Do you want to really charm your loved one? In spirit of St. Valentine, we thought that we’d let you in on some little secrets on how to do just that. One of our goals here at NOMAD is to share with you the beauties and histories of different cultures, traditions, and crafts stemming from all over the world, so I’ve collected a few keepsakes that truly capture the heart & soul of their makers.
MILAGROS: Acquiring their name from the Spanish word for “Miracles”, milagros are devotional charms originating from ancient folk customs in various Latin American cultures. Though they have been traditionally fashioned from materials such as wood, wax, and bone, these charms are most typically cast in silver and occasionally gold. For centuries, milagros have been offered to deities as symbols for a person’s concerns, wishes, and gratitudes for specific miracles. You will frequently see milagros in the forms of body parts, in thanks or concern for healing a certain area. While hearts may be assumed to symbolize love, they often represented prayers for one’s internal organs. Similarly, a crown traditionally was offered to a saint as a plea for successful marriage. Despite their religious origins, we always recommend milagros as heartfelt, personalized gifts: a foot milagro for an athlete, a lung for someone trying to quit smoking, a plane for safe travels, or even a horse milagro to give your little niece who just wants a pony.
EX-VOTOS: Literally translating as “from a vow,” ex-votos are very similar to milagros in that they call for good health, well-being, and miracles. Nomad has a wonderful medley of vintage ex-votos from Northern Brazil, each hand-carved from a single piece of wood. The ex-votos represent promesas, promises that are kept by the doner in exchange for a granted request. The most abundant type of ex-voto are the sculptures of body parts, manifesting areas once affected by illness, disease, or pain–problems that certain saints are believed to cure. Their meaning is largely determined by the individual prayer. A breast may symbolize maternity, an open hand for mercy and blessing, or a foot to represent a long walk.
EVIL EYE CHARMS: A dominant symbol amongst the people of Turkey, and often given in the form of an amulet to wear for protection, the Evil Eye is assumed as the negative power or bad energy that a person often projects, consciously or not. The Turkish people, along with many other cultures, believe that a form of the Evil Eye should be kept on person or hung in the home, as all of the negative energy is absorbed into the amulet rather than the self. It is an ancient superstition that is still upheld all over the world, from the Mediterranean coasts, Arabia, Turkey, and all the way to India.
MUNACHI: The munachi is a Peruvian amulet that is inspired by the Quechua word, muna, meaning “to love”, and chi, “to cause to happen”. In other words, if you are looking for love and companionship, this is how to show it! The charm is actually carved from a small piece of soapstone or black terracota clay, and represents two lovers entwined head-to-head, heart-to-heart, and foot-to-foot. The design, particularly with the soapstone, is often a bit vague at first glance, but when the charm is perceived in its entirety, the image of love and sexuality is very moving. In ancient traditions, a “love-spell” was cast when a piece of one lover’s hair was knotted around the necks of the charm, then later given to his or her significant other as a keepsake.
(The story behind these munachis makes me love mine that much more!)