Sunday, March 8, 2009
ROSARIES AND AMULETS
A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes-James Feibleman
Rosaries and Amulets are two religious symbols whose historical significance has baffled researchers mainly those engaged in anthropology, sociology, and archeology. Mythological, religious or otherwise, the rosary is seen as a device that plays a great role in human contemplation of the unknowns as well as a revealer of unfathomable heavenly mystiques. An ordinary object of daily use for millions of committed adherents with differing religious, ideological, and cultural backgrounds, the rosary continues to dangle from the necks of Sheikhs, priests, Rabbis, knowledgeable hermits, spiritualists, and monks without losing its rightful role in society regardless of whether it is crafted from simple wood or made from precious gemstone.
The use of rosaries or prayer beads is widespread among the followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In Buddhism and Hinduism, the Japa Mala or simply Mala, is a rosary of 108 beads usually worn by priests exclusively for chants purposes. In esoteric Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism, rosaries are used for counting the Mantras and also serve as attributes for some deities most notably the Avalokiteshvara who is the Bodhisattva of compassion. In almost all religions, as usual, the right hand is the regulator of the rosary in every session with the finger nearest the thumb being the one that flicks and counts the preferred chant. In Chinese, the rosary is called Nianzhu; in Japanese it is Nenju; in Vietnamese it is known as Tranghat; while it is Rosarium in Latin.
There is a lot of debate regarding the origin of the rosary among users. “In Islam, however, the performance of the rosary is an act of piety. The word for "rosary" in the Arabic language is sibha or masbaha, which is derived from Subhana Allah (God be praised). According to Ali Gom'a Mohamed, professor of fiqh (Jurisprudence in Islam) at Al-Azhar University, the number of beads in the Muslim rosary varies: there is a 33- bead rosary which requires three turns around the circle of beads. Each bead represents one of the names of God mentioned in the Qur'an, the total of which is 99. Another is divided into three parts, each made up of 33 beads which are used at the end of each of the five daily prayers. There is also a 100- bead rosary used in accordance with Sunah. In his book, Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians, Edward Lane mentioned a 1,000-bead rosary used for funerals.” To some Muslim scholars, the use of the fingers is more preferred than the rosary. They claim that the joints at the phalanges and metacarpals have been created to count prayer chants and that the rosary is an unnecessary innovation into Islam.
Abrahamic and philosophic religions, Pagan and animist practices display amulets of various makes, shapes, and colors worn around the neck with the promises of wealth, children, health, and other human allures or to ward off evil, magic, wicked spirits, and misfortunes. “An amulet or charm is an apotropaic object or device, usually with writing on it, which provides prophylaxis against harm, whether of natural or supernatural origin. The use of amulets and charms is virtually universal across human cultures and across time, and Jews are no exception. Jewish amulets have been used to ward off a variety of ills: disease, mishap, sorcery, and/or malevolent spirits. They can also serve as love charms. They have been particularly used by Jews to protect women during pregnancy and to shield newborn infants.”
Amulets have been in existence since the days of the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Ancient Egyptians. In Turkey, Nazar boncuk, is a special type of amulet believed to protect one from evil eye. Amulets can be found all over Turkey; Turkish women use amulets as bracelets, earrings or necklaces. Turkish people hang them in their houses, offices and also inside cars while babies have specially designed amulets attached to their cloths. This leads us to the notion that the nation of Turkey is the leading producer of amulets in the world. Turkish amulets are mainly blue in color and look like an eye. Some Turkish amulets have magnetic fields making them easily stick to some select surfaces like the refrigerator door. There is a common belief among the Turkish people that even well-intentioned compliments have a conscious or unconscious measure of spite and resentment. For a Turkish amulet to guard a house, it should be hang at the entrance to the house.
An explanation of the origin of the amulet in Turkish superstition goes this way: once upon a time…there was a massive rock by the sea that could not be split asunder, cracked or broken into pieces despite the combined efforts of a hundred men and repeated dynamiting. After exhausting all energy and technical expertise, mention was made of a man who lived by the sea and who was known to carry the evil eye (nazar). Finally, a plan was hatched to bring the man to the rock venue so he could display his spectacular rock-splitting skills. Upon arriving at the scene and upon setting his sights on the rock, the man was heard to exclaim, “oh my God, what a gigantic rock!” The instant he finished his intonation, there was a crack and then a thunderous sound followed by violent convulsion that reduced the unbreakable huge rock into two pieces.
Moreover, in almost all superstitious communities, it is common for visiting neighbors and strangers alike to compliment on the health, shape, size, and color of newborn babies. For some reason, as fate would have it, the baby gets sick because the invisible evil eye penetrated the baby’s body and soul. At this point in time, parents and immediate relatives of the infant have no other choice but to contact a shaman or cleric to prepare an amulet to keep at bay all varieties of evil eyes as the baby undergoes various developmental stages of metamorphosis. In some communities, a crack on an amulet resulting from prolonged use denotes the wearer has received overwhelming protection and blessings for the duration the amulet was worn.
Egyptologists carrying out archeological excavations in the many burial sites scattered all over Egypt stumbled upon historical amulets made of papyrus finely encased in pharaonic sarcophagus. Also, Coptic amulets dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. have been unearthed in Egypt. Some of the amulets found in Egyptian pyramids are written in Mandaic (an Eastern Aramaic dialect) and have not been translated to this day. In some rare amulets, ancient Egyptians displayed images of the two-headed god (snake and Ibis); there are amulets depicting the cock-headed-snake-legged god, others display the eagle-headed god, crowned hawks, papyri boats, symbols of deities and the ram-headed god. Uterine amulets helped control contraception and childbirth, others were meant for regeneration and eternity and for hip pains (sciatica). The discovery of Greco-Roman, Babylonian, and other varieties of amulets used by diverse ancient civilizations add flavor to the expanding infant archeological sciences.
In Somalia, amulet use is common among nomadic, urban and tribal communities. A well crafted amulet, depending on size and shape, typically is encased in leather while others are sheathed in fine threads. However, there is a type of amulet known locally as “Qardhaas” which is usually carved out of wood and worn around the neck.
Also, Qardhaas may be strapped round the neck of domesticated animals for protection against theft, disease, and the evil eye. The most remarkable trademark amulet known among Somalis is “Xirsi”- which is used for overcoming the whispers of the dreaded Jinni notorious for its mischievous use of supernatural powers. Whether one is seeking to expand a stagnated business enterprise, win the heart of a stubborn mademoiselle, embark on a treacherous journey, overcome the trauma of sterility or recover from a debilitating malady, owning an amulet that will dangle from one’s wrist, neck, leg, thigh, around the waist or other parts of the body, will, if determined by the amulet’s original designer or prescriber bring about abrupt changes and healing to the afflicted body and mind in the nick of time. In women, amulets may be worn to overcome gynecological ailments, vitamin deficiencies, urinary tract infections, migraines, infertility, schizophrenia, mental disorders and even to overcome jealousy.
Perhaps, humans used amulets to triumph over hardships at a time when modern medications other than herbal medicine were nonexistent. Natural hazards like Tsunamis, epidemics, flooding, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other unavoidable predicaments that decimated populations may have contributed to the discovery of amulets by shamans whose livelihood depended on the knowledge and skills of prescribing medication and healing the sick. Despite their dependence on trial and error techniques and despite premeditated medical malpractices, healers and shamans continued to be a source of inspiration for millions in need of medical attention.
Religious and historical accounts of human sacrifices as a last resort evolved as a result of appeasing virulent gods and deities whose anger could only be contained by spilling blood and goring human flesh in pagan and animist ritual practices-secret procedures found in some communities. The wave of secret murders of Albinos for ritualistic purposes and the rape of infants by HIV/AIDS sufferers in some countries epitomizes the continuation of ancient practices and the total disregard for the sanctity of human life.
People living in modern western democracies do attach importance to the use of amulets. Rock band musicians, reggae ragamuffins, gangsters, heads of government institutions, and people from all walks of society wear amulets in daily life either as ornaments or for protection against the unknowns. In the African continent, reports of leaders seeking consultations with magicians, shamans, and soothsayers, palmists and astrologers during election times is no secret. Thus, mythological experts have the power to instill fear in the hearts of their clients’ opponents or even cause them to suffer diseases unbeknownst to modern doctors. In some Asian cultures, shamans have mastered the art of shedding light on natural phenomena say like how a perceived volcanic eruption will affect surrounding inhabitants.
Amulets are widely worn as aphrodisiacs in some communities even with the advancement of medical technology. In some diverse cultures, dangling a piece of rhino horn around the neck is a prescription for erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and other aspects related to sexual genitalia malfunctioning. A man in need of instantaneous desirability from an unfriendly woman may resort to wearing a specially designed amulet meant to win her heart even when real love is not on her side. Likewise, women may influence men by wearing amulets of like kind and purpose. Wearing articulately designed amulets with religious inscriptions is a common occurrence across cultures.
However, amulets come in many shapes and designs depending on culture, religion, and intention. Primarily, women who are sterile may wear them around the waist right across where the uterus is located; it may dangle from the neck; it is worn on the wrist and it may also be worn around the thighs. It could be as tiny as a finger ring or it could even be a seed to be retained in the pocket. It is up to one’s preference and choosing how an amulet should be worn and how it should look like.
The emergence of religious fundamentalism has instilled terror among amulet wearers. Fear of retribution or the dread of being associated with certain cults has forced many to formulate assortment of amulets that dissuade the attention of religious fanatics. For example, the use of regular necklaces, finger rings, and even ear rings as amulets has made ancient amulet blueprints obsolete and replicated for modernity.
Thus, inscriptional amulets have been substituted with intentional amulets. This brings us to the idea that amulets need not be handwritten on a piece of paper by a cleric with verses from a divine scripture and then folded into shape anymore. Instead, reciting select verses on to a piece of jewelry is enough to hold the message as intention is superior to scribbling. In Africa, amulet use is widespread among cultures though its use among communities depends on the nature of religious practices and form of worship. Surprisingly, Tuareg amulets sell for up to $150 a piece on eBay. However civilized and transformed the world has become, amulet and rosary use will remain with humankind for a long time to come.