|Rider spearing a prostate female demon. (Images courtesy of University of Michigan Library)|
According to Dr. Campbell Bonner, the former owner of Taubmans amulet collection, an amulet is any object which by its contact or close proximity to the person who owns it, or any possession of his, exerts power for his good, either by keeping evil from him and his property or by endowing him with positive advantages, or in a word magic.
Amulets protect from things that could go wrong in a society that doesnt necessarily understand why things go wrong, says Robin Meador-Woodruff, coordinator of museum collections at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. That means things like disease, pain, and other evils. Amulets also promote love, peace and harmony. Theyre sort of like a rabbits foot, says Mary Townsend, rare book librarian at the Taubman Medical Library. Any situation that calls for a lucky charm is right for an amulet.
Popular in the 1st through 5th centuries, most amulets are made out of stone, some metal, adorned with a picture or words. It has to be a stone thats hard enough to be carved and maintain an inscription without significant wear, says Meador-Woodruff. Many at the Taubman library show an image of a reaper or a man cutting grain. These amulets are associated with curing back pain. Townsend says despite her back problems she never has gotten around to wearing one to see if it helps.
Amulets were popular among the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Many religions also used these protective charms. Rather than a stone, early-era Jews might use slips of parchment upon which religious law was written. These pieces of paper were worn as badges to protect from evil spirits.
|Two-headed god (snake and ibis heads), holding an Egyptian was scepter and the ankh symbol. A crocodile lies beneath with a disk on its back.|
Most of the amulets in the Universitys collection are from early Egypt. They are oval-shaped and about a the size of a silver dollar. People would carry or wear them. Some have holes where a cord was pushed through, says Townsend. A few in the Kelsey collection are even set in gold bezels.
It never ceases to amaze me the technical level they attained when working with tools that didnt keep a point, didnt magnify and didnt provide light. That they exist is amazing, says Meador-Woodruff. Theyre just so wonderful.
To see the Kelsey Museum of Archeologys online amulet display, sign on to their Web site at www.lib.umich.edu/pap/magic/def1.display, or to find out more about Taubmans collection, sign on to their Web site at www.lib.umich.edu/taubman/amulets/amtitle.