The Hamsa is a Middle Eastern symbol that also appears in Muslim and Jewish cultures. “Hamsa” is actually the Arabic word for five, and this name is used by Israeli Jews and Arabian Muslims. Five represents the fifth letter “Heh” of the Hebrew alphabet which in turn represents one of the holy names of God. For the Sunnis, it represents the Five Pillars of Islam and for the Shi’ites, the Five People of the Cloak. The Hebrew “Hamesh” also stands for five and symbolizes the Five Books of the Torah. Other names for this symbol are Chamsa, Khamsa, “Hand of Miriam” in Jewish cultures, “Hand of Fatima” in Muslim cultures, “Hand of God” and “Hand of Friendship”.
The Hamsa symbol comes in certain variations. Some designs make use of the hand in its anatomically correct version, with a thumb and four fingers. Other designs make use of the three middle fingers and thumbs on both ends. Often, there is also a blue eye in the middle of the palm which is intended to look back at evil eyes and protect the owner from their envy and jealousy. This eye is called “the eye of god” or “all seeing eye”.
Jewish designs of the Hamsa depict it with the fingers pointing upwards, towards the sky. When used in this fashion, they sometimes add four little fishes to the wrist. The upward Hamsa is used against the evil eye. On other designs where the fingers point downwards, the fishes are added onto the fingers. The downward Hamsa symbolizes success and prosperity.
The Hamsa may have many names but across cultures, its intention is the same. It is a protective sign. It brings luck, happiness, good fortune and health to its owner.
Popular Uses of the Hamsa
- Jewelry – The Hamsa is a powerful amulet that protects against the evil eye and thus appears most often as jewelry because it can be worn close to the body. The Hamsa pendant is perhaps the most popular use for the symbol as it can be matched with practically any outfit. It is also used in red string bracelets, bundled with other symbols in charm bracelets or in key chains.
- Home décor – Many traditional Middle Eastern homes are accentuated by Hamsa wall/door/window hangings to protect against negative energies emanating from envious eyes. The symbol is fashioned or painted on beautiful fabric, wood carvings or ceramic decors and are placed in key areas around the home.
- Protection for pregnant women and infants - The Hamsa being a universal symbol of protection is also used by pregnant women to protect their unborn child. Once born, the infant will continue to be protected by placing the Hamsa amulet in or around the baby carriage.
- Paintings – The Hamsa symbol is also a popular subject in paintings, where artists have a free hand making their own interpretation of the protective symbol without going beyond or affecting the symbology behind it. These paintings are popularly displayed near entryways in public areas, libraries, private offices, a home’s living room or a home office/library.
- Inlaid with stones – In itself, the Hamsa is already a powerful protective amulet, yet most modern jewelry designers reinforce this power by incorporating gemstones. Blue gemstones in particular are used as the eye in the middle of the Hamsa hand. The color blue is also believed to protect against the evil eye and is thus a perfect complement to the Hamsa. More intricately designed Hamsa jewelry make use of tiny multi-colored stones around the fingers and the fish details, all with careful consideration for the individual characteristics of the stones that are used.
The Hamsa Then and Now
There is proof that the Hamsa pre-dates religion. Its earliest known use was by the Phoenicians, as a protective symbol of an ancient Middle Eastern goddess. From there, it has been widely used in Judaism and Islam and has even transcended cultural and geographical boundaries.
Today, the hamsa hand has been adopted by advocates for peace in the Middle East. They capitalize on the fact that the hamsa has long been in existence before any of the different religions ever caused a great divide between people on different sides, and they promote its use as a symbol of peace, hope and prosperity for all of the Middle Eastern region and the world.