October 10, 2013

What The Hamsa Means To Me

Years ago my best friend's mom gave me a beautiful, sterling silver hamsa necklace before I was about to embark on a trip to Israel for the year. "This is for you, to safeguard you during your travels," she said. I was overjoyed by the generous gift, and already felt safe. The hamsa would stay around my neck at all times as a source of protection.

 The hamsa pendant my friend's mother gave me looked just like this one.

As a Jew of Middle Eastern descent, I have always felt a special connection towards the hamsa − an amulet shaped like a hand, with three extended fingers, and believed to provide good luck. The hamsa can be decorated in a variety of ways and take many forms. Some contain images such as the Star of David or an eye, and others may include blessings for success, happiness, and for the home, or prayers for travelers and the ill. They can be found on necklaces, bracelets, earrings, key chains, T-shirts, adorned on the walls of homes, and more.
This is a beautiful example of a hamsa pendant.

My personal connection to the hamsa made me wonder - what is the ancient's amulet's significance and origin? When I began to delve into to the topic, I was surprised to find little about the now popular icon. The hamsa symbol can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, now modern day Iraq. Hamsa means five in Arabic (also related to the Hebrew word for five, hamesh), representing the five fingers. It has served as a source of protection for many societies and religions throughout history. In Islam it is known as the hand of Fatima, with the five fingers representing the five pillars of Islam. Some Christians refer to it as the hand of Mary, and in Judaism, the charm is referred to as the hand of Miriam. Many people of the Middle East believe it provides protection against the "evil eye."  In Judaism, the evil eye represents traits of haughtiness, greed, and jealousy. According to Jewish mystical sources, the evil eye contains a destructive energy originating from jealousy.
Contemporary and yet classic.

Regardless of whether or not the hamsa does ward off negative forces in the world, its ancient roots and symbolism continue to speak to me. Judaism teaches that people should strive to view others with a "good eye," or in a positive, non-judgmental fashion. Alternatively, those who look at others or even objects with an "ungenerous" eye can create a vessel for the negative forces of the "evil eye" to prevail, according to Jewish mystical sources. When I wear my hamsa today, I do not only feel that I am wearing a protective amulet; I am reminding myself that I should strive to possess a "good eye," see the best in others, and bring positive energy to the world. 

Red is a color commonly associated with warding off the evil eye. This hamsa has a 'good eye' motif.