to the technical vocabulary of workers in the history of religion.6
A fetich, or an amulet, may be apprehended as something that can give any sort of benefit that the possessor may desire; but it is probable that from the beginning certain objects were believed to have powers peculiar to themselves, and the special powers imputed to them were often determined by the principle of similarity. To mention only examples that fall within the scope of these studies, certain gem stones were believed to exert powers suggested by their color. Galactite, an unidentified stone, evidently whitish, was supposed to promote the flow of milk in women and animals; amethyst, apparently because of its winelike color, was believed to enable a man to drink heavily without becoming intoxicated.7
This idea of medicomagical power manifested through similarity doubtless goes back to a remote period, and it continued, as the “doctrine of signatures,” to exert an influence in medicine down to modern times, when scientific methods gradually got the upper hand. Most of the precious and semiprecious stones were endowed by popular belief with medicinal or magical virtues; and while our knowledge of those beliefs is derived from the later Greek and Roman authors, there can be no doubt that many of the superstitions are far more ancient than the writers who record them.
The belief in magic is attested even in Homer by the Circe episode in the Odyssey
and by the healing of the young Odysseus' wound with the aid of an incantation.8
In the fifth century allusions to magical acts and objects become quite numerous, and in the fourth there are several allusions to amulets, περίαπτα, περιάμματα. The words mean “things tied round the body.” In their simplest form, which was probably for a long time the commonest, such amulets were merely cords or narrow bands tied round the neck, the arm, the ankle, or looped from one shoulder across the body.9
On painted pottery young men are seen wearing them, and nude hetairai sometimes wear such a band round a thigh. When it was thought that magical power lay in an object small enough to wear, it might be hung round the body; and the virtue of the suspended object came to be regarded as more important than that of the encircling cord. Thus pendant amulets became exceedingly numerous, though they never entirely superseded the old magical knots.
Here a passage of late date is instructive. Gregory of Nazianzos had said in his sermon “On Baptism”: “You have no need of amulets (periammata) and incantations (epasmata), along with which the Evil One makes his way into the minds of the simpler folk, stealing for himself the honor that belongs to God.”10
A scholium on that passage runs as follows:
6 See the article “Mana” in Hastings, ERE, VIII, 375–380, for a good discussion of both the local application of the term and its use in scientific terminology.
7 Galactite, Orph. Lith. 201 ff.; amethyst, Plin. N. H. 37, 124.
8 Odyss. 10, 203 ff., 19, 457.
9 O. Jahn, “Der Aberglaube des bösen Slicks,” Ber. sächs. Akad., 7 (1855), 40–43; P. Wolters, “Faden und Knoten als Amulett,” ARW 8, Beiheft, 122. See also the recent monograph of Count Du Mesnil du Buisson, “Le Sautoir d'Atargatis et la chaîne d'amulettes” (Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui, I), 1947.