The Book of Talismans Amulets and Zodiacal Gems
The Orient - The Koran - Jochebed - Bead Necklaces - Mashallah - Hassan and Hussein - Hand of the Lady Fatima - Five Principal Commandments - Zufur Tukiah - Nasiree - Gadiri - Mohammed - Merzoum - The Diamond - Cube of Amber - Scorpion-charming - Early Christian and Mediaeval Talismans - Clement of Alexandria - The Fish - Dag - Palm Branch - The Ship - Sacred Monogram - Shen - Constantino the Great - Thoth - The Cross - Household Cross - Yucatan - Hand and Cross - Wheel Cross.
A belief in Talismans and Charms of every kind is universal in the Orient; written prayers, verses from the Koran, the name of the Prophet, and even miniature editions of the Koran itself enclosed in leather or cloth cases, suspended from the neck or tied to the arm, being the most favoured. The belief in the power of the Evil Eye is also widespread, and charms of the kind above-recorded are frequently written on pieces of wood which are fixed to door-posts or trees in
the gardens to prevent the harmful glance from resting on the house or plants; should the wood crack it is believed that the injury would have been done had not the glance been intercepted by the Talisman on guard.
Another charm of great potency is the name “Jochebed,” being the name of the Mother of Moses. By its constant repetition it is believed to reveal hidden secrets, unfasten locked doors, and discover treachery and evil doings.
Whilst necklaces and armlets made of the beads of Kerbela are worn upon the person, or put into bales of goods to protect them from thieves, Amulets enclosed in leather are hung on the necks of horses to prevent them from stumbling. Other Talismans consist of discs of gold, or silver, with the word “Mashallah.” (God is Great) engraved upon them. These are worn for protection from all calamities, whilst sentences such as “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet” are also considered powerful charms. The names of the grandsons of Mohammed, Hassan and Hussein, engraved on beautifully polished Agate stones, are suspended from the neck or tied to the arms of children to protect them from falling. Blue beads are often
sewn on the caps of poor children, and are frequently threaded on the hairs of the tails and manes of horses, being considered very efficacious in averting ill-wishing. A hand with one finger extended, not of coral as in the Levant, but of metal or of blue glass, is worn for the same reason; and at the present day small hands of blue glass made in this form are tied round the necks of children or attached to the part of the body to be protected from the Evil Eye. A hand with thumb and fingers outstretched, known as the Hand of the Lady Fatima (see Illustration No. in, Plate VIII), is still regarded as a powerful charm amongst all Moslems, and is made in all metals, often very crude in execution, its material and detail varying according to the wealth and position of its wearer. This Hand is regarded as a sacred symbol representing Generosity, Hospitality, Power, and Divine Providence; as a whole it represents the Holy Family, the prophet Mohammed being typified by the thumb, the Lady Fatima by the first finger, Ali, her husband, by the second, and the third and fourth fingers respectively being allotted to Hassan and Hussein, the sons of Fatima and Ali. It also serves to keep the faithful in constant remembrance of the Five Principal Commandments, i.e. to keep the Fast of Ramadan, to accomplish the Pilgrimage to Mecca, to Give Alms, to Perform the necessary Ablutions, and to Oppose all Infidels.
Paintings of hands are to be met with throughout Italy, Syria, and Turkey, Asia, and India as symbols of good luck and for protection from witchcraft, showing how widespread and universal is the idea of the efficacy of the human emblem to push away and combat trouble and evil.
A form of Mussulman Talisman is the Zufur Tukiah, or sacred crutch, single and double, which is formed of a combination of letters making the name of a saint or holy man, of which three examples are shown on Plate VIII. Illustration No. 114 is formed in the shape of the letters that compose the name Nasiree, or the Preserver, one of the names of God; No. 115 is a double crutch forming the letters that compose the name GADIRI, or the Powerful, also one of the names of God; and No. 116 is formed in the shape of the letters which comprise the name of Mohammed. The Talismans of the Shah of Persia are very numerous, and it is said exceed two hundred, the principal and most important being the following: One called Merzoum, in the shape of a gold star, is said to have the power of making traitors confess; some years ago one of the Shah’s brothers was suspected of treachery and this Talisman shown him, when terrified and overcome by remorse, he is said to have confessed his crime.
Another powerful Talisman is a diamond set in a scimitar which renders him invincible. He also possesses a cube of Amber, said to have fallen from Heaven in the time of Mohammed; the virtue of this is to render its wearer invulnerable if worn round the neck.
Another marvellous charm is a golden box set with emeralds and blessed by the prophet. This is said to render members of the Royal Family invisible as long as they remain unmarried; the Shah, however, had numerous wives before he became its possessor, so that its powers remain untested. Persians of high rank make use of Rubies, Emeralds, and other Gems, tied round the arm with pieces of red and green silk, as charms against the fascinations of the Devil whom they call “Deebs.” No journey is ever undertaken without first consulting a Book of Omens, each
chapter of which begins with a particular letter of the alphabet, some fortunate and some inauspicious; should they unluckily pitch on one of the latter the journey is immediately postponed. Persians have also a curious custom of charming Scorpions, of which, says Pinkerton, there are great numbers in that country, and they believe that by making use of a prayer, a person gifted with power of “binding” (as it is called) can deprive the Scorpion of its sting. To do this
the charmer turns his face towards the sign Scorpio in the heavens, repeating a special prayer, and at the conclusion of each sentence claps his hands. After the ceremony his hearers do not scruple to handle scorpions, so great is their faith in the efficacy of the charm.
Early Christian and medieval talismans. At the time of the founding of the Christian religion and onwards through the Middle Ages the symbols used during the services, certain texts, mottoes, and prayers were very popular as Talismans. They are often found in combination
with symbols used in preceding religions, and were worn for protection from temptation and all kinds of perils, dangers, and diseases. In the earliest days when open avowal of faith meant peril and persecution, these Talismans were of great service in making fellow-believers known to each other, and when Christianity was established were extensively worn, with the approval of Clement of Alexandria.
One of the oldest Talismans of this kind is the fish, said to have been adopted because its Greek name ixers formed the initials of the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” The form of the Fish is very similar to that used by the Egyptians and is illustrated on Plate IX, No. 120. Another explanation of its use is that in the Talmud the Messiah is often designated by the name “Dag,” the Fish, and the sign of His second coming, it is said, would be the conjunction of
Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces, which is the origin of the three fishes interlaced into a triangle, a very popular ornament in mediaeval architecture.
The palm branch was another popular Talisman used to symbolise triumph over sin and temptation; this undoubtedly was adapted from the pagan mythology, in which the Palm represented the Sun, and was also a token of victory and success. In Illustration No. 122, Plate IX, it is shown surrounding the Greek name for Fish.
Stones were also frequently used, and although valuable gems were in use, semi-precious stones such as the Carnelian, Sardonyx, and Jasper were the most general, the device illustrated on Plate IX, No. 126, being cut in a Sapphire, the usual method of treatment in those days being very seldom to cut in relief, as in more modern times.
A favourite gift was a ring with the name of the recipient cut in the stone with some appropriate motto, as in Illustration No. 124, Plate IX: “Rogate, Vivas in Deo” (Rogatus, Live in God). Bronze and silver rings were freely used for this purpose.
The ship (Illustration No. 127, Plate IX) was a symbol universally used to represent the Church, and signified the belief of its wearers in their salvation and safety from temptations of the flesh. It was frequently used in combination with other symbols, as shown in Illustration No. 127, Plate IX, where the Sacred Monogram appears above the deck of the Ship. It is worthy of note, as the sign which encloses it is probably the Egyptian symbol of Eternity, Shen. This
monogram is reputed to have been revealed in a vision to Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome, on the evening of the battle in which he overcame Manentius. In consequence he adopted it as the device for the Imperial Standard. It was also commonly used as an abbreviation of the name of Christ. Nos. 126 and 131 are other examples of this symbol, and No. 126 is interesting as being in combination with the Tau Cross, which has been treated fully in a preceding chapter. This Cross when placed upon the top of a heart signified goodness, and was at the same time regarded as a Talisman for protection from evil. It was the monogram of Thoth, the Egyptian god of Wisdom, and when used with a circle at its base signified the eternal preserver of the world.
The Cross with four arms symbolises the four Cardinal Points, or Universe, the dominion of the Spirit. Making the sign of the Cross has always been considered efficacious in the treating of spells, the exorcising of the Devil, and also as a protection from evil spirits. For these reasons, in olden days kings and nobles used the sign of the Cross whether they could write or not, regarding it as a symbol of good luck; even at the present time people ignorant of writing when called upon to sign a document mark it with a cross to show that it is their mark and deed. The primitive inhabitants of Yucatan prayed to the Cross as the god of Rain, and in Martin’s Western Islands of Scotland we are told that “in the Island of Uist, one of the Outer Hebrides, opposite St. Mary’s Church, there is a stone cross which was called by the natives the ‘Water Cross,’ and when they needed rain they set the cross up, and when sufficient had fallen, they laid it flat upon the
Illustrated on Plate IX (No. 121) is a Cross with Greek inscription for Life and Health, which is made in the form of a mould, or stamp; a household Talisman, in all probability used for making an impression upon bread, or cakes, its size being three and a half inches each way. The combination of the Hand and the Cross as a Talisman is one of the most remarkable of all the composition charms of ancient times against the Evil Eye, and to break a Cross of this kind, or, in fact, any charm of this nature, was thought to be most unfortunate.
On ornaments belonging to the later Bronze Age, the Wheel Cross was symbolic of the Wheels of the Chariot which the Sun was supposed to drive through the sky; whilst the Golden Wheel Cross, so often placed behind the figure of the Saviour, is symbolic of His title as the “Sun of Righteousness.” It was also used on the shields of ancient warriors as a symbol of the Sun and its worshippers. This same Wheel Cross, in the shape of a large Waggon Wheel, is said to be still used in Denmark and Holland, and is placed on the roofs of houses and stables to entice storks to build their nests thereon, the red legs of the bird suggesting to the inhabitants that it is a fire bird and will prevent the building from being destroyed by fire, whilst the wheel will bring good luck. Even in England the Wheel Cross, in the shape of a brass ornament, is still to be seen upon the foreheads of fine cart-horses; it was intended in olden days to ward off witchcraft
and the Evil Eye and to attract Good Fortune. The Irish Cross is also a type of the Wheel Cross