About a life devoted to the love for Folklore, Mythology, Legends and.....Art

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Magic in a Box ; Medieval Catholic Amulets

Of all amulets and talismans known to me, the Catholic pieces are among the most interesting. Maybe it is because they do not only reflect peoples faith and hopes but also are a great source on history. These amulets and talismans are rarely original and are a combination between Ancient (heathen) believes and Christian symbolism. In this way they could be seen as a "religious time-line", showing us the developement from heathen faiths into Christian (folk-) believes today. Though this subject is certainly worth a good conversation I do not intend to go further on discussing this subject at the moment. But, I would like to share with you one of my new amulets based upon one of these old Catholic pieces.

The picture showing above is my "reproduction" of an amulet found in a woman's grave in the cemetery of Szentes Nagyhegy, east Hungary. The original was a small, silver, book-like amulet depicting a cross up front which has never been opened, thus the contains will remain unknown to us. Luckily many more of these little "boxes" were found through time and we know now that they were meant for talismanic use. These boxes, which came in many shapes; some of them being square and others being round, were most of the time filled with devotional objects. Common objects were; a Paternoster (prayer), images of Saints, but also herbs and gems which were supposed to contain magical powers to ward of evil, or even the devil himself.
Next to this, these boxes were also used for carrying along objects collected from the holy places pilgrims visited, reliques. This could be graveyard dirt from some grave where a Saint was buried or a piece of cloth which Jezus was supposed to have worn during his last day, really any sort of relic would do. These relics, sold by the churches, were a very important part of amulets as it was believed that the power of a holy person would transfer to anything he or she had touched during her life and therefor contained healing and protective powers.

These amulets were just as powerful as crucifixes and for a long time generally accepted by the Catholic church.
Of course I don't need to explain that wearing herbs, gems and images of god(s) was something new. Neither is the concept of taking small pieces of dirt or water from these so called holy places. These sort of amulets were seen among all races and are as old as humankind. They are most certainly not of Christian origin.
Nevertheless they make beautiful amulets and though not original, Christianity did give it's own very interesting interpretation to the contains of these boxes.

The little box I made is filled with a tiny bundle of Saint James Wort, known as one of the most protective and healing herbs in Christian Folk-medicine and Magic. It was supposed to protect against all evil influences such as demons, ghosts and witches. Also widely accepted was the 'fact' the devil himself was terrified of this herb and had no control over those who wore this herb as an amulet. It was especially favorable among pilgrims who ventured to the Holy Land.

As mentioned, the Paternoster (The Lord's Prayer) was used for talismanic use as well, as were many other biblical texts and prayers. The funny thing about the Paternoster is that the word "Paternoster" itself was supposed to have magical powers. Therefore many amulets are simply just showing this word instead of the entire prayer. When you examine different Catholic amulets you will notice that on many of them the word "Paternoster is written somewhere in a corner or on the back of the amulet.
Last, a small rock-crystal was added to the box which was considered a fortunate amulet to wear for many reasons. But to stay with our subject I will only mention those which are connected with this amulet.

For this amulet the rock-crystal is used for protection against evil, just like Saint James Wort, it was supposed to protect against demons, ghosts and witches. Next to this it was also praised for its power to keep one from going mad. Interesting to note is that madness was often associated with demonic possession of a kind.
The rock crystal had also the reputation of a "burial-stone" in Christian Mythology, as it is said; "To him that overcometh...I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it." (Rev 2: 17) Hence the reason why the rock-crystal (also a white stone) became so immense popular among Christians.

Albeit the contains of this box will be a very protective amulet against Evil and all the influences evil can have on the human body and mind!

For those who are interested, the amulet will soon be available at my Etsy shop! (Here you can also read more on how the amulet was made.)