Healing Effigy

Healing Effigy/Amulet/Talisman/Fetish

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

An amulet is a charm, often a stone, gem, or relic, carried by an individual for religious reasons. Often called a talisman or fetish, sometimes amulets are thought to provide healing or protection from evil. In some indigenous traditions, they are called totems, given by animal spirit messengers for medicine power.

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably with the word effigy. But "effigy" is the technical term used for those objects carved or made from various materials to roughly resemble a specific person on whom the practitioner wants to work a spell. Sometimes called "Voodoo dolls," effigies are believed to contain the essence of their human counterpart. Usually a personal object or something like hair from the person is used in the effigy's construction. What is then done to the effigy is felt by the person. Fantastic stories are told of long-distance spells being carried out. Although modern, educated people may scoff, there may certainly be cases of a victim believing that he or she is the object of a spell and thereby persuading himself or herself that the spell has been effective.

To put it into perspective, in June 2002, National Public Radio broadcast a program describing what happened to a group of test subjects who were part of a study about knee operations. Half the subjects went through what was, in effect, a fake operation. Hospital staff went to great lengths to convince this test group that they had really undergone surgery.

An amazing thing happened. A good proportion of the test cases, those who had, in effect, received a "placebo operation," reported that their knee was much improved. Some were even "cured." No real explanation could be discovered except that these people, because they believed themselves cured, were cured.

This test case goes a long way toward explaining shamanic cures, Voodoo spells using effigies, "miraculous" Bible cures, and sudden cancer remissions. Even Christian "healers" such as Jim Jones have testified that they spiked their congregations with fake cripples who pretended to be cured so that the spectacle would "release the faith" of those who were really sick, helping them believe so that they could be miraculously cured.

Some posit that such faith healing can work for good, whether performed privately or by a religious leader such as a shaman or priest, and employing such cultural icons as effigies, amulets, or talismans, and such activities as chanting, hymn singing, or dancing.

Generally people of any given tradition do not call their own amulets by that name. A Roman Catholic might carry a saint's medal for luck while looking with scorn upon the superstition inherent in those who carry a Lakota medicine bag. Following the Crusades, many European towns had fragments of the True Cross brought home and displayed in honor, while they persecuted any woman caught with a mysterious gemstone hanging around her neck. And in the modern era, many nonreligious folk carry good-luck charms such as a rabbit's foot.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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