Amulet version 1.1
2021-2-21

Definition

An amulet is a kind of poem that depends on language, code, and luck. To qualify, a poem must satisfy these criteria:

This kind of poem was designed to be recorded, collected, and traded using the Zora protocol, but it can happily exist anywhere; an amulet absolutely does not have to be recorded on a blockchain to be an amulet.

Update: There’s now an Ethereum smart contract designed expressly for amulets; you can learn more here. This kind of recording is probably for advanced poet-programmers only.

If it is recorded, an additional formal criterion applies:

There are no other rules! An amulet can be written in any language and any style. It can be composed, generated, or “discovered” in any way.

The number of sequential 8s in the hash determines the rarity of the amulet:

And, while this isn’t part of the formal definition, it’s important to say that an amulet of any rarity should be judged by its overall effect, with consideration for both its linguistic and typographic qualities. In particular, an amulet’s whitespace, punctuation, and diacritics should all be “load bearing”.

A poem doesn’t become interesting simply by satisfying the constraints of some obscure form; likewise, an amulet isn’t collectible simply because it’s rare.

But... it doesn’t hurt.

A few stray considerations:

Footnotes:

[1] Unicode (UTF-8) characters often require more than one byte; most programming languages provide a function to determine the byte size of a string.

[2] For most programmers, the SHA-256 hash function will be familiar and close to hand. For other readers interested in seeing how it works, this scratchpad might be useful.

Discussion

The SHA-256 hash function is ubiquitous in cryptography. In Zora, for example, it’s used to verify the identity of a piece of media, like a fingerprint. That media could be an MP4 movie, a PNG image, or a poem in plain text; if you change one frame, one pixel, or one comma, you change the SHA-256 hash entirely.

The hash is a cold hexadecimal spew –

9a120001cc88888363fc67c45f2c52447ae64808d497ec9d699dba0d74d72aab

– and, like a fingerprint, it doesn’t tell you anything about the entity it identifies. That’s by design, but even so, it feels strange for a value so pivotal to be totally disconnected from the underlying content, especially when it is this value that’s being collected and traded in cryptographic marketplaces.

Ostensibly, the hash provides an immutable link between unique cryptographic object and free-floating digital media.

The amulet asks: what if we took that link seriously?

In a sense, the definition of the SHA-256 hash function created, at a stroke, all amulets of all rarities. Common to mythic, trashy to lovely, they have been hiding in the manifold combinations of language; we just didn’t know we ought to be looking for them. Until now!

How should we feel about this? I will invoke an amulet of uncommon rarity; you saw its SHA-256 hash above, five 8s in a row, lucky indeed:

If you can't write poems,
write me