An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies
Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z
charms The verbal version of a charm is a short verse or expression offered to confer protection or a wish. “Gesundheit!” (“Good health!”) is a simple form, often said in response to a sneeze, a moment when a demon is said to be able to enter one's body through the nose. Also, “Good luck!” or “Bless you!” are common informal charms. In ancient Greece, the words aski, kataski, and tetrax were charm words used to ward off enchantments. A more involved, formalized charm might be termed a prayer.
As a material thing, a charm can be any sort of an object; a substance such as herbs or medicines contained in a bottle, bag, or vial; beads; medallions; or an amulet (an amulet being more specifically designed to ward off spiritual evil). A crucifix or a bit of hair in a locket, an ankh, or any number of Buddhist symbols represent commonly used charms. In the Buddhist religion, the use of an amulet is pretty well universal.
An amulet (the word derives from the Arabic for “to carry”) is usually an inscribed charm of metal, stone, clay, wood, or bone, worn about the neck or otherwise carried on the person. A “hag-stone” (called a “mare-stone” in Scotland) is a bored stone worn to avert nightmares. The amulet can also be in the form of a gem, colored threads, a ring, a key, or a knot.
“Magic squares,” mathematical matrices that exhibit peculiar qualities when summed, are often inscribed on amulets. An example is:
4 9 2
3 5 7
8 1 6
In this basic square, any line of three figures——vertical, horizontal, or diagonal——adds to fifteen. Such an attribute is thought to confer magical security on the bearer.
The Hebrew mezuza is another example, inscribed with the name of Jehovah, though this charm is usually affixed to a doorpost as a bar to various demons. Amulets can be specially designed as protection from the evil eye, imprisonment, loss of property, or other misfortunes. The figure of a scorpion covered with appropriate symbols is said to protect against nightmares, incubi, and succubi. The Triskelion, a symbol consisting of three legs bent at the knee and joined at the thigh in a circle, is said to protect against the evil eye. The Isle of Man incorporates the Triskelion in its heraldry.
Some amulets are designed to protect only on certain days, their potency being determined by astrological means. Some are merely scraps of paper with magic symbols written on them; they are crumpled up and swallowed. Amulets obtained or made at a crossroads or a burial ground are supposed to be particularly effective.
There is a Yemenite charm against mice. You have the imam write the name of the prophet or some text from the Koran on a piece of parchment, have him say some powerful prayers over it, roll the piece of parchment up very tightly, wrap it and attach it to the collar of a cat. No guarantees.
Roman sorcerers prepared amulets specifically designed to prevent or cure diseases of the eye, headaches, toothache, tumors, fevers, epilepsy, or poisonous bites. In Hindu mythology there is a powerful stone which is made into an amulet called Salagrama. Its powers are almost unlimited.
In the Middle Ages, Carmelite monks were permitted to sell “conception-billets,” which are bits of consecrated paper to be placed at thresholds, attached to domestic articles, or simply swallowed to offer protection against theft or disease. Placed into a child's cradle, such a billet is believed to guard against the child being stolen by a witch; we don't know of any children so protected who have been reported as stolen by a witch.
Feathers from the wings of the angel Gabriel were sold as charms by medieval monks to fend off the plague. No record exists of a customer asking a monk how he obtained the feathers.
In his Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe says of a potent charm:
Within this circle is Jehovah's name
Forward and backward anagrammatized. . . .
Then fear not, Faustus, to be resolute
And try the utmost magic can perform.
And we all know what happened to Dr. Faust, don't we? Or do we?
See also abracadabra, angel, and talismans.
Click here to order a copy of the original hardcover edition of this Encyclopedia.
Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.
Created and maintained with the dictionary compilation software TshwaneLex.