From the Greek word telein ('to initiate into the mysteries'), a talisman is specially prepared object of stone, metal, wood, parchment and so on usually inscribed with magical signs, characters or drawings, that are supposedly charged and bestowed with magical powers.
Once endowed with magical properties, the talisman is believed to bring the owner good luck, success, health and virility.
The power of a talisman can derive from nature, directly from God, or from a magical ritual, such as those described in the grimoires, textbooks of ceremonial magic.
Most talismans are made in the form of metal discs, with fitting sigils and symbols engraved on each side. The talisman should be engraved on an appropriate hour and day, according to the specific intention or purpose of it, and it may be worn on a chain as a pendant.
Some unique talismans became nationally famous for their protective powers, being handed down in particular families over the centuries, and even sometimes rented out for substantial fees to others in need. Such talisman was the chemise of the pious Hungarian-born wife of the Scottish king Malcolm Canmore, Queen Margaret, who died in 1093. This chemise, carefully preserved through the years, was considered a powerful safeguard against the threat of enchantment and was used as swaddling clothes for the infant future King James III of Scotland in 1452 and again for James V in 1512.
That charms were worn by prehistoric man there is no doubt, as objects which in many cases shared the appearance and general description of amulets were discovered in Neolithic tombs and sites. The ancient Egyptians possessed a baffling variety of amulets and talismans, which were worn both by the living and the dead. Indeed, among the later, every part of the body had an amulet sacred to itself. These were, as a rule, evolved from various organs of their gods; as, for example, the eye of Isis, the backbone of Osiris, and so forth.
In Northern Buddhist countries almost everyone constantly wears a talisman round the neck. These normally represent the leaf of the sacred fig-tree, and are made in the form of a box which contains a scrap of sacred writing, prayer, or a little picture. Women of status in Tibet wear a chatelaine containing a charm or charms, and the universal amulet of the Buddhist priests in that country is the thunderbolt, supposed to have fallen directly from Indras heaven. This is typically reproduced in bronze or other metal, and is used for exorcising evil spirits.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Bonner, Campbell, Studies in Magical Amulets, University of Michigan Press; (4) Budge, E. A. Wallis, Amulets and Talismans, Carol Publishing Corporation; (5) Pickering, David, Cassell Dictionary of Witchcraft, Cassell Academic.
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