I am often asked about what I mean when I refer to my jewelry as ‘talismanic’. First of, if I look at the word as it is used, it generally refers to an object that in some way has come to ‘hold power’ for lack of a better term. By ‘hold power’ I mean it has a function, intrinsically (intrinsic meaning "belonging to the nature of a thing”). Not exactly a battery, not exactly a spell, not exactly a spirit, but still…it is not a ‘normal’ object. It is in some way very special. And it ‘holds’ this specialness, and through use or contact, allows another or others to use this specialness. There are of course psychologicalexplanations for this kind of thing but I am not really interested in them except as ‘partial possible understandings’. It is not my experience that talismanic objects are like placebo drugs. They actually do/are something special.
The online etymological dictionary gives us this:
1630s, "magical figure cut or engraved under certain observances," from French talisman, in part via Arabic tilsam (plural tilsaman), from Byzantine Greek telesma "talisman, religious rite, payment," earlier "consecration, ceremony," originally in ancient Greek "completion," from telein "perform (religious rites), pay (tax), fulfill," from telos "end, fulfillment, completion" (see tele-). The Arabic word also was borrowed into Turkish, Persian, Hindi. Related: Talismanic; talismanical.
Bri Saussy writes more clearly about talismans:
“The root of talisman most likely comes from the Greek telos, meaning fulfillment, completion, or the “for the sake of which” you do something. The root of the word helps us understand the idea behind a talisman. It is a touchstone, a reminder, a physical object, that can bring you back to your intention – your hopes, dreams and aspirations – in crafting it. When worked with properly, a talisman may also serve to orient you and set your feet back down on the proper path.”
Sometimes I get asked if when I craft (for example) a pentagram or a Jupiter piece, have I charged or empowered these pieces explicitly towards a function. And the answer is ‘not exactly’. I intend my work to primary wind up in the hands of folks who have some sort of a practice, and that they will do the primary ‘charging’. So far there hasn’t been much of a call for me to do the work for others, though it is something I can do.
What I do is work from beginning to end with an intentionality of ‘magical tool’ and ‘talisman’. What I mean by this is sort of in the same vein as you can buy a beautiful replica sword that looks like the real deal…but you would not want to use it in battle! It was never intended for that. If you wanted something seriously lovely that you could use, you would want to get Jake Powning or Jeff Helms or someone at that level to make you that one, as it would literally destroy your ‘replica’. It was designed for a function (which is intrinsic) as well as to be pretty.
Some will find this distinction ridiculous, which is fine of course. I expect they are not my clients and customers anyway. The clearest way to say it is this: I have a practice that is intrinsically linked to my silver work in the shop. The things I make are an outgrowth of my practice, and they ‘know’ what they are for. This does not mean you shouldn’t buy one as a piece of art jewelry! Jake & Jeff’s swords are stunning works of art as well as something you could fight with. It’s not an either or, it is an ‘yes and’ issue. Does that make sense?
The Talisman as more-than-object: the human level.
My wife, Blu brought up a concept that is related. It is something I have thought of on a lot of levels, but not really linked directly in these terms. The concept is that of the ‘talis-man’, the ‘talismanic person’ so to speak.
I recently was looking at some information on the yogini Machig Labdrön who seems a good thing to use as a starting place here:
“Machig Labdrön (Tibetan: མ་གཅིག་ལབ་སྒྲོན, Wylie: ma gcig lab sgron, "Unique Mother Torch from Lab", 1055 - 1149) was a renowned 11th-century Tibetan tantric Buddhist practitioner, teacher and yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Vajrayana practice of Chöd.”
My take on Machig Labdrön in extreme short form: this Unique Mother-Torch was seriously intense, created some important spiritual threads/lineages, and from Buddhist accounts, is still/again incarnate in the flesh and has been a number of times.
I turn to the Tibetan’s (and while Machig Labdrön and those who are mentioned below are all Buddhist, the ‘ur-sorcery’ flows through the shamanry & Bon practice that it merged with in Tibet, so giving wider credit seems appropriate) as they address this (at least in one form) fairly head on in the concept of Tulku’s, or emanations:
“It is said that Machig Labdrön took incarnation as Jomo Menmo (1248–1283) and later as Khyungchen Aro Lingma (1886–1923) According to the information given by the website the Gyalwa Karmapa, Jomo Menmo was born as a karmic emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal.
In more recent history, Machig Labdrön has incarnated and emanated both in Tibet and in the West. In Tibet, the great yogini Jetsun Rigdzin Chönyi Zangmo (1852–1953)—also called Ani Lochen and Shugseb Jetsun Rinpoche—was a recognized incarnation of Machig. Shugsheb Jetsun Rinpoche—also called the great female master, Lochen Chönyi Zangmo—founded the Shuksep or Shugsep (shug gseb) nunnery located thirty miles from Lhasa on the slopes of Mount Gangri Thökar.”
——from Machig Labdrön’s wikipedia entry
…and continues up to now in the person of Tsultrim Allione in the West.
In practice one can work with Machig Labdrön, or with one of her emanations, to access certain powers or pathways. She is - to use Bri’s word - a ‘touchstone’ to connect you to her work begun 900 years ago and continuing to this day. It’s an interesting concept!
In Tibetan Buddhism these emanations seem to be viewed explicitlyas ‘reincarnated’ versions of the same spirit-being. They are reborn to continue the work begun in previous incarnations. But I think they also (the ‘yes/and’ mentioned earlier) serve as talismans in human form as part of their natures. Now since within the Tibetan Buddhist religion, there is an explicit practice of this ‘coming back to teach’, it’s easy to not follow that chain beyond the obvious links that fit the Tibetan model.
Which leads me to the pure gut feeling part of this. I think that some people are clearly talismanic. This doesn’t mean they are Saints or Enlightened Masters or Reincarnated Buddhas or something (though they might be that as well), and they may (appear to) have fairly normal lives. But they are like pole stars, and can be used in the same way one might use a more classically defined ‘talismanic object’. They intrinsically hold power, and they can transmit it. It’s often accessible to other people, it's not something the only 'hold' for themselves. These are not always the people setting up shop/temple/church/spiritual office. These are peoples sisters and grandmothers, grandfathers and uncles, midwives, watchmakers, fishermen.
I have personally known or had contact with several of these people. They ‘function as’ magical tools to those who come in contact with them, opening doors internally & externally. Some of them were clearly ‘spiritual teachers’, and some were not. I think some of these people become spiritual teachers as an attempt to find a position to fit into in order to function in the modern world. This is an odd position to be in the West in 2014 I would think, and fitting in often seems (and may at times actually be) necessary for survival. They may or may not be what some consider ‘enlightened’.
In my experience much of the work these people do is very tightly focused. They may be here to perform a single function (like a classical ‘object’ talisman), or to watch over a small area. Their function isn’t always ‘big picture’ obvious. But they can open a critical door, or shine light in hidden corners. They ‘hold power’ like talismans so that other beings can access it and use it. To again quote Bri “ When worked with properly, a talisman may also serve to orient you and set your feet back down on the proper path.”
It's something to think about. I'd love to see other's thoughts on this!