Which was the first art gallery, the cave wall or the human chest? Paintings and jewellery are as old as our need to create, and both have symbolic, numinous and magical as well as aesthetic and social dimensions, though jewellery needs costume and body for its full effect.
The most obvious thing about jewellery is its value as indicator of status. Whether you wear a wild boar’s tusk, gold, or jade, there is always a cost involved, in money or guts, and the act of wearing it proclaims your wealth and standing. Crowns, chains of office, rings are all social signifiers. Is the figure you’re looking at a Buddha or a Bodhisattva? Check out the armbands, necklaces, earrings: a Bodhisattva is richly dressed and richly jewelled because he still operates within the six worlds and has earthly as well as spiritual status; Buddha is beyond the trappings of earthly power.
But jewellery plays a second and equally important role. For much of its history and many of its wearers jewellery was magical and protective. Even in our rational society, stories of magical jewels are still popular: the Lord of the Rings has his ‘one ring to rule them all’, and cartoon heroes still search for baleful gemstones in the dragon’s den. And while we no longer believe in the magic that empowers a particular jewel or design, we do still take that lucky charm into the exam.
How much more important to their wearers were the spirit locks of China, designed to ‘lock’ the spirit of the greatly-desired boy child to this particular existence; or the gold jewellery of the Nias of Indonesia which as it aged acquired more power, until it was too deadly to be worn and so spent most of its life stored close to heaven in the attic of the village longhouse, requiring a sacrifice (preferably human) before it could be displayed. Or the symbols of religions - Buddhist stupa, Star of David, Hand of Fatima, Christian cross - that combine a statement of belief with a protective role.
There have always been rules for magic, and jewellery usually follows them. Sympathetic magic involves a belief in an essential connection between like-seeming things. Colour is important: green of jasper and jade represents new burgeoning life, red of coral and carnelian life-giving blood, and so on. Then there are significant shapes: pomegranates or lotus pods filled with seeds represent fertility, fish shapes protect against drowning.
At a more intellectually complex level, the Chinese see the physical properties of jade as representing the five virtues - wisdom, integrity, altruism, loyalty and righteousness, and believe that wearing it will impart these virtues. At a simpler level, the belief that the music of heaven will vanquish demons leads to the making of jewellery that rings: bells, tiny metallic pendants, layerings of metal chains.
Then the magical law of contagion holds that things once in contact continue to influence each other. Jewellery incorporating animal elements (fur, teeth, tusks) by ‘contagion’ pass on the strengths of that animal to the wearer, or give additional protection by warning off other beasts. Such jewellery may also be totemic, representing a personal spirit guide of another species: wolves, lions, dragons, horses, eagles, hornbills, even rain-bringing frogs are commonplace Asian symbols.
Evocation involves the use of supernatural images in order to encourage protection or discourage misfortune. The images may be of gods, demons, bodhisattvas, ancestors or saints. Whoever they are, wearing their image gains their influence, especially if this has been reinforced by the ‘contagion’ of spending time in a temple or being blessed by the monks. It can be strengthened even further by invocation, the use of written prayers, spells, mantras and symbols, designed to entreat or coerce a deity or other non-material force. The invocation may take the form of an inscribed object, or of script in a special container. Islam has always given power to the written word, and amulets containing passages from the Koran or bracelets, earrings and pendants inscribed with verses in Arabic script can be found throughout the Muslim world.
So amulet or talisman, symbol of the divine or image of a demon, given to celebrate a marriage or worn to prove manhood, coloured to represent the living world or inscribed with the words of heaven, jewellery can perform many roles and say a great deal about the beliefs and values of its wearer - even, occasionally, those of a rational TAASA member.
3 EDITORIAL: JEWELLERY - Heleanor Feltham
4 CONNECTION TO THE SACRED: I Made Rai Artha (Lolet), trs. James Bennett
6 TRADITIONS OF TURKMEN JEWELLERY - Dee Court
9 SYMBOLISING MATRIMONY - Rachel Miller
10 TRAVELLER ON THE JEWELLERY TRAIL
- Lenore Blackwood
13 EXHIBITION: FOUR KOREAN SILVERSMITHS - Yong-il Jeon
14 A WEALTH OF MEANINGS: JEWELLERY IN INDIA - Jim Masselos
16 A SIGNBOARD OF GOOD WISHES - Lynette Cunnington
18 THE COMPASSIONATE COUPLE: TWO MONUMENTAL SANDSTONE IMAGES FROM INDIA - Pratapaditya Pal
20 MUSIC FOR THE EYES: A MUSICIAN LOOKS AT INDIA’S RAGAMALA PAINTINGS - Richard Runnels
22 TAASA PROFILES: ANN PROCTOR AND RUTH CLEMENS
23 BOOK REVIEW: SCHOLARLY DELIGHTS - Milton Osborne