The use of amulets stems from the human desire for protection. Their existence seems to extend from cave dwellers.
As objects they come and go with fashion, taking on different designs and shapes, but their purpose remains the same. No matter how civilized a culture may be, the amulets are present.
The term amulet is derived from either the Latin word amuletum or the old Latin term amoletum which means, "means of defense." Pliny, the Roman naturalist, described three types of amulets: those which offered protection against trouble and adversity; those which provided a medical or prophylatic treatment; and substances used as medicine.
Among ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabs, and Hebrews great importance was placed on the use of amulets. The Egyptians employed them everywhere. The frog protected fertility; ankhs symbolized everlasting life and generation; the udjat, or eye, was for good health, comfort, and protection against evil; the scarab beetle was for resurrection after death and protection against evil magic. One of the most notable amulets of ancient Egypt is the Eye of Horus.
Cylinder seals were used as amulets by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Within them were embedded semiprecious and precious stones; each stone supposedly possessed its own unique magical powers. There were various animal shaped amulets; such as, the ram for virility; and the bull for virility and strength.
The Arabs, too, had amulets protecting them against evil. Small sacks containing dust from tombs were worn. They also wore pieces of paper on which were written prayers, spells, magical names or the powerful attributes of God such as "the compassionate" and "the forgiver."
The Hebrews wore crescent moons to ward off the evil eye and they attached bells to their garments to ward off evil spirits.
In Africa the natives were discovered having amulets too which the Western explorers and missionaries called fetishes. The fetish symbolized protection to the natives.
Historically the two most common symbols of amulets have been the eye and the phallic symbols. Eyes are thought to protect against evil spirits and are found on tombs, walls, utensils, and jewelry. The phallic symbol, represented by horns and hands, is protection against the evil eye.
The names of God and magical words and numbers have generally been thought to provide protection and have been fashioned into amulets. These methods of gaining protection extend back to antiquity and were extremely popular during the Renaissance to the early 19th century. Accompanying these were the grimoires, books of magical instruction written for and by magicians. In magic, using the name of a deity is the same as drawing down divine power. This is the reason why portions of grimoires resemble prayer books.
The SATOR square (see Magic Squares) has also been fashioned into amulets. Throughout the centuries attempts have been made to decipher the square but it still remains unintelligible. It was discovered on walls and vassals of ancient Rome. In amulet form it is considered to be protection against sorcery, poisonous air, colic, pestilence, and for protecting cow's milk against witchcraft.
Most all cultures hold the belief that sacred religious books such as the Koran, Torah, and Bible possess protective powers. Bits of parchment containing quotes from these books are carried in leather pouches, silver boxes, or like containers as amulets. Ancient pagans wore figurines of their gods as amulets.
The remnant of this custom is still seen in the Catholic religion where some members still wear scapulars and medals of the saints. Many pagans and witches presently wear jewelry fashioned in amuletic designs with their protective purpose in mind.