Hamsa Meaning, Origin and Symbolism

The Hamsa or Hamsa Hand is a protective talisman that has its roots to pagan or Islamic culture but is used as an Israeli or Jewish symbol.

The ancient Middle East Talisman Hamsa is shaped like a hand with 3 drawn-out fingers in the mid and a pinky finger or a curved thumb on the other side that is believed to guards its people against the evil.

Meaning in Various Cultures

Meaning in Various Cultures
Meaning in Various Cultures

Hamsa (חַמְסָה), is derived from the word “Hamesh” that has Hebrew origin which means five (5). This five has different interpretations in various cultures and schools like;

  1. Mariam, who was Moses’s sister is related to it by her holy hand.
  2. It is related with the 5 holy Torah books i.e.
    • Genesis
    • Exodus
    • Leviticus
    • Numbers
    • Deuteronomy
  3. The five (5) fingers of the talisman.
  4. In Islam, the hand of Fatima is also related to the Hamsa Hand.
  5. The believers of Prophet Mohammed relate it to Fatima’s hand who was one of the daughters of Prophet. The fingers of Fatima are said to be the five core pillars of Islam.

The 14th-century Spanish Islamic citadel i.e. the Gate of Judgment (Puerta Judiciaria), the Alhambra was one of the first places that mentioned its symbolism in the history.

Although many believers say that it has completely non-religious origin but certainly it preludes to both Judaism and Islam.

Kamiyot –> Hebrew –> To Bind

The Talmud accepts talismans as ordinary, with Shabbat 53a & 61a admiring of resounding an amulet on Shabbat.

Throughout eras, the symbol of an eye on the palm of an open hand has been perceived in different religions by different names like the hand of Mariam and Fatima and also the eye of Fatima.

The form is mostly developed naturally and in some cases even with the little finger being replaced by the second thumb.

The Hand is often associated either Judaism but the traces of it has been found in all the profound religions of the world like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and other cultures.

Although the enchanted form remains masked in secret and researchers dispute nearly every aspect of its advent, it is renowned today as a Kabbalistic talisman and as an important symbol in Jewish art.

Thus, the hand that is destined to protect against the “evil eye” is nowadays displayed on bracelets, necklace and other pieces of jewellery along with other decorative wall hangings.

This has, therefore, developed a new position and status in the Modern New Age Spirituality.

Origin and Symbolism

The symbol has the 3 extended fingers in common but there are different variations of the appearance of the pinky fingers and the thumb.

Variation 1: They are outwards curved.

Variation 2: They are significantly shorter than the middle fingers.

Variation 3: They are curved inwards.

Hamsa Origin and Symbolism
Origin and Symbolism

Doesn’t matter which shape they acquire, in the end, there is always symmetry between the fingers and the thumb.

In addition to the above structure, there is often an oddly shaped eye on the hand that acts a very strong talisman against the evil eye i.e. ayin hara (עין הרע).

The ayin hara (עין הרע) is alleged to be the core reason behind all the world sufferings and pain. This could be identified in the Torah writings i.e.

Sarah provides Hagar an ayin hara in Genesis 16:5, which reasons her to fail, and in Genesis 42:5, Jacob cautions his sons not to be comprehended as it may stir up ayin hara (עין הרע).

Other symbols that can be found on the Hamsa Hand are listed below;

  1. The fish
  2. Several Hebrew Words.

The fish is believed to be completely immune to the evil and the evil eye and his considered to be the symbol of good luck, peace and harmony.

Hebrew words like Mazel or Mazal that means luck are the words that are ingrained on the talisman.

In the 21st century, many designs of pieces of jewellery along with decorative room items are said to have Hamsas design for good luck, happiness and protection against the evil.

According to Islamic urban myths, it was the hand of Fatima who was the wife of Ali that become the symbol of faith and wisdom.

Therefore, we believe that it would be very difficult for an Islamic symbol to enter into Jewish culture.

At the same time in Judaism, the concept of talisman is un-believable as their culture strictly prohibits prophecy and magic.

As per Walter Leo Hildburgh who is a renowned art historian, the symbol is believed to have Christian inventive form where Mary often transmits her hands in a “fig” stance.

This might also be a shape where the thumb is stuck under the index finger by the middle finger.

Ahmed Achrati, a well-renowned professor from Chicago University, believes that although the symbol is believed to have religious roots yet is true origin might not be for religious purposes.

This open hand form and similar structures have been discovered in various parts of the country such as the caves of Australia, Spain, France and Argentina.

The Cave of the Hand is the name given to a location in Algeria that has similar shapes engraved in it.

1. Symbolism in the Egyptian Art

Ka or the human spirit as per the Egyptian culture is depicted by two arms forming a horseshoe shape, reaching upwards. However, there are only 2 fingers on each hand.

2. Symbolism in Phoenician Culture

Tanit, that is a symbol of the Phoenician lunar goddess depicts a woman raising her hands and this is often used in many ancient tomb decorations.

The paintings of hands with horns in different sacred places like tombs along with different Jewish burial practices displayed such sculptures and designs on stones and other structures.

The engravings suggested priestly blessings be showered on the souls and people nearby the area, therefore, protecting people against the evil eye.

All of these could be considered very early forerunners to the Hand.

What were the Jewish Views Around Hamsas?

Although hamsas is a symbol of Sephardic culture among Jews, yet it’s origin dates how the back is difficult to predict. To invoke the hand of God or to fight against the evil eye, it might have come to existence.

Jewish Views Around Hamsas
Jewish Views Around Hamsas

Other say that it contains the images of fish that is considered to be the symbol of goodwill, luck and prosperity while others can see ancient writings on the hand.

In Talmud, the statement was given by the son of Hanina i.e. rabbi Yose, children of Joseph, who received Jacob’s sanction of increasing like fish in Genesis 48:16, are sheltered from the Evil Eyelike fish.

He explains:

“The water covers the fish of the sea so the eye has no power over them.”

Berakhot 55b

As per ancient Kabbalistic scripts and talismans, several symbols of a priestly hand have appeared, replicating as the letter shin, the first letter of the divine name Shaddai.

The holy bridge between the devotes and God might have come into action due to the charting of the human hand over the heavenly name.

The Hamsa in the 21st century

In the 21st century, there has been a sudden surge of the Kabbalah accessories especially after adoption of celebrities like Demi Moore, Madonna & Brittany Spears.

Hamsa in the 21st century
Hamsa in the 21st century

Now, it is easily accessible via various Judaica shops and by the other companies like Saks Fifth Avenue and Sears.

Below is the list of accessories or decor items on which there is some form of symbolic appearance.

  1. Candlesticks
  2. Bracelets
  3. Earrings
  4. Key chains

Various Jews art and culture are using the symbolic hand in their drawings, paintings and sculptures and therefore has caught everyone’s attention in today’s world.

As per the Sephardic ritual when the brides are decorated for the wedding, they tend to wear it around their neck so that it could protect their life from the evil eye.

Although the symbol is related to Judaism, Israel or Kabbalah yet the symbol’s enigmatic origins and the myths attached to it entice the attention of celebrities and regular people alike.

Conclusion – The Hamsa Hand and its Significance

A hamsa is an amulet with an eye embedded in an open arm. Its name come from an Arabic word for five (5). The symbol may have roots in Islam or Paganism.

But the name is widely used by Sephardic Jews. It is thought to ward off the “Evil Eye”, protecting the people who wear it. Presently the symbol counts numerous celebrities among its fans.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What is Hamsa and what does it mean?

A Hamsa is an amulet with an eye embedded in an open arm. Its name come from an Arabic word for five (5). The symbol may have roots in Islam or Paganism.

What is a Hamsa hand and what does it mean?

The Hamsa or Hamsa Hand is a protective talisman that has its roots to pagan or Islamic culture but is used as an Israeli or Jewish symbol.

How to pronounce Hamsa?

The pronunciation of Hamsa is done as, hamsa or h-uh-m-s-aa or Hahm-za = which sums up to form the iconic word.

What does the Hamsa symbol mean?

Hamsa, is derived from the word “Hamesh” that has Hebrew origin which means five (5). It is a symbol of luck, faith, prosperity and riches. It is thought to ward off the “Evil Eye”, protecting the people who wear it.

Should the Hamsa face up or down?

It is up to you, as you can face it either up or down. Irrespective of how you wear it, the Hamsa will bring joy, riches and prosperity in your lives. It will be your protector against the “Evil Eye”.