The Charm of the Amulet
Do you believe in amuletic magic? No? Chances are that you do, without even realizing it. That special T-shirt the you wear playing basketball to guarantee a win for your team; the lucky silver dollar you never leave home without these are modern examples of the power of the amulet, which can be any object that you believe carries an aura of magic, or luck, with it. Egyptians believed so strongly in the healing and protective power of the amulet that they sought its protection not only during life, but also in the afterlife, as is evidenced by burials dating back to pre-dynastic times. In fact, amuletic magic was so important to the protection of the deceased that either duplicate amulets or amulets that served the same purpose were sometimes included in burials so that if the primary amulet didnt work properly, the secondary amulet would take over.
Hidden malevolent forces were everywhere in ancient Egypt. They could take the form of poisonous snakes, scorpions, disease, floods or almost any natural disaster, illness, or tangible foe. To combat and protect themselves against these forces, ancient Egyptians wore amulets, or charms, around their necks, ankles, wrists, or anywhere else on their bodies. As Egyptians also used jewelry to draw attention to the more attractive aspects of their bodies as well as to camouflage less attractive areas, amuletic jewelry could serve a double purpose.
In any case, amulets were worn from infancy through death. As stated in, Breaking the Color Code, the gemstones used to create the amulets were as important as the shapes or images carved upon them. The power of the gem coupled with the symbolism on the amulet served as powerful protection against harm and evil both on earth and in the afterlife. In order to give an amulet its power, it had to be made and dedicated in strict
accordance with the instructions written in the Book of the Dead. Only then, would the appropriate gods spirit live within and energize the amulet. This now sacred object would have to be treated with respect in order for the god to continue bestowing his blessings upon the wearer.
The Scarab amulet was one of several amulets dedicated to the Sun God Ra, and was one of the most important of over thirty funerary amulets. The Scarab was a stylized depiction of the dung beetle, which ancient Egyptians used to illustrate life-giving powers. The dung beetle was chosen for this honor because after it laid its egg in animal dung and rolled it into a ball, it then pushed the ball into the sun so that the suns heat hatched the egg. Thus, the important connection with the life-giving powers of the sun was recognized. In addition, the Scarab was known as the "protector of the heart", so this amulet was placed in the mummys heart cavity while a priest read an appropriate dedication from the Book of the Dead.During life, Egyptians carried the Scarab amulet to protect their hearts and give them long lives.
Three of the first Egyptian gods, often referred to as the Egyptian trinity, were Osiris, Isis, and Horus, and the amulets associated with them are the Djet, the Knot of Isis, and the Wedjat, or Eye of Horus, respectively. The Djet was used to cure or protect the wearer against injury to the back in general and to protect the spine. When used as a royal funerary amulet, it guaranteed that Osiris spirit would accompany the pharaohs soul to the underworld, and he would then be reborn with a strong spine. The Djet can be recognized in its two forms: That of a square column topped by four cross pieces (older version) which was a stylized symbol of the tree that hid Osiris body after it was retrieved from the Nile; and that of a short "T" shaped cross, a stylized symbol of a bone from Osiris spine.
The Knot of Isis was a stylized representation of the genitals of Isis and was always made of red stone. Almost every woman carried this amulet in order to be granted all of Isiss wisdom and knowledge. When Isis was shown clutching the Papyrus Scepter (described below), the amulet would contain a green stone and served as a fertility charm.
The Eye of Horus consisted of an image of either the left or right eye and eyebrow, along with a stylized beard, the symbol of divine kingship. This powerful funerary amulet assured the person that in his next life, he would defeat his enemies just like Horus triumphed over his uncle Set. Although the Eye of Horus was originally constructed of many different materials from wood to gemstones, eventually a latter chapter in the Book of the Dead stated that it must be made from lapis lazuli.
Papyrus plants grew abundantly in ancient Egypt; therefore, they symbolized fertility and life. As an amulet, it was called either the Papyrus Scepter or Papyrus Wand, shaped like a papyrus shoot, and when used as a funerary amulet, it assured the deceased of great fertility in the next life.
During the New Kingdom, a funerary amulet called the Collar of Gold was added to the Book of the Dead. The Collar, a stunning necklace of which most people have seen illustrations, was made from small oblong gold plates strung together. In larger, more ornate pieces usually worn by royalty, there could be several rows of plates, sometimes alternating between gold and lapis lazuli. Originally, the Collars purpose was to enable the mummy to break free of his bandages during resurrection, but eventually its purpose changed to that of protecting the throat from accidental harm and infection. Perhaps it was because of the Collars beauty that it also became a very popular amulet among the living.
Not many of the amulets in ancient Egypt were considered as simply "good luck" charms, but the Nefer, which was made of gold, promised to bring the deceased boundless happiness in the afterlife. For the living, it was carried to assure good luck and happiness, and it became a very popular amulet. Even as a hieroglyph, the Nefer symbol meant "joy", and as such, it was incorporated into many girls names, i.e. Nefertiti and Nefertari.
During the period of the 11th to 22nd Dynasties, some major changes took place in Egypt regarding the standard traditions of amuletic magic. These changes, brought about by the Rekh-Khetu, or temple wise men, also changed amuletic traditions in civilizations all over the world. The first change was that the lengthy consecration ritual that priests normally performed on amulets carried by the living was now considered unnecessary. During the original consecration ritual, the appropriate chapter from the Book of the Dead was read, but according to this new decree, the amulet only needed to be inscribed with the chapter number or the first line of the prayer. However, the original consecration ritual was still performed on funerary amulets, which the temple wise men claimed doubled the amulets powers.
The next modification in amuletic tradition was the declaration that a drawing of an amulet or any sacred symbol contained the identical power as the actual amulet. A very specific procedure had to be followed in order to accomplish this task, most of which dealt with the mental and physical purity of the scribe as well as the purity of the tools he used. There was even a specific formula created to make the ink used on these drawings, which were done on papyrus, clay tablets, parchment, and stone. The details of this entire process were covered in new chapters added to the Book of the Dead.
With these and other new changes, the purposes fulfilled by amulets grew, as did the number of amulets. No longer were amulets simply to protect the deceased and keep the living safe from illness and accidents, but new amulets were created to fulfill almost any wish, even for tangible goods.
These are only a few examples of the amulets used in ancient Egypt. Just as there were many major and minor gods, there were also quite a few amulets dedicated to each god. Some symbols differ only subtly; for example, the principal symbol for the powerful god Amun was a ram with curved horns, yet the symbol for the minor god Khnum was a ram with wavy horns. With so many gods and even more amulets, its no wonder that the manufacture of amulets in ancient Egypt became a major industry.
Amuletic magic and symbolism sheds a good deal of light on the overall societal beliefs and concepts of ancient Egyptians, and it is a fascinating part of the culture. So, put down that rabbits foot just long enough to delve a little deeper!