The CBd
Bonner, SMA, 2.

with the name Abrasax, as Basilidian;2 yet Harnack's remark still holds good, that it is doubtful whether even one of the hundreds of gems inscribed Abrasax is really a product of the school of Basilides.3

Before we proceed further, it is worth while to define the subject and roughly outline the scope of this investigation. In the broadest sense of the word, an amulet is any object which by its contact or its close proximity to the person who owns it, or to any possession of his, exerts power for his good, either by keeping evil from him and his property or by endowing him with positive advantages. The word “talisman” is virtually a synonym of “amulet,” although some writers have attempted, without support in general usage, to differentiate the two words. The material of an amulet may be of any sort, animal, vegetable, or mineral, and the amulet maker does not shrink from using the most repulsive matter for his purpose, herein resembling the medicineman; in fact, one can scarcely draw a line between popular materia medica and the things that were believed to be useful as amulets. Small bags taken from the necks of child patients in a hospital in Egypt were found to contain such oddments as the dried head of a hoopoe, a dried chameleon, the cast skin of a snake, other unrecognizable débris of vegetable or animal origin, pebbles, etc.4 Doubtless the virtues ascribed to these ingredients were partly medical, partly magical. If amulets such as these were used in ancient Greece and Egypt, as they probably were, they have disintegrated and disappeared; but one class of perishable amulets has come down to us in considerable numbers, and often in good preservation. These are charms and incantations written on small pieces of papyrus, then rolled or folded into compact form and worn upon the person. The texts of these papyri have much in common with the necessarily briefer inscriptions on magical stones, and must be studied in connection with them; but they will be used here only for occasional illustration. The amulets with which this work is concerned are, with a very few exceptions, made of stone or metal.

Belief in the efficacy of amulets depends upon certain primitive concepts of the mind, namely, notions that supernatural power may be inherent in some person, animal, or material object, or that it may at least reside there temporarily. The latter lies at the root of fetichism, as it is known among the negroes of West Africa; both are akin to the idea of mana, that vague supernatural power which was brought to the attention of anthropologists by the Melanesian studies of Codrington,5 and which has added a useful term

2 Caes. Batonius, Annales Ecclesiastici (ed. Theiner, 1864), 2, 188 f. (A. C. 120, 12–17); Joannes Macarius, Abraxas seu Apistopistus (1657), pp. 9–11; J. J. Bellermann, Versuch über die Gemmen der Alten mit dem Abraxas-Bilde (1817), pp. 7–10; C. W. King, The Gnostics and their Remains2 (1887), p. 245.

3 A. Harnack, Gesch. der altchristlichen Litteratur, I, 161.

4 A number of such bags were sent to the Museum of the University of Michigan, because of their interest from an anthropological point of view, along with the objects that the University expedition was allowed to retain from its excavation at Karanis. A close parallel in ancient times is to be found in Jul. Africanus 7, 17 (p. 39 Vieillefond); the dried head of a bat sewn up in a leather bag makes the wearer wakeful as long as he has it on.

5 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians, Oxford, 1891.

Last modified: 2012-09-20 11:03:04