Throughout history, Jews from across the diaspora have tucked plants and other special objects inside a pouch as a protective amulet. The association between Jews and amulets was so strong that we have been both renowned and persecuted for the practice. A second century text writes that one could even identify a Jewish child by the abundance of amulets they wore.

Amulets are known as קמיע kame’a in Hebrew, bulsika in Ladino, beytele in Yiddish, and تميمة in Arabic. The word kame’a can describe various kinds of amulets for protection and comes from the root that means to bind, knot or hang upon. Often worn around the neck, slid into a pocket, or hung above a doorway or bed, amulets hold a sense of connection to ourselves, each other, the maker, the elements and divinity. The protective power of an amulet is not outside us, but rather places us inside the interdependence we are already woven into. The making and gifting of amulets can be a way of generating and feeling community resilience. These handmade pouches are a kind of embodied ritual technology that transmit care from our hearts through our hands into the object, orienting us towards connection.

You are invited to make amulets for yourself, loved ones - anyone you want to gift with some handmade magic. May this practice move us towards liberation and abolition, and support us in divesting from and dismantling harmful structures that attempt to offer us an illusion of safety. As we re-imagine protection through fortifying our interdependence, aliveness and capacity, let us draw from the deep ancestral well and reach for these beloved plants and allies that have supported us for centuries, crafting a sense of safety by hand, for and with each other.

Amulets in Jewish tradition across time and place have been made with plants, salt, metal, stones and other symbols such as eyes and the hamsa. Inside your kit, you will find a few beloved allies to work with, including cloves, rosemary, rue, rose petals, cedar, garlic, salt, nazar/evil eye beads, a needle and thread, red string, and some fabric. Plants associated with protection are all strongly aromatic, and often have potent medicinal properties. Below you will find more information about each ingredient and guidance for making your amulet.

GARLIC: zesty aliveness and community wellbeing

Knobl קנאָבל Ajo ثوم Shoom/ שום

Jews have been known as “Garlic Eaters” for thousands of years. Understanding the power of our connection to this plant, oppressors have also used “Garlic Eaters” as an antisemitic trope, persecuting and targeting us for our affinity and association with it. Garlic supports, thrives in, and embodies diaspora: it can travel in hand, pocket, bag, wagon, across land and sea, past imaginary borders drawn by empire. Tucked into pockets and pouches, hung on windows and doors, placed under the pillow in labor, and strung onto necklaces, garlic’s spicy aroma is renowned for keeping harm at bay. In Ladino, we say, “Al ajo ke se le vaiga!” or “let it go to the garlic!” as we entrust this bulb to release us from the the evil eye. Garlic is potent medicine for our hearts, blood, belly, and immunity. A zesty ally for longevity and fertility, garlic is also medicine for collective well-being. Garlic teaches us about de-assimilation and ancestral healing; a reminder of the power of claiming our pungent roots and resisting hegemonic conformity.

RUE: guardian of the soul

Ruta/Ruda, פיגם peygam, la reina de las yervas, Yiddish - di rute, فَيْجَن

The name Rue/Ruta is derived from the Latin Reuo, meaning “to set free,” pointing to rue’s liberatory powers. In Sephardic traditions, rue is considered The Queen of Herbs; referred to by a Ladino poem that sings “one who guards the soul of those who wear it.” Rue is associated with the hamsa, or hand of Miriam, as the leaves resemble a hand. Rue can be grown from cuttings and has traveled from its native Southeastern Europe throughout the diaspora, often planted outside doorways. In many SWANA Jewish traditions, the leaves and seeds are burned to expel demons and remove the Ayin Hara/ Evil Eye. Rue is also placed into water in a lead pouring ritual against the ayin hara. Rue is treasured by midwives, known in Ladino as “la guarda de las criaturas”, the guardian of children. In Sephardic tradition, bundles of rue are hung upon the birthing bed. After birth, rue leaves are gilded and placed upon a sugared almond to be consumed by the birthing person. A sprig of rue is pinned to the newborn’s clothes and sometimes sewn into the clothes, worn until adolescence). Rue is a fierce queen, safeguarding us in our most vulnerable moments.

CLOVES: protection through fiery separation

Klaves قرنفل

Tiny, spicy, and warming, cloves offer protection from gossip and the harmful gaze of the evil eye, in part due to their resemblance to eyes. A Sephardic ritual called klaves a la lumbre involves passing a handful of cloves around the body to absorb malevolent energies. The cloves are then tossed into a fire while uttering a prekante, a Ladino ritual incantation. It is said when the cloves pop, the evil eye explodes. In the Balkans and Ottoman Empire cloves have been strung along a necklace as a special protection for babies. Cloves are sprinkled into b’samim, a spice mix for havdalah, the ritual performed at the end of shabbat. Kabbalists believed the end of Shabbat to be a particularly vulnerable time, a moment in which demons gather. The havdalah ritual can be seen as a segula, a remedy for protection, in which we call upon flame, wine, and the sweet scent of cloves to bring a sense of closure and separation.

ROSEMARY: ancestral remembrance

Romero ראָוזמערי di rozmarin إكليل الجبل

Native to the Mediterranean and Asia, rosemary is beloved throughout the Jewish diaspora, often planted at the doorways for protection and infused into kitchen magic and medicine. Rosemary is known as an herb of remembrance; it supports and stimulates memory and has often been used for clarity and invigorating the mind. It is believed that memory rides on our sense of smell, and the exquisite aroma of rosemary can stir our deepest stories, re-connecting us to cultural memory and ancestral resources. Hung in boughs over doors and windows, dried and burned as incense, and brewed in healing teas, rosemary evokes a profound remembering, cultivating a protective shelter of home inside ourselves.

SALT: preserving us for life

Melakh זאַלץ zalts ملح

Jews have long held salt as precious, symbolizing life itself, and have relied on its cleansing, healing, and protective powers. Salt was laid at the entrance to the ancient temple as a boundary and was part of the sacred offering made by the High Priests, understood as a symbol of the covenant between people and the Divine. The ancient rabbis likened salt to the Torah, as both are essential for life. In the Torah, salt is rubbed on a newborn in a ritual for protection and in the Talmud, a couple of drunk rabbis massage their feet with salt and oil to “get clear.” Midwives throughout the diaspora advised casting a circle of salt around the birthing room. In medieval Europe, salt was tucked into children’s pockets along with a bit of bread and set in bowls in the corners of homes as protection from sheydim (demons). Seen as absorptive for both blessing and curse and in Sephardic tradition, salt would be placed in a packet in a prayer book or carried in a sack to the synagogue to be blessed and then used in a ritual to remove the evil eye. Once a sacred offering in the temple, salt moved to the altar of our kitchen tables, where it continues to preserve us for life.


Create an intention

First, spend some time thinking about your intentions for your amulet. Who will this be for? What do you want the person (or animal) to feel when they wear this amulet? What do you want your amulet to transmit?

Choose your ingredients

Notice which of the plants or materials you are drawn to, based on the descriptions, your own associations, or intuition. You can use one ingredient or all of them!

Gather materials and make your amulet

Pick a piece of fabric. You can use the fabric included in your kit or choose your own! There are many ways to make your amulet. It can be as simple or as fancy as you please. You can make a necklace, something you hang on your wall or door, or something you tuck into your pocket. You can make a simple sachet style which requires no sewing by simply placing a bit of your ingredients into the center of a square of fabric and tying it up with string. You can also sew a small pocket that can open if you’d like to change out the contents. Embroider, bead, paint or draw, bedazzle to your heart’s content. Get creative and have fun!

Text by Dori Midnight
Art & design by Sol Yael Weiss

This Zine was created for An Arts Spectacular: The JFREJ Winter Fundraiser.
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