Is There a Meaning to the Hamsa Sign Found in Many Different Cultures?

With no prior knowledge of the hamsa or its traditions, you may be forgiven for having difficulty deciphering this symbol. Is it some flower? A three-toothed elephant? That’s unusual. The hamsa, on the other hand, represents a human hand with a center eye motif. However, this is not always the case.

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have adopted the symbol. The Hebrew word hamesh and the Arabic term khamsah refer to the number five. According to Frankel, it is sometimes referred to as the Hand of Fatima, after one of Muhammad’s daughters, and it’s known as the Hand of Mary by certain Christians. Throughout history, numerous cultures have utilized this image as a symbol of protection to ward off the evil eye, a deeply held belief in many of those societies.

According to Dr. Ellen Frankel, former CEO and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society and co-author of “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols,” “cham-a” is the correct pronunciation if you’re Muslim or Israeli, but “hamsa” is equally acceptable.

The hamsa hand is a highly stylized design. There are two thumbs on either side of the downward-cast digits, giving the impression that it is three fingers and two thumbs. Frankel theorizes that the purpose of the distortion is to keep it from being used as a graven image or idol.

“It is prohibited by Jewish and Islamic law to make any kind of human form replica,” she explains. “As a result, such depictions are unlikely to be found in mosques. Even animals aren’t allowed in most synagogues because they could be mistaken for idol worship. Your job isn’t to depict the human body.”

According to Frankel, there are exceptions to this restriction, but we see it in hamsa iconography. To show God’s hand, which represents supernatural might and divine protection from evil, as a lifelike human hand is inappropriate.

In addition, there’s the eye. Many hamsas, especially those mounted on walls or in cars, have a look. It’s not uncommon for the eye to be blue, which would have been an unusual or even bizarre eye color in the Middle East, where the custom originated.

“As Frankel puts it, “it’s protection,” he explains, “not only against illness and poor fortune, but against this notion of the evil eye, which is quite powerful in virtually all cultures, but especially in the Middle East and Southern Mediterranean. The hamsa is an eye that protects against evil.”

The evil eye might be viewed as an ethereal, otherworldly force. Suspicion in Jewish folklore holds that this bad energy lurks in the world, ready to strike if provoked.

Frankel describes the evil eye as a feeling of envy for the good fortune or pleasure of others. For this reason, “either a countermeasure to the evil eye or a way to disguise your good fortune” must be erected to avoid being cursed.

Self-deprecating deflections in Jewish beliefs of the evil eye are numerous, such as claiming that a newborn infant is ugly rather than lovely or refraining from calling on two families simultaneously.

Therefore, the hamsa hand can be interpreted as a divine emblem warding off an unknown danger. Either God’s hand or the hand of a revered religious figure is connected with this symbol. According to Frankel, the horned God Ba’al, a major figure in Canaan and ancient Mesopotamia, may have had some connection to the symbol’s beginnings.

The hamsa hand may also be linked to a disrespectful hand gesture that invokes the symbol of the cuckold’s horns. We can draw comparisons to Martin Luther’s descriptions of farting at the devil or the idea of, say, raising your middle finger at a creepy house in this regard. In this interpretation of the hamsa, you’re swearing at the evil eye.