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The Hamsa Hand - History, Meaning and Traditions

The Hamsa Hand - History, Meaning and Traditions

Why I wanted to find out about the Hamsa

During my time in Morocco, the hamsa hand, or hand of Fatima (after the daughter of the prophet Muhammad) as it was often referred to there, was a common sight. Because of that it brings back happy memories for me and is something I've always had an affection for resulting in various jewellery purchases over the years! So I thought I'd do some investigation and find out more about its origins and meaning.

Hamsa necklace by Rafiki Mwema

Here's a hamsa necklace I bought recently from a charity called Rafiki Mwema (seriously, check them out, they do incredible work).

What is a Hamsa?

The hamsa (written as خمسة (khamsah) in Arabic) is a hand-shaped symbol popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, often used in jewellery and wall hangings. It can be found hung on walls, as the most wonderful door knockers, in jewellery or above doorways, particularly those of an expectant mother or baby.

The hamsa depicts the open right hand often with an eye in its centre. It has been used as a sign of protection in many cultures throughout history and is believed by some to provide defense against the evil eye, bad luck and illness. It is widely regarding as representing blessings, power and strength, and protect women during pregnancy and childbirth.

It is also sometimes known as the the Hand of Miriam (Mary) and the Hand of the Goddess.

History of the Hamsa

The hamsa has a long and varied past and is used as a symbol in various cultures and faiths. Its origins are traced back to ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and ancient Carthage (Tunisia), with similar symbols in ancient Egypt and ancient Jewish Kabbalistic manuscripts 

Symbolism of the Hamsa

The Arabic word Khamsah means "five". In its simplest terms, this obviously refers to the 5 fingers of the hand, but 5 is a significant number in Muslim culture - the 5 Pillars of Islam and in some traditions Thursday (called Yowm al Khamis (the 5th day)) is considered a good day for pilgrimages to tombs of revered saints and magic rites to counteract the effects of the evil eye.

In some traditions, the hamsa has two meanings depending on the position of the fingers - close together is to ward off evil and spread apart is to provide good luck, although it's often hard to tell in the stylised designs. 

Depictions of the hand, the eye or even simply the number five in Arabic and Berber traditions are related to warding off the evil eye, which is regarded as bringing illness and bad luck.

There is an Arabic saying "khamsa fi ainek" (meaning five [fingers] in your eye), which means to raise the right hand with the palm showing to effectively blind the enemy.

Another related Arabic saying against the evil eye is "khamsa wa-khamis" (meaning five and Thursday). Yowm al-khamis refers to Thursday, which is sometimes considered a good day for magic rites and pilgrimages to the tombs of revered saints to counteract the effects of the evil eye.

Uses of the Hamsa in modern culture

Due to its significance in both Arabic and Berber culture, the hamsa is one of the national symbols of Algeria and appears in its emblem.

It is also a popular amulet among traditional Egyptian women who make khamaysa, which are amulets made up of five objects to attach to their children's hair or black aprons. The five objects can be made of peppers, hands, circles or stars hanging from hooks.

It is widely seen in jewellery designs and the central eye on it's own in shades of blue and white is a well-known symbol throughout Turkey. 

Making my own Hamsa hand

Recently I took a little trip to Ikea and despite my shopping list did the typical thing and came home with various things I'd never set out to get. One of them that caught my eye was this wooden hand with movable fingers and wrist- a complete bargain at £10. As soon as I saw it I just *knew* what needed to be done to it and was itching to get to work.

I wasn't all that keen on the bare beech wood, so the first step was to stain it with a watery paint solution of burnt umber, black and white. For the purposes of this I used Daler Rowney System 3 paints, as the quality of the paint didn't matter too much

 I then spent ages mapping out the design of a henna-inspired Hamza hand with an eye in the centre, which traditionally is supposed to ward off evil. Once I'd done that, I got painting, using a slightly diluted white liquid acrylic from Golden. Golden paints are just lovely to work with for detail and text because they're both smooth and have a high pigmentation. Pricey but worth every single penny in my opinion.

 

Hand painted wooden hand of Fatima Hamsa hand by Qalbi

 

It's now on display in our downstairs loo next to our vintage phrenology head and looks rather beautiful if I do say so myself!

Explore different hamsa designs on Pinterest

I've created a collection of all sorts of beautiful Hamsa hands from across the world on Pinterest - click here to visit it.

Thanks to...

Thanks to Wikipedia for letting me pick your brains! You can read more in depth information here. I also find this snippet of a stunning image of the hamsa hands collection in Flickr - a collection like this is officially my new life goal. The link to the full-sized original can be found via my Pinterest board. 

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