The wearing of talismans and amulets was practised by all the great ancient civilisations, and especially Ancient Egypt, from which so many symbols emerge. Centuries of magical faith and experience support the belief that these legendary luck-bringers can attract good luck or avert misfortune.
The form of many amulets, such as the Ankh cross, the Scarab and the Swastika, goes back to a vast antiquity, as is the belief in the “vibrational” powers of crystals.
The Difference Between Talismans And Amulets
There is an essential difference between a talisman and an amulet, although the two words are often regarded as the same thing.
A talisman is believed to have some occult potency for attracting some benefit to its possessor. An amulet wards off danger, negative energies and misfortune.
Sometimes a powerful talisman is believed to be capable of both attracting good luck and repelling ‘evil’. An amulet has always been used for protection, especially against the dreaded power of the ‘evil eye’.
Crystals and gemstones have been used both as amulets and talismans. Given their natural beauty, rarity and value, crystals and precious stones in the ancient cultures were believed to possess intrinsic virtues which radiated its energies to its owner or wearer. This belief is implicit in the custom of members of the monarchy possessing and wearing crystals in their crown jewels and royal regalia, and in the wearing of rings by bishops and other church dignitaries. Many historic family heirlooms, especially those of the more Celtic parts of the British Isles, have crystals and gemstones encrusting them.
Apart from precious stones and their virtues, there are time-honoured amulets and talismans, consisting of things in some form or design which is believed to the ‘magical’.
The swastika is an ancient symbol – its date of origin unknown. Unfortunately, due to the adoption of the symbolic swastika by the followers of Adolf Hitler, the image of the swastika image has been tarnished beyond repair.
The swastika is one of the most venerable and worldwide symbols. It is known to the American Indians, who regard it as a sacred and magical sign. It also appears among the remains of prehistoric Mexico. Throughout the ancient relics of the world, the swastika presents itself in many manifestations. It can be found upon the thrones of Tibetan lamas of high rank and upon very old church bells in English belfries. The people of ancient China revered the swastika, as did the people of Troy.
The name ‘swastika’ comes from the Sankrit, the sacred language of India, and means ‘happiness, well-being and good luck’.
Some interesting forms of the swastika are those which appear upon the mysterious stone monuments of pre-historic Scotland.
One of the most famous talisman of the ancient East was the signet ring of Genghis Khan – a large gold ring set with a magnificent ruby, upon which was engraved the sing of the swastika. It was preserved with the utmost care and secrecy among the Buddhist lamas of Mongolia, as its possession was believed to confer great power and protection.
The great nineteenth-century occultist, Madame Blavatsky, describes the swastika as being basically an equal-armed cross – a symbol far older than Christianity. The upright line represents the masculine influence, the horizontal line the feminine one. From the union of two opposites, masculine and feminine, positive and negative, comes all manifestation. Then lines are added to the cross, signifying motion – the Wheel of Life – or Cycle Law. Thus the swastika appears with its four arms symbolising birth, life, death and immortality. There are also the four winds, the four seasons and the four elements – and these are all summed up in the swastika.
Over the ages, many an argument has taken place over the issue of which way the arms of the swastika should point – to the right or to the left. Some say to the right is the most beneficial and fortunate and others say that of the left side. Both forms are found in ancient art, and are regarded as being equally sacred. The swastika with its arms pointing to the left is part of the emblem of the Theosophical Society.
The ancient Nordes and Vikings had their version of the swastika also, as displayed in the Elderfuthark Runes.
The ankh cross is the ancient Egyptian symbol of life and immortality. The gods and goddesses of Egypt are generally depicted holding this emblem in their hands, often grasping it by the loop as if it were a key; hence the reason it is sometimes called the ‘Key of Life’ – the ankh occurs in hieroglyphic inscriptions as the symbol meaning ‘life’.
Some authorities believe the shape of the ankh to symbolize and represent the union of male and female – the creative powers of life. The looped part of the ankh, with its oval shape, signifies the opening of the vagina – while the T-shaped part is a simplified figure of the penis and testicles. There are many ancient amulets which were quite openly made in the shape of the human genital organs. They were life symbols and hence ‘luck symbols’.
The Scarab is another ancient Egyptian amulet of tremendous antiquity. The Scarab represents the god ‘Kephra’. He was represented as a beetle because of the habits of this insect, which the Egyptians regarded as sacred. Beetles have beautiful, iridescent wing-cases which reflect the light like jewels. They fly about at dusk when the sun is sinking and most important of all, the scarab lays its eggs in the dung of animals, which it then rolls into a bigger ball than itself. The Egyptians saw the little insect propelling this ball with its hind legs and they compared it to the mysterious power which also propels the sun across the sky. The scarab became a potent symbol of resurrection and of eternal life and were interred with Egyptian mummies. The scarab is a popular amulet for the ‘living’ and might be made from semi-precious stones (such as carnelian) or of stone or pottery, glazed blue or green. Like many Egyptian amulets it would often have a hole pierced through it so that it could be hung around the neck or set in a ring.
Throughout the Moslem countries, both today and centuries past, the conventionalized figure of a hand has been a popular amulet. These amulets are often beautifully made of gold or silver-gilt filigree and set with precious gems and stones. This amulet is called the ‘Hand of Fatima’ out of respect for Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed – although the hand as an amulet is even older than the days when Mohammed was founding the religion of Islam. It derives from the natural gesture of raising the hand to ward off evil – especially the dreaded ‘evil eye’.
The Star of David
The symbol of the Jewish religion, the ‘Star of David’ is a familiar talismanic figure. This six-pointed star, formed by two interlaced triangles, is also called the ‘Seal of Soloman’. The basic form of the six-pointed star occurs consistently in ancient books of magic.
This symbol has also been found in the age-old magical lore of India. The Indian form shows the symbol of the sun in the centre of the interlaced triangles. The modern Jewish version sometimes displays in the centre, the Hebrew letters of the word ‘Mazeltov’, meaning ‘Good Luck’.
The upward-pointing triangle is the elemental symbol of ‘Fire’ – the downward-pointing one represents ‘Water’. Fire is regarded as a masculine element, and water as a feminine one. The union of masculine and feminine is displayed in the form of the interlaced triangles. When the symbol of the sun is drawn in the centre of the figure, it shows the presence of the six other visible heavenly bodies of greatest significance, distributed around the points of the star – Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. These together with the Sun make up the ‘sacred seven’, whose influence is so important in all ancient magic.
The Pentacle or Pentagram
The Pentacle or Pentagram is another important magical symbol consisting of a five-pointed star. In mediaeval times the pentagram acquired the curious name of the ‘Goblins’ Cross’ and it was also called the ‘Endless Knot’ because it can be drawn in one continuous line. Like the Seal of Solomon, the pentagram was believed to be a potent amulet against evil, particularly when one of the points of the star is pointed upwards. It then represents the power of the spirit ruling over the four elements of the material world. The pentagram was drawn in this way, or a representation of it was hung at doors and windows of houses to keep out evil spirits.
The Four-leaved Clover
The leaves of the lucky four-leaved clover are sometimes worn enclosed in a locket, or a representation of the leaf in gold or silver. The old folk rhyme about the four-leaved clover goes:
One leaf for fame,
And one for wealth,
And one for a faithful lover,
And one to bring you glorious health,
Are all in a four-leaved clover.
The lucky horseshoe is really the form of the crescent which derives its fortunate influence from the Moon goddess which has many names such as: Isis, Diana, Artemis, Tanith, Ishtar, Astarte, Hecate, Cerridwen, or any of the other names she has been known by over the ages.
The figures of the lunar crescent and the horse appear together on Ancient British coins, notably those minted by the ‘Iceni’ – the people of Queen Boadicea.
The horseshoe also carries within it the magic of the blacksmith and his craft. All good blacksmiths were supposed to be natural magicians. Cold iron, especially in the form of a horseshoe, was a protection against the mischief of the fairies and all sorts of negative beings.
The luckiest horseshoe is that which you find yourself by accident. This should then be nailed up over the door for good luck – but be sure to have the ends of the horseshoe pointing upwards, or the luck will run out. Only the blacksmith himself is privileged to hand a lucky horseshoe with the ends down, to pour out the luck upon the forge.
Lodestone (Magnetite), iron ore containing natural magnetic properties, is a potent, natural amulet and talisman for good fortune. To carry a lodestone was believed to bestow wealth, vigour and sexual attractiveness. It is believed to strengthen magical powers and dispel evil spirits and negative energies. Wealthy magicians of old wore their lodestone in a little cage of gold or silver filigree hung from a chain around the neck. The less wealthy carried their lodestone in a small bag of soft leather, together with some magical herbs. This was then hung from a string around the neck or worn somewhere close to the skin. Sometimes the bag may have contained a pair of small, twin lodestones, cleaving together by their own magnetic power. This was considered to be a very potent charm to attract love.
Snakes and Serpents
The appearance of snakes and serpents, either singularly or entwined, is another sacred symbol of old. The sacred serpent appears upon the crowns of Egyptian Pharaohs and in the temple carvings of ancient India.
Hermes, the herald of the gods of Greece and the patron of magic, is portrayed carrying the ‘caduceus’; a wand with two serpents entwined. The twin serpents represents the two interacting forces – positive and negative, which manifest throughout nature.
The snake is also a symbol of spiritual power. To the people of ancient times, the snake was a mysterious creature because of the way in which it glided along without legs. Also, the serpent renews itself by shedding its complete skin, and because of this, it has become the emblem of re-birth and immortality. Sometimes the serpent is shown holding its tail in its mouth. The Greeks called this figure of the encircled serpent the ‘Ouroborous’, and regarded it as a symbol of infinity and eternity.