What IS a Hamsa?

art history gift guide hamsa holiday gift guide jewish

At my last craft fair, I noticed I had a good number of customers who were both curious and interested in my hanging Hamsas. All questions pointed to What IS a Hamsa? So I wanted to come on here and give ya'll a little background and history of these beautiful hand-shaped symbols.

Speaking of shapes, what exactly am I looking at here?
The best way I can describe this shape is two palms on top of each other, with thumbs on either side, and five finger shapes in total:
overlaid palm representing the Hamsa shape
It's also been called a Khamsa, Hamza, or the "Eye of Fatima".

It's meant to depict the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many times throughout history. It also represents blessings, power and strength, and is seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye.

Okay, so what is the Evil Eye, then?
Often times a single eye is found in the palm of a Hamsa, and some of my pieces have one as well. The Evil Eye is a malicious stare believed to be able to cause illness, death or just general unluckiness. So the eye in the palm of the Hamsa is used to reflect the negative energy and protect the wearer.

Time for some history:
It is speculated that Jews were among the first to use this amulet due to their beliefs about the evil eye. Amongst the Jewish people, the Hamsa is a very respected, holy, and common symbol. It is used in the Ketubah (marriage contracts), as well as items that dress the Torah (our Bible) such as pointers, and the Passover Haggadah (sacred holiday text).

While it's a very meaningful talisman to Jews, it's a symbol that dates back centuries, to other Mediterranean cultures:

  • Arabic & Berber: Depictions of the hand, the eye or the number five in Arabic and berber tradition are related to warding off the evil eye, as exemplified in the saying khamsa fi ainek ("five [fingers] in your eye").
  • Egyptian: Another meaning of this symbol relates to the sky god, Horus. It refers to the Eye of Horus, which means humans cannot escape from the eye of conscience.
  • Christianity: The khamsa holds recognition as a bearer of good fortune among Christians in the middle east.

This is so cool! Where is it used?
Most often I see the Hamsa in jewelry pieces. But It is also painted in red (sometimes using the blood of a sacrificed animal) on the walls of houses for protection, or painted or hung on the doorways of rooms, such as those of an expectant mother, new baby, new house - anywhere that might want a little extra protection and blessings.

The hamsa hands that I make are depicted with the fingers closed together to bring good luck. When the fingers are pointed up, it symbolizes guard and protection. When the finger are pointed down, it is to bestow blessings.

I'm not Jewish or Arabic, and I'm not from the Middle East, what does this mean for me?
Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic. The Hamsa is an ancient symbol dating back centuries, and is a very sacred symbol of Jewish and Arabic cultures. The line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, I find, is drawn best by those who understand both sides. My history lesson is short and sweet, but if you want to learn more, I highly suggest you dive in! 

As for me, I feel like there are so many gifts for people with a Christian background - I even focus on making Hanukkah and Jewish artwork during the holiday season, just the level out the playing field a bit. Coming from a Jewish background, creating these Hamsas are important to me. They make great gifts for newlyweds, new homeowners, and anyone of Jewish and Middle Eastern decent.

I know there are more and more people everyday subscribing to a spiritual lifestyle instead of necessarily being connected to a particular religion. Personally I feel that if you feel a connection to one of my Hamsas on a spiritual level, that is special and meaningful as well. 

I hope this blog post helps answer some of your questions!

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