A talisman can be nearly anything that is thought to bring good luck or provide protection, but it is most often an object. The idea has a long history in all religions and societies from ancient times to present, and in some cases, it is associated with elemental power. The word itself has roots in the Arabic tilasm and the Greek talein, which both translate to “initiation into the mysteries.”
Often, a talisman is worn on the body or kept in a pocket. Each sign of the zodiac has a corresponding gemstone thought to be one for the person born under that sign, for example, and birthstones are made into rings and necklaces. A ring received as a gift, an inherited object, or even something found can be a talisman, however. Children will sometimes pocket a smooth stone that might serve as one over time. Much depends on what value, if any, the bearer associates with the object.
The Celts held the four-leaf clover as a talisman of good luck, while the Chinese would capture a live cricket and keep it in a box made of weeping willow wood. The pentagram, the cross, and the ankh are also examples.
In some instances, such an object or symbol is adopted for negative purposes. The swastika that Adolph Hitler chose as the Nazi Party emblem in World War II, for example, was an ancient talisman depicted throughout history as a symbol of good luck, appearing in cultures the world over. In many regions, it remains a positive symbol, but in the West, its more recent history overshadows its roots.
Another co-opted symbol is the pentagram, which many today associate with Satan worship. It is actually a symbol that dates back 5,000 years to Mesopotamia. Its first associations included angles, directions of orientation, the five closest planets, and the “classic five elements” of earth, air, fire, water, and divine being. Wiccans continue to use the pentagram as a positive image believed to be representative of the divine nature of earth elements.
Many people carry, wear, or own a talisman, but are unaware of it. The lucky penny that someone saves on the dresser top, the amulet that’s never taken off, granddad’s pocket watch, and a photograph kept in a wallet might all fulfill this role. Even something as mundane as a “lucky mousepad” can be one to a gamer or coder.
In the tradition of Native American Animal Medicine, an animal can also be a talisman. The appearance of a fox at the start of a hunt would likely be perceived as an auspicious sign by many tribes, as Fox medicine protects those away from home and allows them to blend into their surroundings in order to watch without being seen. In modern Western society, animal companions and the appearance of wild animals, such as an eagle or owl, raccoon, possum, or squirrel, might each have special meaning to the observer.
For some, a ritual verse becomes a talisman, such as the regular recital of a short prayer, incantation, or affirmation. Even the purposeful statement each morning, Today is going to be great! can serve this purpose. It is probably safe to say that a person without a single object or symbol of protection and luck in his or her life is rare.