An amulet is an object believed to have protective power. Amulets are used to ward off Demons, evil, disease, bad luck, misfortune, witches, sorcerers, and anything harmful, especially of a supernatural nature.
Amulets to protect people, places, and animals against Demonic attack and influence have been used universally since ancient times. Most common are natural stones and crystals. Metals such as iron and silver have special protective powers.
Amulets include objects made and imbued with protective power via prayer or magic and written inscriptions— prayers and Charms—carried on the person or placed in an environment. Amulets also can be sounds. Noise, bells, gongs, chants, and songs, as well as fumes, are effective.
Some objects have enjoyed widespread use as protections against a variety of evils.
Among them are:
Bells are used in many cultures as a powerful way to repel Demons, other evil spirits, and the Evil Eye. Bells are associated with the divine and have been used in magical and religious rites since antiquity. Bells summon people to prayer and clear the air of odious presences.
Bell ringing to drive away evil spirits is described in Assyrian magical texts dating to the first millennium B.C.E.
Nicholas Remy said that Demons consider bell ringing to be “the barking of those mad witches,” and they are repelled by it with great indignation. The revulsion of Demons is evidenced in the fact that many bell ringers are struck by lightning, which is under Demonic control, Remy said.
Bells are attached to clothing, tied to children and domestic animals, and hung in doorways. Red ties, ribbons, and sashes increase the protective power of the bells.
In lore, bells should be rung during storms, which are caused by witches and Demons. On nights when witches were believed to be about, such as Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve) and Beltane (also known as Walpurgisnacht), church bells were rung to prevent the witches and their Demon Familiars from flying over a village. In witch trials, accused witches testified about being transported through the air to a Sabbat on the back of a Demon or the Devil and of being thrown off to fall to the ground when a church bell sounded in the night.
When a person dies, church bells traditionally are rung to protect the journey of the dead from Demonic attack as it travels into the afterlife.
Burned incense and herbs and sacrificed animals are not only pleasing to the gods, but repellent to Demons. The book of Tobit tells how the archangel Raphael taught a young man, Tobias, to produce fumes from the burned liver of a fish in order to exorcize the Demon Asmodeus.
Salt repels Demons and evil things because it is pure in its whiteness, is a preservative, and is linked to life and health. Salt is contrary to the nature of Demons, who are intent upon corrupting and destroying. It should be avoided in magical rituals for conjuring Demons.
Salt repels witches and the Evil Eye. A test for bewitchment is the inability of a person or animal to eat anything salted. Inquisitors in the European witch hunts protected themselves by wearing a sacramental amulet that consisted of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and blessed herbs, pressed into a disk of blessed wax. One means of torturing accused witches was to force-feed them heavily salted food and deny them water.
Salt is a magical remedy for evil spells. An old recipe for breaking an evil spell calls for stealing a tile from a witch’s roof, sprinkling it with salt and urine, and then heating it over fire while reciting a charm. In American Ozark lore, women who complain of food being too salty are suspected of being witches. One way to detect a witch is to sprinkle salt on her chair. If she is a witch, the salt will melt and cause her dress to stick to the chair.
In superstition it is considered bad luck to spill, borrow, or run out of salt, perhaps because in times past, salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. Spilling salt makes one vulnerable to the Devil; the bad luck may be negated by tossing a pinch of salt with the right hand over the left shoulder.
In Christianity, blessed salt is mixed with blessed water to make holy water (see below).
Water represents purity and will reject evil. In folklore, crossing running water will enable a person to evade pursuing evil spirits and witches. In the European witch hunts, suspected witches were sometimes “swum,” or dunked into deep water with their hands and feet bound. If they floated, it meant that the water rejected them because they were evil, and so they were guilty of Witchcraft. If they sank—and usually drowned—it meant that the water accepted them, and they were innocent.
Crooked paths and bridges confuse all spirits, including evil ones, and will prevent them from accessing a place.
Jewish Amulets Against Demons
Major Jewish religious objects with amuletic properties against evil are:
One of the most important amulets is the mezuzah, biblical inscriptions attached to doorposts. The inscriptions are verses in Deuteronomy 6:4–19 and 11:13–20—the delivery of the commandments from the one and only God, and his instructions to obey them—to remind Jews of the principle of monotheism.
The mezuzah may have originated as a primitive charm; by the Middle Ages, it had acquired great power as a protector against Demons. Rabbinic leaders tried to give it more religious significance, based on Deuteronomy 6:9: “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” However, in popular usage, it served primarily to ward off evil.
So powerful was the mezuzah in its ability to keep Demons away that Gentiles and Jews alike used it. It was believed also to prevent premature death. Many homes had mezuzot in every room. People also carried small mezuzot as personal protective charms.
Strict procedures were followed for the making of a mezuzah. It was to be written on deer parchment according to an amulet table in the angelic Sefer Raziel and under certain astrological and angelic influences. One set of 10th-century instructions were “It is to be written only on Monday, in the fifth hour, over which the Sun and the angel Raphael preside, or on Thursday, in the fourth hour, presided over by Venus and the angel Anael.”
Mezuzot were encapsulated in cases. It was forbidden to alter the face of the mezuzah but was permissible to write on the back of the parchment. One popular medieval addition was the name Shaddai, held to be especially powerful in repelling Demons. Small windows were cut in the backs of the mezuzot cases so that the name Shaddai would show. Other additions were names of God, other Bible verses, names of angels, and magical symbols. Frequently named angels were Michael, Gabriel, Azriel, Zadkiel, Sarfiel, Raphael, Anael, Uriel, Yofiel, and Hasdiel.
Mezuzot are in still in use as both religious objects and amulets; they guard homes and are worn on the person.
Other important antiDemonic amulets are tefillin, a pair of black leather boxes containing parchment inscribed with biblical verses. Tefillin are also called phylacteries. One of the pair is a hand tefillin, worn wrapped by a strap around the arm, hand, and fingers. The other is a head tefillin, strapped above the forehead. The tefillin serve as a “sign” and “remembrance” that God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. They are worn during weekday morning prayer services.
The tsitsith consists of fringe attached to outer garment, and survives in the modern day as the fringe on prayer shawls. The tsitsith and the tefillin especially are amulets against accidents, illness, and death. The Talmud states that the “threefold cord” of mezuzah, tefillin, and tsitsith is a powerful combination against evil: “Whoever has the tefillin on his head, the mezuzah on his door, and tsitsith on his mantle, may feel sure that he cannot sin.”
Moon-shaped amulets were once worn as necklaces by both men and women and were placed on the necks of animals. Other amulets are earrings. The Bible tells of Jacob’s burying earrings beneath an oak tree.
CHRISTIAN Amulets AGAINST DEMONS
Christian amulets against evil include holy objects and chants, including:
Cross and crucifix
The cross is one of the oldest amulets in the world, predating Christianity by many centuries. Its most common form is four arms of equal length rather than in a T shape. The cross has been associated with Sun deities and the heavens and in ancient times may have represented divine protection and prosperity. The cross also is represented by the Y-shaped Tree of Life, the world axis placed in the center of the universe, the bridge between Earth and the cosmos, the physical and the spiritual.
In Christianity, the cross transcends the amulet to become symbolic of the religion and of the suffering of Christ’s crucifixion; yet, it still retains aspects of an amulet, protecting against the forces of evil. Even before the crucifixion of Christ, the cross was a weapon against the dark forces. According to legend, when Lucifer declared war upon God in an attempt to usurp his power, his army scattered God’s Angels twice. God sent to his angels a Cross of Light inscribed with the names of the Trinity. Upon seeing this cross, Lucifer’s forces lost strength and were driven into Hell.
Early Christians made the sign of the cross for divine protection and as a means of identification to each other. In the fourth century, Christ’s wooden cross was allegedly found in excavations in Jerusalem by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I. Helena is said to have found three buried crosses at the site of the crucifixion but did not know which belonged to Christ. She tested all three with the corpse of a man. Two crosses had no effect upon the body, but the third caused it to return to life. Helena sent part of the cross to Constantine, who sent a portion to Rome, where it is still preserved in the Vatican. Helena reburied the rest of the cross. Bits of the cross that were fashioned into amulets became highly prized.
As the church grew in power, so did the cross. According to belief, nothing unholy can stand up to its presence. The cross, and the sign of the cross, will help exorcise Demons and devils, ward off the Incubus and Succubus, prevent bewitchment of man and beast, protect crops from being blasted by witches, and force vampires to flee. During the Middle Ages, inquisitors often wore crosses or made the sign of a cross while in the presence of accused witches, in order to ward off any evil spells they might cast with the help of their Demons. People crossed themselves routinely, before the smallest task, just in case an evil presence was near. The cross in hot cross buns is a remnant of a medieval custom of carving crosses in the dough of bread to protect it against evil.
In cases of Demonic Possession, victims recoil from a cross. Surreptitiously placing a cross behind the head of a DemonIAC is one of the tests of possession. Demoniacs spit on crosses and destroy them. Some suffer stigmata in the shape of a cross. Other victims recoil from the cross, as in the case of a 16-year-old girl, Clara Germana Cele, in 1906. Cele could not bear to be in the presence of even a small piece of cross, even if it had been wrapped and concealed.
In the Catholic rite of Exorcism, the priest protects himself and the victim with the sign of the cross. The rite requires that numerous signs of the cross be made on the victim’s forehead.
Gregorian chant, that is, prayers sung in Latin, are used to quell Demons in some possession cases, and to cleanse spaces. Demons are believed to find Gregorian chant unbearable.
The medal of St. Benedict (ca. 480–ca. 457) has always been associated with the cross and is sometimes called the Medal-Cross of St. Benedict. It is the medal of exorcism and protection against Satan and the forces of evil.
The front of the medal shows St. Benedict with a cross and raven. No one knows when the first medal of St. Benedict was struck. At some point in history, a series of capital letters, V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B, was placed around the large figure of the cross on the reverse side of the medal. In 1647, a manuscript dating to 1415 was found at the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria, explaining the letters as the initials of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)
St. Benedict medals are carried on a person and placed in homes, cars, and other places as an amulet against Satan and a reminder to resist temptation.
Holy water is a mixture of water and salt blessed by a priest. Salt symbolizes incorruptibility, eternity, and divine wisdom, and water symbolizes purity. Church sites were consecrated with holy water. The Catholic rituals of the benediction and Baptism with holy water ensure physical health and the exorcism of evil spirits. As an extra precaution against Demons, salt traditionally is placed in a newborn baby’s cradle until the infant can be baptized. At death, salt is left in a coffin to help protect the soul from Demons during its transition from Earth to the spirit plane.
- Remy, Nicholas. Demonolatry. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.
- Trachtenberg, Joshua. Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. New York: Berhman’s Jewish Book House, 1939.