What are Talismans and Amulets?
Professor Robert G. Stevens once described a talisman as “an object that exerts an influence for good fortune to occur to the one who possesses it. It transforms the person who holds it so that he or she can accomplish great deeds.” Amulets on the other hand are objects that are believed to protect and individual from evil or harm and keep it at bay. These similar definitions are what often cause confusion between the two and the terms are often used interchangeably.
Talismans and amulets can be in many forms but they are most commonly seen as pendants or charms that are worn on different parts of the body. Both these objects are often made of different materials that contribute to their powers. “If an item is made of wood, the type of wood chosen is of significance, if made of metal, then the type of metal dictates the affect the object will have, likewise if stones are included, then their colour is both symbolic and influential.” Talismans and amulets could be everyday objects that have an unusual characteristic like a four-leaved clover, or animal parts and heirlooms that were once owned by ancestors. The power of any item is decided by the cultural significance attached to it by the individual’s society and the personal experience of the individual with the object.
Talismans and War
It was a common practice for warriors to carry talismans when they went to war several hundred years ago. This practice arose out of the human nature’s need to seek protection and counter anxiety when facing probable death or trauma. According to a 2003 Washington Post, even in the present day, over half the number of soldiers deployed carry objects of significance with them such as pendants, religious books, letters, photos, or dog tags. Soldiers from all over the world have different talismans that they use, from carved pendants of Buddha in Thailand, to Koranic scriptures and medallions depicting Catholic saints in Europe and America. During World War I, soldiers were known to carry Psalm 91 that was knows as the “Soldier’s Psalm”. This practice is still carried out today.
Talismans and Native American Culture
Talismans of the Native Americans usually have animalistic iconography. These are especially famous in the Western world where people use these animalistic talismans as a way to align themselves with the natural world that is falling to pieces because of human impact. In addition to wearing these animal talismans to be one with nature, people also wear these to imbibe certain qualities that they wish to see in themselves.
The most common animal motifs in Native American jewellery are the eagle- symbolising victory, power and the capacity to correct the imbalance caused by evil, the bear- symbolising strength and leadership, and the stallion and buffalo- both symbolising strength. The Native American tribes are the largest group of people to wear eagle amulets consistently, whether as a part of their ornaments during ceremonies or simply as everyday wear.