Charms were not always worn; they were, at one time, spoken or sung. They historically referred to the blessing that a priest gives at the end of a service. But because of man's need for permanence, charms gradually took on physical forms, worn for their significance to the bearer or for the supposed blessing or fortune they bestow upon the wearer. Anything can be used as a charm. A splinter of wood that was believed to have come from Jesus' cross was one of the most sought-after; hence, today’s popularity of the cross charm.
Over the centuries, however, some charms with universal meanings have come to be more well-worn than those with personal significance. Below are the symbolism of some charms that have been popular throughout cultures and have stood the test of time.
Young sprigs of clover are called ‘shamrock’ from the Irish ‘seamrog’ (little clover). This symbol is more frequently associated with St. Patrick and worn on that saint’s feast day. This is because, according to legend, St. Patrick frequently used the three-leaf clover as a metaphor to explain the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In ancient Celtic society, however, Druids or priests believed that if they carried a shamrock, they would be able to see evil spirits coming and so escape from them in time. In this sense, a three-leaf clover is more of an amulet (an item worn for protection from harm or to ward off evil spirits) than a charm (an item worn to attract good fortune). As no clover plant naturally produces four leaves, finding a four-leaf clover is very rare and is therefore considered lucky. The old Irish rhyme has this to say about it:
One leaf is for fame,
And one leaf is for wealth,
And one is for a faithful lover,
And one to bring you glorious health,
Are all in the four-leaved clover.
Star of David
The Star of David functions more as a talisman than a charm. Talismans, as opposed to the latter, are supposed to bestow the wearer certain powers, energy or specific benefits. In ancient societies, anatomical parts of animals were worn in the belief that some of these animal qualities will transfer to the human wearer; hence, human’s ancestors had talismans made of leopard's claw, an eagle's feather, or a shark's tooth. But no talisman was as popular as the Star of David, a six-pointed star formed by two overlapping triangles, with one triangle pointing upward while the other pointing down. The former symbol invokes the power of fire, sky and male energy; the latter the power of earth, water and female energy. Far from a modern symbol, the Star of David has represented the Jewish faith and the nation of Israel. Because King Solomon was believed to have used it, the 'Magen David' is also referred to as the seal of Solomon. Symbology enthusiasts also refer to the Magen David as the fusion of male and female energy.
The astrological origin of the eight-pointed star came from ancient societies as early as the Sumerian, Mayan and Egyptian. There are as many interpretations as the societies that used them, but the general consensus is that the eight-pointed star (which we now know as the wishing star) represented the four corners of space: The four lines point to the four cardinal directions (N, S, E, W), whereas the other four represent two solstices and two equinoxes. This astrological origin, however, has been eclipsed by far more popular interpretations in Hinduism (Star of Lakshmi), Buddhism (the eight paths in the way of Buddha) and Islam (seal of the prophets). The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has re-adopted the 8-pointed star in the incumbent pope's Papal Cross.