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.

There is now an Ethereum contract designed expressly for amulets, which is very cool! You can learn more at amulet.garden.

If an amulet is recorded on a blockchain, 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