Amulets are quietly, one of the most worn pieces of jewellery for many people. Whether it’s for religious purposes, spirituality or simply fashion, they seem to be everywhere. Even I can’t go out without my Wolf Tooth Stone Pendant Necklace amulet, so it seems I’ve got the amulet bug too! But the question I’ve often thought about is what is the meaning behind amulets; what are their spiritual significance.
Amulets are items of extraordinary spiritual power and belief and have been worn for protection and strength for many thousands of years. They’re often made from natural substances such as ivory and wood to ground them to the natural world. These items may also have religious or superstitious origins, and are often symbolic of the desire to ward off evil.
Amulet comes from the latin word amuletum meaning “an object that protects a person from trouble”
What Can Be An Amulet
While we traditionally view amulets as an ornament on a string, in reality, almost anything can be an amulet. Amulets have been used by all sorts of cultures throughout history and have been known to be made from:
- Animal teeth and horns
Additionally, there is no one form an amulet needs to take. Amulets have come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They can be artistically carved and untouched natural material from the ground.
Amulet vs Talisman
It’s very easy to mix these two up. In practice, they serve similar functions. They are both magically or enchanted items that are designed to protect its owner from harm or evil However, there is a notable difference. Amulets are worn items that are meant to protect the wearer, as such they are often made from more durable materials like bone or stone. Talismans are not necessarily worn and so paper talismans are common.
Amulets in Christianity
Christianity has a long history with amulets for all kinds of spiritual and protective purposes.
The cross is symbolic of Christianity as a whole, but different branches of the religion use different types of cross. Protestants, for example, have adopted a plain cross, symbolic of Christ having risen from the dead. Catholics have adopted the crucifix, a cross with the crucified Christ, as symbolic of his sacrifice. His presence on the cross is also symbolic of God’s work as ongoing rather than ending with his death and resurrection. An amulet signifying Christ’s crucifixion has long been a symbol of the Christianity. As the epitome of “good”, the wearer is protected from the devil and his evils.
Patron Saint Amulets
Patron saints were people who lived particularly holy lives and were canonized by the Church after their death and are now called saints. These saints were often symbolic of a particular characteristic, like bravery. People carry amulets with the images of these sain’ts as a way to earn the protection of the saint.
For example, the amulet of St. Christopher was worn as protection from the “black death” and is now symbolic of safety when travelling.
Amulets in Islam
Amulets have a rich history in Islam. One notable factor about Islamic amulets is the material the amulet is made from holds enormous significance. This is because the quality of the material correlates directly to the apotropaic (magic) forces of the amulets. The most favored is carnelian because of it’s close association with the prophet Muhammad.
Hand of Fatimah Amulet
Traditionally worn by women as an amulet to protect them from evil, the Hand of Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, also has other meanings. Each finger symbolizes one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Amulets in Judaism
Judaism is a religion with plenty of symbolism and these symbols have carried onto amulets. With a number of common amulets carried by people everyday including the Star of David and the Hand of Miriam, it’s clear that amulets hold a deep spiritual meaning in Judaism.
Ancient Egyptian Amulets
Symbolism was a significant part of life in ancient Egypt, and featured particularly in the use of amulets. Made from ceramics, gems and medals, amulets signified attributes of specific gods or animals. They were worn as symbols of praise, protection and fortune, and were in tune with mummies for the journey into the afterlife.
Symbolic of hidden truth and light, jewelled amulets were buried with the deceased as protection from evil and as identification, so they could reach the correct level in the afterlife.
The scarab beetle symbolizes the Egyptian sun God, Khepri, who rolled the Sun across the sky much as a scarab beetle rolls its dung. Scarabs were also thought to protect the heart and as such we are worn as amulets.
The ankh was associated with the Sun and symbolized eternal life. Often made from gold or copper, it was commonly placed in tombs of the deceased to symbolize the breath needed for the afterlife.
Eye of Horus
The right eye of Horus symbolises the Sun in the left eye, the moon. As a symbol, the eye signifies protection from evil and was also used to grant the wearer healing powers.
Buddhists often wear an amulet of the Buddha as an outward sign of their devotion. He appears in a number of postures, each with its own symbolism.
For example, the Buddha touching the earth with his right hand is a sign of the moment of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Lockets are amulets that have had their purpose changed over the years. Originally, they were used as containers that held herbs and other pleasant smelling ingredients. They were used to ward off evil and particularly sickness. They were commonly used during the “black death” to protect from the plague. People believed that the pleasant aroma would help ward of sickness. This is similar to the medieval pomander which contained spices and herbs to ward off sickness.
The purpose of lockets soon changed to be a symbol of love. You would keep the image or even locks of hair of loved ones within the locket as a sign of devotion. Lockets now can be made from all types precious items including crystals, stones and even every day items like padlocks.
Animals themselves hold immense spirituality. Everything from birds to beasts and even insects hold spiritual significance and meaning. Amulets were an important way to capture this power and humans have often created amulets using animal material
Animal Tooth Amulet
Amulets of animal origin such as claws and teeth signify the positive qualities of that creature. For example, a tiger tooth symbolises courage and strength while a shark tooth represents masculine power and ferocity.
Rabbit’s Foot Amulet
Rabbits’ feet have long been considered a symbol of good luck in the west and a rabbits foot is also believed to bring a person fertility and for the chinese, it’s a symbol of prosperity.
There are many more examples of amulets in cultures around the world, here are just a few:
The Eye Amulet
Seen throughout the middle east, the eye amulet protects the wearer from the “evil eye” which is said to result from the envy of others. The eye symbol will also deflect the gaze of onlookers.
The Hei Tiki Amulet
The Hei Tiki is a maori talisman that is shaped as a human figure and symbolizes an embryo. The charm is typically worn by women and is meant to encourage child fertility and ward off dangers of childbirth.
The Azabache Amulet
In South America, newborn babies are sometimes given a gold bracelet on which hangs a clenched fist of black or even red coral. A symbol of protection and resistance, the charm protects the child from the “evil eye”.
In ancient Assyrian culture, kings would wear necklaces that bore metal amulets. It was a protective symbol of the gods and the metal signified the strength and resilience of the earth.
The Ichthys Amulet
In ancient times, the ichthys amulet symbolized fertility. The fish symbol that was assimilated into becoming a Christian symbol and was often used in amulets. In North American cultures, the fish was a symbol of water and hidden knowledge and was an important totem.
Perhaps as long as people have been able to tell stories, amulets have held an important spiritual role. They are a symbol of protection and have been worn for thousands of years in the hope of protection and favor from the gods. It has gone on to become major symbols in most religions and cultures. So whether it’s about faith, superstition or even the hope for a little extra luck, there has always been a strong spiritual meaning of amulets. I know I won’t stop wearing mine!