An amulet (from Latin amuletum) is something intended to bring good luck and/or protection to its owner. These things can be gems or simple stones, statues, objects, coins, drawings, pendants, ringss, plants, animals, gestures, etc.; even words said in certain occasions --- i.e. vade retro, Satanas --- (Latin, "go back, Satan"), to repel evil or bad luck.
Amulets vary considerably according to the place and epoch. Nevertheless, religious objects are common amulets in different societies, be these the figure of a god or simply some symbol representing the deity (i.e. the cross for Christians, the "eye of Horus" for the ancient Egyptians). It is common even today in Thailand to see people with more than one Buddha hanging from their neck; in Bolivia and some places in Argentina the god Ekeko is a usual amulet, to whom it is due to offer at least one banknote to obtain fortune and welfare.
In the United States of America a gesture has become a common amulet that spread through many countries: "to keep the fingers crossed" to attract good luck or avoid punishment for a fake oath or promise.
Every zodiacal sign has its corresponding gem that acts as an amulet, but these stones vary according to the authors. It is an ancient tradition in China to capture a cricket alive and keep it into an osier box to attract good luck (this tradition extended to the Philippines), and to spread coins on the floor to attract money; rice is also considered a carrier of good fortune. Turtles and cactus are controversial, for meanwhile some people consider them as beneficial, others think they delay everything in the house.
Since the Middle Ages in Western culture pentacles have been considered amulets to attract money, love, etc and protect against envy, misfortune, and other disgraces. As well as the pentacles (geometric drawings with cabbalistic signs), other drawings are used as amulets by Afro-American syncretic religions, like Voodoo, Umbanda and Santeria, although some of these figures, commonly called "Veves" are used to cause bad or illness; these religions also take into account the colour of the candles they light, because each colour features a different effect of attraction or repulsion. Perfumes and essences (like incense, myrrh, etc.) are also used with purposes of attraction or repulsion. Popular legends often attributed magical powers to certain unusual objects, such as a baby's caul or a rabbit's foot; possession of these items was believed to endow their magical abilities upon their owners.
In Central Europe garlic was believed to keep vampires away, as well as religious symbols, preferably Christian. The ancient Egyptians had plenty of amulets for different occasions and needs, often with the figure of a god or the "ankh" (the key of eternal life); the figure of the scarab god Khepri was a common amulet too and has now gained renewed fame around the Western world.
For the ancient Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons and Germanss and currently for some Neopagan beliefs the rune Eoh (yew) protects against evil and witchcraft; a non-alphabetical rune representing Thor's hammer is still used as a protection against thieves in some places. Deriving from the ancient Celts, the clover, if it has four leaves, is a symbol of good luck (not the Irish shamrock, that symbolises the Christian Trinity). Corals, horseshoes and lucky bamboo are believed to be also good amulets.
Figures of elephants are believed to attract good luck and money if banknotes are offered to them. In Arab countries a hand with an eye amid the palm and two thumbs is used as protection against evil. Small bells are used in India and Tyrol to make demons escape when they sound by effect of the wind or when a door or window is opened.
Another aspect of the amulets is that concerned to Demonology, Demonolatry, and Witchcraft; a cross or pentagram star in downward position is considered favourable to communicate with demons and to show friendship towards them.
Tattoos were used as protective amulets by the Christian Copts, and the Tuareg still use them, as well as the Haida Canadian aborigines, that wear the totem of their clan tattooed. Other peoples also use tattoos.
Museums are full of curious amulets, but we do not need to go far to see one, because they have never lost their influence on people of every nation and social status. We can see amulets in jewellery, fairs of artisans, shops, and, if we look carefully, even in our own home, maybe on ourselves. The need for amulets came with the human race and the need of people for help and protection not only against supernatural powers but also against other persons.
War and other dangerous activities make the participants to try to get the most luck they can. Carlist soldiers wore an medal of the Holy Heart of Jesus with the inscription ¡Detente bala! ("Stop, bullet!"). Followers of the Native American cult of the dance of the spirits believed that blessed shirts would protect them from enemy bullets as well.
The opposite of an amulet is a jinx.