The Book of Talismans Amulets and Zodiacal Gems
Tetragrammaton - Phylactery - Talismans against all mischiefs, the Magus - Venus Talisman - Totaphoth - Abraxas - Eye of a Cock - Bells - Gargoyles - Cramp Rings - Blessing of Rings - Musseltaub - Posie Rings - Gemmel Rings - Zodiacal Rings - The Signs of the Zodiac in Rhyme - General Talismans - The Lee Penny - Crystal - The Moon Talismans - Peacock - Juno - Fire Talismans - Gold Nugget - Coins - Card Talismans - Badger’s Tooth - Four-leaved Clover.
Tetragrammaton, or mystic name, had its derivation in a Hebrew word, “Yod-he-vau-he,” which signified the unutterable name of Jehovah, its meaning being “He that is and shall be.” The sigil is composed of letters formed from the following four texts: Exodus XIII. 2nd and 10th verses, also verses 11 and 16; and Deuteronomy VI. 4th and 9th verses. It was very popular as a Talisman in the Middle Ages for protection from enemies, also to bring peace, harmony, and
long life, and was usually made in the form of a pentacle with the five syllables engraved in each corner (see Illustration No. 142, Plate X) with the Hebrew letter Yod, or Shin, in the centre.
It was also worn by the Jews in the form of a Phylactery, which was a strip of cowhide parchment inscribed with verses from the Talmud, or with the Tetragrammaton and the sigil
formed from the four passages of Scripture already referred to. It was enclosed in a black calfskin case which had thongs attached to it for binding on the forehead, or round the left arm. Worn when attending worship in their synagogues, it was considered to have great potency as a Talisman.
The illustration of the Tetragrammaton is taken from Barrett’s Magus, as are also Nos. 140 and 141, Plate X, which are described as containing “the beginnings and ends of the first five verses of Genesis, and representation of the creation of the world; and by this ligature they say that a man shall be free from all mischiefs if that he firmly believes in God, the Creator of all things.” No. 135, Plate X, is a Talisman of Venus which is in the British Museum, and is also described in the Magus as worn for success and good fortune in love, joyfulness, and to make travellers fortunate. The written inscription is an addition probably made personally, and reads “Accipe my petitione, O domine, keep me as apple of an eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings from all evel, up Lord and help us for thou art my strong rock and my castle. Amen.”
The Totaphoth was another species of Talisman worn by the Hebrews as a frontlet, consisting of a plate slightly curved, inscribed with passages from the Talmud, which covered the forehead from ear to ear and was bound with a fillet of gold or silver by those who could afford it, and with strips of coloured cloth by the poor. Scapulars, or pieces of brown cloth, in which were stitched certain verses from the Gospel of St. John written on paper, or parchment,
guarded against perils by flood or field, and a Dove with a branch of Olive in its mouth engraved in pyrites, ensured for the pilgrim the utmost hospitality wheresoever he journeyed.
The Gnostic god Abraxas is frequently depicted with the head of a Cock, this bird being considered a powerful Talisman for vigilance, and also a symbol of the Sun, as well as of Mercury. It is sometimes represented with an ear of corn in its beak, denoting that “vigilance produces plenty.”
The eye of a cock was considered a potent Talisman against witchcraft and the wiles of the Devil, even the lion being afraid of its hypnotic glance; and as Christ was thought by the early Christians to have arisen from the tomb at cockcrow, the Cock was from an early period used as a symbol of the Resurrection, and its image was engraved on many of the ancient tombs. Placed as it still is, on the highest point of the church tower or spire, it is singularly appropriate as a church Talisman.
Bells were another form of Talisman used in olden days, the traditional idea being that any great noise would terrify the Devil and all evil spirits, so that bells were attached to the heads of horses and to the playthings of children to protect them from harm; and were also hung in church towers to scare the ears of demons, whilst the Gargoyles struck terror to the eyes of the evil ones.
Cramp rings were another form of Talisman worn for the prevention or cure of cramp. These rings were at one time hallowed by the Kings and Queens of England, but the custom was discontinued in the reign of Edward VI. An old MS., emblazoned with the arms of Philip and Mary, gives the prayers used in the consecration of these rings. The rings were placed in a dish and the ceremony commenced with the reading of a Psalm and a prayer for the communication of the divine gift of healing, after which the sovereign hallowed the rings by saying: “O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hear mercifully our prayers, Spare those who feare thee, and be propitious to thy suppliants, and graciously be pleased to send down from heaven, thy holy angel, that he may sanctify and bless these rings to the end that they may prove a healthy remedy to such as implore thy name with humilitie. Amen.”
After the blessing of the rings, the King rubbed them between the palms of his hands, saying: “Sanctify, O Lord, these rings and graciously bedew them with the dew of thine benediction and consecration, and hallow them by the rubbing of our hands which thou hast been pleased according to our ministry, to the end that what the nature of the metal is not able to perform may be wrought by the greatness of thy grace.”
Then holy water was sprinkled on the rings: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
These rings were considered most efficacious if formed out of the screws and nails taken from old coffins, and were frequently considered most beneficial in the cure of epileptic fits if hallowed on Good Friday. This custom, according to Hospinian, took its rise from a famous ring long preserved in Westminster Abbey; this ring had been brought from Jerusalem by Edward the Confessor, and was believed to be efficacious against cramp and epilepsy when touched by those afflicted. Another Talisman ring of the sixteenth century was of Jewish origin, engraved with a Hebrew word “Musseltaub,” meaning “We wish you good luck,” inscribed inside.
Within the hoop of the betrothal or wedding ring it was customary to inscribe sentences, or poesies (posies), and this custom appears to have lasted into the latter part of the eighteenth century, when it fell into disuse. It has been revived of late years, devices, mottoes, and hieroglyphics being once more inscribed in engagement rings, to express the sentiment of the
giver and to act as a mutual token of love and friendship. Some of these ancient posies may be found interesting, such as: “The eye did find, the heart did chuse, the hand doth bind, till death doth loose.” “Let Love Encrease.” “God did decree the Unitie.” “Where Hearts agree there love will be.” “Hearts united live contented.” “Keep fayth till deth.” “I seek to be, not thine, but thee.” “Let lyking laste.” “Hearts truly tied none can divide.” “JYe sans cesse.” “Let us be one till we are none.” “Fear the Lord and rest content, so shall we live and not repent.” “This and the giver are thine for ever.”
A very old ring (says the author of Ring Lore) is in the collection of J. Evans, Esq.; it is of gold set with a small sapphire, inscribed: JE, SVI, ICI, EN, LI’V, D’AMI. (I am here in place of a friend.) Other devices express the sentiment of the giver in the setting of the gems of the ring, as, for instance, the word “Regard” is represented by a
placed in sequence round the ring.
The Gemmel, or Gemmow, rings were frequently double or even triply made, the word “Gemmel” denoting jointed hinges, or jimmers. At the time of the betrothal the parties concerned broke away the upper and lower rings over an open Bible, each wearing the respective ring severed (the third ring being held by the witness of their betrothal) until the marriage took place, when the rings were reunited and became the Wedding Ring. It was considered most unlucky for a ring to hurt its wearer, or fall to the ground during the betrothal or marriage, and it is said to be a curious fact that when this has happened the incident has been followed by disappointment or misfortune to one or both of the persons concerned.
The Ancients had great faith in Zodiacal rings, in the construction of which the aspects and positions of the planets were of the utmost importance. They were worn for the gift of eloquence and were in great favour with lawyers, poets, and orators, being worn on the fourth finger (Mercury ruling speech and the tongue).
These Zodiacal rings, engraved with the representation of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in their order, are aptly described in the following rhyme, for which we are indebted to the Rev. C. W. King’s book, The Natural History of Precious Stones and Gems, although it is not from that author’s pen, but merely quoted by him:
“THE SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC IN RHYME
“Hear how each sign the body’s portion sways,
How every part it? proper lord obeys
And what the members of the human frame
Wherein to rule, their several forces claim.
First to the Ram, the Head hath been assigned;
Lord of the sinews, Neck, the Bull we find;
The arms and shoulders joined in union fair
Possess the Twins, each one an equal share.
The Crab, as sovereign o’er the Breast presides;
The Lion, the shoulder blades and sides.
Down to the flank, ‘the Virgin’s’ lot descends,
And with the buttock Libra’s influence ends;
The fiery Scorpion in the groin delights,
The Centaur in the thighs exerts his rights,
While either knee doth Capricornus rule,
The legs the province of Aquarius cool;
Last, the twain Fishes as their region meet,
Hold jurisdiction on the pairs of feet.”
An historic Talisman of Oriental origin which was famous during the fourteenth century, is the Lee Penny, which is described as a small red stone of triangular or heart shape, and of unknown origin, set in a groat of Edward IV.
According to tradition, it was brought from the Holy Land by Sir Simon Locard of Lee, who accompanied Sir James Douglas to Palestine bearing the heart of Robert Bruce enclosed in a golden casket, and, for his services in connection with this, was given the name of Lockhart, and for armorial bearings, a lock and a heart. Fighting in the Holy Land, Sir Simon captured a Saracen Emir whom he held to ransom. The Emir’s lady willingly paid the ransom; but while handing out a goodly supply of golden bezants, she dropped a small jewel. So marked was her anxiety to recover it, that the canny Sir Simon, with a true Caledonian instinct for a bargain, conjectured the apparently valueless stone must be a potent Talisman. Consequently he refused to set his prisoner at liberty unless the stone was included in the ransom.
Amongst its many merits it cures hydrophobia, takes away disease from horned cattle, and counteracts the poison of infectious complaints if it is soaked in water and the water is used as a cordial. For its use during an epidemic of the plague Newcastle is reputed to have granted a bond of ₤6000 for its safe return. Another Scottish Talisman is a Crystal set in silver, which is worn hung round the back for diseases of the kidneys ; it is also directed to be steeped in water seven times, the water to be drunk by the patient.
The moon is another symbol of importance in connection with the talismanic properties of water, upon which it has a vitalising influence. In Oudh a silver basin is filled with water by the people, who hold it so that the orb of the full moon is reflected therein, their doctors recommending this as a remedy for nervous hysteria and palpitation, patients being directed to look steadfastly for a while at the reflection, then to shut their eyes and drink the water at a gulp. Many and various are the ways in which lunar sympathy and influence were turned to account in olden days, warts being considered particularly susceptible to its influence, and a charm repeated over them at the junction of four cross roads as the moon waned in light was believed to be most efficacious in removing the blemishes. The formula prescribed:
“As the moon decreases
So may these warts disappear,”
is still in vogue in certain remote country villages in England. Christians and Moslems alike turn silver money in their pockets that their goods and money may increase when the moon is new and gaining in light, and their ills decrease as it wanes. The Moon’s image in crescent shape was also considered a fortunate Talisman for expectant mothers.
The peacock was regarded in very ancient times a symbol of triumph over the grave; its flesh was believed to be incorruptible, which probably accounts for its presence in church decoration; and because it renews its plumage yearly it was taken as the symbol of immortality.
It was the bird of Juno, the goddess and protectress of Malta; and on one of the old gateways her statue is still in existence bearing her symbolic bird. The supposition that the feathers of a Peacock are unlucky is said to have had its origin in the anger of the goddess Juno, having been aroused by the plucking of the feathers of her favourite bird; in her wrath she decreed that no suitors should come for the daughters of any house wherein should be found Peacocks’ feathers, that the children should never be well, nor the occupants of a house healthy where these feathers were used as ornaments. It is believed the Egyptians also considered the feathers a perpetual emblem of the Evil Eye.
In many parts of the country old houses are still to be seen with one, or even two pieces of iron in the shape of the letter S attached to the outer walls. These are intended to protect the building from being destroyed by fire, and are not, as is generally supposed, employed as a support; sometimes the S will have a bar across its centre; another form is shaped like two
crescents, placed back to back, also with a bar across the centre; but in each case they are only bolted at one point, and their meaning is the same a charm against destruction by fire, and in all probability it was intended as a form of the Swastika Cross.
Gold nuggets are considered lucky charms for speculators in mines, and miners; and Leap Year Pennies should always be kept in the kitchen to bring unexpected windfalls to the house. To card players the Deuce of Clubs is said to be the Talisman of the pack, and is generally the sign of four or five trumps in the dealer’s hand; whilst the Four of Clubs is the most unlucky card, the holder of it seldom if ever winning the game; in old writings this card is known as “the devil’s bedstead.”
A badger’s tooth sewn inside the right-hand pocket of the waistcoat is also a well-known Talisman for luck at cards.
The four-leaved clover is another wellknown charm for good luck, generally, for
“One leaf is for fame,
And one leaf is for wealth
And one for a faithful lover,
And one to bring you glorious health
Are all in the four-leaved clover.”