An amulet is an item that someone might wear or carry around with them in the belief that it will bring them good luck or protect them. People in today’s world often carry amulets like a good luck coin. In the times of ancient Egypt, part of their religious beliefs included that amulets were very important in bringing protection to them in their lives.
In ancient Egypt amulets were created for a number of reasons. There were deities (gods) and symbols that transferred the powers that they represented. These were sometimes found on common everyday items such as headrests. The ancient Egyptians believed that magic was in an amulet and the type of magic could be understood based on its shape. They also believed that the shape, the material it was made up and certain magical ingredients that were rubbed on the amulet would enhance the power.
In the Predynastic Period (before the age of the pharaohs), amulets were usually in the form of animals. By the Old Kingdom time (2649-2150 B.C.), amulets were either animals or were symbols. Some of these were based on hieroglyphs and might include the form of humans.
The ancient Egyptian gods started appearing on amulets by the Middle Kingdom time (2030-1640 B.C.) and there were many more types of amulet styles and designs by the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.)
Amulets with magic or special spells were wrapped in the linens of the mummy’s chest burial. The ancient Egyptians thought that the amulets would help the person that died enter the afterlife and was a kind of good luck charm. The amulets for the dead were called the Four Sons of Horus and were a requirement for the mummy. All four of the gods have the bodies of men, but each has a different shaped head: One is human, one is an ape, one is jackal and one is a falcon.
Both the rich and the poor people of ancient Egypt wore amulets. These could be found in jewelry and were from precious jewels all the way to inexpensive stone. The wealthy people in ancient Egypt had easier access to the priests and temples, but the poor often wore amulets as a replacement for being able to be in the temples.
Inscriptions or writing were sometimes included on amulets for special blessings or protection from a specific god. A type of glass-like material called ‘faience’ was used in jewelry in ancient Egypt and the word means ‘dazzling’ or ‘shining’. Faience was a popular material used in amulets because it represented immortality, rebirth and the symbol of life. Other popular amulets included the ‘eye’ which was associated with the god Horus and shaped like a falcon’s eye and the Knot of Isis; both were usually made of a stone called jasper.
Popular materials that were used to make amulets included: peridots, emeralds, feldspar, carnelians, malachite, lapis lazuli, turquoise, tiger’s eye, chalcedony, and amethysts. These were also materials that were used in jewelry that was worn by a variety of Egyptians. Amulets have also been found that are made from metals such as gold, bronze, iron and copper as well as natural materials like wood and a kind of clay.
Amulets were worn for many purposes, some for protection, others to bring good luck and even some so that the gods would bless a family with more children. Amulets can be found in many shapes and there are some that are with or without writing or inscriptions. The people of ancient Egypt believed in the power of their magic more seriously than we would take a good luck charm today.
- Egyptian Amulets – The Metropolitam Museum of Art
- Williams College Museum of Art – How were ancient Egyptian amulets used?