the what and why of amulets

Welcome to part 1 of a 4-part blog series on amulets & talismans.

If I asked, point blank: Do you intentionally carry an amulet? You’d likely say no. It’s not something on the forefront of most people’s minds. Were you ever gifted a rabbit’s foot? I was, and as a child I carried it with me…at least for a while. Or maybe instead you whisper, “rabbit, rabbit” at the start of each month. Either way, calling in good luck, or repelling bad luck, with various objects is serious business within cultures across the globe.

These days it seems that amulets are somewhat increasing in popularity, yet again, these are not objects at the forefront of one’s mind. The rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm was quite popular in the United States and Great Britain for decades. The history of this particular amulet is not entirely certain and is connected to several possibilities.

So what exactly is an amulet anyway? 

An amulet is said to contain natural virtues used for warding off evil, guarding against negativity, and protecting the wearer or carrier from harm. As a protective object an amulet can come in many shapes and sizes. The power is within the material. In short, an amulet repels what we don’t want, claims Mary Grace Fahrun, author of Italian Folk Magic (2018).

Here are some examples of common amulets which are culturally and situationally dependent:

Coral

Vervain

Thyme

Garlic

A leaf of Bay/Laurel

A fresh or dried sprig of Rue

Amber

Silver and Gold

A stone, gem or crystal (such as quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, carnelian or onyx). 

Italian red coral is considered an amulet.

Amulets can offer protection in all states, whether in dream, meditative, visionary or waking states. Furthermore, amulets can serve as a general protective element as well as carry a unique function. One historical example is how fossilized amber was used for preventing nightmares with children. Another example could be the Italian corno or hunchback or the hand of Fatima, all of which are meant to provide a specific function—protection against evil eye. 

Apotropaic (aka protective) magic refers to the power to avert evil or harmful influences, bad luck, misfortune, or the evil eye. The popularity is evident, even today, by the vast number of apotropaic amulets and talismans sold worldwide. A very early example comes from ancient Greece in the 4th-century BCE – a relief showing Asklepios performing a healing ritual with a serpent and two apotropaic eyes above. These talismanic ‘eyes’ were also commonly found on ancient Greek vases and throughout parts of the Mediterranean region. See part 4 of this 4-part blog series for more on talismans.

From my visit to the archeological museum in Thessaloniki, 2019.

In the book The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets, Lecouteux (2005) provides some history on the origins of the word amulet: In the first century BCE, we come across the Latin word amuletum, derived from amoliri, meaning to protect, to drive away. Considering what amulets are and are not, the most striking example I’ve come across is revealed below. What you see is below is from an excerpt from my 2021 book, Dream Medicine:

Considering the notion of general protective capacities, let’s turn to Celtic traditions for a moment. Healing, wisdom and truth are sourced from severed heads. The most extreme example of an amulet I have ever come across, unsurprisingly, is that of a human skull fragment. According to Tom Cowan, author of Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit (1993), ancient Celts were well known for “their cult of the severed head” (p. 35); they flaunted the heads of enemies from their horses or their own necks. Celtic warriors wore human skull fragments as amulets. Sometimes the entire head was placed on a gatepost, outside a doorway, or on top of a stake for protection. In belief systems where the soul is immortal, residing in the head while alive on earth, it is not surprising that claiming or keeping one’s head “was the same as possessing that person’s soul, spirit and personal power, analogous to the practice found among some cultures of eating the heart or brain of a noble warrior or admired enemy in order to ingest his strength” (Cowan, 1993, p. 36). How about that for a power object!

Now that you know what amulets are and why people carry them, we’ll turn our attention to their care in the next part fo this blog series.

~Dr. Kim

Consider joining the Dream Medicine retreat in Mexico this Fall – we are booking now, so get all the details here: www.ConsciousChimera.com/Retreats

Thank you for reading part 1 of this 4-part blog series. The next part (2) will place attention on the cleaning of amulets. For fuller exploration of this subject, read Dream Medicine: The Intersection of Wellness and Consciousness (Toplight Books, 2021).

#traditionalways

#magic

#power

#ritual

#amulets

#ancientgreece

#talismans

#goodluck

#folkmagic

#craft

#folkloric

#protection

#evileye

#Asklepios 

#rabbit-rabbit

#apotropaic 

winter season festivities

Season’s greetings! There are many holidays and celebratory traditions during this time of year. While I honor them all, there are a few traditions that are given special attention in my life given cultural and personal factors: these are Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas.

Winter Solstice takes place on the 21st of December each year and is the day of the year with the shortest day or period of light and the longest night or period of darkness. The attention given to this time of year by way of rituals and celebrations is ancient. We celebrate the return of the sun and the days getting longer and longer (until Summer Solstice that is). Winter Solstice is celebrated all over the world, yet it is Stonehenge that attracts thousands of people on this day. While I enjoy the slowness and ‘hibernation’ that winter brings, I am a true summer lover. So, there is excitement about each day becoming a little longer and longer.

The first day of Yule is typically on December 21st as well. Much of what many today associate with Christmas actually emerged from the Germanic tradition of Yule. Bringing nature indoors is the thing to do – trees, logs, garlands, holly, wreaths, mistletoe – you get IMG-4808the idea. In addition, caroling, bells, and candles also come from the yuletide season. The two traditions, Yule and Christmas, have blended together in many ways, yet are distinct. This year, the twelve days of Yule are from December 22nd to January 2nd. However, most years the yuletide season runs from December 21st to January 1st. Anytime during this period can be spent decorating the home with wreaths and garlands, or decorating a Yule log to burn one evening.

Having been raised Catholic, Christmas eve and Christmas day (December 24th and 25th) have always been a focal point. From midnight mass to tree decorating and from gift-wrapping to candy-making, this time has contained multiple family rituals across my lifespan. Enjoying special foods and offering gifts to family and friends is a highlight!

These seem to have some things in common. That is the acknowledgement of natural cycles – from darkness to the birth of new light. May you and your loved ones know peace this winter season and fully enjoy your unique expressions and celebrations during this time of year.

 

Happy holidays to you all,

Kim

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reflections on working with the living & the dead

The year has flown by and here we are, again, at that time when so many of the world’s people turn their attention to the dead. Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, Festival of Hungry Ghosts (recently passed) – each one is different, but they each share some similar elements, and sometimes similar activities, such an making offerings or prayer.

Connecting with a deceased loved one is possible, no matter whether you engage in hypnosis, dreaming, deep prayer, imaginal journeying, altar-making, or use a black mirror, the fire place, quartz crystals, or what-have-you. Regardless of the object used or state induced, even a brief connection can hold tremendous meaning for those grieving or for those simply wanting to remember. My most preferred methods are dreaming and hypnosis, as both have offered positive experiences along with profound and memorable results. Any method, tool, or nonordinary conscious state can be accessed individually, but group work also holds promise, especially with an experienced therapist, medicine person, or guide.Il tavolo

One potent ritual involves constructing an altar. While I currently offer altar-making in individual psychotherapy sessions, many years ago, I co-led an altar-making and process group with another therapist. The attendees comprised of teenagers and pre-adolescents with unresolved grief/loss issues from loosing a parent or family member to ‘the life’ – a term referring to street life, addiction, overdose. Even though some of the participant’s parents died during the participant’s early childhood years, there was no shortage of memorabilia, stories, or recollections. The act of constructing the altar itself elicited spontaneous memories of shared experiences that were previously believed to be forgotten. By this, I mean that when asked directly to share a story from long ago, many children could not produce one, however, that all changed when they entered this collective ‘sacred’ container, or space, where the memory of the deceased was very much alive. Near the end of the weeks-long process, the attendees reported that the experience left them feeling closer to the deceased loved one, and this turned tears into smiles. Gratitude and peace were married in this new way of remembering.

Large-scale community altar-making has also left an impression. I participated in these activities in Arizona. I discovered that community bonds strengthen in meaningful ways when people join together to make offerings, blessings, or witness one another in prayer to deceased loved ones. These sizable collective altars were modifiable and continued to expand for days. They were multi-cultural in the truest sense. While I am no longer an Arizona resident, I still know the ritual continues, and I sit here in California today, Nonnityping this, shifting through recollections.

At this time, as I turn my attention to the dead, seven female elders immediately come to mind: Mary, Anne, Eva, Florinda, ‘Nonni’/Netta, Maria, and Censina. I feel so fortunate to hold a clear memory of each one, even though most of them (and their spouses) transitioned when I was still a child. Also at this time, I add extra flowers, fresh water, and dust off the prayer cards on the family altar that stands year-round in my home. If I am extra lucky, I will get a visit…who knows, maybe even in tonight’s dream.

 

May the veil be thin,

Kim