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Amulets and Superstitions

Amulets and Superstitions

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by E. A. Wallis Budge

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Comprehensive discourse on origin, powers of amulets in many ancient cultures. Covers cross, swastika, crucifix, seals, rings, stones, etc.


Comprehensive discourse on origin, powers of amulets in many ancient cultures. Covers cross, swastika, crucifix, seals, rings, stones, etc.

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ISBN: 978-0-486-14491-7



IN every place in our own country and in foreign lands where excavations on the sites of ancient cities have been made, the spade of the excavator has brought to light a number of objects of various kinds and sizes which we may call generally AMULETS and TALISMANS, and regard as the works of men who were believers in MAGIC. The use of these objects was not confined to any one place, or people, or period, and the great mass of the evidence about the matter now available justifies the statement that the use of amulets and talismans was and, it may be added, still is, universal. We may even go further and say that it is coeval with the existence of Homo sapiens on the earth. It is natural to ask why amulets and talismans are so numerous, and so widely distributed over the earth, and what purpose they served? The answer to these questions is not far to seek. Early man lived days of misery and nights of anxiety and fear, not to say terror. To feed himself and his woman and their children was often difficult, and to avoid or overcome the beasts and reptiles which were his natural enemies must have taxed his wit and strength to the uttermost; and the fear of the unknown dangers of the darkness and night, when the beasts of prey were prowling round his cave or his thicket, added greatly to his misery. In some places the vicissitudes of climate laid an additional burden upon him and he had to be ever on the watch in order to frustrate the attacks of his human enemies. The physical difficulties which he faced and triumphed over were indeed sufficient to trouble and exhaust him; but, though why he did so is inexplicable, he proceeded to fashion in his mind a whole host of invisible, hostile beings, DEVILS, DEMONS and EVIL SPIRITS. These, he believed, not only had the power to curse him and everything he had, but also to cast upon him and his woman and beasts the EVIL EYE, and he went daily and hourly in terror lest they should do so. He attributed all his bodily ills and ailments to the operations of the evil spirits, and any and every misfortune that might befall any member of his family and his servants and other possessions. He attributed horrible forms to them, and thought them capable of assuming any disguises, animal or human, which would enable them to work their wicked wills on him. The men and women who openly made themselves servants of the evil spirits he regarded as MAGICIANS and WITCHES, and he believed that they as well as the evil spirits could, at will, do him incalculable harm, and compass his death. As time went on his fear of evil spirits did not diminish; on the other hand, it increased, and each generation became more devil-ridden than its predecessor. The civilized Sumerians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, like the savages or half-civilized peoples who were their neighbours, were as much obsessed by the fear of evil spirits as their savage ancestors who had lived in Mesopotamia and Egypt some thousands of years before them. This, in the case of the Sumerians and Babylonians, is made quite clear by the great Legend of the Creation, written in cuneiform, which has come down to us.


According to this Legend the great primeval, watery abyss called APSÛ was the home of both devils and gods, i.e. evil spirits and good spirits; the abyss and its inhabitants had existed from everlasting. The evil spirits had hideous forms, part animal, part bird, part reptile and part human; the good spirits were in the image of men. After a countless series of aeons had passed two gods appeared, ANSHAR and KISHAR, and they performed some preliminary act of creation, and after another very long period of time had elapsed the great gods of Babylonia, among them ANU, the Sky-god, BÊL, the Earth-god, and EA, god of the watery abyss, came into being. These gods began the work of ordering Creation, and in so doing caused APSÛ to be greatly troubled. This god saw with dismay that chaos, of which he was the symbol and type, was doomed to disappear as a result of the operations of the gods, and he took counsel with TIÂMAT and began to evolve plans to destroy the works and powers of the gods. Tiâmat is shown by native reliefs and figures to have had the scaly body of a Typhonic animal or serpent, and to have possessed wings and claws. She was the personification of all evil, yet, strange to say, she was the "mother of everything," and was the keeper of the TABLET of DESTINIES, probably a sort of talisman by means of which she preserved her being. APSÛ and TIÂMAT sent forth an envoy called MUMMU to obstruct the work of EA, but in the fight which followed EA was the conqueror, and TIÂMAT'S plan was defeated and APSÛ was slain. Then TIÂMAT spawned a brood of devilish monsters, and she and her male counterpart KINGU collected their hosts of evil beings, and made ready to fight the gods; and the TABLET of DESTINIES was transferred to KINGU by TIÂMAT to assist him in gaining the victory over them.

The gods, feeling themselves unable to cope with TIÂMAT, nominated MARDUK, their champion, and having bestowed upon him all their powers this god armed himself with a bow, spear, a club and a net, and set out to do battle with TIÂMAT. When KINGU saw MARDUK arrayed in his terrible panoply of war, he was terrified and stumbled about and took refuge in the body of TIÂMAT, and all his allies became stupefied with fear. When MARDUK approached TIÂMAT she recited the spells and incantations which she believed to render him powerless, but they had no effect upon him. Straightway he cast his net over her, and blew a gale of wind into her through her mouth, and as soon as her body was blown up like a bladder he drove his spear through her hide, and she split asunder and her womb fell out from her. He took the TABLET of DESTINIES from Kingu's breast, and then one by one he caught the Eleven Allies of Tiâmat in his net and trampled upon them. He smashed in the skull of TIÂMAT with his club and, having split her body into two parts, he fashioned the vault of heaven out of one of them, and out of the other he constructed the abode of EA or the World-Ocean.

This done, MARDUK set to work to arrange the heavens and the earth and everything which is in them in the order in which they now are. As the gods complained to him that there was no one to worship them or to bring offerings to them, MARDUK, after consultation with the other gods, determined to create man. He proposed that one of the gods should be sacrificed, so that the others might be rendered free of service, and the gods decided that KINGU should suffer death because he had been the commander-in-chief of the forces of evil which had opposed MARDUK. Thereupon KINGU was seized and bound in fetters, and slain, and EA fashioned man from his blood for the service of the gods. Man therefore had in him the taint of evil which always prompted him to evil ways and deeds.

The Babylonian story of the Creation makes it quite clear that MARDUK conquered all the ringleaders of the revolt against the gods, but he did not destroy the hosts of evil utterly, and these remained in existence to vex and harass and injure men who were descended from the man who had been made from the evil blood of Kingu. Thus MARDUK'S victory was not complete and absolute, for he did not destroy evil once and for all. He safeguarded himself and his fellow-gods, but men were left by him to be the prey of the evil spirits which had escaped from his wrath. The enormous number of clay tablets in the great Museums of the world, inscribed in cuneiform with spells and incantations against devils and evil spirits, prove that the Babylonians were far more afraid of evil spirits than of their gods.


The Literature of Ancient Egypt does not supply us with any detailed account of the Creation, but the texts state briefly that there was a time when nothing existed except a mass of dark and inert water, of great and indefinite extent, called Nu or NENU. It was covered by dense darkness, and was the abode of a god called NEBERDJER, who existed there either in the form of a liquid or essence, or in name only, and of a host of creatures in Typhonic forms who are called "Mesu Betshu," i.e. spawn of rebellious malice. The god took counsel with his heart, and possessing magical power (eka), he uttered his own name as a spell or word of power, and he straightway came into being under the form of the god KHEPERA, and began the work of creation. The inert powers of evil were disturbed by his actions and at once began to oppose him actively. The making of light was the first act of creation, and the fight between SET, the personification of darkness and night and evil, and ER-UR, the personification of light and day and night, began. The Day was established, but so was the Night, and thus matters stood for a long period. KHEPERA next created a god, SHU, and a goddess, TEFNUT, from matter ejected from his body, and thus was formed the first triad or TRINITY. The work of creation proceeded rapidly and the heavens and the earth were fashioned; the sun, moon, and stars were assigned their places in the sky, men and women were formed from the tears which dropped from the eyes of KHEPERA, and animals, birds and reptiles appeared on the earth. Then SET collected his powers of darkness and evil, and waged war against the Sun-god R and was defeated. He next set the monster PEP in the eastern part of the sky so that he and his allies might destroy the Sun-god R, and prevent him rising upon our world. R sent forth his rays and darts of fire and scattered the allies of PEP, and he cast a spell upon PEP himself which paralysed him and reduced him to impotence. The Sun-god rose in the heavens triumphantly and continued his course across the sky until the evening, when he disappeared into the darkness of night. But when he wished to rise on the following morning he found all his enemies lying in wait for him, for PEP had recovered his strength and surrounded himself with his old allies, and the fight with the Sun-god was renewed and enacted daily. Thus R never gained an absolute victory over pep, and he failed to slay him, and as a result his evil spirits were able to attack men and to harm them spiritually and physically.

In spite of the high character of their religion, the Egyptians found it necessary to burn daily a wax figure of PEP in the great temple of AMEN-R at Thebes, and to recite numerous spells in order to prevent that monster from obstructing the course of the Sun-god and from working destruction upon themselves through the operations of the spirits of evil. The Egyptians embraced Christianity in the first century of our Era, but retained their belief in evil spirits and in the efficacy of amulets and talismans, and magic, as means of defence against them; and they believe this at the present day. The greater number of the modern Egyptians are MUAMMADANS, but though they confess many times daily their belief in the almightiness of ALLÂH, their fear of evil spirits is very great, and they resort to many forms of magic for protection for themselves and their families and their beasts and cattle.


Several Christian Apocrypha contain the statement, based upon Hebrew traditions written after the Captivity, that God created nine classes of angels who were divided into three groups, viz. :—1. Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones. 2. Lords, Powers and Rulers. 3. Principalities, Archangels and Angels. The Egyptian and Ethiopian Churches hold the view that MICHAEL, "the angel of the Face," was the commander-in-chief of all these angels, and that he and all the angels of his class were created during the first hour of the sixth day of Creation, i.e. on Friday. But another class of angels, the tenth, was created on that day, towards the evening, and its commander was SATNÂÊL or SATAN. The creation of ADAM followed that of the angels, and when Satan saw the great honour which GOD bestowed upon the first man he was filled with wrath. A week later he usurped the honour due to God, and declared war on the hosts of the Almighty. These consisted of horsemen, shield-bearers, charioteers, torch-bearers, dagger-bearers, axe-bearers, cross-bearers, lamp-bearers and slingers, in number about 4,100,000 beings of fire. The angels uttered their battle cries and prepared to fight, but Satan charged them and put them to flight; the divine hosts reformed and renewed the fight, but Satan charged them and put them to flight a second time. God then sent to His hosts a Cross of Light on which was inscribed the names of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and when Satan and his devils saw this, their strength oozed out of them and they became faint, and turned their backs and fled. MICHAEL and the angels pursued them, and drove them down into hell, where they are still believed to dwell by many Christian peoples. None of the founders of the great religions of the world have attempted to teach their followers that the Devil, by whatever name he may be called, and the spirits of evil have been destroyed. In some religious systems the Devil and God have been regarded as almost equal though opposing powers, and there have not been wanting peoples, e.g. the YAZÎDÎS, who worshipped the Devil. And even in Europe there are many more adherents to Satanism than is commonly thought.

The mind of primitive man was not sufficiently advanced to enable him to understand stories of the fight between the Devil and God, i.e. Darkness and Evil, and Good and Light, such as have been described in the preceding paragraphs, still less to invent them. It seems to have been instinct rather than reason which directed him to the use of amulets and talismans as a means of defence against the Evil Eye and the attacks of evil spirits, and which induced him to believe that the things which he chose as amulets possessed some innate power to protect him. But before further consideration of this question we must try to find out what the words "amulet" and "talisman" really mean and, supposing we can find their correct, or even probable, meanings, whether they will tell us what was the idea in the mind of primitive man which underlay his use of amulets.


Excerpted from AMULETS AND SUPERSTITIONS by E.A WALLIS BUDGE. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Amulets and Superstitions: With 22 Plates and 300 Text Illustrations 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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