The Hebrew word hhen has the meaning of favor, charm or elegance, in form and conduct, and is generally rendered “favor” (Gen. 6:8), though in certain instances is translated “charm.” For example, a prostitute may be “attractive with charm” (Nah. 3:4), but as observed in the Proverbs: “Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; but the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself.” Also, “a woman of charm is the one that takes hold of glory.” (Prov. 31:30; 11:16; see also Proverbs 5:18, 19.) Divine wisdom and understanding can be a real ornamental charm (Prov. 3:21, 22; 4:7-9), as is also true of proper speech. (Ps. 45:2; Prov. 22:11) When the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, Governor Zerubbabel was encouraged to press forward with the temple building, being assured that with the laying of the headstone, “there will be shoutings to it: ‘How charming! How charming!’”—Zech. 4:7.
Additionally, the English word “charm” has an altogether different meaning than noted above. It can also mean a magical formula spoken, sung or written as a spell, or an object kept or worn by a person in the belief that it has occult power either for good or for protection against evil. Such spiritistic practices were among “the detestable things” that Jehovah forbade his people to indulge in. (Deut. 18:9-11; Isa. 3:1-3) The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and others were notorious for their trust in charms and the casting of spells.—Isa. 19:3; 47:9, 12.
Written charms were also thought to have power to ward off evil spirits, or the evil eye. Magical words and sayings were engraved on amulets (see AMULET) made of lead, gold, precious stones, or even leather, and these “good luck” trinkets were worn on the head, or around the neck, arms and ankles as a protection to the wearer. Sometimes mystic words were put on plaques and hung over the doors of houses. Even to this day, the “mezuzah” on the doorposts at the entrance of Jewish homes is a relic of this ancient pagan custom. M’Clintock & Strong’s Cyclopœdia (Vol. VI, p. 208) says: “Like the Greeks and Romans, who attached amulets to the jambs of the doors, and ascribed to them magic power, the Jews from a very early period believed that the Mezuzah guarded the house against the entrance of diseases and evil spirits, as may be seen from the remarks in the Talmud.” (See MEZUZAH.) In the books “of those who practiced magical arts” at Ephesus, there were probably written some of the spellbinding magical formulas. (Acts 19:19) More recently “lucky bowls” for drinking purposes, inscribed with words from the Koran, have replaced older charm pieces in modern Egypt.
Sometimes amulets or trinkets, even without an inscription, took on the attributes of a charm and were worn for protection against harm. “The most popular of the amulets worn as a protection against the evil eye were of phallic import. Any such amulet was called a fascinum, probably after the Roman lascivious god Fascinus. . . . The ancient Romans, almost without exception, wore in plain view, on their persons, amulets and charms of phallic form. . . . Even children had phallic emblems hung upon their bodies and attached to their dress.”—Phallic Worship, George R. Scott, pp. 107, 109.
It is said that by the time of Christ the rabbis attached magic power to the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Hence, common use of the name was suppressed. One of the Talmud fables was to the effect that Jesus’ miracles were made possible because of his knowing the secret pronunciation of the divine name.
So-called snake charming is another form of spiritism, and is a survival of the ancient cult of serpent worshipers. The charmer is supposed to cast a spell over the serpent, often a hooded cobra, so it appears enchanted with the playing of music, usually on a flute or pipe instrument. Snakes are not deaf or hard of hearing, as some may think, but as Psalm 58:4, 5 implies, they are able to hear the voice of charmers as well as the music. One might think that it is a mere trick of training the snake as one would train an animal or bird, by placing it in a basket with a lid, playing soft music, quickly dropping the lid if any attempt is made to escape, until the snake finally learns to raise itself upright in obedience to the music without trying to escape. While this may be true in some instances, it appears that snake charming by a devout occultist is more than a simple circus trick. Asked by what power he was able to charm snakes, and whether it was a form of hypnotism, a “skilled charmer” (Isa. 3:3) by the name of Sheik Moussa explained that spiritistic forces were involved, for, as he said:
“By the honour of Islam, I can only say that it is a power which is passed down from master to disciple at initiation. To utter the invocations alone will not be sufficient to conquer the snakes. The talismans, prayers and commands are all necessary and great helps, as is also the secret invocation which is communicated to the disciple for mental use only, but the principal power to charm the snakes comes from this force which is given over to the pupil by his teacher . . . the disciple receives the power over snakes which is invisibly passed into him. It is this force which really enables him to control the snakes.”—A Search in Secret Egypt, Paul Brunton, Sixth printing, 1953, p. 248.