A Collection Of World War I Soldiers' Lucky Charms
A fascinating collection of magical objects carried by Irish soldiers around their necks during the war.
In that brief instance in which we stroke a lucky charm between our hands we think that nothing will happen. It’s a brief solace between men. Michel de Montaigne described it better than anybody: It seems that the soul… loses itself in itself when shaken and disturbed unless given something to grasp on to and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act upon. (Michel de Montaigne, ‘Essais’)
Talismans or amulets are part of all cultures. They form part of the curtain between the tangible (the object) and the invisible (the superstition). And although not everybody allows themselves to have that kind of “superstitious luxury,” the world of objects maintains a special place for things ready to be charged with solace, either for defense in adversity or to invoke good fortune. As a matter of fact, any object can work. It’s simply a question of ‘infusing’ it with superstition, or perhaps with faith, and holding it tight against the chest.
Nobody has spent so much time studying and collecting this fascinating array of magical objects as Edward Lovett, a British collector from the late 19th century who took tremendous pleasure in treasuring what historians would always dismiss. Among his many collections we found one especially captivating: the amulets carried by Irish soldiers in the First World War, included in a new book entitled The First World War Galleries by Paul Cornish.
Many of the soldiers’ talismans that Lovett collected are improvised and made of diverse materials such as a piece of coal, Connemara marble or Pin oak ––All of them typical of Ireland and a sort of memento from home. The collection is beautiful and it somehow humanizes – or even softens – those young Irishmen who drew part of their valor from that little object they could grab hold of, as Montaigne observed; an object that provided them with the necessary comfort of knowing they were taking a piece of home with them to war – and perhaps for that reason they would return there one day.
* Images courtesy of Wellcome Collection
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