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Friday the 13th: Charms and Curses at the CMA

If you’re stocking up on rabbits’ feet and turning the other direction when you see a black cat today, you’re not alone. The reasons Friday the 13th in particular became such an inauspicious day have been lost to history, but both Friday and the number 13 have also been considered unlucky on their own for centuries. Logically, when the two come together on the calendar the misfortune only grows.  

Whether it’s Friday the 13th or some other type of misfortune, humans come up with lots of different ways to ward off evil. Check out these objects in the museum’s galleries for a look at how people have kept themselves safe from curses and ill wishes throughout history. 

crystal

Mounted Rock Crystal, 500s-600s, Byzantium, Byzantine period, 6th-7th centuries. 

In the center of this pendant is a cylinder made of rock crystal. Originally assumed to be hollow, the cylinder was thought to be a container for oil or a sacred relic (fragments of bone or tissue from a Christian saint). But it’s not hollow; the rock crystal is a solid prism. While its function is still unknown, one guess is that it might have been an amulet meant to ward off mishaps for its wearer. 

cup

Eye Cup, c. 520 BC, Attributed to Psiax (Greek). 

Visit the Greek galleries to see the wide, staring eyes painted on the side of this cup. These painted eyes have two purposes: first, to ward off the “evil eye” (a curse cast by a malicious glare) and protect the drinker, and second, to create a humorous effect when the drinker raises the cup to his or her lips. Tipped upwards, the eyes look out from the bottom of the cup at other revelers, making it look as though the drinker is wearing a mask. 

frog

Frog Amulet, c. 1380-1330 BC, Egypt, New Kingdom, Late Dynasty 18

This little frog is made from faience, a distinctive blue or green type of ceramic widely used by the ancient Egyptians. Because frogs were so numerous along the banks of the Nile, they were seen as a symbol of fertility. Women hoping for an easy delivery would wear an amulet like this one during childbirth. 

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