charm: Definition.--The word charm is derived from the Latin carmen, "a song," and denotes strictly what is sung; then it comes to mean a magical formula chanted or recited with a view to certain desired results. Charm is distinguished from amulet in this, that the latter is a material object having as such a magical potency, though it is frequently an inscribed formula on it that gives this object its power (see AMULET). The word charm stands primarily for the incantation, though it is often applied to an inscribed amulet.
A charm may be regarded as having a positive or a negative effect. In the first case it is supposed to secure some desired object or result (see AMULET). In the second, it is conceived as having the power of warding off evils, as the evil eye, the inflictions of evil spirits and the like. In the last, its negative meaning, the word "countercharm" (German, Gegenzauber) is commonly used.
Charms are divisible into two general classes according as they are written (or printed) or merely spoken:
(1) Written charms--Of these we have examples in the phylacteries and the mezuzah noticed in the article AMULET. In Ac 19:13-20 we read of written charms used by the Ephesians, such as are elsewhere called (ephesia grammata). Such magical formulas were written generally on leather, though sometimes on papyrus, on lead, and even on gold. Those mentioned in the above passage must have been inscribed on some very valuable material, gold perhaps, or they could not have cost 2,000 British pounds (= 50,000 drachmas). Charms of the kind have been dug up from the ruins of Ephesus. In modern Egypt drinking-bowls are used, inscribed with passages from the Koran, and it is considered very lucky to drink from such a "lucky bowl," as it is called. Parts of the Koran and often complete miniature copies are worn by Egyptians and especially by Egyptian soldiers during war. These are buried with the dead bodies, just as the ancient Egyptians interred with their dead portions of the Book of the Dead or even the whole book, and as the early Abyssinians buried with dead bodies certain magical texts. Josephus (Ant., VIII, ii, 5) says that Solomon composed incantations by which demons were exorcised and diseases healed.
(2) Spoken charms are at least as widespread as those inscribed. Much importance was attached by the ancients (Egyptians, Babylonians, etc.) to the manner in which the incantations were recited, as well as to the substance of the formulas. If beautifully uttered, and with sufficient frequency, such incantations possessed unlimited power. The stress laid on the mode of reciting magical charms necessitated the existence of a priestly class and did much to increase the power of such a class. The binding force of the uttered word is implied in many parts of the Old Testament (see Jos 9:20). Though the princes of Israel had promised under false pretenses to make a covenant on behalf of Israel with the Gibeonites, they refused to break their promise because the word had been given. The words of blessing and curse were believed to have in themselves the power of self-realization. A curse was a means of destruction, not a mere realization (see Nu 22:1-41 through Nu 24:1-25, Balaam's curses; Jg 5:23; Job 31:1-40). In a similar way the word of blessing was believed to insure its own realization. In Ge 48:8-22 the greatness of Ephraim and Manasseh is ascribed to the blessing of Jacob upon them (see further Ex 12:32; Jg 17:2; 2Sa 21:3). It is no doubt to be understood that the witch of Endor raised Samuel from the dead by the recitation of some magical formula (1Sa 28:7 ff).
The uttering of the tetragrammaton (~YHWH] was at a very early time (at latest 300 BC) believed to be magically potent, and hence, its ordinary use was forbidden, so that instead of Yahweh, the Jews of the time, when the earliest part of the Septuagint was translated, used for this Divine name the appellative 'adhonai = "Lord." In a similar way among the Jews of post-Biblical and perhaps of even Biblical times, the pronunciation of the Aaronic blessing (Nu 6:24-26) was supposed to possess great efficacy and to be a means of certain good to the person or persons involved. Evil spirits were exorcised by Jews of Paul's day through the use of the name of the Lord Jesus (Ac 19:13). In the Talmud (Pecachim 110a) it is an instruction that if a man meets a witch he should say, "May a pot of boiling dung be stuffed into your mouth, you ugly witch," and her power is gone.
For literature see AMULET.
T. Witton Davies