(Lat. amauletum, from amolior, to avert evil; French amulette; according to others, originally from the Arabic hamail, a locket suspended from the neck). From the earliest ages the Orientals have believed in the influences of the stars, in spells, witchcraft, and the malign power of envy; and to protect themselves against the maladies and other evils which such influences were supposed to occasion, almost all the ancient nations wore amulets (Plin. Hist. Nat. 30, 15). These consisted, and still consist, chiefly of tickets inscribed with sacred sentences (Shaw, 1:365; Lane's Mod. Egypt. 2, 365), and of certain stones (comp. Plin. Hist. Nat. 37, 12, 34) or pieces of metal (Richardson, Dissertation; D'Arvieux, 3, 208; Chardin, 1, 243 sq,; 3, 205 sq.; Niebuhr, 1, 65; 2, 162). Not only were persons thus protected, but even houses were, as they still are, guarded from supposed malign influences by certain holy inscriptions upon the doors. The previous existence ofthese customs is implied in the attempt of Moses to turn them to becoming uses by directing that certain passages extracted from the law should be employed (Ex 13:9,16; De 6:8; De 11:18).
The door-schedules being noticed elsewhere SEE DOOR-POSTS, we here limit our attention to personal amulets. By this religious appropriation the then all-pervading tendency to idolatry was in this matter obviated, although in later times, when the tendency to idolatry had passed away, such written scrolls degenerated into instruments of superstition (q.v.).
The "ear-rings" in Ge 35:4 (נזָמִים, nezamim'; ἐνώτια, inaures), were obviously connected with idolatrous worship, and were probably amulets, taken from the bodies of the slain Shechemites. They are subsequently mentioned among the spoils of Midian (Jg 8:24), and perhaps their objectionable character was the reason why Gideon asked for them. Again, in Ho 2:13, "decking herself with earrings" is mentioned as one of the signs of the "days of Baalim." Hence in Chaldee an ear-ring is called קִדִּישָׁא, kaddisha', sanctity. But amulets were more often worn round the neck, like the golden bulla or leather lorum of the Roman boys. Sometimes they were precious stones, supposed to be endowed with peculiar virtues. In the "Mirror of stones" the strangest properties are attributed to the amethyst, Kinocetus, Alectoria, Ceraunium, etc.; and Pliny, speaking of succinum, says "It is useful to bind upon children like an amulet" (37, 12, 37). They were generally suspended as the center-piece of a necklace (q.v.), and among the Egyptians often consisted of the emblems of various deities, or the symbol of truth and justice ("Thmei"). A gem of this kind, formed of sapphires, was worn by the chief judge of Egypt (Diod. 1:48, 75), and a similar one is represented as worn by the youthful deity Harpocrates (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 3, 364). The Arabs hang round their children's necks the figure of an open hand, a custom which, according to Shaw, arises from the unluckiness of the number 5. — This principle is often found in the use of amulets. SEE SERAPHIM.
The לחָשִׁים (lechashim', charms) of Isa 3:20 (Sept. περιδέξια, Tulg. inaures, Auth. Vers. ear-rings), it is now allowed, denote amulets, although they served also the purpose of ornament. They were probably precious stones, or small plates of gold or silver, with sentences of the law or magic formulae inscribed on them, and worn in the ears, or suspended by a chain round the neck. "Ear-rings" is not perhaps a bad translation. It is certain that ear-rings were sometimes used in this way as instruments of superstition, and that at a very early period, as in Ge 35:4, where Jacob takes away the ear-rings of his people along with their false gods. Ear-rings, with strange figures and characters, are still used as charms in the East (Chardin, in Harmer, 3, 314). Schroeder, however, deduces from the Arabic that these amulets were in the form of serpents, and similar probably to those golden amulets of the same form which the women of the pagan Arabs wore suspended between their breasts, the use of which was interdicted by Mohammed (Schroeder, De Vestitu Mulierum, cap. 11, p. 172, 173; Grotefend, art. Amulete, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclop.; Rosenmuller, ad Isa 3:20; Gesenius, ad eund.; and in his Thesaurus, art. לחש). Thus the basilisk is constantly engraved on the talismanic scarabaei of Egypt, and, according to Jahn (Bibl. Arch. § 131), the lechashim of Isa 3:23, were "figures of serpents carried in the hand" (more probably worn in the ears) "by Hebrew women." The word is derived from לָחִשׁ, lachash', to hiss, and means both "enchantments" (comp. Isa 3:3) and the magical gems and formularies used to avert them (Gesenius, s.v.). It is doubtful whether the Sept. intends περιδέξια as a translation of this word (Schleusner's Thesaurus). For a like reason the phallus was among the sacred emblems of the Vestals (Smith's Dict. of Ant. s.v. Fascinum). SEE EAR-RING. That these lechashim were charms inscribed on silver and gold, was the opinion of Aben-Ezra. The Arabic has boxes of amulets, manifestly concluding that they were similar to those ornamental little cases for written charms which are still used by Arab women. These are represented in the first figure of cut 1. Amulets of this kind are called chegab, and are specially adapted to protect and preserve those written charms, on which the Moslems, as did the Jews, chiefly rely. The writing is covered with waxed cloth, and enclosed in a case of thin embossed gold or silver, which is attached to a silk string or a chain, and generally hung on the right side, above the girdle, the string or chain being passed over the left shoulder. In the specimen here figured there are three of these chegabs attached to one string. The square one in the middle is almost an inch thick, and contains a folded paper; the others contain scrolls. Amulets of this shape, or of a triangular form, are worn by women and children; and those of the latter, shape are often attached to children's head-dress (Lane's Modern Egyptians, 2, 365). Charms, consisting of words written on folds of papyrus tightly rolled up and sewed in linen, have been found at Thebes (Wilkinson, 1. c.), and our English translators possibly intended something of the kind when they rendered the curious phrase (in Isaiah 3) בָּתֵּי הִנֶּפֶשׁ (houses of the spirit) by "tablets." It was the danger of idolatrous practices arising from a knowledge of this custom that probably induced the sanction of the use of phylacteries (De 6:8; De 9:18, טוֹטָפוֹת, billets, "frontlets"). The modern Arabs use scraps of the Koran (which they call "telesmes" or "'alakakirs") in the same way. SEE PHYLACTERY.
The superstitions connected with amulets grew to a great height in the later periods of the Jewish history. "There was hardly any people in the whole world," says Lightfoot (Hor. Hebr. ad Matt. 24, 24), "that more used or were more fond of amulets, charms, mutterings, exorcisms, and all kinds of enchantments … . The amulets were either little roots hung about the neck of sick persons, or, what was more common, bits of paper (and parchment) with words written on them, whereby it was supposed that diseases were either driven away or cured. They wore such amulets all the week, but were forbidden to go abroad with them on the Sabbath, unless they were 'approved amulets;' that is, were prescribed by a person who knew that at least three persons had been cured by the same means. In these amulets mysterious names (especially the tetragrammaton, or sacred name, יהוה) and characters were occasionally employed in lieu of extracts from the law. One of the most usual of these was the cabalistic hexagonal figure known as 'the shield of David' and 'the seal of Solomon' (Bartoloc. Bibliotheca Rabbinica, 1, 576; Lakemacher, Observatt. Philol. 2, 143 sq.). The reputation of the Jews was so well established in this respect that even in Arabia, before the time of Mohammed, men applied to them when they needed charms of peculiar virtue (Mishkat ul-Masabih, 2, 377). A very large class of amulets depended for their value on their being constructed under certain astronomical conditions. Their most general use was to avert ill-luck, etc., especially to nullify the effect of the "evil eye" (ὀφθαλμὸς βάσκανος), a belief in which is found among all nations. Some animal substances were considered to possess such properties, as we see from Tobit. Pliny (28, 47) mentions a fox's tongue worn on an amulet as a charm against blear-eyes, and says (30, 15) that beetles' horns are efficacious for the same purpose — perhaps an Egyptian fancy. In the same way one of the Roman emperors wore a seal-skin as a charm against thunder. Among plants, the white bryony and the Hypericon, or Fuga daemonum, are mentioned as useful. On the African "pieces of medicine" — a belief in which constitutes half the religion of the Africans (see Livingstone's Travels, p. 285 et passim).
Many of the Christians of the first century wore amulets marked with a fish, as a symbol of the Redeemer. SEE ICHTHUS. Another form is the pentangle (or pentacle, vide Scott's Antiquary), which "consists of three triangles intersected, and made of five lines, which may be so set forth with the body of man as to touch and point out the places where our Savior was wounded" (Sir Thos. Brown's Vulg. Errors, 1, 10). Under this head fall the "curious arts" (τὰ περίεργα) of the Ephesians (Ac 19:19), and in later times the use of the word "Abracadabra," recommended by the physician Serenus Samonicus as a cure of the hemitritseus. Among the Gnostics, Abraxas gems (q.v.) were used as amulets. At a later period they were formed of ribbons, with sentences of Scripture written on them, and hung about the neck. They were worn by many of the Christians in the earlier ages, but were condemned by the wiser and better of the clergy as disgraceful. Chrysostom mentions them for the purpose of reprehension (In Ps 9; Ps 15; also Hom. 6, Cont. Judceos). The Council of Laodicea, A.D. 364, condemns those of the clergy who pretend to make them, declaring that such phylacteries, or charms, are bonds and fetters to the soul, and ordering those who wore them to be cast out of the Church (Can. 36). Augustine (Tract. 7, in Ison.) expostulates with those that wore them in this language: "When we are afflctecd with pains in the head, let us not run to enchanters and fortune-tellers, and remedies of vanity. I mourn for you, my brethren; for I daily find these things done. And what shall I do? I cannot yet persuade Christians to put their only trust in Christ. With what face can a soul go unto God that has lost the sign of Christ, and taken upon him the sign of the devil?" The practice of wearing these periapta was most probably taken from the custom of the Jews, who wore the tephilim, or phylacteries. The Council of Trullo ordered the makers of all amulets to be excommunicated, and deemed the wearers of them guilty of heathen superstition. Faith in the virtue of amulets was almost universal in the ancient world; it need not, therefore, excite our surprise that some of the less-informed should have adhered to the heathenish practice after their admission into the Christian Church. — Bingham, Orig. Eccl. bk. 16, ch. 5, § 6.
See, generally, Hubner, Amuletorum historia (Hal. 1710); Schwabe, Ueb. e. teutsches Amulet, in Meusel's Geschichtsforscher, 1, 121; Schumacher, De amuleto quodam Gnostico (Guelph. 1774); Emele, Ueber Amulete (Mainz, 1827); Kopp, Paleographia crit. 3, 15. SEE SUPERSTITION.