From the Hebrew tselem and the Chaldaie tsalma, meaning an image or idol. A talisman signifies an implement or instrument, either of wood, or metal, or some precious stone, or even parchment, of various forms, such as a triangle, a cross, a circle, and sometimes a human head or human figure, generally inscribed with characters and constructed with mystical rites and ceremonies. The talisman thus constructed was supposed by the ancients, and even in the Middle Ages, to be invested with supernatural powers and a capacity for protecting its wearer or possessor from evil influences, and for securing to him good fortune and success in his undertakings.
The word amulet, from the Latin amuletum, which comes from the Arabic hamalet, anything worn, though sometimes confounded with the talisman, has a less general signification. For while the talisman served both to procure good and to avert evil, the powers of the amulet were entirely of a protective nature. Frequently, however, the two words are indifferently used. The use of talismans was introduced in the Middle Ages from the Gnostics. Of the Gnostie talismans none were more frequent than those which were inscribed with divine names. Of these the most common were Iao and Sabao, although we find also the Tetragrammaton, and Elohim, Elohi, Adonai, and other Hebrew appellations of the Deity. Sometimes the talisman contained, not one of the names of God, but that of some mystical person, or the expression of some mystical idea. Thus, on some of the Gnostic talismanic gems, we find the names of the three mythical kings of Cologne, or the saered Abrazas.
The orthodox Christians of the early days of the church were necessarily influenced, by the popular belief in talismans, to adopt many of them; although, of course, they sought to divest them of their magical signification, and to use them simply as symbols. Hence we find among these Christians the Constantinian monogram, composed of the letters X and P. or the Vesica Piscis, as a symbol of Christ, and the image of a little fish as a token of Christian recognition, and the anchor as a mark of Christian hope.
Many of the symbols and symbolic expressions which were in use by the alchemists, the astrologers, and by the Rosicrucians, are to be traced to the Gnostic talismans. The talisman was, it is true, converted from an instrument of incantation into a symbol; lout the symbol was accompanied with a mystical signification which gave it a sacred character.
It has been said that in the Gnostie talislnans the most important element was some one or more of the sacred names of God, derived either from the Hebrews, the Arabians, or from their own abstruse philosophy; sometimes even in the same talisman from all these sources combined Thus there is a Gnostic talisman, said by G. W. King to be still current in Germany as an amulet against plague.
It consists of a silver plate, on which are inscribed various names of God surrounding a magic square, whose figures computed every way make the number thirty-four. In this Gnostic talisman, we will observe the presence not only of sacred names, but also of mystical. And it is to the influence of these talismanic forms, developed in the symbols of the Secret societies of the Middle Ages, and even in the architectural decorations of the builders of the same period, such as the Triangle, the Pentalpha, the Double Triangle, etc., that we are to attribute the prevalence of sacred names and sacred numbers in the symbolic system of Freemasonry.
We do not need a better instance of this trans mutation of Gnostic talismans into Masonic symbols, by a gradual transmission through alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and Medieval architectures than a plate to be found in the Azoth Philosophorum of Basil Valentine, the Hermetic philosopher, who flourished in the seventeenth century.
This plate, which is Hermetic in its design, but is full of Masonic symbolism, represents a winged globe inscribed with a triangle within a square, and on it reposes a dragon. On the latter stands a human figure with two hands and two heads, surrounded by the sun, the moon, and five stars representing the seven planets. One of the heads is that of a male, the other of a female. That hand attached to the male part of the figure holds the Compasses, that to the female, a Square. The Square and Compasses thus distributed seem to indicate that originally a phallic meaning was attached to these symbols as there was to the Point within the Circle, which in this plate also appears in the center of the globe. The Compasses held by the male figure would represent the male generative principle, and the Square held by the female, the female productive principle. The subsequent interpretation given to the combined Square and Compasses was the transmutation from the Hermetic talisman to the Masonic symbol.
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