Charms and amulets

views updated

Charms and amulets. These are universal, in all religions, even those where they might be expected to compromise trust in God alone. In Judaism, an amulet might seem to come close to breaking the command against graven images. Yet so many charms were excavated from the rabbinic period that it almost seemed to some that they were observing an alternative Judaism. Amulets (Heb., kemea) continued as a part of Judaism, worn round the neck or attached to a wall. They may be to protect against devils, thieves, or enemies, to obtain love, wisdom, or an easy childbirth.

In Islam amulets (Arab., ḥijab, ḥamāʾil; in W. Africa gri gri) are permitted in ḥadīth, and are used everywhere in the Muslim world, cf. also HAND OF FĀṬIMA.

In other religions, amulets are equally common and less surprising. Thus in Hinduism, the way in which all appearance is permeated by the spiritual and the divine makes the amulet (Skt., rakṣa; from rakṣ, ‘guard, protect’) entirely natural.

Amulets are an equally indispensable part of Chinese folk religion. Frequently pasted over doorways, they may also be worn, or else burnt, with the ashes being used to make a medicinal paste or drink.