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Not to be confused with an amulet, a talisman can take many forms to serve as a means of actively aiding its bearer in some kind of task. Getty Images.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Talismans are one of two common varieties of magical objects, the other being amulets. The two are often confused. Amulets are magical objects that are designed to protect the owner/wearer. Talismans are much more active items, usually designed to assist a transformation or cause something to happen. Thus one might obtain an amulet to protect him- or herself from an enemy, a curse, or a disease. On the other hand, one might use a talisman to find a love, obtain a better job, or acquire wealth.

Like amulets, talismans may be made of different materials and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some common talismans draw on astrological symbolism, while others use the names of angelic or deific figures or words of power. A soldier, for example, might wear a talisman based upon the symbol of the planet Mars so as to bring success on the battlefield, while a talisman with an angelic name could be used to bring healing. One of the most unusual talismans was one utilizing the severed hand of a thief, which would then be used by other thieves as a magical aid in their work.

Textbooks on magic often contain detailed rules for the production and empowerment of talismans. Talismans could not just be drawn; they had to be produced correctly at the proper time, and be energized by a magical ritual. The most difficult talisman to produce was the so-called Philosopher’s Stone, which, among other powers, could assist the alchemist in the transformation of base metals into silver or gold. The use of talismans begins in prehistoric times and continues to the present. They have become very popular in the West as magical religions (ceremonial magic, Wicca, Neo-paganism) have experienced significant renewal. They continue to be used by a variety of older indigenous religions that include magic in their practice and that perpetuate the belief in malevolent magic.


Budge, E. A. Wallis. Amulets and Talismans. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1968.
Ferrell, Nick. Making Talismans, Living Entities of Power. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2001.
Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene. Complete Book of Amulets and Talismans. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1991.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Book of Ceremonial Magic. 1911. Reprint, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1999.
References in classic literature ?
For myself, I dread him so little that I mean to break his talisman in pieces
The maiden lady arose upon her feet, as pale as a ghost at cock-crow; for she was an enslaved spirit, and this the talisman to which she owed obedience.
My assistant and I are of no country, we belong to all Barsoom and this talisman which we wear protects us in all lands, even among the green men--though we do not trust ourselves to their hands if we can avoid it," he added.
Tulkinghorn takes out his papers, asks permission to place them on a golden talisman of a table at my Lady's elbow, puts on his spectacles, and begins to read by the light of a shaded lamp.