Jewellery as a provider of protection and hope throughout history
June 15, 20193 min read
The idea that jewellery is magical, is not just something that most eight-year-old girls dream up when rummaging through their mother’s jewellery drawers. In fact, jewellery has been enchanting more than just little girls for more than just a few generations. If the Trustees of the British Museum are to be believed (and I am inclined to believe them), it has been coveted by girls, boys, mothers, fathers, warriors, kings, queens and village folk alike for around seven thousand years. And it seems that almost no religion or culture is immune from its charms.
Almost all Egyptian jewellery had some magical significance beyond its ornamental purpose. Jewellery was considered so protective that Egyptians literally took it with them to their grave. For example, the scarab was a very potent amulet signifying regeneration and was believed to help the deceased pass peacefully into the other world.
Ancient cultures that followed animism were also reliant on amulets to help them cope with the inexplicable forces of nature. Believing that negative events were the result of evil spirits in nature, they wore natural motifs to neutralise the spirits. For example, a tiger claw provided strength in the face of attack or fish would give fertility to counteract high infant mortality. In this way, jewellery was a just a natural by-product of the human instinct for self-preservation.
The famous warrior tribe of Nagas took this a little further. Human hair from their victims was a prize component of their own hair ornaments - the spirit of the victim was thought to energize the wearer and give them added vigour. Similarly, during the pagan period, women adorned themselves with the teeth of various carnivores such as wolf, bear and boar to boost their vitality.
In modern day eastern cultures, jewellery is also widely believed to have protective and enhancing powers. Although the exact purpose and properties varies from country to country, in both Buddhism and Hinduism, jewellery can be used to protect against malignant spirits or to help with good fortune and fertility. For example, Indian bridal jewellery is an incredibly important part of the marriage ritual – not just for appearances but because of the auspicious role of each piece; a nose ring is directly connected with the reproductive organs and enhances a woman’s emotional and romantic strength, while necklaces worn near the heart help control emotions and strengthen feelings of love.
Even in Christianity, jewellery has been used as a form of protection, even if not overtly promoted. Historically jewellery with the name of Jesus inscribed on it provided protection from all manner of evils while the names of the Three Kings were thought to be helpful against epilepsy or fever. Slightly more recently my mother even gave me a necklace with a Saint Christopher charm before I went backpacking at the ripe old age of twenty-two. I literally wore it religiously and can safely say I had an adventurous but harm-free trip.
But whatever your beliefs, you should wear jewellery that makes you feel the way you want to feel – powerful or playful, strong or sensual, good or great.
IMAGE: Miao/Hmong Silver Women's headress. Shidong Village Taijian Country, Giuzhou, China, 1920 - 1950. Worn by Miao/Hmong women for festivals and ceremonies. The coins portend wealth and the bells keep evil spirits away. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences/Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Australia.
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