The Book of Talismans Amulets and Zodiacal Gems
The Bulla - The Tusk - Pine Cone - The Frog - Skull of an Ass - Key Talismans - Grylli, or Chimeras - Goat - The Ox - Lion - Eagle - The Caduceus - Mercury - Health Rings - Boar’s Head - Clenched Hand - Open Hand - Figured Hands - The Lizard - The Spider - The Fish - Snails.
Bulla is the name given to a gold case, circular or heart-shaped, used in necklaces or worn separately as a pendant, sometimes attached as an ornament to a belt or badge which was placed over one shoulder and under the opposite arm. Macrobius says it was the special decoration of the victorious general in the triumphant processions, having enclosed within it such remedies as were esteemed most efficacious against the evil glance of envy. Introduced into Rome by the Etruscans, it became very popular and was adopted as the badge of free-born boys; it usually contained an invocation to one or more of the gods. Among the poorer classes the golden case was replaced by a leathern pouch, with contents of similar virtue. It was a common practice to wear on the Bulla some grotesque object (see Illustration No. 106, Plate VIII) which added to its efficacy as a Talisman, and in particular averted the evil glance; to save its wearer from the Evil Eye a tusk in the form of a pendant was frequently added to accentuate its efficacy.
The pine cone, the symbol of Cybele the goddess of abundant benefits, was worn by her votaries for Health, Wealth, and Power, and all good and necessary things which flow in abundance without ceasing from her influence. She had many names, and was called by the Greeks, Pasithea, signifying Mother, as she was the great mother of all the gods. Her priests were famous for their magical powers, and it was customary to fix her symbol, the Pine Cone, on a pole in the vineyards, to protect them from blight and witchcraft, a practice still to be seen in Italy at the present time, and presumably this was the origin of the Pine Cones which surmount the gateways at the entrances of some of the carriage drives of old country seats (see Illustration No. 117, Plate VIII); it also survives as an ornament to the spikes of iron railings enclosing the grounds of old-fashioned houses on the outskirts of many of our provincial towns.
The frog (Illustration No. 119, Plate VIII) is a symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love born from the foam of the sea. In Rome a special temple was dedicated to her worship. Her symbol, the frog, was worn for fertility and abundance. Pliny attributes to it the power of keeping the affections true and constant, and of promoting harmonious relations between lovers and friends. It is a very popular Talisman amongst the Italians, Greeks, and Turks at the present day and is worn not only against the Evil Eye but is particularly valued as a Health Amulet, especially when cut in Amber.
The skull of an Ass, set up on a pole in the midst of a cornfield, was considered a potent charm against blight, and in Greece and Rome was placed in vineyards for the same purpose; it was sacred to Priapus, the god of the gardens, which he was thought to protect from thieves, wild beasts, and mischievous birds. There is a legend that the Ass was held in high estimation, as by gnawing the branches of the vine it taught the art of pruning.
The key Talisman was a very important one with both Greeks and Romans. It is the joint symbol of Janus (or Apollo) and Jana, his wife (Diana, or the Moon), and was worn for Prudence, and for Remembrance of things past, and foresight of things to come, Janus being represented as the God with two faces, typifying the prudent man who with sagacity and ripe judgment observes things past and future possibilities, and so discerns the causes and effects of all happenings. Janus was also the inventor of locks, doors, and gates, and was the Janitor of the year, for which reason twelve cities were dedicated to him, according to the months; and he held the Key of the Door through which the prayers of the faithful had access to the gods. Diana, or Jana, his wife, presided over doors and thresholds and was the special protectress of childbirth, and as keeper of the Gate of Heaven held the key of light and life.
Some of these ancient key Amulets were made in silver (Diana’s own metal) and have heartshaped handles, implying, it is thought by some writers, that the affections must be prudently guarded. The key was also attributed to Hecate Proserpine, who was the guardian of the underworld and could release the spirits of the departed. The key (Illustration No. no, Plate VIII) is shown attached to a finger ring, which was a very popular form of its use.
Grylli, or Chimerae, were grotesque figures belonging to an early period of Roman art, and not, as sometimes asserted, characteristic of Gnostic remains. They consist of strange combinations of various animal forms, representing some strange, ludicrous, impossible monster such as a Goat, Ox, Lion, and Eagle united into one. They were used as Talismans and Amulets according to the ideas they portrayed, being sometimes Astrological in their significance and at other times representative of some form of Grecian or Roman religion. Plutarch writes that these composite objects were fixed up to ward off witchcraft and the evil effects of the first glance of the Evil Eye, it being thought that if the mischief-working eye could be diverted from the object to be protected on to the strange and ridiculous figures represented by the “Grylli” the glance would be absorbed and its effects destroyed. “Grylli” is derived from the modern Italian word
“grillo,” meaning caprice. The Rev. C. W. King in his interesting book on engraved gems instances a Talisman of this kind intended to attract Sunshine and Abundance, also designed as a protection against dangers on land or sea. It was made up as follows: “A Ram with a Cornucopia on his head, holding a Rabbit by its tail (signifying fruitfulness and plenty) and a Cock bestride a Dolphin (the Cock being a symbol of the Sun, the Rabbit the Land, and the Dolphin the Sea). These Chimerae often encircled a portrait of the owner, thus unmistakably conveying to him their protective virtues.”
The caduceus, the wand of Mercury (Illustration No. 105, Plate VIII), was considered an extremely efficient Talisman, being worn to render its possessor wise and persuasive, to attract Health and Youthfulness, as well as to protect from the Evil Eye.
The rod was given to Mercury by Apollo, and had the wonderful faculty of deciding all controversies and conferring irresistible eloquence on its owner. Its efficacy was proved, when one day whilst travelling Mercury came upon two serpents fighting, and by placing his rod between them and exercising his eloquence, he immediately reconciled the combatants. Mutually embracing they became attached to the rod, thus forming the Caduceus. Mercury received his name from his shrewd understanding of merchandise; he was the inventor of contracts, weights and measures, and of the arts of buying and selling; for this reason he was regarded as the patron of Merchants and Traders.
He invented letters, excelled in eloquence, and was so skilful in making peace, that he is said to have pacified not only men but the immortal gods of Heaven and Hell, whose quarrels he adjusted; for this reason he was known by the Greeks as Hermes. In its composition the Pine Cone, which surmounts the staff, was credited with great health-giving powers; is a symbol of Apollo, or the Sun; the wings are emblematic of the flight of thoughts in the minds of men, the two serpents in amity signifying love prototypes of Esculapius and Hygiea who influence the health-giving attributes of the Sun and Moon respectively, both deities being associated with serpents because by their aid maladies are sloughed off and vigour renewed, just as serpents were believed to renew their lives each year by casting their skins.
With the Romans the Serpent was a household god, and Livy records that, by the advice of the Delphic Oracle, the bringing of a sacred serpent from the temple of Esculapius to Rome immediately stayed the pestilence then raging. The wearing of a ring in the form of a serpent coiled round the finger, signified an invocation to the God of Health for preservation from sickness. Health rings were much in vogue amongst the Ancient Romans, who frequently presented their friends with such tokens on their birthdays, these anniversaries being considered the most important festivals. A favourite device was an intaglio cut in the ring itself, portraying the head of a youth, and the word “Vivas” (Mayst thou live). It was also believed that a Boar’s Head engraved upon a ring conferred perpetual health and preservation from danger (the Boar being sacred to Demeter); whilst a ring engraved with three Ravens was worn for conjugal fidelity. Another device was that of a human head attached to an elephant’s trunk, holding a
trident (the symbol of Neptune), which was worn as a protective charm against peril by sea. Charmed rings have also been much in favour with many nations, the Greeks being very partial to enchanted rings, which were made according to the favourable positions of the planets, their power being strengthened when the head and neck of the owner was cut in green jasper and set in a ring engraved with the letters B.B.P.P.N.E.N.A., which signified “Wear this and thou shalt in no wise perish.” 1 Whether hallowed in the name of God or consecrated by the touch of the Pope, or of Royal personages, the ring has ever been the chosen Talisman through which Health, Wealth, and Love was transmitted to its wearer.
The hand, aptly described by Aristotle as the “Tool of Tools,” was used in many forms as a Talisman against fascination, and similar specimens to Illustration No. 109, Plate VIII have been found in early Etruscan tombs, dating back about 800 B.C. This particular form, the thumb
placed between the first and second fingers with the hand clenched and pointing downwards, was considered an infallible protection against all evil influences, particularly against the Evil Eye. Another form was to close the second and third fingers with the thumb and to hold the hand pointing downward with the first and fourth fingers extended, a form which is known in Italy at the present time as making the Devil’s Horns. The position of the hand in these ancient Amulets
was very important; the open hand denoting Justice and Victory, and in this form sometimes surrounded by a wreath of laurel was used by the Romans as a finial to their standards, and carried in triumphal processions. In the British Museum may be seen a life-sized hand in bronze in the form assumed in the Benediction of the Christian Church, the third and fourth fingers being closed, with thumb and first two fingers extended; this form has its efficacy as a Talisman against the Evil Eye increased by numerous other symbols (already dealt with), a pine cone being balanced on the finger-tips, a serpent running along the whole length of the back of the hand and towering above the third finger; and, amongst others, the Asp, Lizard, Caduceus, Frog, and Scales may be seen, all probably connected with the worship of Isis and Serapis. This form, known as Mano Pantea, and the life-sized hands were kept in the house as Talismans to protect it against every evil influence of magic and of the Evil Eye, whilst small replicas were worn as Amulets for personal protection.
The lizard and the Tortoise were symbols of Mercury, and the Caduceus is frequently depicted placed between them on ancient Talismans. The Lizard is also to be found engraved on many of the old Roman rings, and was used as charm against weak eyesight, the brilliant green of its body, like the Emerald, causing it to be held in high esteem, both spiritually and physically. It was a type of the Logos, or “Divine Wisdom,” and was placed upon the breast of Minerva, as frequently seen on ancient engraved gems. It is also found in Portugal made of painted porcelain and affixed to the walls of houses to attract Good Fortune.
The spider, like the Lizard, was sacred to Mercury and was considered a most fortunate symbol engraved on precious stones, its remarkable quickness of sight recommending it as a Talisman for shrewdness in business matters and foresight generally; and according to an old writer, prognostications were made from the manner of weaving spiders’ webs, and it was deemed a sign that a man would receive money if a little spider fell upon his clothes.
The eagle was typical of Jupiter because it predominates over birds of highest flight, and it was worn as a Talisman for Dignity, quickness of Perception, and the Favour of those who sit in high places.
Marcellus Empiricus prescribes the wearing of a ring as a preservative from Colic and Watery Diseases. This Talisman was made of gold thread melted down and engraved with the figure of a fish; such a ring exists in the Florentine Cabinet and may be seen at the present day.
Snails were also used in love divinations by the Ancient Romans: they were set to crawl upon the hearth and were thought to trace in the ashes the initials of the lover’s name.