How were ancient Egyptian amulets used?
The use of amulets played a very large part in ancient Egyptian religion. They were generally made of various materials including stones and were believed to transfer magical properties to the wearer. The Williams College Museum of Art possesses 160 amulets. You can view them all if you search our Online Collection and type “amulet” into the Quick Search box.
The amulets from ancient Egypt can be divided by type. I will cover only some of the variety of types of amulets. All of the types I mention are represented in the museum’s collection. These different types of amulets had different purposes in protecting the deceased. They were usually placed on specific areas of the body to help achieve their intended purpose. Here is a diagram of where some amulet types would have been placed on the body. Click on the diagram to enlarge it and zoom in. You can read an explanation of each symbol below.
The heart amulet was placed on the heart of the deceased in order to replace the actual heart that was removed during mummification. It brought the protection of both Osiris and Râ. The shape of the symbol is actually that of the urn which contained the heart. The heart was associated with the scarab. The importance of this amulet is supported by the fact that six chapters in the “Book of the Dead” are devoted to it.
The scarab amulet was also placed on the heart of the deceased. The scarab is a symbol of the invisible power of creation which propels the sun through the skies. Sometimes the scarab is made in the form of a heart which strengthens the closeness of the relationship between the two amulets.
The buckle or knot of Isis brought to the deceased the protection of the blood of Isis and her words of power which raised Osiris from the dead. It represents the buckle of the girdle of Isis, and symbolizes divine love. It was attached to the neck of the deceased.
The djed amulet represents the backbone, especially that of Osiris. It was laid upon the neck of the deceased. It gave the body the power to reconstitute itself in the Other World.
The pillow or headrest amulet was placed under the neck so that it could lift up and protect the head of the deceased.
The collar amulet was placed on the neck of the deceased in order to give power to the breast, heart, and lungs so that the deceased could free himself from his wrappings.
The papyrus sceptre amulet gave the deceased vigor and renewal of youth. It was placed on the neck.
The amulet of the two fingers represented the two fingers which Horus used to help his father, Osiris, up the ladder into heaven. It was placed inside of the mummy.
The serpent amulet kept the body from being bitten by snakes in the underworld by means of the power of the great Snake-goddess Isis. It could have been placed anywhere on the body.
The frog amulet transferred to the body the power of resurrection of Heqt the Frog-goddess. It could have been placed anywhere on the body.
You can also learn more about our Egyptian art collection from our Ancient Egyptian Web Module and by browsing our Online Collection.
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