A PERUVIAN PACKAGE AMULET:
COLLAGE of MAGICAL ITEMS
This elaborate package amulet from Peru is 2 1/8 inches by 3 inches in size. It consists of a dozen and half small, colourful magical items glued to a red background (cloth over cardboard), with a bit of text printed on white paper glued to the back. The whole item is wrapped in cellophane and comes with a string to hang it. Not surprisingly, the botanical and symbolic ingredients in this Peruvian package amulet have much in common with the content of charm vials from Peru and Bolivia.
Some of this amulet's symbolism is readily understood. The horseshoe and lodestone, for instance, are derived from European-Colonial folk-magic sources, while the saint card is a fixture of folk-Catholicism. However, other pieces in the collage -- the gold-thread wrapped tubes of paper, the Job's-tears seeds, the dyed tree bark chunks, the jungle vine, the Ormosia seed -- are indigenous to Central and South America and as such are less familiar to me, so my speculation about their meaning should be taken as that of a generally well-informed outsider.
THE ITEMS: There is a strong attempt to preserve bilateral symmetry in the arrangement of the collage of lucky objects, but there is no easy way to describe them in order, so i shall work generally from left to right and top to bottom. Refer to the picture if you lose track of where you are.
1) Four coloured rods of tightly rolled paper -- yellow, blue, magenta, green -- the four bound together by spiral-wound gold thread. The meaning of these is unknown to me.
2) A coiled bit of vine, dyed yellow. The common name of this vine is vuelve vuelve and it is believed to help one regain a lost lover or friend. (Vuelve vuelve means "come to me, come to me" in Spanish.) This vine also appears in South American charm vials.
3) A small chunk of tree bark dyed bright pink. Such dyed pieces of bark also appear in South American charm vials. According to the text accompanying one such vial, the meaning of the tree bark is said to be "health." My friend Barrance C. Lespine speculates that this bark is very likely from a species of Central and South American cottonwood called "ceiba," a huge tree with spreading, twining roots that throws off what Barry calls "a shower of white phallic fluff" every spring and was considered a sacred "world axis" tree by the Mayans and other native people. An image of the ceiba cottonwood appears on Guatemalan coinage.
4) A multi-coloured god's eye wound on two tooth-pick sized sticks. At the very center a golden sequin is glued. The god's eye is a protective amulet. In talismanic folk magic the golden sequin generally represents a coin and thus is said to attract wealth.
5) A small chunk of tree bark dyed bright turquoise blue. See #3.
6) A small chunk of tree bark dyed bright yellow. See #3.
7) A "bag" made of salmon-pink ribbon folded and sewn together at the top with a small metal horseshoe glued to the front. This tiny horseshoe charm also appears in South American charm vials. Inside the "bag" is a grey seed of the grass-family plant known as Job's-tears (Coix lacryma-jobii). In North America the horseshoe represents "good luck," but in the earlier continental European tradition (which influenced Mexican beliefs), it is a common preventive against the evil eye due to its connection with the lunar crescent. The meaning of the Job's Tears seed in Peru is unknown to me, however, in African American hoodoo folk magic it is used for wish-granting. In any case, Job was a figure in the Old Testament whose suffering was not relieved by his prayers to Jehovah and rosaries are often made from this seed, so the meaning may simply be generalized religiousity. The Job's Tears seed also appears in a couple of South American charm vials.
8) A miniature red taper candle with a spiral pattern of gold wax wound around it. This is at the far right of the piece and visually offsets the gold-wound paper rods. Red candles are most commonly used in charms relating to sexual love.
9) A large red and black Ormosia coccinea seed, commonly called a huayruru seed in Central and South America. The meaning of this psychedelic, intoxicant, and lethally toxic legume is "good luck."
10) An unidentifiable piece of dried and withered botanical matter which looks enough like the top of a garlic clove that i think it may indeed be such. If it is, the meaning is "protection."
11) A small chunk of tree bark dyed bright pink. See #3.
12) A flake of mica dyed bright yellowish-gold. The intention of this is to mimic native placer gold and thus attract wealth.
13) A small chunk of tree bark dyed bright chartreuse. See #3.
14) A "bag" made of purple ribbon folded and sewn together at the top with a small lump of lodestone and magnetic sand glued to the front. Inside the "bag" is a grey Job's-tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) seed. See #7. 15) A small saint card image of the crucifixion of Jesus with two attendant red-robed angels and Jehovah watching from above. This picture is framed with an elaborate open-work brocade border of gold metallic thread. The meaning is generalized sanctity, i believe, for other packets on sale at the same venue came with other images, including the Virgin of Guadalupe, Saint Anthony, and the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.
16) A small chunk of white crystalline matter. It is probably a piece of milk quartz; in the printed description that accompanied a Guatemalan charm vial, a similar stone was called "Piedra de Ara -- a grey stone which attracts money."
17) A coiled bit of vuelve vuelve vine, undyed and thus a natural off-white colour. See #2.
18) A soapstone hand, "flesh-coloured" with painted red fingernails, making the gesture called mano fico or "the fig", in which the thumb is tucked between the index and middle fingers. Around the wrist of the hand three painted lines -- red, blue, and red -- form a sort of triple bracelet. The meaning of the hand gesture in European magic is the sex act and it is a common (and ancient) European protective gesture against the evil eye. Wearing wrist cords is also protective against the evil eye, for in some cultures a red or blue (or black, or multi-coloured) cord is put around the wrist of a newborn and left there as a preventive against the evil eye until it falls off naturally; in some regions of the world (e.g. Israel and Brazil) visitors to specific shrines or sacred places are given such cord-charms and told to wear them until they fall off. In the printed description that accompanied a Peruvian charm vial, a similar soapstone hand was called "the 'Mano Poderosa' of Christ [which] also protects." However, the Catholic Mano Poderosa or Powerful Hand (derived from the ancient Roman Hand of Power) is typically shown open and upright. This hand is actually a great lesson in the errors one can fall into when making cultural assumptions. It is neither European folk magical nor Catholic in origin -- for although it seems to make the Italian mano fico closed fist gesture for protection from the evil eye -- it is actually derived from pre-Columbian Quechua illa amulets showing the hand of a weaver holding a beater-stick. Ancient weaver's hand votive amulets were buried in the ground to increase the manual dexterity of the petitioner.
THE TEXT: Glued to the back of packet is an "oration" or prayer to the talisman. The printing is so exceedingly poor that i can barely make out many of the characters, so there may well be extensive errors in what follows. Please revise the Spanish version if you can and if you can supply a translation, i would be much obliged:
ORACION Oh bendito talisman a quien suerte y des- mesura le diste yo te sahumo con el oro para mi tesoro con el cobre para que libres de la envidia y del mal Suerte y fortuna te llamaras por donde quiera que vaya ha cerme triunfar horas que salga e mal mi cuerpo y casa entre el bien como CRISTO entro a Jerusalen.
Here are all the illustrated package amulet pages in the Archive: