Several weeks ago, I posted about symbols related to self care. I truly believe that using symbols as reminders to practice certain elements of self care can be helpful, but I also recognize the potential need for a more concrete reminder. This concrete reminder may come in the form of an amulet or talisman. Amulets are objects that are believed to repel unwanted or negative energy, while talismans are objects that attract positive energy or luck. Throughout time, cultures and belief systems all over the world have developed a diverse set of examples of amulets and talismans, which I will discuss below in the hopes that you may find inspiration to care for yourself in a new way. To be clear, my intent with this post is not to suggest cultural appropriation, but rather to discuss how symbolic objects may be used in a self care practice so that you may be able to identify or create your own amulets and talismans for self care.
WORRY DOLLs - PROTECTION against anxiety
Originating in Guatemala, muñecas quitapenas (or worry dolls) are tiny handmade dolls made of wire, wool, and cloth. According to legend, a Mayan princess named Ixmucane received a worry doll as gift from the sun god, who told her that the doll would help her solve any problems she had. Since then, children have used these dolls as confidants, whispering their worries to the dolls, who then relieve the anxieties overnight from underneath the child's pillow.
I loved collecting and using worry dolls when I was a child. Now, as a therapist, I am seeing that they have a positive affect on the lives of my clients. One client in particular, an 11 year old boy with anxiety and insomnia, has found that worry dolls help him to let go of his fears for the night; being able to communicate his feelings has been a huge relief. The self care message I take away from worry dolls is the importance of being honest with ourselves about how we are feeling. Whether we are whispering to a doll or writing in a journal, acknowledging our own feelings of pain, doubt, and worry can be helpful in accepting them and then letting them go.
NAZAR - PROTECTION against misfortune
Many cultures all over the world believe in a curse known as the evil eye, which is usually cast in the form of a glare, and causes misfortune such as illness or injury. Luckily, there are ways to repel the evil eye, differing across these cultures. The nazar, originating in Turkey but popular throughout Greece, Egypt, and much of the Middle East, is one such amulet that has been created to ward of the evil eye. It is believed that by wearing this amulet, or by placing it near a door, a person can protect themselves and their home.
In terms of self care, I wonder what we can learn from the use of the nazar. How can we spiritually and emotionally protect ourselves from negativity? First, we need to believe that we deserve to feel well. Then, it is essential that we pay close attention to what contributes to our happiness and what detracts from it. Making decisions that are truly in our best interest doesn't come as naturally as we would hope, but this is a skill that can be learned through introspection, so try to engage in self care activities that allow you to explore your personality and get to know yourself.
paper crane - luck
The orizuru, or paper crane, is a classic design in Japanese origami that represents the red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck in Japan. Legend says that by folding a thousand paper cranes (senbazuru) a person earns a lifetime of good luck. Senbazuru are often given as wedding gifts or gifts for newborns.
What strikes me about the paper crane's talismanic significance is the intention behind the symbol. A person doesn't just wish for good luck upon either themselves or another person, they work for it. They put time and energy into creating the orizuru, which sends the message that they believe it is possible to accomplish what they wish to do. Thinking about the image of the paper crane as one that signifies that good things are possible makes me wonder if it might also represent the good things that have already happened. If we are able to look at this origami bird as a reminder to be grateful, it seems to me our lives would be positively influenced.
DARUMA - fruition
The Daruma doll, also known as a Dharma doll, is a round Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. They are symbols of perseverance and good luck, and are considered useful tools in goal setting. Upon receiving a doll, the user decides on a wish or a goal. After making this decision, she fills in the pupil of one of the Daruma doll's eyes (which come blank.) This serves to remind the user of her goal and helps motivate her to complete her task. When both eyes are filled in after the goal has been met, the Daruma can be seen as a symbol of fruition; it reminds the user what she has been able to accomplish.
What a wonderful self care method, to surround ourselves with things that remind us of our strength, diligence, and efficacy! For some, the Daruma doll serves this purpose, but I wonder if there are other, more personalized symbols we can use in addition to help us connect with a sense of pride in or accomplishments. Look around your space. What exists there that makes you feel confident about yourself? If there isn't anything symbolic of your successes in your space, what might you be able to add to meet that need? Photographs? Trophies? Letters from loved ones? Consider incorporating some of these elements!