A Turkmen house ornament

Tassels on a Turkmen house amulet

This is a large Turkmen Ersari ornament closely related to the gondschuk or breast plate worn by Turkmen women. Both have the same diamond shape, decorated with a cross to symbolize the universe. The four cardinal points in this example are decorated with carnelians, while the central point, symbolizing mankind as part of the universe, is decorated with a cut cameo. The size of the ornament is not unusual.

However, the decoration of this ornament reveals that this particular object was probably not used as personal decoration, but as an amulet for the house or tent. Gondschuks that are worn as jewelry are decorated with dangles hanging from the two lower sides of the diamond. The plate itself is made of silver, sometimes fire-gilt, and decorated with carnelians. The dangles are also carried out in silver, sometimes fire-gilt, and if possible also decorated with carnelians.

The choice of materials used in this ornament indicates a different, but closely related function: to protect the house and its inhabitants. To begin with, the ornament is not made of silver but of plain metal. Iron is said to keep evil at a distance and thus away from the home. The decoration underneath the ornament also shows different functions. In addition to metal lozenges decorated with blue, green and red glass stones, beaded strings with cowrie shells, a few coins, bells with a stone inside to make a jingling sound, tassels and beaded ornaments are added. All of these have their own function in chasing evil. The sound of the bells and the unpredictable movements of the tassels chase evil away, the cowrie shells and coins bring fertility and prosperity to the house and its inhabitants. The fabric used to hang the ornament finally is decorated with traditional symbols such as ram’s horns, also seen as particularly useful against evil.

Another indication that this ornament was used as a house-amulet rather than personal decoration can be found in the material of the strap. This ornament is hung from a relatively narrow,  double band. The inner band is not large enough to fit over a head and has no fastening clasp or other fasting mechanism. In general, gondchuks are worn on either decorated metal chains, or long leather or fabric bands decorated with metal elements.