To wrap up our discussion on talismans and amulets, I wanted to go over a few common and yet powerful symbols often found in jewelry that attest to feminine power. I find this subject fascinating because most of this symbolism was born, or became popularized, in the Victorian era. This was an era in which it was scandalous to show your ankles; to be alone in a room with a man who was not your father, brother or husband; and in which women never ever traveled, walked or lived alone.
Women were infantilized: helpless and needing all of the attention and humor that a child needs.
BUT. Symbols of feminine power persisted, in fact flourished, as they have always persisted throughout time.
Although these symbols have persisted in many ways: in art, in religious symbols, in rituals and even in nursery rhymes and fairy tales, jewelry has also contained these symbols and their secrets. And as jewelry is most often associated with and for women . . . it's become the chosen method for armoring ourselves with the power these symbols contain and making a statement, even if the statement is/was only visible to others who had "eyes to see and ears to hear."
The Figa, or Mano Figa (Fig/ Fig Hand) is a symbol that I recently wrote about on Instagram. While the symbol is ancient and goes back further than ancient Rome, it experienced a revival in the Victorian era. While it's official purpose is to ward against the Evil Eye (and is usually worn as a necklace), it's symbolism actually goes much deeper. If you examine the charms, it has a thumb thrust in between the forefinger and middle finger. This gesture is known as "The Fig" or in modern slang it would be called "The Pussy." It imitates both heterosexual sex and the anatomy of a woman's vulva (the thumb would be the clitoris). It's a sexual sign and also a sign of sexual power. In ancient Roman times these charms were most often made out of silver, which is sacred to the Luna, the moon goddess, or red coral, sacred to Venus, goddess of the sea and of love and red being the color of blood/the blood spilled at menstruation and during birth.
These days, figas are made out of all sorts of different stones and materials and it can be a lot of fun to start a collection or search for a figa made out of specific material(s). Wearing the figa is an invocation to the Mother Goddess. The Dark Goddess. She rules over sex and death and the things hidden in the night (Luna) and hidden in the depths of the sea (Venus). You can wear yours as I wear mine, as a testament to the enduring strength of women. Our strength is often silence and goes unnoticed, but we know it's there. Just as the silent and unnoticed pendant hanging from a woman's neck.
My favorite place to look for Figas is at a local antique jewelry shop or on Etsy. Ebay is also a great resource, I've just never really used it and I tend to trust Etsy sellers more for some reason.
The Victorian Rose
Roses are another ancient divine feminine symbol that saw a revival in the Victorian Era. In the Victorian era, roses took on a language of their own to speak coded whispers of passion between lovers in a time where they had no privacy. Red roses came to mean love and passion, while yellow means friendship and so forth. Mother Mary is associated with roses and, of course, the rosary. However, Roses are long associated with love and love goddesses, as well as fertility because of it's resemblance to female genitalia, it's sweet fragrance, and it's delicate and thorny nature. And while the Catholic church will tell you that the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in 1214 in a holy vision, the use of rosaries actually goes back to the ancient world as prayer and meditation beads (like a mala), and Jesus even warned his followers against using prayer beads:
“And when you pray, do not…repeat the same
words over and over as the Gentiles (pagans) do,
for they think they will be heard for their much
For more on the pagan origins of the rosary, see here.
You can also make your own rosary, dedicated to the Mother Goddess however you most identify with her, including Mother Mary/The Black Madonna, or you can wear your rosary as an amulet. It has been used as such for centuries and there is a lot of power in this repeated tradition. Learn how to make your own or dedicate one you already have here.
Although the snake has always been a powerful symbol used in amulets, talismans and jewelry, coiled snake rings became forever popular in the the mid-1800's when Queen Victoria received a coiled snake with an emerald head (her birthstone) as an engagement ring from Prince Albert. It was one of the first pieces of celebrity jewelry to be widely coveted and copied.
I cannot wait to find the perfect coiled snake ring to add to my own collection.
Snakes mean many things: as a symbol of healing they come down to us from the tradition of Asklepios, an ancient dream healer who had temples sprinkled throughout the Mediterranean. Snakes were sacred to Asklepios and when pilgrims were incubating healing dreams in the underground dream chambers, snakes (non-deadly ones) were allowed to roam free in those chambers. "The rod of Asklepios" has become an international medical symbol, not to be confused with the caduceus.
Snakes are also associated with feminine wisdom and sexuality (the snake and Eve in the Garden of Eden), with transformation and rebirth . . . and with death, as snakes can be deadly. Snakes are a symbol of alchemy in more than one mystical tradition. As the ouroboros, or the snake eating its own tale, the snake is a symbol of eternal return or of constant re-creation.
Moons and/or Stars
Moons and Stars were also popular in the Victorian Jewelry. The moon, usually a crescent moon, was a blatant and outright symbol that glorified the divine feminine while stars meant guidance (guiding star, North Star). Paired together this motif can easily be read as turning to the divine feminine as a guiding star. And, after all, the daughters of these Victorian moon and star-wearers did become flappers who revolutionized what it meant to be a woman in the 1920's and 1930's.
Horseshoes are a relatively old symbol of luck and protection. Horseshoes are made out of iron (which is considered sacred and holy because it doesn't catch fire or melt) and have seven holes, meaning they can be attached to a wall with seven (iron) nails. Seven is a holy number as well and so it's seen as double the protection or luck. A horseshoe hanging with the open end up, as in the pictures above, is for luck, while a horseshoe hanging with open end down is for protection.
Horseshoes enjoyed a heyday in the Victorian Era as both men and women wore them for luck, fortune and protection.
Finally, my favorite thing about Victorian jewelry was the revitalization of mourning jewelry (no pun intended). While we humans have been immortalizing our heroes and loved ones by way of jewelry and adornment for thousands of years, mourning jewelry became quite the trend in the Victorian era when Queen Victoria began wearing a mourning ring to mourn her beloved husband Albert. That's right, Queen Victoria kicked off two huge and enduring jewelry trends: The coiled snake ring a la her engagement ring, and a mourning ring a la the one she wore to mourn her husband.
Common motifs around the mourning ring include urns, forget-me-nots and weeping willows. Jet or onyx is also often used in mourning rings and sometimes the hair of the person being mourned is incorporated in some manner as well.
These are some of my favorite shops to follow and buy from-- none are affiliated or probably even know my name :P
I hope you found this Sacred Adornment series helpful! If it inspires you to start a collection or to buy your first piece of antique jewelry, I'd love to see it!
In love and darkness,