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Jewelry as amulets and talismans

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 15, 2023 5:00 am

The bond we have with jewelry is a personal one—visual and aesthetic, for sure, but also emotional and even mystical and spiritual. Holding a certain power, they are virtual amulets or talismans that can attract, protect and heal. Wasn’t there always a special piece, given by a loved one, that you always wore because it gave you the confidence to face anyone or anything in the world?

The Egyptians from 4000 BC used amulets as a means of “reaffirming the fairness of the universe.” Objects found in nature such as a claw or shell were thought to be imbued with magical power. There were also textual amulets—short, magical spells written on papyrus and rolled to be kept close to the heart. Anything could be made into an amulet through a magical act.

Egypt’s Eye of Horus inlaid in lapis lazuli

With the invention of faience, glazed ceramic pottery, they would craft amulets representing animals, deities, and symbols. Produced in green and blue, faience was so luminous that it was believed to harness the sun’s shimmer and signify rebirth and eternity.

Lapis lazuli is a gemstone Egyptians, as well as the Mesopotamians, Sumerians, Greeks, Chinese, and Romans have imbued with potency, divinity, royalty, and luck. The pharaohs favored it as protection even for the afterlife. They would of course invoke their gods for everything, like using the eye of Horus, or wedjat eye for well-being, healing, and protection, appearing frequently in amulets as well as art, remaining in use from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period.

Santo Niñong Hubad anting-anting, an amulet to attract a prospective love interest

The Philippines’ lingling-o, dating to as early as 2,500 years ago—made of nephrite jade, shell, copper, wood, or gold—enhances virility for men and fertility for women. They are worn as pendants of necklaces by the Ifugaos and as earrings by the Bontoc, Kalinga, and Gaddang. The amulet is empowered and purified before wearing it through a ritual. Anting-anting has always been part of Filipino culture, giving protection and providing for many of the people’s needs. Those who possessed the power of healing used them in conjunction with rituals and as accouterments in connecting with the gods or anitos.

Lingling-o earring in gold, 10th to 13th century, Eastern Visayas or Northeast Mindanao, Ayala Museum Collection

There was a pantheon of miraculous anitos, represented in statues as well as amulets, which would later be exploited by the Spanish colonizers in the Christianization of the country by likening them to saints who could cure ailments and grant wishes. Miraculous crosses and scapulars from the friars were added to the Filipino collection of anting-anting.

The bond we have with jewelry is a personal one—visual and aesthetic, for sure, but also emotional and even mystical and spiritual.

During the Philippine revolution, a medallion of Santiago de Galicia, a saint who saved Christians and slayed Moors, was believed to give Andres Bonifacio supernatural powers. The rebel priest Gregorio Aglipay had an amulet to prevent the Americans from recognizing and capturing him and was believed to have planted a wood bark under the skin on the back of his godson, the future President Ferdinand Marcos, to endow him with magical powers. 

Leonardo Manicio, aka Nardong Putik, the notorious crime lord of the ’60s, possessed a powerful anting-anting that made him evade authorities for the longest time until one early morning in 1971 when he gave the amulet to his pregnant wife and left the house thinking the NBI would not trail him at an ungodly hour. But they had been following him for weeks and finally caught up with him when he was alone and unprotected. It still took a formidable team of 10 men to shoot down the lone fugitive.

In France and England in the 11th century, gold angel coin talismans of healing were given by monarchs, who were the source of the affliction in the first place. Scrofula or “King’s Evil,” was a disease that could only be cured by the king’s touch. After healing, the coin was hung on the sufferer’s neck as “a token of his sacred favor and pledge of his best desires for them.” 

Renaissance pendant in sapphire, hessonite garnet, and peridot, Britain, 1540-1560

A beautiful sapphire, hessonite garnet, and peridot pendant from 16th-century Britain protected against danger and with the back engraving of the words “Annanisapta Dei” was an invocation to ward off epilepsy. Sapphire, with its soothing and calming properties, was thought to keep you chaste.

Rock crystal reliquary cross, South Europe, early 17th century

Turquoise, revered by the Egyptians and Chinese, has been harnessed for thousands of years to preserve health, bring wealth, and even protect horses through bridles inlaid with the gemstone. Apache hunters and warriors affixed it on bows and firearms to improve accuracy.

A 19th-century Tibetan amulet box was used by officials of the fourth rank and higher in the government as an insignia of office, tying it into the two braided hair knots that they wore on top of their heads. Embellished with turquoise, which is revered for its beauty and spiritual value in the Himalayas, the box held holy objects or written prayers to protect the wearer from evil. Changing in color as the wearer fell ill and fading as he aged, it would regain its vivid hue when passed on to a younger member of the next generation.

Amethyst empress statuette, Rome, 3rd- to 4th century 

Amethyst, used by Egyptians for protection against harm, was found useful by the Greeks for sobriety, and its purple hue was associated by early Christians with Christ himself. 

The Veni, Vidi Vici medallion lariat pendant by Almasika

A 3rd- to 4th-century Roman empress statuette was made from amethyst, which was considered an antidote for intoxication, clearing the mind to ward off drunkenness, and even protect from hail, locusts and bad spells.

Amulette de Cartier

In contemporary, unsettled times, designers have been exploring themes of sanctuary and protection to produce pieces with more resonance and significance. In Almasika’s Veni, Vidi, Vici medallion lariat pendant, the lozenge, the eye, and the comb celebrate life, symbolize protection, and honor feminine power. Jacquie Aiches’ raw diamond center cap necklace has a quartz crystal that she charges under the full moon in a ritual to cleanse and purify the stone, making it “a sacred talisman of energy.” Cartier issued the Amulette, “an enchanting collection of colorful talismans for your most private wishes.”

Joyce Makitalo jewelry

Triple Wish Astra pendant by Joyce Makitalo

Joyce Makitalo, who has been creating handcrafted jewelry with healing gemstones and symbols, also has your desires in mind with The Triple Wish Astra pendant, “a diorama of wishes to keep in your heart.” With this pendant, the designer encourages you to make three wishes and “wear them for the universe to see.” If you wish hard enough, these talismans may just make your dreams come true.