The hamsa is a Middle Eastern symbol dating back to prehistoric times designed to give protection from the evil eye, bad luck that results from the attention or jealousy of others. Today it shows up in both Jewish and Muslim culture. The hamsa consists of a hand, usually pointing fingers down with an eye in the middle. The hand usually, but not always, appears to have two thumbs. The eye is generally blue; a color which is also associated with protection from the evil eye. The entire symbol is often made of or covered with a material that is somewhat reflective to reflect back the evil.
The larger part of the talismans used in ancient Egypt represented some living creature. The most usual type is the bull’s head, which was cut from carnelian, hematite, amazon stone, lapis lazuli, or quartz. Prehistoric Egyptian talismans representing the fly have been found; these were of slate, lapis lazuli and serpentine. In historic times gold was employed as the material. Other types occurring in pre-historic times are the hawk, of quartz or limestone; the serpent, of lapis lazuli or limestone; the crocodile and the frog.
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The Egyptian scarab beetle is the personification of the scarab god Khepri , a solar god of resurrection. As the scarab pushes its dung behind it in a ball, so the Egyptians thought that Khepri pushed the sun across the sky. Young scarabs emerged, born out of the dung, and so the scarab also came to symbolise new life and creation. The scarab was also linked to Amen, as was Khepri himself.
Appearance: The particular species of beetle represented in the numerous ancient Egyptian amulets and works of art was commonly the large sacred scarab (Scarabaeus sacer). This beetle was famous for his habit of rolling balls of dung along the ground and depositing them in its burrows. The female would lay her eggs in the ball of dung. When they hatched, the larvae would use the ball for food. When the dung was consumed the young beetles would emerge from the hole.
Millions of amulets and stamp seals of stone or faience were fashioned in Egypt depicted the scarab beetle.
Meaning: It seemed to the ancient Egyptians that the young scarab beetles emerged spontaneously from the burrow were they were born. Therefore they were worshipped as “Khepera”, which means “he was came forth.” This creative aspect of the scarab was associated with the creator god Atum.
The ray-like antenna on the beetle’s head and its practice of dung-rolling caused the beetle to also carry solar symbolism. The scarab-beetle god Khepera was believed to push the setting sun along the sky in the same manner as the bettle with his ball of dung. In many artifacts, the scarab is depicted pushing the sun along its course in the sky.
During and following the New Kingdom, scarab amulets were often placed over the heart of the mummified deceased. These “heart scarabs” (such as the one pictured above) were meant to be weighed against the feather of truth during the final judgement. The amulets were often inscribed with a spell from the Book of the Dead which entreated the heart to, “do not stand as a witness against me.”
Egyptian talismans (ornamental charms) were worn by both the living and the dead. Some protected the wearer against specific dangers and others endowed him or her with special characteristics, such as strength or fierceness.
Talismans were often in the shape of animals, plants, sacred objects, or hieroglyphic symbols. The combination of shape, color and material were important to the effectiveness of an talisman.
Here are some talismans, which were often used as jewelry in ancient Egypt.
The first is the Wedjat eye of Horus, sometimes called the eye of Ra. It was Horus’ healed eye.
The second is the ankh which meant life or to live. It was originally a sandal strap, the round part going around the ankle. The two words “sandal strap” and “life” sounded the same, so the sandal strap came to represent life, by what is known in linguistics as the “rebus principle.”
The Djed pillar or column represented stability.
Kheper (or khepper) was a scarab beetle, and was associated with creation or rebirth, because large quantities of these beetles seem to be born from nothing right out of the ground and from balls of dung. Words and names were often inscribed on metallic scarabs.
Nowadays, the cartouche (a loop or two of rope) is a popular piece of jewelry, usually containing a person’s name. In ancient times, only the king (or queen or sometimes high priest) had his name in a cartouche. Other people just had their names spelled out, with perhaps a sign to indicate that the name was that of a man or woman.
The Tyet talismans was apparently associated with life and welfare.