Talismans, Pentacles, Contagions, and Other Hidden Things Revealed
A Trip to the Museum
A couple of months back I was at a local magic convention and an old friend of mine from days of yore lectured on ancient Egyptian mythology and magic in such a righteous way that the mummies themselves would have sat up and applauded if they could. Another friend drove down with me, and when we looked for things to do while she was in town we found out that the American Museum of Natural History in New York had an exhibition on mummies, both Egyptian and Peruvian. It seemed more than coincidental, and so we spent a free day at the museum.
As an adult, my favorite museum is certainly the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But as a kid, my second home was the AMNH. Going back there and revisiting all the old classics was truly a lot of fun. It’s a sprawling place, and easy to forget the sheer artistry of the aquatic fauna sculptures, the scale of the dinosaur bones, the occasional very badly-preserved stuffed animal, and the section on climate, ecology, and agriculture. I get something different out of every visit.
The Hall of Gems piqued my interest this time because of my interest in medieval lapidaries and talismans. In particular, I fell in love with the giant yellow sulfur crystals and the shimmering aquamarine jewelry. Not that interesting magically, but aesthetically nourishing. It’s a shame that they’re going to completely remodel it; it had a wonderful retro-futuristic feel.
In any case, we went to the mummy exhibition and it was a lot of fun. In addition to a variety of human Egyptian mummies were a few sacrificial animal mummies. My mother was an unrepentant Egyptophile, so I was immersed in much of this since birth—and once even took a cruise down the Nile.
Equal time was given to the Peruvian mummies and mummification techniques. I’ve been to Peru and Machu Picchu, and one of my favorite books remains Patrick Tierney’s The Highest Altar—an exploration of human sacrifice in ancient and modern times, using Inca mummies as a fulcrum. The exhibit even gave me an idea for a magical project or two, now in the works. (They do not involve human remains. They may involve other remains.)
The Magic Gift Shoppe
Somewhat predictably, the exit of the exhibit led directly to a gift shop brimming over with Egyptian mementoes. Knowing that the Bast plushie, the scarab refrigerator magnet, or Anubis pendant could all be fun décor but equally repurposed into genuine magical objects justified a spending spree. Our cradled arms were full when we went approached the cash register and put down the subjects of our inflamed avarice.
The cashier did not initially catch my attention, partially because we were distracted with our booty and because she was wearing work clothes and did not stand out. But I caught her attention it seemed.
She stared at the selection of purchases, and then her eyes shot to my hands on the counter, and then back and forth. Something was going on.
As some of you know, I wear gemstone rings on all of my fingers (and swap them out every so often). They sometimes attract attention, but they almost never are recognized for what they are: exceptionally powerful talismans, homes or bodies for celestial spirits which assist me in many things.
“You shouldn’t let people touch your rings,” she said sotto voce. “They will lose their power if other people touch them.” She spoke with great sincerity and urgency. She was right, of course. When I began wearing talismanic rings, I would refuse to shake people’s hands out of concern the rings would become inert and the spirits would leave. Chris Warnock urged me to never let anyone touch my talismanic pendants, but he never quite knew what to do about unique problem of magical rings; I was left to figure all that out for myself.
This isn’t an uncommon notion in ceremonial magic; the classic grimoires require that your blasting rod, black-handled knife, athanor, lamens, swords and so forth be made by your own hands from scratch, and that nobody ever touches them but yourself or they will cease to function. Victorian era lodge ceremonialism retains a less-strict version of this too. Mojo bags and jack balls in Hoodoo have similar prohibitions. Astrological talismans are not terribly different, but they do pose social problems in a culture where refusing an extended hand causes an immediate affront. And often an irreparable first impression.
Eventually I began wearing gloves at all times—replacing one horrible problem with a slightly lesser one—and after years of experimentation finally discovered that there was in fact a way to protect talismans from the perils foreign contact. (This turned out to be, somewhat arbitrarily, rings of the 13th Mansion of the Moon. Arcane secret revealed, right here right now).
I was in a state of partial disbelief that the cashier not only recognized my rings as magical, but that she knew magical rings would be imperiled by the touch of others. It is not common knowledge, nor uncontroversial.
I quickly surmised that she had profiled me from my selection of items—it’s even possible that she had scoped them out for herself at one point or other. They were virtually all replicas of magical tools which could easily be turned into the real things. Then again, ankhs and such aren’t actually that weird in this day and age.
That still didn’t explain her absolute confidence that my rings were special. The only way to explain that was that she was able to perceive that they were metaphysically active. She was very likely a practitioner, and a very capable one too.
Yet it was still somewhat possible that she was a New Ager who was fond of crystals, and was about to prescribe soaking them in salt water overnight to purge them of bad energy. Just because you can maybe sense something doesn’t mean you know what it truly is.
I attempted to reassure her that I knew the danger of contact with “things like these” and had found a solution, but I don’t think she quite processed that such a thing was possible. Her response was rather marvelous.
“I keep mine hidden.” She tapped her chest and I could hear the jangle of jewelry. “That way, nobody can touch.”
She leaned in. “King Solomon,” she said, with much gravity.
I gaped a little. I really needed to be sure.
“Do you mean like a pendant with King Solomon’s image on it, or do you mean the Pentacles of King Solomon?” I said.
“The latter” she replied, with a conspiratorial grin.
“I have those too!” I said, and tapped my own chest and jangled right back at her.
We laughed together.
All right, then.
The Pentacles of Solomon are either astrological talismans themselves, or something very similar to them, depending on whom you ask and how they are made.
At that point the people behind us in line were getting restless and I didn’t want to cause her to lose her job, so we quickly moved on. I really should have given her my card. She was capital C Cool.
The whole incident was intense but dreamlike. I was giddy to find a fellow practitioner in an wholly unexpected place. I was also a little startled that I could be spotted so easily.
Normally, even at magic conventions people don’t know what the heck my rings are unless they are explained in detail. They also don’t give off power that most practitioners can detect unless they’re very familiar with the tradition and know what to look for.
Apparently, if you’ve worked in some varieties of Solomonic practice, you can develop that faculty. Which is a good thing to know.
We are everywhere. Hiding in plain sight.
A very memorable encounter.