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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Amulet

This article was written by John Michael Greer on April 01, 2005
posted under Amulet

A magical device for general protection and good fortune. An amulet differs from a talisman in that talismans are made and ritually consecrated for specific tightly focused purposes, while amulets are more general, and are often not formally consecrated at all.

The use of amulets goes back far into prehistoric times, and the oldest known civilizations are rich in amulet lore. The ancient Egyptians fashioned amulets of gold, precious and semiprecious stones, as well as less expensive materials. The ankh, the hieroglyph for "life," was among the most common Egyptian amulets, but there were many others, including the Udjat or Eye of Horus and the scarab beetle, a symbol of the sun. The ancient cultures of Mesopotamia had a rich amulet lore of their own, as did ancient Greece and Rome. In the Greek world, the ephesia grammata or "Ephesian letters" were among the most important ingredients in amulets.

The great monotheistic faiths of the Piscean AgeJudaism, Christianity, and Islam—brought their own traditions to bear on the lore and use of amulets. Texts from various sacred scriptures came to play a large part in amulets; in Christianity, which did not forbid the use of sacred images, pictures, or statues of the Trinity or the saints had a similar role. To this day many conservative Catholics keep a plastic statue of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or a patron saint in their cars to ward off auto accidents.

In modern ceremonial magic, amulets are somewhat neglected in favor of talismans and other, more focused magical devices. The modern Pagan scene, on the other hand, has made much more use of amulets, with the silver pentagram as the most common amulet. Amulets from other magical traditions, especially mojo bags from hoodoo, are also much used in the Pagan scene in North America.

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