GENERAL PROTECTION AND BENEFIT
Taken as a whole, King's The Gnostics and Their Remains is a book from which a modern investigator can draw little profit. Yet it contains a sound paragraph which may serve as text for this division of our study.1
“It sounds like a paradox to assert that our ‘Gnostic’ gems are not the work of the Gnostics; but taking that appellation in its strictest sense, the thing is perfectly true. The talismans we are considering never exhibit any traces of that admixture of Christian and Pagan doctrines which properly constitutes the Gnosis, that subject of the descriptions and the attacks of the Fathers of the Church. The `Gnostic' stones are in reality the paraphernalia of magicians and dealers in charms (charm-doctors in modern phrase), and only belong to the Ophites, Valentinians, and other subdivisions of the Christian Gnosis, in so far as those theosophists were especially given to the cultivation of the Black Art.”
Conviction grows upon the student of these gems that by far the greater number of them are first and foremost magical, and that their relations to religion, of whatever kind, are much less important than their magical significance. Consequently it is reasonable and necessary to devote a considerable part of these studies to explaining the specimens that can be understood as documents of practical magic. Under that head, protective amulets must be considered first.
The least interesting among the magical amulets are those which the makers intended to be the most widely useful, that is to say, amulets designed to give the owner general protection or vaguely indicated positive advantages. It has previously been suggested that this class embraces some gems, perhaps many, that show no mark of magical purpose either in their design or by an inscription.2
In such cases the innate quality imputed to the stone itself, or the mere presence of a divine image carved upon it and kept in contact with the person of the wearer, was believed to guard him against ills or to insure him certain advantages that he might otherwise lack.
Another step is taken when a brief inscription praying for protection is carved somewhere on a stone bearing the image of a deity, or a mere symbol, or one or more sacred names. The petition is often expressed by a single word, φύλασσε, διαφύλασσε, φύλαξον, φυλάξαι (which I take to be infinitive active
1 P. 241. Compare a similar expression of opinion in Burkitt's Church and Gnosis, pp. 35 f.