The first person to record the existence of amulets was Pliny the Elder, who was a Roman naturalist and philosopher. His writings titled "Natural History," which dates back to 79 CE, he mentions three categories of amulets:
- Objects believed to offer protection against trouble
- Objects containing prophylactic substances
- Objects used as medicine
Eyes, in one form or another, are one of the most commonly found amulets from the ancient world. We see them in graves, portrayed in art and on the walls of tombs. Phallic symbols are also highly common as they represent power and regeneration and in many cultures were believed to promote fertility. The Egyptian Ankh continues to be a commonly found amulet, featuring a staff topped with a loop, it represents the union of both male and female and was the symbol of life in general. Amulets inscribed with the names of gods, magickal numbers or alphabets have been used all through history and were extremely popular even up until and through the 19th century.
Many times we see deities from a particular religion represented on or by an amulet. In Egypt for example, it was not uncommon to see people wearing an amulet inscribed with the Eye of Horus. In today's more modern belief systems Buddhists wear small Buddha figures, Christians wear crosses, Universalists wear a Chalice and Wiccans wear a Pentacle. So as you can see, the practice is not one of the ancient religious world, but one of our own.
Throughout the first and second centuries, as the Christian religion grew and spread the leaders of the early church discouraged the use of more popular amulets, viewing them as superstitious, pagan objects. However, because the majority of the new Christian converts were once Pagan, and because a great many of them were converting out of need and not choice, many clung to the old ways of doing things, this included the use of amulets. The early Church recognized this reality and made an effort to both provide new "sacred objects" meant to replace these amulets and push to outlaw old amulets. These new "sacred objects" took the form of images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or Saints as well as the crucifix or cross. While Christian teachings no longer allow for these objects themselves to hold any inherent magickal powers they are seen as representing the power of God and Jesus.
Amulets can be bought, or made, or in the case of religious amulets, they are often passed from generation to generation. What matters less than their makeup or how you acquire one is the meaning you place on it.