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AMULETS, TALISMAN, AND MAGICAL JEWELRY
A Way to the Unseen, Everpresent, Almighty God
By Barbara Black Koltuv
Nicolas Hays, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Barbara Black Koltuv
All rights reserved.
We have fallen upon hard times. We are lost, beset, alone, and afraid. We need help. The problems seem so over-whelming and insoluble that we look to God. Amulets, talismans, and magical jewelry provide a beautiful, tangible bridge between us and the unseen, ever-present God. They are prayers we can hold in our hands; something to hold onto when we seek help and protection from above.
From earliest times, human beings have felt the need to concretize their connection with their God. There are rock paintings and stelae that speak to this need, many dating back thirty thousand years. These huge stelae were the Gods at that time; they were worshipped and feared. Even then, with these visually present and powerful Gods, and well-established forms and rituals for propitiating the Gods, people needed a personal way of connecting to the divine. Small personal amulets and talismans have been found in archeological digs all over the world, dating back thousands of years. Some are written or scratched on rock or metal, and some are simply pierced stones or beads.
At first the Gods ruled with fear. Human beings were sacrificed to appease them, but then came a change: The entire Old Testament chronicles the emergence of a new way of consciousness. It tells of the One God who is the Creator of All, a God who creates man with free will and in God's own image. The stories of the Old Testament tell of a continual process of separation and individuation as human beings veer between the old way of fear and appeasement, and the new way of individual responsibility and choice.
The unseen, all-powerful monotheistic God of the Old Testament requires us to make our own choices based on a careful understanding of our own experience. In the face of the difficult task of becoming conscious and individuated, the human need for something tangible to hang onto (or to literally hang on oneself) persists. Amulets, talismans, and magical jewelry continue to be a vital connection between human beings and God.
The Old Testament tells of what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen. My book shows how amulets, talismans, and magical jewelry are really prayers that provide a way for people to connect to the unseen, ever-present, almighty God. These treasured objects are a bridge between heaven and earth and something to hold on to.
No Idols, No Other Gods
And God spoke all these words to say:
I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Exodus 20:1–5)
The second commandment of the Old Testament specifically forbids making an idol to represent God. However, human beings have always needed a direct and personal connection to the divine, and a way is provided in Exodus 25:8 when God says, make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among you.
God goes on to instruct the people to make a tabernacle consisting of a chest overlaid with pure gold, with golden rings attached to it. He tells them to put poles of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold through the rings so the chest can be carried along as the children of Israel journey through the wilderness. The poles must remain in the rings of the chest and are not to be removed. (Exodus 25:10–16) Thus the Holy Ark is always ready to travel with the people as they move through the wilderness. The Ark is an amulet. It is tribal, and not yet personal, but it is present and not an idol or a God.
God tells the children of Israel to put into the Ark the testimony that he will give them. They are to make a cover for the Ark of pure gold and to make two cherubim of hammered gold, and to place them at each end of the cover. The cherubim must have their wings spread so that they surround the cover of the ark. God continues, telling Moses to instruct the children of Israel:
Place the cover on top of the ark of the Testimony onto the top and into the ark put the Testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you and I will tell to you from above the cover and from between the two cherubim over the ark of the Testimony all that I command to you sons of Israel (Exodus 25:21–23)
So, unseen and surrounded by the wings of the cherubim, God came to dwell among the people as a divine presence called the Shekhina, a word from the Hebrew meaning "to dwell." Later as they stood at the base of Mount Sinai, Moses told the people:
Hear; O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I am giving you today must be upon your heart. Impress them upon your children and talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as signs on your hands and they must be as frontlets between your eyes. Write them on the door frames of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–10)
The injunction to keep the words of the Lord upon your heart—and to tie them as symbols on your hands, bind them on your foreheads, and to write them on the doorpost and gates of your house—seems to give permission—even to demand-that people carry and surround themselves with a concrete connection to the one unseen, ever-present God. Thus, the encased prayer became an approved amulet that offered a concrete and real connection to God.
The intimate relationship between God and man goes even further:
The Lord said to Moses, "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first off-spring of a womb among the children of Israel belongs to me whether man or animal" Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand...." (Exodus 13:1–4)
In another personal instruction God says:
For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat only unleavened bread for those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders.
On that day tell your son, "I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." And it will be for you like a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes she must be, the law of the Lord in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. And you must keep this ordinance at her time, from all the days to all the days. (Exodus 13:6–11)
Remembering the connection between human beings and God is made concrete in terms of what comes from the body and issues from the womb, what goes into the body through the mouth, what is said by the mouth, what is worn on the hand, and the forehead, and body, and what is written on the doorframes and gates of one's house that physically surrounds the body. What is thought in heart and mind, and when and how a festival of remembrance is celebrated, also connects us with God. All these stories, experiences, rememberings, and actions connect a person to the unseen, ever-present, almighty God.
AMULETS: NEARER TO GOD
An amulet is anything worn as a charm against evil, disease, witchcraft, and misfortune. The word amulet can be derived either from the Arabic word hamalat, meaning "to hang," or from the Hebrew word kame'a, which has the root meaning "to bind." Hanging, or binding, or wearing an amulet upon oneself protects the wearer. The word "amulet" may also be derived from the Latin word amuletum, from the verbamdiri, meaning "to remove or drive away." The Ark of the Covenant with its gold rings was hung permanently on the golden staves so the children of Israel could, at any and all times, carry it with them in their wanderings. Thus, it was a permanent protective amulet for the entire community.
Similarly, the modern translation of tefillin also implies that they are used for protection and for warding off of danger. The totophot, or bands to be worn on one's hand and on the forehead, are called tefillin or phylacteries. They are prayers written on parchment or on paper and encased in leather boxes. Leather straps are attached and the prayer cases are bound to the fore-head and the arms. There is a ritual prayer and pattern for wrapping the leather straps on the arms and forehead and a special time and order for the daily ritual of putting on tefillin.
The prayer that is fixed to the doorpost and gates of a house is called amezuzah, from the Hebrew word for "gatepost." It consists of the prayer that begins:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength ... And ends with ... Tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must be as frontlets between your eyes. Write them on the doorframes of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–10)
It includes also:
So it will be if you obey my commands that I am giving you today to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, so you may gather your grain and your new wine and your oil.
And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and you will be satisfied. Take heed lest your heart be enticed and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; and then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens that there will be no rain, and that the land will yield not her fruit, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gave you.
And the instructions:
Fix these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must be as frontlets (totophot) between your eyes. Teach them to your children, talking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way and when you lie down, and when you rise. Write them upon the doorframes (mezuzot) of your house and upon your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:13–22)
The prayer is written on parchment or on paper and placed in a metal, wood, or ceramic case and affixed to the doorframe and gates of a house. Some homes have a mezuzah on the doorframe to each room. One is supposed to kiss it upon entering and leaving the room or house, in remembrance of God's commandment.
These objects—mezuzot and tefillin—may not ordinarily be thought of as amulets, but that is what they are. Amulets protect by making us re-member and make concrete our connection to God. The mezuzah on the gate and doorpost protects the person who loves and remembers God as he passes into the house. It also protects those inside from danger as it did on the first night of Passover when God told the Hebrews to put a sign on their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their houses and their firstborn sons would be protected, while the firstborn sons of the Egyptians with no sign for protection on their doorposts would be killed. (Exodus 12:7, 12–14)
Some amulets are called segul from a very ancient, unused Hebrew root meaning "shut up." The word segul is used in the Old Testament to describe the people of Israel as a valued property, a peculiar treasure which God has taken to Himself (Deuteronomy 7:6) and as a treasure of kings in Ecclesiastes (2:8).
For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you. (Deuteronomy 7:6–8)
If the people of Israel are a treasure of God, chosen with love, and the amulet is a segul for protection from harm, one can see that the amulet is a bridge of love between human beings and God.
A dream, too, can have the power of an amulet. In the place he called Beit El, or "house of God," Jacob dreamt:
Behold—a ladder resting on earth with its to preaching to the heavens. And behold—angels of God, ascending ones and descending ones on it. And behold—the Lord standing above him said: I am the Lord, God of Abraham your father and God of Isaac. The land that you are lying upon I will give to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be like dust of the earth and you will spread to west and to east and to north and to south. And they will be blessed through you, all the peoples of the earth, through offspring of you. And behold—I am with you and I will guard you in anywhere you go and I will bring you back to this land. Indeed I will not leave you until I do what I said to you. (Genesis 28:12–16)
When Jacob awoke from his sleep he said, "Surely there is God in this place and I knew it not." (Genesis 28:17)
Jacob's dream occurs early in Genesis and clarifies the relationship between the unseen God of the Hebrews and the embodied idols of the gods of the surrounding people. Here in Beresheit, or the book of creation, Jacob dreams of angels as messengers ascending and descending between earth and heaven, and between man and God. In the dream Jacob hears God's promise to be with him and to guard him and to bring him back to the land he has promised to him. God seems to be saying that he needs to be with Jacob as people often feel that they need to be with God.
Jacob was alone by himself a man—he wrestled with him until the dawn came up. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of his hip so that Jacob's hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for the dawn comes." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him," What is your name?" And he answered, "Jacob." And the man said, "You will not be called Jacob any longer; but your name is now Israel for you struggled with God and with men and you have overcome. (Genesis 32:25–28)
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, "For I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared." The sun rose above him just as he crossed over from Peniel and he was limping because of his hip ... (Genesis 32:30–32)
The name of the place is Peniel, from the word peh, meaning "mouth" and "face," and El, meaning "God." Jacob was mouth to mouth and face to face with God as they wrestled.
The name Jacob, Ya'akov, is derived from ekev, or "heel," because Jacob was born clutching at the heel of his twin brother Esau. Jacob is changed for-ever from the lowest most humble part, ekev or heel, the part of the body that is closest to the ground and touches the ground first as human beings walk upon earth, to Israel, which means "struggles with God." In the dream of wrestling with the angel of God, the angel smites Jacob on the hip and when he wakes, Jacob limps. This dream is so vivid that we recognize it as what we now call a waking dream. It has a reality so strong that it changes the dreamer forever. The words and images heard and seen in a dream can have a powerful effect when they are attended to. They are so direct and meaningful that people feel that they are given by a more creative and supernal consciousness than their own waking ego. Indeed, the Talmud states that a dream uninterpreted is like an unopened letter. A dream owned, held on to, and interpreted is a powerful protective healing amulet.
Excerpted from AMULETS, TALISMAN, AND MAGICAL JEWELRY by Barbara Black Koltuv. Copyright © 2005 Barbara Black Koltuv. Excerpted by permission of Nicolas Hays, Inc..
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