Across the ancient world, there are a number of pieces that would have been worn by their owners for the sake of protection, primarily amulets. Jewellery of this apotropaic nature most often takes shape in the form of pendants, and we find them in abundance from a number of civilisations, especially Egypt. These amulets covered a broad range of subjects in their iconography. The Egyptians wore amulets alongside other pieces of jewellery. Such items had a decorative and aesthetic purpose, but also a practical one, as they were believed to bring protection upon the wearer.
The scarab was one of the most popular ancient Egyptian amulets. They were used as pieces of jewellery, commemorative items and seals, and magical amulets offering protection and good fortune. The scarab was thought to represent the sun god Ra. As the sun travels across the sky from day to night, the ancient Egyptians believed that the scarab beetle rolling its ball of dung across the desert mirrored this. As the beetles laid its eggs within the dung, they became a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
Eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus is one of the most recognizable and powerful symbols from ancient Egypt. It was believed to have healing and protective power and was used as a protective amulet. Amulets in this shape were very popular in ancient Egypt for thousand of years, from the Old Kingdom to Roman times. They were worn by the living and also buried with the dead, as their apotropaic significance suited both.
In the Old Kingdom baboons, due to their intelligence, were closely associated with Thoth, one of the most important Egyptian deities, god of thought, intelligence and writing. As sacred animals of Thoth, baboons were often depicted supervising scribes during their work. Baboons also had various funerary roles, as they were custodians of the first door to the underworld.
Such amulets had many uses and purposes in ancient times, especially in Ancient Egypt. Here women were highly valued for their ability to conceive children. In order to protect their fertility for the future, girls and young women wore cowry amulets. They would also be worn during pregnancy and childbirth, as a protection against the evil eye, an evil spirit thought to haunt mothers and babies, which was blamed for miscarriages and death. Because of their shape, cowry shells were seen as representing female genitalia as well as the round belly of pregnant women.
Heart Shaped Amulets
For the ancient Egyptians, the heart was the source of intelligence, feelings, and actions. A person’s memory was also housed in the heart and so at the judgment ceremony, the Weighing of the Heart in the afterlife, the heart was able to speak on behalf of the deceased, accounting to Osiris for a lifetime of deeds. Therefore, heart amulets were used on the mummy to protect the owner’s organ and to ensure that his heart gave a positive response at judgment.