All over the world, throughout history, amulets have offered protection against negative forces, whether witchcraft, the evil eye, enemies, sickness or accident. Here, in 31 neatly themed and beautifully illustrated chapters, the components, protective qualities and symbolism of a huge range of amulets are thoroughly explored. Used to guard anyone and anything vulnerable, their popularity is undimmed today.
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CULTURAL STUDIES / ART
All over the world and throughout history amulets have offered protection against negative forces. The power of amulets is based on the underlying, widespread belief that all things in the natural world have a spirit and a power that links them together. Intricately beautiful or starkly simple, amulets come in an astonishing variety of guises: from stones, shells, and seeds, through animal tails, teeth, and claws, to beads, mirrors, needles, and bells. Used alone or combined in intricate patterns, they are all part of a system of natural and magical forces that can be used to redress evil influences.
When the Great Plague swept across Europe and hit London in 1665, the disease was believed to be caused by the wrath of God and spread by the bad odors emanating from the sick. On still days, church bells were rung and shots fired to drive off the disease by moving the air. Birds were kept in rooms to sing and create drafts. But strong-smelling amulets, pomanders of cloves and spices, were considered the best protection.
It is particularly in such a climate of deadly pestilence caused by forces unknown and not understood--as in the case of AIDS in Africa today--that the power of amulets thrives. Until well into the nineteenth century, illness was commonly believed to be the work of evil spirits, demons, witches, the evil eye, angry gods, or even ancestors. In the face of such supernatural forces a magical defense acquired its own rationality.
Babies are particularly vulnerable to evil forces and illness. High infant mortality rates--the causes of which are not understood--are confronted by a plethora of beads, stones, and bags of herbs hung around the child’s neck. In the Golden Triangle, the region where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos all meet, neck rings are put on a few days after birth and kept on night and day. These hold the soul in the body ensuring the humanity of the child and protecting it from evil. Tribes in southern China hold evil spirits at bay by dressing their children in hats that fool the spirits into thinking the child is a flower, an owl, or even a tiger or dragon.
Amulets are not just something from the distant past. When astronaut Edward White went to the moon, he took in the right-hand pocket of his space suit a Saint Christopher medallion, a gold cross, and a Star of David. Perhaps the newest amulet to emerge is a silver circular pendant that protects the wearer from the electromagnetic fields of his or her cell phone.
To unearth the mythology, symbolism, traditional practices, and modern uses of amulets, the author traveled to more than thirty countries around the world. She reveals her findings not only in unusual stories and commentary but also through more than 400 color photographs.
SHEILA PAINE is an expert on tribal societies and textiles and is the author of Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents and the trilogy The Afghan Amulet: Travels from the Hindu Kush to Razgrad, The Golden Horde: Travels from the Himalaya to Karpathos, and The Linen Goddess: Travels from the Red Sea to Prizren. She lives in England.
Sheila Paine has been a global traveller for over half a century, ever since she left England with a one-way ticket to South Africa in 1950. A world expert on tribal and peasant societies and their textiles, she is the author of Embroidered Textiles.
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