The Book of Talismans Amulets and Zodiacal Gems
Gnosticism - Abraxas - Sacred Names - Khnoubis - The Seven Vowels - The Magic Symbols - The Archangels - Lion-headed Serpent - Aum - The Ineffable Name - Horus - Osiris - Isis - Etruscan, Greek, and Roman - The Crescent Symbol - The Horseshoe - Tusk, or Horn - Stable Keys - Amalthaea’s Horn, or Cornucopia - Serapis - Bull’s Head - Diana - Harpokrates - Anubis - Bellerophon - Salus Ring - Hygiea.
Gnosticism is the name given to a system of religion which came into existence in the Roman Empire about the time Christianity was established; it was founded on a philosophy known in Asia Minor centuries previously and apparently based upon the Egyptian beliefs, the Zendavesta, Buddhism, and the Kabala, with their conception of the perpetual conflict between good and evil. The name is derived from the Greek Gnosis, meaning knowledge, and, in brief, the Gnostics’ belief was that the intellectual world, with its Spirits, Intelligences, and various Orders of Angels were created by the Almighty, and that the visible matter of creation was an emanation from these powers and forces.
The attributes of the Supreme Being were those of Kabala : Wisdom - Jeh, Prudence - Jehovah, Magnificence - El, Severity - Elohim, Victory and Glory - Zaboath, Empire - Adonai; the Gnostics also took from the Talmud the Planetary Princes and the Angels under them.
Basilides, the Gnostic Priest, taught that God first created (1) Nous, or mind, from this emanated (2) Logos, the Word, from this (3) Phronesis, Intelligence, and from this (4) Sophia, Wisdom, and from this last (5) Dynamis, Strength. The Almighty was known as Abraxas, which signifies in Coptic “the Blessed Name,” and was symbolised by a figure, the head of which is that of a Cock, the body that of a man, with serpents forming the legs; in his right hand he holds a whip, and on his left arm is a shield. This Talisman (see Illustrations Nos. 102, 103, Plate VII) is a combination of the five emanations mentioned above: Nous and Logos are expressed by the two serpents, symbols of the inner sense and understanding, the head of the Cock representing Phronesis, for foresight and vigilance; the two arms hold the symbols of Sophia and Dynamis, the Shield of Wisdom and the Whip of Power, worn for protection from moral and physical ill.
The Gnostics had great faith in the efficacy of sacred names and sigils when engraved on stones as Talismans; also in magical symbols derived principally from the Kabala.
One of the most popular inscriptions was IAW (Jehovah), and in Illustration No. 99, Plate VII, this is shown surrounded by the Serpent Khnoubis, taken from the Egyptian philosophy, representing the Creative principles, and was worn for Vitality, Understanding, and Protection. The Seven Greek Vowels (Illustration No. 100, Plate VII) symbolized the seven heavens, or Planets, whose harmony keeps the Universe in existence, each vowel having seven different methods of expression corresponding with a certain Force, the correct utterance of these letters and comprehension of the forces typified being believed to confer supreme power, bringing success in all enterprises and giving complete control over all the powers of darkness.
Illustration No. 101, Plate VII, is an example of the use of the Magic Symbols, the meaning of which has been lost. It is probably a composition of the initial letters of some mystical sigil, enclosed by a serpent and the names of the Archangels Gabriel, Paniel, Ragauel, Thureiel,
Souriel, and Michael. It was worn for Health and Success; also for Protection from all evils, and it is cut in an agate and set in a gold mount.
A figure of a serpent with a lion’s head, usually surrounded with a halo, was worn to protect
its wearer from heart and chest complaints and to drive away demons.
The mystic Aum, already described in the chapter on Indian Talismans, was also a favourite with the Gnostics, and equally popular was a Talisman composed of the vowels IA , repeated to make twelve, this number representing the Ineffable Name of God, which, according to the Talmud, was only communicated to the most pious of the priesthood. They also adopted from the Egyptians the following symbols: Horus, usually represented seated on a Lotus, for fertility; Osiris, usually in the form of a mummified figure, for spiritual attainment; and Isis for the qualities mentioned in the previous chapter.
Etruscan, Greek, and Roman. The Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans were all familiar with and great believers in the virtues of Talismans and Amulets, a belief based not only on the symbols of their own faith but largely influenced by the beliefs of the surrounding nations, that
of the Egyptians being particularly noticeable. Amongst the earliest and most popular Talismans are many Scarab rings with inscriptions cut in the under sides; these were frequently used as seals.
In the course of the amalgamation of beliefs which took place under the Ptolemies, Isis and Osiris were associated with all kinds of Asiatic and Greek gods; but, as time went on, Isis became the most universal goddess, ruling heaven and earth and all Mankind, her worship quickly spreading throughout all the Roman dominions. Her name is usually understood to mean Wisdom, and upon the pavement of her temple was inscribed, “I am everything that has been,
and is, and shall be, nor hath any mortal opened my veil.”
The most common symbol of Isis was a Crescent Moon, which was worn by Roman women upon their shoes as a safeguard from witchcraft and to prevent the evil spirits of the moon from afflicting them with delusions, hysteria, or lunacy; also to attract the good-will of Isis that they might be successful in love, happy in motherhood, and fortunate in life. From this Crescent symbol (Illustration No. 113, PlateVIII) the Horseshoe undoubtedly became regarded as a Talisman, and as such was used by the Greeks and Romans, who nailed it with the horns upward as a charm against the Plague. In an old publication of 1618 we are instructed that the horseshoe should be nailed upon the threshold to keep Luck within the house and to keep out witches and nullify their evil powers; but in order to obtain the best results the horseshoe must be found by the owner of the house or by a member of the household. In the Middle Ages horseshoes were frequently buried amongst the roots of an Ash tree, which imparted such virtue to the Ash that a twig from it stroked upward over cattle that had been overlooked, charmed away the evil. In Suffolk the fishermen still believe that a horseshoe nailed to the mast of a smack will protect it against bad weather, and their Newfoundland brothers use the horseshoe as a specific against many dangers, especially as a charm to keep away the Devil. In this superstition they resemble the miners of Devon and Cornwall who fix a horseshoe to the mine with the horns upward, it being common knowledge that the Devil travels in a circle and is consequently frustrated in his evil course when he arrives at either of the horns and is obliged to take a retrograde course. To this day, it is still regarded by the country-folk as essential to the well-being of the finder of this charm to suspend it horns upward over the door of his dwelling to hold the luck in, it being thought to run out at each end of the horseshoe if reversed. In Gay’s fable of the Old Woman and Her Cats the witch complains:
“Crowds of boys
Worry me with eternal noise.
Straws laid across my path retards,
The Horse shoes nailed each threshold guards.
The stunted broom the Wenches hide
In fear that I should up and ride.”
The single horn, or Tusk, both singly, or as a pendant to another Talisman, as Illustration
No. 106, Plate VIII, in all probability had its origin in the double horns, or Crescent, of Isis. It was worn to protect from harm, danger, and the evil influences of enemies, and also as a powerful charm to attract good fortune and success.
It is frequently mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, and in 2 Samuel XXII, 3, and Psalm XVIII, 2 the Almighty is described as the “Horn of my Salvation”; and St. Lukein the first chapter, 69th and 71st verses, writes: “Hath raised up an horn of Salvation.” “That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all that hate us.”
The Horn, being a symbol of Isis, was considered a powerful charm to which to attach the keys of stables and cowsheds, ensuring the safety of the cattle and their protection from the evil spirits of the night, a practice that has been followed from remote ages to the present day, although its origin is not generally known amongst its modern users. In India it is also a common
belief amongst the natives that a Tiger’s tooth will ensure protection from the ghosts of men and animals, making its wearer formidable to his foes and respected by his friends.
According to Pliny, the tooth of a Wolf was thought by the Romans to be a powerful Talisman for children, it being hung horizontally or suspended round the neck. It assisted them in cutting their teeth, and preserved them from maladies in connection with dentition.
The cornucopia, or Amalthaea’s Horn of Plenty, is the symbol of Abundance, Fruitfulness, and Prosperity, and is represented by a horn filled to overflowing with fruits and flowers, as Illustration No. 118, Plate VIII. Amalthaea was the daughter of Melissus (the King of Crete) who nursed the infant Jupiter, feeding him with the milk of a goat. Jupiter afterwards gave the goat’s horn to his nurse, endowing it with magical properties, so that whosoever possessed it should
immediately obtain in abundance all he desired and find it a veritable “horn of plenty.” It is also a symbol of the goddess Fortuna, and was worn as an Amulet to attract good fortune in abundance. With the introduction of Isis came also that of Osiris-Apis with whom the Greeks identified their god of the under-world Hades under the name of Serapis. His symbol is the Bull Apis, which was of divine origin and known by special markings, being black in colour and having a white triangle upon its forehead, the figure of a Vulture on its back, double hairs in its tail, and a scarab under its tongue. The symbol of the Bull’s Head (see Illustration No. 108, Plate VIII) was commonly worn as earrings, for success in love and friendship, and as the god of Hades could lengthen or shorten men’s lives as he thought fit, the Bull’s Head was also worn by men for Strength and Long Life. To gain favour and protection small images of the Deities were worn as ornaments, such as Diana of Ephesus, Mithras, and especially Harpokrates and Anubis (Illustrations Nos. 104, 107, Plate VIII).
Harpokrates, the god of eternal youth and fecundity, was typified by the figure of a boy
holding his tongue, representing all that is ever fresh and young; he is the type of the Vernal Sun,
bringing fertility to the land, enabling it to produce both food and drink. He is also frequently
represented seated on a Lotus, the symbol of the Sun and fecundity.
Anubis is symbolised as a Jackal-headed god who, in the Egyptian religion, is depicted in the Judgment as weighing the souls of the dead; he is the Guardian of Souls in the under-world. Gems bearing the figure of Bellerophon mounted on the winged steed Pegasus were believed to confer courage and were much prized by the Greek and Roman soldiers, Bellerophon being reputed to have first taught the art of governing horses with a bridle; this service to mankind and the valour he displayed when he slew the Chimaera, made him a fitting prototype to adorn a warrior’s device.
Another engraved Talisman in great favour was the figure of Andromeda, heroine of one of the most romantic and popular of ancient myths. The sea-nymphs, jealous of her beauty, chained her to a rock in mid-ocean, that she might be at the mercy of a vile monster of the deep. But the warrior Perseus slew the monster, and married Andromeda. Her image was thought to promote harmony between lovers and peace between man and wife.
The Salus ring (Illustration No. 112, Plate VIII) was worn by the devotees of Salus, or Hygiea, daughter of Esculapius, who was worshipped as the goddess of Health. Several holy days were appointed in her honour and worship, and she was publicly invoked for the welfare of the rulers and for the general peace and prosperity of the community; also for an abundant harvest. She is usually represented with a serpent as a tribute to her attainments in the art of medicine, and her symbol was worn for Health and Success in all undertakings, as well as for general Good Fortune.