A Look at Talismans

A Look at Talismans

The San Francisco School of Needlework has called another Challenge – this one examining the concept of a talisman, and how they can be found in cultures around the world. From a charm bracelet to a lucky sports jersey to a bottle of spell components or a carved ring, the belief in talismans is universal and appears to be almost spontaneous. Far from being an anthropological remnant, they’re so commonplace in modern society as to be nearly unnoticed.

Double Wedding Ring Quilt closeup

From Liz Masoner


What is a talisman? According to Merriam Webster, a talisman is an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune, or something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects. The origin of the name talisman is Arabic (tilsam), tracing back to the Greek (talesma). The magical beliefs of this part of the world are particularly well-documented, and it is in the cultures of this area (particularly the Sumerian and Etruscan) that I have modeled my piece after.

Chart of sun wheels from various Middle Eastern cultures

From JRBooksOnline

Both the Sumerian and the Etruscan cultures left many examples of carved or worked talismans in stone or clay; these are often pictoral, sometimes surrounded by holy writings. Animals (particularly lions and cattle), human figures, and stylized plants abound. From the Jewish and Arabic cultures we find talismans made of paper, parchment, and other delicate materials as well, although there are few ancient examples that have survived in these less-durable forms.

Arabic geometric chart talisman

From Renaissance Astrology

Talismans worked into fabric are not often recognized for what they are. The bands of embroidery around the neck and sleeves of a Russian vyshyvanka are to protect from the Evil Eye as well as to beautify the garment. A quilt may just look like a nice blanket to a casual observer, but if it contains the Double Wedding Ring pattern, it may have been a gift of good wishes and happiness to a bride. The symbolic ritual vestments of the Jewish High Priest are a set of wearable talismans – some embroidered – to set apart the High Priest and allow him to enter the Holy of Holies after committing the correct rituals at Yom Kippur.

  Jewish High Priest in holy regalia

From Bobby Brady

In our next article, we’ll start to take a look at the symbols and choices for our Talisman Project, and some of the meanings they’ve taken over the centuries.

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