Let’s talk about a universal aspect of personal magic: amulets. These are the magical items we wear or carry to protect us (usually by warding against bad influences). Don’t particularly want things like disease or danger around you? Not a problem, ’cause there’s numerous amulets to choose from. I’m going to take a moment to discuss some of today’s most common amulets; however, I will try to focus on amulets that aren’t overtly tied to one particular form of practice/religion, so that I can discuss options that would be available for use by a variety of people. Amulets are especially helpful tools in that they can do their job with little prompting, having already acquired years of cultural intent behind them; this means that they’re a great help in particular to those who don’t practice magic, or those who are just learning magic and could use a little extra protection as a sure precaution. (Of course, experienced practitioners can also benefit from, and even enhance the boons given by an amulet.)
These blue glass beads resembling eyes are often referred to themselves as “evil eyes” in the English-speaking countries of the West. Their design stems from ancient amulets, and their production/use has spread across various cultures around the Middle East and Mediterranean. They are usually believed to protect against the Evil Eye, a malevolent gaze received by a person who is envious or malevolent themselves, which then causes misfortune for the recipient. Today, the readily-available nazar can still commonly be found hanging in houses, offices, or cars, as well as being incorporated into jewelry.
This regional Italian charm has become more accessible over the years, especially as numerous Italian immigrants brought it to places like America with them. (In fact, the first time I saw one, it was a silver necklace charm being worn by an American woman of Italian descent.) Often referred to in English as the “Italian horn”, the origin of this horn- or chili-like shape has been speculated on, but the sure truth seems to have been forgotten. Many cornicellos made of various metals are now on the market as necklace charms and such, as traditionally favored materials (i.e., red coral, horn) would be more expensive. The cornicello is comparable to the nazar in that it is also used to ward off bad luck or the Evil Eye, but it comes with the added bonus of promoting fertility as well and was traditionally favored for use by men.
Black, Red, & Blue Maneki Neko
The Japanese maneki neko, or “beckoning cat”, has very quickly attained widespread usage and developed a complex variety of colors/appearances relating to specific associations. For this discussion on amulets–that is, items which ward off the undesirable–we will consider a few colors of maneki neko in particular. It is the black maneki neko who is employed to ward off evil or evil spirits, even to the point of its recent popular usage by women to ward off stalkers. The use of a red maneki neko will ward off illness. The less-common blue maneki neko is sometimes believed to ward off accidents, offering safety both at home and in traffic, although some have also given completely different associations for the blue. There is also significance to which paw the maneki neko has raised; most say that both paws raised is best for protection (ideally with the paws at different heights, however, so as not to look like a sign of surrender).
Also referred to as “numismatic charms” in English, these coins are common throughout the history of China, as well as in Japan and Vietnam. In other countries, these coin charms can now often be found woven on red cords in metaphysical shops, where they’re sold as feng shui decorations or such. In truth, the history and purposes of these coins is extremely complex and varied, so I will simply make a quick note that common modern variations of these coins–often brass-colored with a hole in the center to be strung onto jewelry or decorations–are inscribed with Chinese writing or Yì Jīng (I Ching) hexagrams that include the purpose of protection.
A common good luck token, the old horseshoe also offers protection. It is often hung above doorways to ward against anything malicious entering. Many say that a horseshoe that has actually been worn by a horse is ideal. I was always told, as an American of British Isles ancestry, that the horseshoe should have both ends pointing up. However, in some cultures the horseshoe points face downward; I’ve had the idea behind this difference described to me as being a belief in the upward-pointing horseshoe being able to hold luck so that it isn’t lost, versus a belief that the downward-pointing horseshoe will pour luck out onto those who pass underneath. Today, the horseshoe is commonly available as a jewelry charm, making it wearable protection as well.
There are innumerable herbs whose presence is said to offer various protections; some are planted to protect the home, others are dried and can be carried. Among many other magical uses, carrying dried heather on your person is believed to ward against sexual assault or unwanted advances. Along with well-known garlic, angelica root, bay leaves, blessed thistle, and countless other herbs are also reported to repel malicious energies, and can be dried or used in a variety of magical practices. Some say planting live ivy around your house will protect from negative energies or thieves.
For some amulets, or even just warding purposes, color is a crucial component. This is often a matter of the color associations held by that particular culture, as with most other magics. In multiple cultures, red is a color very commonly used in amulet-making; it’s so auspicious in China, that even just red clothing may bring good fortune. In the American South, a light blue color referred to as “haint blue” is used to paint parts of houses to ward off harmful spirits.
Images of Protective Deities
In many ancient cultures, a tiny statuette of a deity with a loop affixed to it would be worn as a pendant to invoke the protection of that deity. For example, this was quite prevalent in Ancient Egypt, and the tombs we discover today are still full of necklaces bearing figurines of various deities. I personally have a modern ceramic pendant from Etsy featuring the full figure of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, allowing me to wear it today to protect myself from malevolent spirits much as the ancient women and children of Egypt did. With affordable materials like pewter being commonly used today, and the advent of niche internet shops, this is a wonderfully personal way for modern devotees to show their devotion to a spirit while asking that spirit’s protection in their everyday lives; even many of the less-common spirits celebrated in paganism can sometimes be found.
Ancient Egyptian Faience Amulets of the Goddess Taweret (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, World Museum)