A Khamsa Protective Amulet is a Palm-shaped Amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa
Another Arabic name for the hamsa (or khamsa) is the hand of Fatima, commemorating Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Hamsa hands often contain an eye symbol. Depictions of the hand, the eye, or the number five in Arabic (and Berber) tradition are related to warding off the evil eye.
Another formula uttered against the evil eye in Arabic is khamsa wa-khamis. Due to its significance in both Arabic and Berber culture, the khamsa protective amulet is one of the national symbols of Algeria, and appears in its emblem.
The khamsa is the most popular of the different amulets to ward off the evil eye in Egypt — others being the Eye, and the Hirz (a silver box containing verses of the Koran). The Hand (Khamsa) has long represented blessings, power and strength and is thus seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye. It’s one of the most common components of jewelry in the region.
Archaeological evidence indicates that a downward pointing hamsa used as a protective amulet in the region predates its use by members of the monotheistic faiths. It is thought to have been associated with Tanit, the supreme deity of Carthage (Phoenicia) whose hand (or in some cases vulva) was used to ward off the evil eye.
The hamsa’s path into Jewish culture, and its popularity particularly among the Sephardic Jewish community, can be traced through its use in Phoenicia. Jews sometimes call it the hand of Miriam, referencing the sister of the biblical Moses and Aaron.
Five (hamesh in Hebrew) represents the five books of the Torah for Jews. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Heh”, which represents one of God’s holy names. Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God.
““For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, / Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: / All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
“One, who does not cast evil eyes on her ‘own’ house… who does not have malevolence towards her husband… giver of joy….seeker of family’s welfare…who treads on the righteous path… gives happiness to all… serves all… gives birth to good sons… keeps her brother-in-laws satisfied and gives nourishing food…May such a wife help us attain prosperity.”
~ Atharva Veda
“Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: / For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”
“He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.”
Most hamsa hands are amulets. Nowadays modern Israeli hamesh hands are sometimes made in the form of ceramic wall plaques that include a hand-lettered Hebrew prayer on the center of the palm. These include variations whose purpose is to prevent earthquakes as well as one of the original uses to prevent overlooking by the evil eye. Hamsa hand plaques are usually made of turquoise-glazed pottery. They are also found in modern Egypt.
There are two main styles of a hamsa hand: the stylized hamsa hand with two symmetrical thumbs, and hamsa hands that are not symmetrical and shaped like actual hands. Either hamsa hand can be worn with the fingers pointing up or down.
The hamsa is popular as a charm most often worn as a necklace, but can be found as a decorative element in houses, on key chains, on other jewelry items. Many artists use the image of the hamsa hand in jewelry, paintings, sculptures, wall decorations, and amulets.
The renewed interest in Kabbalah and mystical Judaism is a factor in bringing the hamsa pendant back into vogue. In Jewish mysticism, fish are a symbol of good luck; so many hamsas are also decorated with fish images. Sometimes hamsas are inscribed with Hebrew prayers.
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