1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amulet
AMULET (Late Lat. amuletum, origin unknown; falsely connected with the Arab. ḥimālah, a cord used to suspend a small Koran from the neck), a charm, generally, but not invariably, hung from the neck, to protect the wearer against witchcraft, sickness, accidents, &c. Amulets have been of many different kinds, and formed of different substances,—stones, metals, and strips of parchment being the most common, with or without characters or legends engraved or written on them. Gems have often been employed and greatly prized, serving for ornaments as well as for charms. Certain herbs, too, and animal preparations have been used in the same way. In setting them apart to their use as amulets, great precautions have been taken that fitting times be selected, stellar and other magic influences propitious, and everything avoided that might be supposed to destroy or weaken the force of the charm. From the earliest ages the Oriental races have had a firm belief in the prevalence of occult evil influences, and a superstitious trust in amulets and similar preservatives against them. There are references to, and apparently correctives of, these customs in the Mosaic injunctions to bind portions of the law upon the hand and as frontlets between the eyes, as well as write them upon the door-posts and the gates; but, among the later Jews especially, the original design and meaning of these usages were lost sight of; and though it has been said that the phylacteries were not strictly amulets, there is no doubt that they were held in superstitious regard. Amulets were much used by the ancient Egyptians, and also among the Greeks and Romans. We find traces of them too in the early Christian church, in the emphatic protests of Chrysostom, Augustine and others against them. The fish was a favourite symbol on these charms, from the word ιχθύς being the initials of Ίησοῦς Χριοτὸς Θεοῦ υἱὸς σωτήρ. A firm faith in amulets still prevails widely among Asiatic nations. Talisman, also from the Arabic, is a word of similar meaning and use, but some distinguish it as importing a more powerful charm. A talisman, whose “virtues are still applied to for stopping blood and in cases of canine madness,” figures prominently in, and gives name to, one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.
See also Arpe, De Prodigiis Naturae et Artis Operibus Talismanes et Amuleta dictis (Hamburg, 1717); Ewele, Ueber Amulete (1827); and Koop’s Palaeographic Critica, vols. iii. and iv. (1829).