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What is a periapt anyway?


According to the online free dictionary, a periapt is

A charm worn as protection against mischief and disease; an amulet.

According to Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, Third Edition. 1995 it is

small object worn or kept for its supposed magical power.

Furthermore it ultimately comes from the Greek meaning to hang around, so essentially it is a necklace.

Alexander of Tralles

Looking for earlier references to periapts, we find the following in Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England (1864) by Thomas Oswald Cockayne.

Alexander of Tralles (AD. 550) frequently prescribes periapts, that is, amulets, and wise words : thus for colic, he guarantees by his own experience and the approval of almost all the best doctors, dung of a wolf, with bits of bone in it, if possible, shut up in a pipe, and worn during the paroxysm, on the right arm, or thigh, or hip, taking care it touches neither the earth nor a bath. A lark eaten is good. The Thracians pick out its heart, while alive, and make a periapt, wearing it on the left thigh. A part of the caecum of a pig prepared with myrrh, and put up in a wolfs or dogs skin, is a good thing to wear. A ring with Hercules strangling a lion on the Median stone, is good to wear. A bit of a childs navel, shut up in something of silver or gold with salt, is a periapt which will make the patient at ease entirely. Have the setting of an iron ring octagonal, and engrave upon it, "Flee, Flee, Ho, Ho, Bile, the Lark was searching ; " on the head of the ring have an N en- graved : this is potent, and he thinks it would be strange not to communicate so powerful an antidote, but begs it may be reserved from casual folk, and told only to such as can keep secrets and are trusty. For the gout he recommends a certain cloth, also the sinews of a vultures leg and toes tied on, minding that the right goes to the right, the left to the left; also the astragali of a hare, leaving the poor creature alive; also the skin of a seal for soles ; also a line of Homerce [Greek text], on gold leaf when the moon is in Libra; ……

I think, or at least would like to think, that the practice of medicine, the treatment of animals and perhaps even our understanding of magic have all improved since those times.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc appears in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI saying

The regent conquers, and the Frenchmen fly.
Now help, ye charming spells and periapts;
And ye choice spirits that admonish me
And give me signs of future accidents.

However one must suspect that the bard has placed the word in the heroine’s mouth, on account of the general English belief in witchcraft.

The Chuvash women’s periapt

The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography has an interesting short article on the The Chuvash women’ periapt.

Silver and rich embroidery were aimed to protect maidens and women, or rather, their female origin against evil spirits, whammy and spells. Silver coins were sewed on the base in a scales" way. Such scales" ornaments extremely remind of military armour. The word ama refers to the name of the Goddess of fertility.

Dungeons and Dragons

In any case the word has long been preserved for humanity by the noble sport of Dungeons and Dragons. According to the SRD we have the following sorts of periapts:

Types of periapt in Dungeons and Dragons
Periapt of health 7,400 gold pieces The wearer of this blue gem on a silver chain is immune to disease, including supernatural diseases.
Periapt of proof against poison 27,000 gold pieces This item is a brilliant-cut black gem on a delicate silver chain. The wearer is immune to poison, although poisons still active when the periapt is first donned still run their course.
Periapt of wisdom models ranging from 4,000 to 36,000 gold pieces Although it appears to be a normal pearl on a light chain, a periapt of wisdom actually increases the possessor’s Wisdom score in the form of an enhancement bonus of +2, +4, or +6 (depending on the individual item).
Periapt of wound closure 15,000 gold pieces This stone is bright red and dangles on a gold chain. The wearer of this periapt automatically becomes stable if his hit points drop to between -1 and -9 inclusive. The periapt doubles the wearer’s normal rate of healing or allows normal healing of wounds that would not do so normally. Hit point damage that involves bleeding is negated for the wearer of the periapt, but he is still susceptible to damage from bleeding that causes Constitution loss, such as that dealt by a wounding weapon.

The Collins dictionary debacle

Despite the best efforts of the masters of dice and imagination, it seems the word almost expired. Carol Cadwalladr takes up the story:

Good news: the word "periapt" has been saved for the nation. Isn't that a relief? It means charm or amulet, but you probably knew that already. The compilers of Collins English Dictionary had placed it on an at-threat list, with 23 other words, including "fubsy" (meaning short and stout), "skirr" (meaning a whirring or grating sound as of the wings of birds in flight) and "embrangle" (meaning to confuse or entangle). They said the words were insufficiently used and intended to drop them from the next version of their dictionary.

As it turns out, "periapt" is used all the time by people who play Dungeons and Dragons who were scandalised about its possible omission and successfully lobbied Collins into keeping it, so hurrah for that. It's a compelling idea, though, the thought of simply decommissioning words we no longer need, excising them from the dictionary and pretending they never existed.

Behind the magic there has to be technology:
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