The Origins Of Popular Superstitions And Customs  ~ Magick7

 

 

 

AMULETS, GEMS, CHARMS, TALISMANS, MASCOTS

An amulet (from the Arab word hamala=to carry) is anything hung round the neck, placed like a bracelet on the wrist, or otherwise attached to the person, as an imagined preservative against sickness or other evils; a charm is exactly the same thing, the only difference being that the word itself contains the notion of some human action imparting to the article a certain power for good--hence the expression, "a charmed life;" a gem is simply the general name of a precious stone, used in this association because of alleged occult powers; a talisman is a special kind of charm on which is cut or engraved a magical figure, worn to avoid disaster to the wearer. A mascot is identical with a talisman, except that the design need not be there. It will thus be seen that there is no essential difference between these articles: they are all worn to ward off diseases and bad luck.

Since the practice of wearing such protective devices is a very ancient one, and one that still obtains, with perhaps a tendency to increase, I propose to enquire into the habits of the past and of the present, and into the underlying reasons which are given by wearers for the use of charms and amulets. For it is not without significance that a West End lady should appear to have the same belief in their efficacy as a Priestess of Amen Ra, on whose remains are found evidences of careful protections against evil. A superstition that has vitality after the lapse of many thousands of years is worth more than ordinary attention.

Mr G. H. Bratley, the author of The Power of Gems and Charms, devotes no less than 94 pages to "Historical Charms," having collected together a great variety of cases to show the place which such objects have had in history. One must admit that certain articles have attained historic importance, mainly the articles which are said to exercise a malevolent influence, like the famous Spanish opal or the mummy case in the British Museum. What is lacking in the book under notice is attestation. For instance, no authority is given for the following story:--"The Czar of Russia is said to have great confidence in relics. He wears a ring in which is embedded a piece of the true Cross, and it is said to have the virtue of shielding its wearer from any physical danger. It was originally one of the treasures of the Vatican, and was presented to an ancestor of the Czar for diplomatic reasons. The value which its owner sets upon the ring is shewn by the fact that he will never, if possible, move any distance without it. Some years ago he was travelling from St Petersburg to Moscow, when he suddenly discovered he had forgotten the ring. The train was stopped immediately, and a special messenger sent back in an express for it; nor would the Czar allow the train to move until eight hours afterwards, when the messenger returned with the ring. It is said that when his ill-fated grandfather was so cruelly assassinated, he had left the ring behind him." Very interesting as a story, but how do we know it is true? How do we know a good many other amulet stories are true? We don't know; we only know there is a considerable amount of literature to prove that charms and amulets have been worn from time immemorial. That they are still worn, a little shyly, a little half ashamedly, at least by Anglo-Saxons, is quite true. The man and woman from the West End will wear their charms secretly as they listen to the turns on the music-hall stage; but the Asiatic wrestler, who has discarded most of his clothing, still wears his talisman round his neck-boldly, even proudly. He has a full-hearted belief in its efficacy in spite of an occasional defeat; the Anglo-Saxon is not so sure, but with commercial instinct rather than religious feeling, he wants to get the benefit if there is one. The psychological attitude is well stated by a writer in The Referee, quoted by Mr Bratley. "The belief in mascottes or talismans is very popular. Charms, in the form of horse-shoes, pigs, four-leaved clover, and countless other fancies, are very general, and at present very fashionable. I have worn a lucky bean for seven years, and never lost it. I should very much dislike to part with it, and have a sort of half belief in its bringing me luck, or at least keeping off ill-luck." Exactly. A half-belief: no more than that. The little pig dangling from a lady's bracelet is there because of a hope that it will bring good things. Ask her for the underlying science and she will only smile. "You do not understand." We are not dealing with matters of common-sense, but with intuition. We are following instinct rather than logic. Yes, we are, when we wear trinkets and do not know why, except that others have worn them thousands of years ago and allege their potent influence for good. Is not the secret of their power in the fact that they are a visible emblem of defence? Take a Turkish wrestler who wears his amulet round his neck. To be without it would mean distress of mind--a real state of fear; to have it is to bring out the best of his powers. And yet his opponent, utterly destitute of a charm or of a belief in them, will probably beat him in the struggle. Belief in the charm will not therefore be destroyed; the cause of the failure will be looked for elsewhere.

The popularity of talismans, charms, amulets, and the whole tribe of "lucky " gems, is best explained by the fact that mankind is fond of decorative effect. We may laugh at the naked savage, who will strut up and down the deck of a trading steamer at Lorenzo Marques, on which he is a visitor for a quarter of an hour, dressed in a pair of spats and an old silk hat--not a stitch of anything else--but there is the same passion in more civilised countries. We express that passion with more artistic restraint and better taste, but with women especially the so-called belief in the occult influence of charms is secondary to the love of gold and silver trinkets by way of adornment. It would not be true to say that the essential superstition is absent; there can be no doubt it would live even though the trinket were ugly and objectionable. What we mean is that the decorative feature of charms comes first, because it addresses itself to the eye; the appeal to fear and imagination comes later. Besides which, the curious details of how precious stones may be worn to evolve lucky events are worthy of an expert advertising agent who wanted to bring the best results for his clients--the goldsmiths and the jewellers. That some stones may be worn by everybody with advantage is a judicious statement, especially as those stones are diamonds, turquoises, and emeralds; but there is a difference of opinion as to what stones "govern" the month of the year. The usual scheme is as follows:--

Jan.

=

Garnet.

Feb.

=

Amethyst.

Mar.

=

Bloodstone.

April

=

Diamond.

May

=

Emerald.

June

=

Agate.

July

=

Ruby.

Aug.

=

Sardonyx.

Sep.

=

Sapphire.

Oct.

=

Opal.

Nov.

=

Topaz.

Dec.

=

Turquoise.

 

But Mr H. Stanley Redgrove, B.Sc., in an article in The Occult Review on "The Belief in Talismans," has a different arrangement, which, apparently, possesses antique authority at least equal to those one finds in such books as Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, or an Occult Encyclopaedia. Probably an acute astrologer would object to all the lists because they did not deal with "cusps." However, on the following page will be found an outline of Mr Redgrove's plan:--

Aries, the Ram

=

April

=

Amethyst

Taurus, the Bull

=

May

=

Agate

Gemini, the Twins

=

June

=

Beryl

Cancer, the Crab

=

July

=

Emerald

Leo, the Lion

=

August

=

Ruby

Virgo, the Virgin

=

September

=

Jasper

Libra, the Balance

=

October

=

Diamond

Scorpio, the Scorpion

=

November

=

Topaz

Sagittarius, the Archer

=

December

=

Carbuncle

Capricorn, the Goat

=

January

=

Onyx Chalcedony

Aquarius, the Waterbearer

=

February

=

Sapphire

Pisces, the Fishes

=

March

=

Chrysolite

 

Mr Bratley appears to have made a compromise, for his list joins up half months in the following manner:--

Duration of Size and Sun's period therein.

 

January 21

to

February 18

Garnet

February 19

to

March 20

Amethyst

March 21

to

April 20

Bloodstone

April 21

to

May 21

Sapphire

May 22

to

June 21

Emerald

June 22

to

July 23

Agate

July 24

to

August 23

Ruby

August 24

to

September 23

Sardonyx

September 24

to

October 23

Chrysolite

October 24

to

November 22

Opal

November 23

to

December 22

Topaz

December 23

to

January 20

Turquoise

 

Now, what is a woman to do who wishes to buy a ring with the right birth-stone in it? She was born on July 2nd, 1890. Has she to follow the first list? or the second? or the third? Who made these lists, and on what science are they founded? All Mr Bratley can say is they are formulated "according to the laws of judicial astrology." Is that all? If it is, then we may be sure a well educated girl, who has gone through some science and logic, will buy the ring for its beauty and intrinsic value first; the superstitious element only provides her with material for Society small talk. Authors may fling quotations at us from Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Madame Blavatsky, but we need better evidence than those people can furnish before we can accept the occult power of gems. Mr Stanley Redgrove is of opinion that the power is not in the charm, but in the belief of the wearer of the charm. It is the power of the idea, although there is some evidence which suggests the possibility of imparting certain mental qualities to an object. This idea is all-sufficient, and an instance is quoted from an eminent anthropologist--Dr. Haddon, see his Magic and Fetishism--about a Congo negro, "who, being on a journey, lodged at a friend's house; the latter got a wild hen for his breakfast, and the young man asked if it were a wild hen? His host answered 'No.' Then he fell on heartily, and afterwards proceeded on his journey. After four years these two met together again, and his old friend asked him 'if he would eat a wild hen,' to which he answered that it was taboo to him. Hereat the host began immediately to laugh, inquiring of him, 'What made him refuse it now, when he had eaten one at his table four years ago?' At the hearing of this the negro immediately fell a-trembling, and suffered himself to be so far possessed with the effects of imagination that he died in less than twenty-four hours after."

Mr Redgrove thus concludes:--"We think, however, that the hidden truth underlying the mass of superstitious nonsense connected with the subject may be formulated thus:--the power of the talisman is the power of the mind (or 'imagination') brought into activity by a suitable symbol.