At this point the meaning of the word needs to be clarified. The term is attested in English in the seventeenth century, and in French in the second half of the sixteenth. It is derived from the Latin amuletum, origin unknown, but which is an approximation of the Greek phulakterion (phylactery). It may also be compared with the Arabic homaba/hemel, meaning 'to carry'.
The generally accepted definition is: 'Anything worn about the person as a charm or preventive against evil, mischief, disease, witchcraft, etc.' The Oxford English Dictionary.
A talisman, as distinct from an amulet, is not necessarily worn on the person. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, it is: 'a stone, ring or other object engraven with figures or characters, to which are attributed the occult powers of the planetary influences and celestial configurations under which it was made [...] also medicinally used to impart healing virtue; hence, any object held to be endowed with magic virtue; a charm.'
An amulet is thus defined as an object endowed with magical properties, and which one wears on one's person.
Let us see to what extent this definition also applies to Ancient Egyptian amulets. Pharaonic civilisation produced a considerable variety of small objects: animals, gods, objects used in daily life, hieroglyphs. Some were pieces of jewellery in their own right, others, pierced or furnished with an eyelet or loop for suspension, were elements in the composition of of a necklace or of a pectoral; still others were distributed among the wrappings of mummies.
It should first be remarked that Egyptian amulets protected the owner in his lifetime and accompanied him, still effectively, in the hereafter. There were no precise frontiers (and a fortiori no impassable barriers) between the two worlds: far from being mutually exclusive, they constantly interpenetrated one another, one heraiding or extending the other. Amulets, too, concerned the living as well as the dead.
A second, and significant, observation: the effectiveness of the amulet is not limited to the object itself. The Egyptians, as mentioned above, believed profoundly in the power of the image. From this perspective, the drawn representation of an amulet, its image, extended and even increased the power of the amulet itself. A painting of a djed pillar in a tomb, or a knot of Isis (also referred to as a girdle of Isis) as a vignette illustrating a Book of the Dead, functioned - although on a different scale - in the same way as an amulet worn by an individual.
In the context of Ancient Egypt one should thus not reduce an amulet to just an object worn by a private individual; the term should include its representation as well - painted, incised or drawn on a support of some kind (a wall, a statue, papyrus, etc.). The image of an amulet must, however, not be confused with a talisman, because it took the form, in most cases, of the representation of an object worn by the individual.
The Egyptian amulet is often a small wearable and personal version of a more generally used symbol. Thus, the lioness, symbol of all forms of power from the earliest periods, divine protectress of the king in historic times (as manifested by the large statues of the goddess Sekhmet from the reign of Amenhotep III in the XVIIIth Dynasty), finally became, in the form of an amulet, the protectress of the individual.
A final note: it is advisable to be scrupulous in distinguishing the amulet from the jewel in the sense in which that term is understood today. The jewel is thus a purely decorative object stripped of any magical or protective connotations. The amulet, on the other hand, is defined by its utilitarian prophylactic virtues, and functions as a receptacle of divine and magical forces.