Hamsa, the hand of power

The Hamsa is an extremely famous symbol popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It’s mainly used in jewelry and wall hangings, though sometimes it’s displayed in art.

But it predates Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

“Khamsah” is an Arabic word that means "five", but also "the five fingers of the hand". It may also be taken as a reference to the primary number itself.

Hamsa silver pendant

Museum:The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Item Type:Hamsa

Location:Morocco

Period:Early 20th century

Domain:Judaica

Classification:Jewish Items

Technique: Silver, cast and engraved

Origin

The earliest known appearance of the Hamsa was in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq area).

Iraq Map

Here it could be seen in the amulets worn by certain female goddesses such as Ishtar or Inanna. From there, it’s theorized it spread to Egypt as a two-finger amulet representing Osiris and Isis.

It then began spreading to different religions in several different forms- including Buddhism and Hinduism.

Symbolism

It is a sign of protection that also represents blessings, power and strength, and is seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye. Used to protect against evil eye, a malicious stare believed to be able to cause illness, death or just general unluckiness, hamsas often contain an eye symbol.

Egypt: One theory postulates a connection between the khamsa and the Mano Pantea (or Hand-of-the-All-Goddess), an amulet known to ancient Egyptians as the Two Fingers. In this amulet, the Two Fingers represent Isis and Osiris and the thumb, their child Horus and it was used to invoke the protective spirits of parents over their child.

Phoenicia: Another theory traces the origins of the hamsa to Carthage where the hand of the supreme deity Tanit was used to ward off the evil eye.

Jewish: Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God.

Arabic countries: 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.

Its Many Names

• In Judaism they refer to it as the hand of Miriam, to honor the sister of Moses.

Miriam the Prophetess

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." (Exodus 15:20).

Illuminated manuscript, Tomić Psalter, 1360/63, Moscow State Historical Museum