In Times of Trouble, Talismans Help

From evil-eye amulets dating from antiquity to a family heirloom, jewelry has long been worn as symbols of luck, strength, even comfort — so it probably comes as no surprise that such talismans are particularly popular during a pandemic.

Many people report feeling overwhelmed and irritable now, said Delma Walsh, a London-based psychotherapist whose work focuses on symbols. “The loss of control of life as we know it has been the biggest theme,” she said. “There is a lot of worry and anxiety about the future and what’s coming next.”

So they gravitate toward familiar objects, like jewelry, Dr. Walsh said: “We hang onto these signposts in moments of fear and crisis. They’re symbols that help us to transition to the loss and grief.”

Talismans take many forms, but each one seems to be imbued with personal meaning for the wearer.

Alice Edwards, founder of the bespoke stationary house Memo in London, has a gold bracelet with nine charms she has collected over the years.

Mrs. Edwards has been wearing the piece every day, especially during the lockdown earlier this year, which was telling, she said. “There was a really long period of time during the pandemic where I barely put on proper clothes,” she said. “It was either literally a swimsuit in my back garden during the heat wave, or a sundress, or basically pajamas — but still I put this on,” she said of the bracelet, adding that it felt very much a part of her old pre-pandemic self.

The charms include the initials of her young children, in gold and diamonds, created by the jewelers Annoushka and Alemdara; for her husband, a gem-set heart by Sophie Keegan; and the top of a signet ring that her father gave her when she turned 21. “I probably wore it for about a month, and then it went back in the box and I never, ever wore it,” said Mrs. Edwards, who later had the ring’s top sliced off and transformed into a charm. (She had the shank turned into connector rings for the charms.)

Her bracelet also includes a diamond-set wishbone and a Scorpio symbol, both commissioned from Georgina Boyce, and which represent her mother and sister, who both died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. “This bracelet is definitely wedded to my identity, and it wouldn’t even occur to me not to wear it,” Mrs. Edwards said. “I definitely feel like all the elements cumulatively bring me a lot of luck.”

“Everything might be suspended right now and we might not know from one week to the next what we’re doing — plus there’s the element of fear and anger that your liberty is being taken away,” she said. “But there’s something very psychological and subconscious about this piece — that it’s still my story.

“That’s why I wear it — to carry all the things that are important to me, all at once.”

For some, the talismanic connection of jewelry arrives over time.

That is what happened to Wei Koh, founder of The Rake and Revolution magazines, an avid jewelry fan (“I probably wear more jewelry than is considered tasteful by polite society”), with a proclivity for rings and other pieces that wouldn’t look out of place on pirates, bikers or members of heavy metal bands.

Since the pandemic began, Mr. Koh, who is based in Singapore, has been wearing three substantial gold rings every day: a skull ring from Crazy Pig Designs, a London jewelry store; a signet ring from a vintage shop in Florence, Italy, and a Native American skull ring. “I like the gaucheness of having all these gold rings,” he said. “There’s also the fierceness of the skull motif, to project an aura of badass attitude, I suppose.”

Mr. Koh said he didn’t buy the rings as talismans, but as he had been wearing them, he had increasingly felt connected to them emotionally.

“Let’s just say that I never want to be without these rings. I always consider them to be quite powerful in dispelling negativity or evil. Maybe it’s part of the aggressiveness of their symbols,” he said. “I also figured that if anyone tries to mug me, I can hit them in the face with them.”

He also has been wearing several sizable Native American-style turquoise bracelets, which he likes for what he calls the designs’ “deco-like exuberance” — but also because the stones are notably cracked. “When you see a piece of turquoise that has been smashed up, the superstition is that it’s cracked because it’s warded off something evil,” Mr. Koh said.

And then there’s also a necklace strung with a mix of pendants, including a skull, feather and a Colt Walker gun — all from Crazy Pig — as well as a gold hand that was cast in the sign-of-the-horns gesture, which in Italy is believed to protect against evil. “I wear this necklace quite often now,” said Mr. Koh. “It’s been an up and down year and everyone wants to have something where they’ll feel a little bit protected.”

The notion of muscling up during a pandemic is not lost on the astrologer Shelley von Strunckel.

“Having something that you’ve chosen that lifts your spirits, and inspires you and makes you feel safe, isn’t just important,” she said. “It has a very special place in an altered, negative and worrying environment. A little magic helps.”

Two particular talismans have seen her through the past months. The first is a gold medallion carved with the Indian symbol of Om that Ms. von Strunckel bought when, at 17, she came upon the Vedanta Society in her hometown, Hollywood. “I read my way through all the bookshelves. And because it was multi-faith — not just Hinduism or Buddhism but reflecting on everything — it kept me out of trouble,” she said with a smile.

The second jewel is a necklace with a large quartz crystal pendant wrapped in gold wire, a signature of its designer, Kazuko Oshima, whose pieces were “elegantly quirky,” Ms. von Strunckel said. (Ms. Oshima died in 2007.)

Ms. von Strunckel said she kept the necklace beside her while she was writing “The Birthday Book,” her first book, to be published this month by DK, the Penguin Random House subsidiary. “There’s something quite magical about it,” she said of the piece. “And Kazuko was a magical being in her absolute faith in what she created.”

Not all talismans need a past, however — some are completely new, marking the start of one’s story.

Claire Khodara, a singer based in Los Angeles, bought an Athena Coin medallion and chain online from the London jeweler Atelier Romy in September, six days before she gave birth to her daughter.

The medallion was a “no-brainer” purchase, Ms. Khodara said, as she was looking for a jewel to wear during the birth. “I had just turned 35 and I was going to name my daughter Athena,” she said. “I love that Athena is the goddess of wisdom and war, like wisdom and strength, if you will. The birth experience is so centered around female strength.”

Ms. Khodara, who now has three young children, said the medallion had taken on special meaning during the pandemic. “Within my little bubble, the pandemic has been a very revealing time, and which needed strength to endure,” she said. “The Athena coin supported that, reminding me of my inner strength.

”It’s so cheesy but so true — we’re so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.”

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