amulet (ămˈyəlĭt) [key], object or formula that credulity and superstition have endowed with the power of warding off harmful influences. The use of the amulet to avert danger and to dispel evil has been known in different religions and among diverse peoples. Like the talisman and the charm, the amulet is believed to be the source of an impersonal force that is an inherent property of the object rather than the manifestation of a deity working through that object (see fetish and taboo). Although amulets are most often worn on the body, hanging from the neck or strapped to the arm or leg, they may also serve as protective emblems on walls and doorways (e.g., the Jewish mezuzah). Sometimes the amulet consists of a spoken, written, or drawn magic formula, such as abracadabra and the magic square, or of a symbolic figure, such as the wheel of the sun god and the Aryan swastika. In many cultures the teeth, claws, and other parts of an animal are believed to communicate their properties to the wearer. Although belief in amulets is very widespread in primitive societies, it has survived in modern civilization. Common superstition has endowed such things as the rabbit's foot with the property of being able to bring good luck. In some modern religious practices, amulets such as the Jewish phylactery and the Christian cross are more strictly related to ritual and serve as personal reminders to the wearers of their relationship to God.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.