Belief in Talismans, Charms and Birthstones


[This is taken from H. Stanley Redgrove’s Bygone Beliefs.]

Talisman of CharlemagneTHE word “talisman” is derived from the Arabic “tilsam,” “a magical image,” through the plural form “tilsamen.”  This Arabic word is itself probably derived from the Greek telesma in its late meaning of “a religious mystery” or “consecrated object”. The term is often employed to designate amulets in general, but, correctly speaking, it has a more restricted and special significance.  A talisman, or talisman charm, may be defined briefly as an astrological or other symbol expressive of the influence and power of one of the planets, engraved on a sympathetic stone or metal (or inscribed on specially prepared parchment) under the auspices of this planet.

Before proceeding to an account of the preparation of talismans proper, it will not be out of place to notice some of the more interesting and curious of other amulets.  All sorts of substances have been employed as charms, sometimes of a very unpleasant nature, such as dried toads.  Generally, however, amulets consist of stones, herbs, or passages from Sacred Writings written on paper.  This latter class are sometimes called “characts,” as an example of which may be mentioned the Jewish phylacteries.

Every precious stone was supposed to exercise its own peculiar virtue; for instance, amber was regarded as a good remedy for throat troubles, and agate was thought to preserve from snake-bites. ELIHU RICH[1] gives a very full list of stones and their supposed virtues.  Each sign of the zodiac was supposed to have its own particular stone (as shown in the annexed table), and hence the superstitious though not inartistic custom of wearing one’s birthstone for “luck”. The belief in the occult powers of certain stones is by no means non-existent at the present day; for even in these enlightened times there are not wanting those who fear the beautiful opal, and put their faith in the virtues of New Zealand green-stone.

Zodiac Sign Month Stone
Aries April Sardonyx
Taurus May Cornelian
Gemini June Topaz
Cancer July Chalcedony
Leo August Jasper
Virgo September Emerald
Libra October Beryl
Scorpio November Amethyst
Sagittarius December Sapphire
Capricorn January Chrysoprase
Aquarius February Crystal
Pisces March Lapis Lazuli

[1] ELIHU RICH:  The Occult Sciences (Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, 1855), pp. 348 et seq.

Common superstitious opinion regarding birth-stones, as reflected, for example, in the “lucky birth charms” exhibited in the windows of the jewellers’ shops, considerably diverges in this matter from the views of both these authorities. The usual scheme is as follows:–

 Jan.=Garnet.       May =Emerald.    Sept.=Sapphire,

 Feb.=Amethyst.     June=Agate.      Oct. =Opal.

 Mar.=Bloodstone.   July=Ruby.       Nov. =Topaz.

 Apr.=Diamond.      Aug.=Sardonyx.   Dec. =Turquoise.

The bloodstone is frequently assigned either to Aries or Scorpio, owing to its symbolical connection with Mars; and the opal to Cancer, which in astrology is the constellation of the moon.

Confusion is rendered still worse by the fact that the ancients whilst in some cases using the same names as ourselves, applied them to different stones; thus their “hyacinth” is our “sapphire,” whilst their “sapphire” is our “lapis lazuli”.

Certain herbs, culled at favourable conjunctions of the planets and worn as amulets, were held to be very efficacious against various diseases.  Precious stones and metals were also taken internally for the same purpose—“remedies” which in certain cases must have proved exceedingly harmful.  One theory put forward for the supposed medical value of amulets was the Doctrine of Effluvia.  This theory supposes the amulets to give off vapours or effluvia which penetrate into the body and effect a cure.  It is, of course, true that certain herbs, etc., might, under the heat of the body, give off such effluvia, but the theory on the whole is manifestly absurd.  The Doctrine of Signatures, which we have already encountered in our excursions,[1] may also be mentioned in this connection as a complementary and equally untenable hypothesis.

According to ELIHU RICH,[2] the following were the commonest Egyptian amulets:–

1.  Those inscribed with the figure of Serapis, used to preserve against evils inflicted by earth.

2. Figure of Canopus, against evil by water.

3. Figure of a hawk, against evil from the air.

4. Figure of an asp, against evil by fire.


PARACELSUS believed there to be much occult virtue in an alloy of the seven chief metals, which he called Electrum.  Certain definite proportions of these metals had to be taken, and each was to be added during a favourable conjunction of the planets.  From this electrum he supposed that valuable amulets and magic mirrors could be prepared.

[1] See “Medicine and Magic.”

[2] Op. Cit., p. 343


A curious and ancient amulet for the cure of various diseases, particularly the ague, was a triangle formed of the letters of the word “Abracadabra.”  The usual form was that shown in fig. 19, and that shown in fig. 20 was also known. The origin of this magical word is lost in obscurity.

The belief in the horn as a powerful amulet, especially prevalent in Italy, where is it the custom of the common people to make the sign of the mano cornuto to avoid the consequence of the dreaded jettatore or evil eye, can be traced to the fact that the horn was the symbol of the Goddess of the Moon.  Probably the belief in the powers of the horse-shoe had a similar origin.  Indeed, it seems likely that not only this, but most other amulets, like talismans proper—as will appear below,–were originally designed as appeals to gods and other powerful spiritual beings.

\ ABRACADABRA          /      \ ABRACADABRA |

 \ ABRACADABR         /        \ BRACADABRA |

  \ ABRACADAB        /          \ RACADABRA |

   \ ABRACADA       /            \ ACADABRA |

    \ ABRACAD      /              \ CADABRA |

     \ ABRACA     /                \ ADABRA |

      \ ABRAC    /                  \ DABRA |

       \ ABRA   /                    \ ABRA |

        \ ABR  /                      \ BRA |

         \ AB /                        \ RA |

          \ A/                          \ A |

           \/                            \  |


[1] See FREDERICK T. ELWORTHY’S Horns of Honour (1900), especially pp. 56 et seq.


To turn our attention, however, to the art of preparing talismans proper: I may remark at the outset that it was necessary for the talisman to be prepared by one’s own self—a task by no means easy as a rule.  Indeed, the right mental attitude of the occultist was insisted upon as essential to the operation.

As to the various signs to be engraver on the talismans, various authorities differ, though there are certain points connected with the art of talismanic magic on which they all agree.  It so happened that the ancients were acquainted with seven metals and seven planets (including the sun and moon as planets), and the days of the week are also seven.  It was concluded, therefore, that there was some occult connection between the planets, metals, and days of the week.  Each of the seven days of the week was supposed to be under the auspices of the spirits of one of the planets; so also was the generation in the womb of Nature of each of the seven chief metals.

In the following table are shown these particulars in detail:–

Planet Day Metal Color
Sun Sunday Gold Gold or yellow
Moon Monday Silver Silver or white
Mars Tuesday Iron Red
Mercury Wednesday Mercury Purple, or mixed colors
Jupiter Thursday Tin Violet or blue
Venus Friday Copper Turquoise or green
Saturn Saturday Lead Black

Consequently, the metal of which a talisman was to be made, and also the time of its preparation, had to be chosen with due regard to the planet under which it was to be prepared.[1] The power of such a talisman was thought to be due to the genie of this planet— a talisman, was, in fact, a silent evocation of an astral spirit.  Examples of the belief that a genie can be bound up in an amulet in some way are afforded by the story of ALADDIN’S lamp and ring and other stories in the Thousand and One Nights.  Sometimes the talismanic signs were engraved on precious stones, sometimes they were inscribed on parchment; in both cases the same principle held good, the nature of the stone chosen, or the colour of the ink employed, being that in correspondence with the planet under whose auspices the talisman was prepared.

[1] In this connection a rather surprising discovery made by Mr W. GORNOLD (see his A Manual of Occultism, 1911, pp. 7 and 8) must be mentioned.  The ancient Chaldeans appear invariably to have enumerated the planets in the following order:  Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon— which order was adopted by the mediaeval astrologers.  Let us commence with the Sun in the above sequence, and write down every third planet; we then have—

     Sun  .    .    .    . Sunday.

     Moon .    .    .    . Monday.

     Mars .    .    .    . Tuesday.

     Mercury.  .    .    . Wednesday.

     Jupiter . .    .    . Thursday.

     Venus .   .    .    . Friday.

     Saturn .  .    .    . Saturday.

That is to say, we have the planets in the order in which they were supposed to rule over the days of the week.  This is perhaps, not so surprising, because it seems probable that, each day being first divided into twenty-four hours, it was assumed that the planets ruled for one hour in turn, in the order first mentioned above.  Each day was then named after the planet which ruled during its first hour.  It will be found that if we start with the Sun and write down every twenty-fourth planet, the result is exactly the same as if we write down every third.  But Mr OLD points out further, doing so by means of a diagram which seems to be rather cumbersome that if we start with Saturn in the first place, and write down every fifth planet, and then for each planet substitute the metal over which it was supposed to rule, we then have these metals arranged in descending order of atomic weights, thus:–

     Saturn    .    .    . Lead (=207).

     Mercury   .    .    . Mercury (=200).

     Sun .     .    .    . Gold (=197).

     Jupiter   .    .    . Tin (=119).

     Moon .    .    .    . Silver (=108).

     Venus          .    . Copper (=64).

     Mars .    .    .    . Iron (=56).

Similarly we can, starting from any one of these orders, pass to the other two.  The fact is a very surprising one, because the ancients could not possibly have been acquainted with the atomic weights of the metals, and, it is important to note, the order of the densities of these metals, which might possibly have been known to them, is by no means the same as the order of their atomic weights.  Whether the fact indicates a real relationship between the planets and the metals, or whether there is some other explanation, I am not prepared to say.  Certainly some explanation is needed:  to say that the fact is mere coincidence is unsatisfactory, seeing that the odds against, not merely this, but any such regularity occurring by chance—as calculated by the mathematical theory of probability—are 119 to 1.

All the instruments employed in the art had to be specially prepared and consecrated.  Special robes had to be worn, perfumes and incense burnt, and invocations, conjurations, etc., recited, all of which depended on the planet ruling the operation.  A description of a few typical talismans in detail will not here be out of place.

In The Key of Solomon the King (translated by S. L. M. MATHERS, 1889)[1] are described five, six, or seven talismans for each planet.  Each of these was supposed to have its own peculiar virtues, and many of them are stated to be of use in the evocation of spirits.  The majority of them consist of a central design encircled by a verse of Hebrew Scripture.  The central designs are of a varied character, generally geometrical figures and Hebrew letters or words, or magical characters.  Five of these talismans are here portrayed, the first three described differing from the above.  The translations of the Hebrew verses, etc., given below are due to Mr MATHERS.

[1] The Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon the King, consists mainly of an elaborate ritual for the evocation of the various planetary spirits, in which process the use of talismans or pentacles plays a prominent part. It is claimed to be a work of white magic, but, inasmuch as it, like other old books making the same claim, gives descriptions of a pentacle for causing ruin, destruction, and death, and another for causing earthquakes—to give only two examples,–the distinction between black and white magic, which we shall no doubt encounter again in later excursions, appears to be somewhat arbitrary.


Regarding the authorship of the work, Mr MATHERS, translator and editor of the first printed copy of the book, says, “I see no reason to doubt the tradition which assigns the authorship of the ‘Key’ to King Solomon.”  If this view be accepted, however, it is abundantly evident that the Key as it stands at present (in which we find S. JOHN quoted, and mention made of SS. PETER and PAUL) must have received some considerable alterations and additions at the hands of later editors. But even if we are compelled to assign the Clavicula Salomonis in its present form to the fourteenth or fifteenth century, we must, I think, allow that it was based upon traditions of the past, and, of course, the possibility remains that it might have been based upon some earlier work.  With regard to the antiquity of the planetary sigils, Mr MATHERS notes “that, among the Gnostic talismans in the British Museum, there is a ring of copper with the sigils of Venus, which are exactly the same as those given by mediaeval writers on magic.”

In spite of the absurdity of its claims, viewed in the light of modern knowledge, the Clavicula Salomonis exercised a considerable influence in the past, and is to be regarded as one of the chief sources of mediaeval ceremonial magic.  Historically speaking, therefore, it is a book of no little importance.

The First Pentacle of the Sun.—“The Countenance of Shaddai the Almighty, at Whose aspect all creatures obey, and the Angelic Spirits do reverence on bended knees.”  About the face is the name “El Shaddai”.  Around is written in Latin:  “Behold His face and form by Whom all things were made, and Whom all creatures obey.”


The Fifth Pentacle of Mars.—“Write thou this Pentacle upon virgin parchment or paper because it is terrible unto the Demons, and at its sight and aspect they will obey thee, for they cannot resist its presence.” The design is a Scorpion,[1] around which the word Hvl is repeated.  The Hebrew versicle is from Psalm xci. 13:  “Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.”

[1] In astrology the zodiacal sign of the scorpion is the “night house” of the planet Mars.


The Third Pentacle of the Moon.—“This being duly borne with thee when upon a journey, if it be properly made, serveth against all attacks by night, and against every kind of danger and peril by Water.” The design consists of a hand and sleeved forearm (this occurs on three other moon talismans), together with the Hebrew names Aub and Vevaphel.  The versicle is from Psalm xl. 13: “Be pleased O IHVH to deliver me, O IHVH make haste to help me.”

The Third Pentacle of Venus.—“This, if it be only shown unto any person, serveth to attract love.  Its Angel Monachiel should be invoked in the day and hour of Venus, at one o’clock or at eight.”  The design consists of two triangles joined at their apices, with the following names—IHVH, Adonai, Ruach, Achides, AEgalmiel, Monachiel, and Degaliel.  The versicle is from Genesis i. 28:  “And the Elohim blessed them, and the Elohim said unto them, Be ye fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”

The Third Pentacle of Mercury.—“This serves to invoke the Spirits subject unto Mercury; and especially those who are written in this Pentacle.”  The design consists of crossed lines and magical characters of Mercury.  Around are the names of the angels, Kokaviel, Ghedoriah, Savaniah, and Chokmahiel.


CORNELIUS AGRIPPA, in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, describes another interesting system of talismans.  FRANCIS BARRETT’S Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer, a well-known occult work published in the first year of the nineteenth century, I may mention, copies AGRIPPA’S system of talismans, without acknowledgment, almost word for word.  To each of the planets is assigned a magic square or table, i.e. a square composed of numbers so arranged that the sum of each row or column is always the same. For example, the table for Mars is as follows:–

     11   24   7    20   3

     4    12   25   8    16

     17   5    13   21   9

     10   18   1    14   22

     23   6    19   2    15


It will be noticed that every number from 1 up to the highest possible occurs once, and that no number occurs twice.  It will also be seen that the sum of each row and of each column is always 65.  Similar squares can be constructed containing any square number of figures, and it is, indeed, by no means surprising that the remarkable properties of such “magic squares,” before these were explained mathematically, gave rise to the belief that they had some occult significance and virtue.  From the magic squares can be obtained certain numbers which are said to be the numbers of the planets; their orderliness, we are told, reflects the order of the heavens, and from a consideration of them the magical properties of the planets which they represent can be arrived at.  For example, in the above table the number of rows of numbers is 5.  The total number of numbers in the table is the square of this number, namely, 25, which is also the greatest number in the table.  The sum of any row or column is 65.  And, finally, the sum of all the numbers is the product of the number of rows (namely, 5) and the sum of any row (namely, 65), i.e.  325.  These numbers, namely, 5, 25, 65, and 325, are the numbers of Mars.  Sets of numbers for the other planets are obtained in exactly the same manner.[1]

[1] Readers acquainted with mathematics will notice that if n is the number of rows in such a “magic square,” the other numbers derived as above will be n<2S>, ½n(n<2S> + 1), and ½n<2S>(n<2S> + 1).  This can readily be proved by the laws of arithmetical progressions.  Rather similar but more complicated and less uniform “magic squares” are attributed to PARACELSUS.


Now to each planet is assigned an Intelligence or good spirit, and an Evil Spirit or demon; and the names of these spirits are related to certain of the numbers of the planets.  The other numbers are also connected with holy and magical Hebrew names.  AGRIPPA, and BARRETT copying him, gives the following table of “names answering to the numbers of Mars”:–

     5. He, the letter of the holy name.         


     65. Adonai.                            

     325. Graphiel, the Intelligence of Mars.    

     325. Barzabel, the Spirit of Mars.    

Similar tables are given for the other planets.  The numbers can be derived from the names by regarding the Hebrew letters of which they are composed as numbers, in which case  (Aleph) to  (Teth) represent the units 1 to 9 in order,  (Jod) to  (Tzade) the tens 10 to 90 in order,  (Koph) to  (Tau) the hundreds 100 to 400, whilst the hundreds 500 to 900 are represented by special terminal forms of certain of the Hebrew letters. It is evident that no little wasted ingenuity must have been employed in working all this out.

Each planet has its own seal or signature, as well as the signature of its intelligence and the signature of its demon. These signatures were supposed to represent the characters of the planets’ intelligences and demons respectively. 

These various details were inscribed on the talismans each of which was supposed to confer its own peculiar benefits—as follows:

On one side must be engraved the proper magic table and the astrological sign of the planet, together with the highest planetary number, the sacred names corresponding to the planet, and the name of the intelligence of the planet, but not the name of its demon.  On the other side must be engraved the seals of the planet and of its intelligence, and also the astrological sign.  BARRETT says, regarding the demons:[1] “It is to be understood that the intelligences are the presiding good angels that are set over the planets; but that the spirits or daemons, with their names, seals, or characters, are never inscribed upon any Talisman, except to execute any evil effect, and that they are subject to the intelligences, or good spirits; and again, when the spirits and their characters are used, it will be more conducive to the effect to add some divine name appropriate to that effect which we desire.” Evil talismans can also be prepared, we are informed, by using a metal antagonistic to the signs engraved thereon. 

[1] FRANCIS BARRETT:  The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer (1801), bk. i. p. 146.


ALPHONSE LOUIS CONSTANT,[1] a famous French occultist of the nineteenth century, who wrote under the name of “ELIPHAS LEVI,” describes yet another system of talismans.  He says:  “The Pentagram must be always engraved on one side of the talisman, with a circle for the Sun, a crescent for the Moon, a winged caduceus for Mercury, a sword for Mars, a G for Venus, a crown for Jupiter, and a scythe for Saturn.  The other side of the talisman should bear the sign of Solomon, that is, the six-pointed star formed by two interlaced triangles; in the centre there should be placed a human figure for the sun talismans, a cup for those of the Moon, a dog’s head for those of Jupiter, a lion for those of Mars, a dove’s for those of Venus, a bull’s or goat’s for those of Saturn.  The names of the seven angels should be added either in Hebrew, Arabic, or magic characters similar to those of the alphabets of Trimethius.  The two triangles of Solomon may be replaced by the double cross of Ezekiel’s wheels, this being found on a great number of ancient pentacles.  All objects of this nature, whether in metals or in precious stones, should be carefully wrapped in silk satchels of a colour analogous to the spirit of the planet, perfumed with the perfumes of the corresponding day, and preserved from all impure looks and touches.”[2]

[1] For a biographical and critical account of this extraordinary personage and his views, see Mr A. E. WAITE’S The Mysteries of Magic: a Digest of the writings of ELIPHAS LEVI (1897).

[2] Op. cit., p. 201.


ELIPHAS LEVI, following PYTHAGORAS and many of the mediaeval magicians, regarded the pentagram, or five-pointed star, as an extremely powerful pentacle.  According to him, if with one horn in the ascendant it is the sign of the microcosm—Man.  With two horns in the ascendant, however, it is the sign of the Devil, “the accursed Goat of Mendes,” and an instrument of black magic.  We can, indeed, trace some faint likeness between the pentagram and the outline form of a man, or of a goat’s head, according to whether it has one or two horns in the ascendant respectively, which resemblances may account for this idea. Fig. 30 shows the pentagram embellished with other symbols according to ELIPHAS LEVI, whilst fig. 31 shows his embellished form of the six-pointed star, or Seal of SOLOMON.  This, he says, is “the sign of the Macrocosmos, but is less powerful than the Pentagram, the microcosmic sign,” thus contradicting PYTHAGORAS, who, as we have seen, regarded the pentagram as the sign of the Macrocosm.  ELIPHAS LEVI asserts that he attempted the evocation of the spirit of APOLLONIUS of Tyana in London on 24th July 1854, by the aid of a pentagram and other magical apparatus and ritual, apparently with success, if we may believe his word.  But he sensibly suggests that probably the apparition which appeared was due to the effect of the ceremonies on his own imagination, and comes to the conclusion that such magical experiments are injurious to health.[1]

[1] Op cit. pp. 446-450.


Magical rings were prepared on the same principle as were talismans.  Says CORNELIUS AGRIPPA:  “The manner of making these kinds of Magical Rings is this, viz.: When any Star ascends fortunately, with the fortunate aspect or conjunction of the Moon, we must take a stone and herb that is under that Star, and make a ring of the metal that is suitable to this Star, and in it fasten the stone, putting the herb or root under it—not omitting the inscriptions of images, names, and characters, as also the proper suffumigations….”[1] SOLOMON’S ring was supposed to have been possessed of remarkable occult virtue.  Says JOSEPHUS (c. A.D. 37-100): “God also enabled him [SOLOMON] to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men.  He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers.  The manner of the cure was this; he put a ring that had under the seal a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon, to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils:  and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return unto him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.”[2]

[1] H. C. AGRIPPA:  Occult Philosophy, bk. i. chap. xlvii. (WHITEHEAD’S edition, pp. 141 and 142).

[2] FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS:  The Antiquities of the Jews (trans. by W. WHISTON), bk. viii. chap. ii., SE 5 (45) to (47).


Enough has been said already to indicate the general nature of talismanic magic.  No one could maintain otherwise than that much of it is pure nonsense; but the subject should not, therefore, be dismissed as valueless, or lacking significance.  It is past belief that amulets and talismans should have been believed in for so long unless they APPEARED to be productive of some of the desired results, though these may have been due to forces quite other than those which were supposed to be operative.  Indeed, it may be said that there has been no widely held superstition which does not embody some truth, like some small specks of gold hidden in an uninviting mass of quartz.  As the poet BLAKE put it:

“Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth”;[1] and the attempt may here be made to extract the gold of truth from the quartz of superstition concerning talismanic magic.  For this purpose the various theories regarding the supposed efficacy of talismans must be examined.

[1] “Proverbs of Hell” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).


Two of these theories have already been noted, but the doctrine of effluvia admittedly applied only to a certain class of amulets, and, I think, need not be seriously considered.  The “astral-spirit theory” (as it may be called), in its ancient form at any rate, is equally untenable to-day. The discoveries of new planets and new metals seem destructive of the belief that there can be any occult connection between planets, metals, and the days of the week, although the curious fact discovered by Mr OLD, to which I have referred (footnote, p.  63@@@), assuredly demands an explanation, and a certain validity may, perhaps, be allowed to astrological symbolism.  As concerns the belief in the existence of what may be called (although the term is not a very happy one) “discarnate spirits,” however, the matter, in view of the modern investigation of spiritistic and other abnormal psychical phenomena, stands in a different position.  There can, indeed, be little doubt that very many of the phenomena observed at spiritistic seances come under the category of deliberate fraud, and an even larger number, perhaps, can be explained on the theory of the subconscious self.  I think, however, that the evidence goes to show that there is a residuum of phenomena which can only be explained by the operation, in some way, of discarnate intelligences.[1] Psychical research may be said to have supplied the modern world with the evidence of the existence of discarnate personalities, and of their operation on the material plane, which the ancient world lacked.  But so far as our present subject is concerned, all the evidence obtainable goes to show that the phenomena in question only take place in the presence of what is called “a medium”—a person of peculiar nervous or psychical organisation. That this is the case, moreover, appears to be the general belief of spiritists on the subject.  In the sense, then, in which “a talisman” connotes a material object of such a nature that by its aid the powers of discarnate intelligences may become operative on material things, we might apply the term “talisman” to the nervous system of a medium: but then that would be the only talisman.  Consequently, even if one is prepared to admit the whole of modern spiritistic theory, nothing is thereby gained towards a belief in talismans, and no light is shed upon the subject.

[1] The publications of The Society for Psychical Research, and FREDERICK MYERS’ monumental work on Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, should be specially consulted.  I have attempted a brief discussion of modern spiritualism and psychical research in my Matter, Spirit, and the Cosmos (1910), chap. ii.


Another theory concerning talismans which commended itself to many of the old occult philosophers, PARACELSUS for instance, is what may be called the “occult force” theory.  This theory assumes the existence of an occult mental force, a force capable of being exerted by the human will, apart from its usual mode of operation by means of the body.  It was believed to be possible to concentrate this mental energy and infuse it into some suitable medium, with the production of a talisman, which was thus regarded as a sort of accumulator for mental energy.  The theory seems a fantastic one to modern thought, though, in view of the many startling phenomena brought to light by psychical research, it is not advisable to be too positive regarding the limitations of the powers of the human mind.  However, I think we shall find the element of truth in the otherwise absurd belief in talismans by means of what may be called, not altogether fancifully perhaps, a transcendental interpretation of this “occult force” theory.  I suggest, that is, that when a believer makes a talisman, the transference of the occult energy is ideal, not actual; that the power, believed to reside in the talisman itself, is the power due to the reflex action of the believer’s mind.  The power of what transcendentalists call “the imagination” cannot be denied; for example, no one can deny that a man with a firm conviction that such a success will be achieved by him, or such a danger avoided, will be far more likely to gain his desire, other conditions being equal, than one of a pessimistic turn of mind.  The mere conviction itself is a factor in success, or a factor in failure, according to its nature; and it seems likely that herein will be found a true explanation of the effects believed to be due to the power of the talisman.

On the other hand, however, we must beware of the exaggerations into which certain schools of thought have fallen in their estimates of the powers of the imagination.  These exaggerations are particularly marked in the views which are held by many nowadays with regard to “faith-healing,” although the “Christian Scientists” get out of the difficulty—at least to their own satisfaction— by ascribing their alleged cures to the Power of the Divine Mind, and not to the power of the individual mind.

Of course the real question involved in this “transcendental theory of talismans” as I may, perhaps, call it, is that of the operation of incarnate spirit on the plane of matter.  This operation takes place only through the medium of the nervous system, and it has been suggested,[1] to avoid any violation of the law of the conservation of energy, that it is effected, not by the transference, as is sometimes supposed, of energy from the spiritual to the material plane, but merely by means of directive control over the expenditure of energy derived by the body from purely physical sources, e.g. the latent chemical energy bound up in the food eaten and the oxygen breathed.

[1] Cf Sir OLIVER LODGE:  Life and Matter (1907), especially chap.  ix.; and W. HIBBERT, F.I.C.: Life and Energy (1904).


I am not sure that this theory really avoids the difficulty which it is intended to obviate;[1] but it is at least an interesting one, and at any rate there may be modes in which the body, under the directive control of the spirit, may expend energy derived from the material plane, of which we know little or nothing.  We have the testimony of many eminent authorities[2] to the phenomenon of the movement of physical objects without contact at spiritistic seances.  It seems to me that the introduction of discarnate intelligences to explain this phenomenon is somewhat gratuitous—the psychic phenomena which yield evidence of the survival of human personality after bodily death are of a different character.  For if we suppose this particular phenomenon to be due to discarnate spirits, we must, in view of what has been said concerning “mediums,” conclude that the movements in question are not produced by these spirits DIRECTLY, but through and by means of the nervous system of the medium present.  Evidently, therefore, the means for the production of the phenomenon reside in the human nervous system (or, at any rate, in the peculiar nervous system of “mediums”), and all that is lacking is intelligence or initiative to use these means.  This intelligence or initiative can surely be as well supplied by the sub-consciousness as by a discarnate intelligence.  Consequently, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that equally remarkable phenomena may have been produced by the aid of talismans in the days when these were believed in, and may be produced to-day, if one has sufficient faith—that is to say, produced by man when in the peculiar condition of mind brought about by the intense belief in the power of a talisman.  And here it should be noted that the term “talisman” may be applied to any object (or doctrine) that is believed to possess peculiar power or efficacy.  In this fact, I think, is to be found the peculiar danger of erroneous doctrines which promise extraordinary benefits, here and now on the material plane, to such as believe in them.  Remarkable results may follow an intense belief in such doctrines, which, whilst having no connection whatever with their accuracy, being proportional only to the intensity with which they are held, cannot do otherwise than confirm the believer in the validity of his beliefs, though these may be in every way highly fantastic and erroneous.  Both the Roman Catholic, therefore, and the Buddhist may admit many of the marvels attributed to the relics of each other’s saints; though, in denying that these marvels prove the accuracy of each other’s religious doctrines, each should remember that the same is true of his own.

[1] The subject is rather too technical to deal with here.  I have discussed it elsewhere; see “Thermo-Dynamical Objections to the Mechanical Theory of Life,” The Chemical News, vol. cxii. pp.  271 et seq. (3rd December 1915).

[2] For instance, the well-known physicist, Sir W. F. BARRETT, F.R.S.  (late Professor of Experimental Physics in The Royal College of Science for Ireland). See his On the Threshold of a New World of Thought (1908), SE 10.


In illustration of the real power of the imagination, I may instance the Maori superstition of the Taboo.  According to the Maories, anyone who touches a tabooed object will assuredly die, the tabooed object being a sort of “anti-talisman”. Professor FRAZER[1] says:

“Cases have been known of Maories dying of sheer fright on learning that they had unwittingly eaten the remains of a chief’s dinner or handled something that belonged to him,” since such objects were, ipso facto, tabooed.  He gives the following case on good authority:

“A woman, having partaken of some fine peaches from a basket, was told that they had come from a tabooed place.  Immediately the basket dropped from her hands and she cried out in agony that the atua or godhead of the chief, whose divinity had been thus profaned, would kill her.  That happened in the afternoon, and next day by twelve o’clock she was dead.” For us the power of the taboo does not exist; for the Maori, who implicitly believes in it, it is a very potent reality, but this power of the taboo resides not in external objects but in his own mind.

[1] Professor J. G. FRAZER, D.C.L.: Psyche’s Task (1909), p. 7.


Dr HADDON[2] quotes a similar but still more remarkable story of a young Congo negro which very strikingly shows the power of the imagination.  The young negro, “being on a journey, lodged at a friend’s house; the latter got a wild hen for his breakfast, and the young man asked if it were a wild hen.  His host answered ‘No.’ Then he fell on heartily, and afterwards proceeded on his journey.  After four years these two met together again, and his old friend asked him ‘if he would eat a wild hen,’ to which he answered that it was tabooed to him.  Hereat the host began immediately to laugh, inquiring of him, ‘What made him refuse it now, when he had eaten one at his table about four years ago?’ At the hearing of this the negro immediately fell a-trembling, and suffered himself to be so far possessed with the effects of imagination that he died in less than twenty-four hours after.”

[2] ALFRED C. HADDON, SC.D., F.R.S.: Magic and Fetishism (1906), p. 56.


There are, of course, many stories about amulets, etc., which cannot be thus explained.  For example, ELIHU RICH gives the following:–

“In 1568, we are told (Transl. of Salverte, p. 196) that the Prince of Orange condemned a Spanish prisoner to be shot at Juliers.  The soldiers tied him to a tree and fired, but he was invulnerable.  They then stripped him to see what armour he wore, but they found only an amulet bearing the figure of a lamb (the Agnus Dei, we presume).  This was taken from him, and he was then killed by the first shot.  De Baros relates that the Portuguese in like manner vainly attempted to destroy a Malay, so long as he wore a bracelet containing a bone set in gold, which rendered him proof against their swords.  A similar marvel is related in the travels of the veracious Marco Polo.  ‘In an attempt of Kublai Khan to make a conquest of the island of Zipangu, a jealousy arose between the two commanders of the expedition, which led to an order for putting the whole garrison to the sword.  In obedience to this order, the heads of all were cut off excepting of eight persons, who by the efficacy of a diabolical charm, consisting of a jewel or amulet introduced into the right arm, between the skin and the flesh, were rendered secure from the effects of iron, either to kill or wound.  Upon this discovery being made, they were beaten with a heavy wooden club, and presently died.’”

[1] I think, however, that these, and many similar stories, must be taken cum grano salis.


In conclusion, mention must be made of a very interesting and suggestive philosophical doctrine—the Law of Correspondences,–due in its explicit form to the Swedish philosopher, who was both scientist and mystic, EMANUEL SWEDENBORG.  To deal in any way adequately with this important topic is totally impossible within the confines of the present discussion.[2]  But, to put the matter as briefly as possible, it may be said that SWEDENBORG maintains (and the conclusion, I think, is valid) that all causation is from the spiritual world, physical causation being but secondary, or apparent—that is to say, a mere reflection, as it were, of the true process.  He argues from this, thereby supplying a philosophical basis for the unanimous belief of the nature-mystics, that every natural object is the symbol (because the creation) of an idea or spiritual verity in its widest sense.  Thus, there are symbols which are inherent in the nature of things, and symbols which are not.  The former are genuine, the latter merely artificial.  Writing from the transcendental point of view, ELIPHAS LEVI says: “Ceremonies, vestments, perfumes, characters and figures being . . .necessary to enlist the imagination in the education of the will, the success of magical works depends upon the faithful observance of all the rites, which are in no sense fantastic or arbitrary, having been transmitted to us by antiquity, and permanently subsisting by the essential laws of analogical realisation and of the correspondence which inevitably connects ideas and forms.”[1b] Some scepticism, perhaps, may be permitted as to the validity of the latter part of this statement, and the former may be qualified by the proviso that such things are only of value in the right education of the will, if they are, indeed, genuine, and not merely artificial, symbols. But the writer, as I think will be admitted, has grasped the essential point, and, to conclude our excursion, as we began it, with a definition, I will say that the power of the talisman is the power of the mind (or imagination) brought into activity by means of a suitable symbol.

[1] ELIHU RICH:  The Occult Sciences, p. 346.

[2] I may refer the reader to my A Mathematical Theory of Spirit (1912), chap. i., for a more adequate statement.

[1b] ELIPHAS LEVI:  Transcendental Magic:  its Doctrine and Ritual (trans. by A. E. WAITE, 1896), p. 234.



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