There was a time when magic was elemental; it moved through the great forests of the north, howled its way along with the winds, and traversed the frozen seas of winter and rushing rivers of the warmer months. As civilisations grew, attempts were made to harness those natural forces. They were shaped into beautiful items to be carried at all times, and faith was kept in their power to protect and enlighten.
The amulet - typically a necklace imbued with talismanic powers - is a feature of cultural mythologies the world over. An item of jewellery, worn around the body’s most vulnerable yet alluring aspect which exudes a protective or magical charm all of its own, the amulet has endured the eras and epochs to remain an enticing item to this very day.
To explore the history of amulets is to dive deeply into a world where magic, beauty, and art combine with a fundamentally human set of emotions: fear of the dark, and hope for empowerment. We may no longer live in terror of the evil eye, yet our attachment to artisanal jewellery and the confidence it brings hasn’t changed at all. After all, there’s a transformative aspect to the moment a necklace is first placed upon the skin - an intimacy, a sense of trust, and rippling boost of self-esteem - that is, to put it simply, really quite magical.
Amulets of the Ancient World
As with so many things when it comes to beauty, art, and especially mysticism, the route of history leads us back to Ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Mesopotamia. In these cultures, no distinction whatsoever was made between the disciplines of medicine and magic, and it is here we first discover the use of amulet necklaces as a protective force.
The archaeological record provides ample insight into the importance of amulets in Ancient Egypt especially, as icons of various deities were worn around the neck with highly specific purposes, and to grant highly specific wishes and requests. For example, pregnant women would wear amulets depicting the crocodile deity Taweret, whose association with the fertility of the Nile would grant a healthy and successful birth. Once the child was born, the amulet would be replaced by one representing the lion-headed Bes - a deity tasked with the protection of children - until the child came of age.
Perhaps the most enduring amulet borrowed from the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean is the ankh, a stylised cross, which symbolises life itself. Worn around the neck to grant health, vitality, good fortune, and the fulfillment of destiny, this symbol has endured the ages and remains a popular feature of jewellery worldwide today.
Likewise, the Eye of Horus, another popular amulet borrowed from Ancient Egyptian mythology, has been on a remarkable journey spanning several cultures, centuries, and civilisations. A symbol of protection and divinity, its ripples can be clearly felt in the still-popular Nazar amulets associated with and commonly found throughout Turkey and Iran. To wear an eye around one’s neck not only provides the wearer with divine insight and clarity, but protects from the evil eye and various other forms of malicious intent.
The Essence of the Runes: Amulets of Scandinavia
Scandinavia, and the countries circling the Baltic Sea, have a uniquely rich and varied mythological history. The Norse pantheon of Odin and his extended and characterful family may have faded from the tenets of faith since the Christianisation of the North, but the magical culture and traditions they left behind have endured via a rich visual history, and a broad artistic heritage.
Runic amulets and talismans depicting various Viking deities have been found across the far-reaching Viking empire, and it is clear that these items of jewellery played a significant role in their system of belief.
Certain Nordic amulets were relatively straightforward. The wearing of Mjolnir - the mighty hammer of Thor - would invoke this deity’s strength, just as wearing the triple horn of Odin would inspire the owner with the wisdom, insight, and perseverance of the all-father. However, other amulets made more interesting use of the runic language of the Norsemen, and were believed to have highly specific magical powers.
One of the most interesting examples of this latter category is the Svefnthorn amulet. Featuring four distinct runes, it is mentioned in many of the greatest Viking sagas, including Volsung’s Saga and the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. The Svefnthorn was said to have the power to put whole armies into a deep sleep, to grant invisibility, and to be able to command the winds to ensure a swift and successful journey by sea. No wonder, therefore, that it was a treasured item worn by the marauding hordes of Denmark as they sailed to Great Britain, North America, and across the north of Europe.
Amulets for Modern Living
We no longer live in a world of travelling warriors, river deities, or the need to protect ourselves from malefic magic. However, amulets and talismans remain popular right across the globe, forging a deeply personal connection between the item of jewellery and its wearer.
It is perhaps because we live in a secular society, untied from the essence of magic and mythology, that we are drawn to a more personalised set of beliefs. We have the right to pick and choose our faith, to put our sense of belief and wonder into items we are drawn to and find beautiful. As such, the selection and treasuring of an amulet has become an intimate gesture, and to wear a symbolic item of jewellery upon the heart, in many ways, is more meaningful than it ever was in antiquity.
Furthermore, there’s something inherently magical about the enduring artisanal talent that goes into the creation of fine jewellery today. These skills, this artistic vision, and this ability to work with the elements of the earth is something that inspired such wonder in ancient times, and it forges a powerful link between modernity and the past. Goldsmiths, silversmiths, and jewellers of all kinds are part of an unbroken chain of craftsmanship, each learning from previous generations of artists and furthering their creative horizons. If we are to put our faith in anything, then the human ability to weave beauty from nature’s most precious gifts would be a fine candidate indeed.
Capturing the Spirit of the Earth and Sea
If we are to look for magic within the elemental materials offered by nature, then it would be hard to overlook the significance and impact of Nordic gold and pearls. The former possesses a depth of colour and beauty unrivalled by any other, which has inspired countless wonders throughout the ages. The latter is a gift of the sea, a formation of such perfection and mesmeric quality, brought upwards from the unknowable depths to delight our senses and soothe our souls.
Little wonder, then, that Smykke Copenhagen has worked alongside the visionary designer Margaux Durieux to produce a series of amulets which combine these elements, creating jewellery which imbues the wearer with its own interpretation of timeless magic.
Endlessly inspired by these materials, which work side by side to enhance and showcase each other’s finest qualities, Durieux’s professional journey has taken her from her hometown in Lyon to Paris, Geneva, and Hong Kong, where her talent and insight has seen her work heralded by highly-respected jewellery houses, A-list celebrities, and renowned schools of design. Now based in London, where she runs a successful jewellery business of her own, Durieux’s designs perfectly harmonise with our vision of what a contemporary amulet should represent: an intimate relationship with natural beauty, a sense of empowerment and confidence, and a link with the myth and magic which still flows through our everyday lives.