Do you know the difference between a charm, an amulet, and a talisman? In this post we will explore the definition of each, as well as the history behind the individual magickal rites. By educating ourselves on where practices come from, we boost our confidence when we go to utilize them. This in turn has the ability to enrich and enhance our customs and methods that come to be our own through consistent practice.
As always, I insist that you not take my word as your only source on any subject. What I write is based upon my own experiences, interactions with other practitioners, and my personal research over the many years I’ve been practicing. Having said that, let’s dive in!
WHAT IS A CHARM?
Charms can be thought of as one of two ways:
- An incantation or a selection of words meant to depict a desired outcome. The charm/incantation/words are designed for mental focus and to aid the practitioner in directing energy towards their end goal. This definition is synonymous with ‘spell’ – words used in magick to produce a specific outcome.
- An object to embody a desired result or change. The item centers the practitioner’s mind and helps them to direct energy, resulting in their desired outcome to manifest in the physical plane.
I understand that this can be confusing to beginner practitioners, especially when the word is used interchangeably without any context behind it. Whether it be words spoken during magickal workings or a physical item that’s the target of an enchantment, knowing both definitions will give you frame of reference when going forth in your own practice.
THE HISTORY OF CHARMS
The word charm itself holds roots in the Latin word ‘Carmen’ meaning ‘song, verse, enchantment’. From the Latin root connects the Old French word ‘Charme’ meaning ‘incantation, magick charm, magick spell’.
What I find fascinating about charms is their presence in some of the earliest records of written literature. Dated during the 10th Century, the Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charms present as magickally written instructions meant as solutions for particular situations or diseases.
By studying the methods of the Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charms, we have come to discover that alongside the incantations, physical action was taken. For instance, concocting herbal potions while speaking over them was common practice – much akin to spellwork as we know it today.
WHAT IS AN AMULET?
Now that we’ve defined what a charm is, let us move on to the definition of an amulet. An amulet is indeed a charm in and of itself. However, its purpose falls upon a specific type of magick. You would use amulets for:
- avoiding the Evil Eye
- apotropaic magick
Amulets can take the form of well, anything really. Herbs and seed, gemstones, coins, wood, statues, four-leaf clovers, nuts, shells, dried flowers, animal parts, stones, fossils, feathers – all of these objects and more can be fashioned into an amulet for your particular needs.
As amulets are used in protective magick, they are commonly worn against skin or carried close to the physical body. This helps to reinforce your auric footprint and strengthen your bond of magick, which in turn enhances its effectiveness.
THE HISTORY OF AMULETS
The word amulet is rooted in the Latin word ‘Amuletum’ which translates to:
a. Act which averts evil
b. Amulet/charm (to avert evil)
c. Power to avert evil
Depending upon who you ask, the magick or driving force behind an amulet varies. For practitioners of magick or certain sects of Paganism, amulets acquire their power from that which is given to them by said practitioners. For amulets used by those of the Christian faith, however, they only hold power when blessed by clergymen.
Amulets have their documented place in history, beginning with the earliest discoveries coming from the predynastic Badarian Period. These early amulets continued all the way through to Roman eras. They can be found in ancient Egyptian and Rome, the Near East, Chinese, and Japanese cultures.
Amulets of the Abrahamic religions were categorized into three types:
- those which were worn or carried
- those which were hung above a bed belonging to a sick person
- those which were used for medicinal purposes, either internally or externally
How the amulets were made and utilized varied from one belief system to the next. From deity depictions and word squares to mirrors and more, each culture has their own interpretation, which would deserve their own post to cover them in its entirety.
WHAT IS A TALISMAN?
Like amulets, talismans are also charms. The difference? I think of a talisman as being the opposite of an amulet. They are magickally charged objects that have been saturated in energy meant to allure and attract rather than banish and repel.
A couple of other differences between talismans and amulets:
- A talisman is more commonly handmade versus an amulet being a found object
- Talismans are typically placed strategically contingent on their purpose versus amulets being worn by the user
While talismans can certainly be worn, they are more traditionally carried – think stowed in your bag or tucked into your pocket. Talismans are also used to boost spellwork, so you can station one near where you cast.
THE HISTORY OF TALISMANS
The word talisman holds root in French, Arabic, and Greek etymology. From the French ‘talisman’ by-way-of the Arabic ’tilsam’ by-way-of ancient Greek ‘telesma’. Ultimately, the ancient Greek translation of the word talisman is ‘I complete’ and ‘I perform a rite’. This is garnered from the French and Arabic translation meaning ‘religious rite, completion, payment’, respectively so.
Historically it was not uncommon for architecture to hold permanently ensconced talismans. One example of this is the Uraniborg building. Dedicated to the muse of astronomy Urania, this Danish Renaissance structure operated as an alchemic laboratory and astronomical observatory.
The building was designed to assist the endeavors and well-being of the academics working in the Uraniborg. The designer/astrologer/alchemist Tycho Brahe built length ratios into the building and the gardens to equal those declared by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim to be associated with Jupiter and the Sun. He worked these talismanic measurements in to help deflect the tendencies of scholars’ to be depressed, dispassionate, and exceedingly governed by the planet Saturn.
Other instances of talismans in history can be found in weapons, clothes, and parcels of parchment marked and branded with magickal symbols and texts. Outside of the astrological associations, scientific and religious beliefs show their influence in historical talismans as well.
TALISMANS AND AMULETS USED INTERCHANGEABLY
Some practitioners use talismans and amulets interchangeably, which of course is totally okay to do. Again, what I write is based on what I’ve been taught by others, my research, my experiences, and what I believe to be true. After all, it is my practice and my craft.
The entire purpose of this post is to shed light on what the definitions and differences of charms, amulets, and talismans are according to my beliefs. If in your own personal journey you find something that differs from what you read here and it rings true for you, then I absolutely encourage you to apply that to your path.
So there you have it. Charms, amulets, and talismans all have their own definitions and history. Hopefully this post has elucidated the differences and applications for your own practice. Happy Casting and Bright Blessings, Witches!