A malicious stare believed to be able to cause illness, death or just general unluckiness, hamsas often contain an eye symbol. Depicting the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many times throughout history. The hamsa is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It is commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings. The hamsa is believed by some, predominantly Muslims and Jews, to provide defense against the evil eye. It has been theorized that its origins lie in Ancient Egypt or Carthage and may have been associated with the Goddess Tanit.
Khamsah is an Arabic word that means "five", but also "the five fingers of the hand". The Hamsa is also variously known as the Hand of Fatima after the daughter of the prophet Muhammad, the Hand of Mary, the Hand of Miriam, and the Hand of the Goddess. It is a sign of protection that represents blessings, power and strength, and is seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye.
One of the most common components of gold and silver jewelry in the region, historically and traditionally, it was most commonly carved in jet or formed from silver, a metal believed to represent purity and hold magical properties.
Early use of the hamsa has been traced to ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) as well as ancient Carthag (modern day Tunisia). Other symbols of divine protection based around the hand include the Hand-of-Venus (or Aphrodite), the Hand-of-Mary, that was used to protect women from the evil eye and/or boost fertility and lactation, promote healthy pregnancies and strengthen the weak.
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. It is also the most popular among the different amulets (such as the Eye and the Hirz—a silver box containing verses of the Quran) for warding off the evil eye in Egypt. Amongst the Jewish people, the hamsa is a very respected, holy, and common symbol. In Morocco, the Hamsa is called 'Khamsa' or 'Khmisa' and is widely used as a protection from bad luck and evil people. The Hamsa is incorporated in many home decor items, but still, the most common use is in jewelry.
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