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Amulets: Sacred Charms of Power and Protection

Updated on May 28, 2009

Religious medals and pilgrims' tokens were looked upon as amulets, partly owing to their sacred symbols and inscriptions and partly because they stemmed from holy places, where medals and tokens were blessed. The frequent use of coins as amulets is evidenced by the fact that so many of them are pierced for hanging on a chain or string.

Amulets are smallish objects credited with inherent power to protect against disease, to ward off sudden dangers and to prevent evil influences threatening the person, the domestic animal or the house with which they are in contact.

They were cherished with the utmost care and remained potent as long as their owner trusted them. Sometimes amulets were bequeathed in wills and we can assume that they served several generations. Their distribution is universal and they have been employed for such a long period that the original meaning of the word 'amulet' is a matter of controversy. Warfare and the plague created a great demand for them, and much light has of late been thrown on their psychological implications by a careful anthropological study of a Chinese epidemic.

The oldest amulets have been found in prehistoric graves; among them are shells, beads, white quartz stones. Stone amulets have been preserved more frequently than others, but they are practically indestructible. Precious stones as well as rare metals were made into amulets; so also natural stones of striking shape or colour, prehistoric stone axes and flint arrowheads, fossils and minerals. Often they were found in a field after a heavy storm had washed away the covering soil, the finder believing that they had fallen from the sky, taking them for 'thunderbolts' and crediting them because of their supposed celestial origin with supernatural virtues.

The finder would carry the 'thunderbolt' on his person for luck, or give it to some ailing member of his family, or place it under the roof of his house to protect it against lightning; for it was assumed that lightning never strikes the same object a second time. Largish stones, with water-worn, natural holes, can still be seen fastened on the doors of cottages or stables; they are meant to protect the inmates and the cattle against fairies and witches.

For some objects which are commonly regarded as amulets but which are actually charms. Though happenings connected with amulets have rarely been recorded, we can easily imagine the moving details of their history. In these small objects, most of which were without any intrinsic value, mankind throughout the ages has sought comfort and protection against the unknown and dangers of life.


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