitious power attributed to them in different times and in different places, to make them essential symbols of defence, to preserve and always wear them.
The choice of materials with this prodigious value, that the nature or the environment offered, was and is linked to emotional processes or beliefs and myths, uses or traditions of each cultural situations. However, all these objects have a common feature: they protect the bearer against generic or specific risks, and aim to restore the welfare or health crisis. Therefore, in every time and in every culture man has tried to defend himself with amulets and talismans from evil and to ensure a good life while overcoming the uncertainties in every human action.
There is a ethnographical distinction which emphasizes the separation between amulets and talismans. The first ones have an apotropaic function, i.e. they move away the pitfalls, protecting from evil eye, curses, evil spells, dangerous atmospheric phenomena and, in addition, they have a therapeutic function against diseases. They are magical media of passive protection. On the other hand, talismans are intended to convey certain qualities, such as increasing courage or wisdom, propitiating positive effects in attracting good luck and providing wellness, wealth and fecundity. They lend active magical powers to the holder.
Amulets were the zoomorphic figurines, from the Egyptians and some ancient populations; the arrow-shaped objects well-preserved in burial mounds in numerous archaic civilizations, as well as the Italic bulla of Roman children. Amulets are the Indonesian pending taiganja in the island of Sulawesi with its very intricate symbology with supernatural powers, while the Akans of Ghana wear jewelry made of numerous golden amulets representing magical symbols.
Talismans are instead the fetishes used by many groups inZambiaand inWest Africaby sterile women to obtain fertility. The Andamanese bone necklaces transfer powers from dead to alive persons. The hanging heads from the neck of Naga warriors are the "life force" and ensure the welfare of the community and the fertility of the ground. All the jewels made of coins preserve and attract material prosperity.
Amulets and talismans generally act automatically and often have a bivalent efficacy, that is they protect and lend virtues together. A characteristic example is given by coral amulets in which joined the defensive charge of Red coral, of ancient diffusion, and the beneficial characterization of certain emblems or figures. Amongst the first coral amulets is horn that protects from the effects of "charm". As a phallic emblem it evokes the strength, the male force and the prosperity, but it also becomes an effective amulet against all possible evils. According to an interpretation of the first half of the nineteenth century, the apotropaic power of phallus is connected to the belief that "ridiculous and repugnant" objects could keep away every spell. So the "hunchback", "mano-fiche" and horns come out and become substitutes of the Horn.
In other cases the double function is combined in the same objects that contained some typical propitiatory elements, in relation to the materials used in the processing (bone, horn, jade, metals), to their colors (red coral, crystal white, jet black or "black amber"), to their symbolic form (snake, winged head, waxing moon, frog, key) and to the magical or sacred imprinted formulas.
In Paracelsus amulets, the alchemical astrological signs, engraved on metal, defend the bearer from particular diseases. In India navaratna is the amulet par excellence: a composition of nine stones, in which each bud, in accordance with its color, becomes a receptor of cosmic forces emanated by a celestial body in the form of coloured rays (magnetic, electric and gravitational energy fields) and it retransmits them to the holder for his benefit, to avoid diseases or to restore health, to remove difficulties or maintain a general prosperity. The navaratna scheme frequently refers to the form of a mandala, that is a geometric representation of the cosmos as divine Universe, used for ritual purposes, that acquires magical and propitiatory features. This model adapts to different ornaments such as rings, pendants, arm ornaments and necklace pendants. In this case, as in many others, amulets are also jewels.
The talismanic cases, prepared in all Muslim countries, often become precious jewels in decorated metals, in which are inserted strips of parchment or leather, inscribed with Koranic Suras or sacred legends that operate to protect the wearer. For the same purpose rich boxes containing relics are worn by Buddhist believers, the gahus, and the malas with images of Shiva or Vishnu by Hindu fervents.
In the Catholic West the sacred formulas of the liturgy, written upon the pictures brought by believers, have the same function.
The distinction between sacred object and amulet is not valid here (this applies also to Christian crosses, Jewish phylacteries) and remains the effective power, the supernatural power, which responds to the specific request whose owns the magical object. The same can be said for the rosary beads, both Catholic and Muslim, or for our Saints relics.
Many of these ornaments such as amulets and talismans were associated to different parts of the body and they were related to the ritual usage that people did in the various phases of their lives, which are also the most important and dangerous moments: birth, puberty, marriage, death. The amulets are often placed near the body orifices according to a belief that evil spirits could enter into the body through our openings. All earrings have this function. In the African and Asian cultures as well as in the Italian area, earring is considered effective against the evil eye, both for men and women, and also a therapeutic amulet connected intimately to the earlobe pricking. This ritual starts with the inclusion of a red threat, which was removed with the intent to release the child from any negative entities.
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