A talisman consists of any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner. Potential amulets include gems or simple stones, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants, and animals. They can be found among people of every nation and social status. They can be seen in jewellery, artisan fairs, museums, shops, and homes. Every zodiacal sign corresponds to a gem that acts as an amulet, but these stones vary according to different traditions.
Talismans and amulets vary considerably according to their time and place of origin. In many societies, religious objects serve as talismans. A religious amulet might be the figure of a certain god or simply some symbol representing the deity. The ancient Egyptians had many amulets for different occasions and needs, often with the figure of a god or the ankh, the key of eternal life. The figure of the scarab god Khepri became a common amulet too and has now gained renewed fame around the Western world.
In Thailand one can commonly see people with more than one Buddha hanging from their necks. In Bolivia and some places in Argentina the god Ekeko furnishes a standard amulet, to whom one should offer at least one banknote to obtain fortune and welfare. St. Christopher medals are frequently hung on rear view mirrors of vehicles in Christian cultures as a way of invoking God’s protection during travel.
Popular legends often attributed magical powers to certain unusual objects, such as a baby’s caul or a rabbit’s foot. Possession of these items allegedly endowed their magical abilities upon their owners. In Central Europe, people believed garlic kept vampires away, and so did a crucifix. In Tyrol, it is believed that small bells make demons escape when they sound in the wind or when a door or window opens. Amulets are also worn on the upper right arm to protect the person wearing it.
In antiquity and the Middle Ages, most Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Orient believed in the protective and healing power of amulets and talismans. Talismans used by these peoples can be broken down into three main categories. The first are the types carried or worn on the body. The second version of a talisman is one which is hung upon or above the bed of an infirm person. The last classification of talisman is one with medicinal qualities. This latter category of magical item can be further divided into external and internal. In the former, one could, for example, place a magical amulet in a bath. The power of the amulet would be understood to be transmitted to the water, and thus to the bather. In the latter, magical inscriptions would be written or inscribed onto food, which was then boiled. The resulting broth, when consumed, would transfer the healing and magical qualities engraved on the food into the consumer.
A little known but much worn amulet in the Jewish tradition is the kimiyah or angel text. This consists of names of angels or Torah passages written on parchment squares by rabbinical scribes. The parchment is then placed in a silver case and worn someplace on the body. Muslims also wear such amulets with chosen text from Quran. The text is generally chosen depending on the situation for which the amulet is intended.
The Christian Copts sometimes use tattoos as protective amulets, and the Tuareg still use them, as do the Haida Canadian aborigines who wear the totem of their clan as a tattoo. Many Thai Buddhist laypeople are tattoed with sacred Buddhist images, called sak yant, and even monks are known to practice this form of spiritual protection. The only rule, as with Jewish talismans and amulets, is that such symbols may only be applied to the upper part of the body, between the bottom of the neck and the waistline.