Although the Hamsa originated in the Middle East and predates the major Western religions, it has become a symbol of good luck in many societies throughout history. In all faiths, it is a protective sign and is reputed to bring its owner happiness, luck, health and good fortune.
The Hamsa design is derived from the Semitic word for ‘Five’ (Hamesh) and is represented by an open hand, often with a blue eye in its center. According to the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), the blue eye cannot lead to evil – it in fact creates a protective layer from evil. The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is ‘Hey” one of the holy names of God. The Torah is comprised of the five books of Moses.
Many people hang a Hamsa somewhere in their home as an amulet to ward off the evil eye and protect the house and family from danger. The origins of the hamsa have been attributed to the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths, in addition to also being a Pagan fertility symbol, and this unknowing has increased its mystery. It has nonetheless become recognized today as an important symbol in Jewish and Kabbalistic art.
In Judaism, it is often referred to as the Hand of Miriam, and is a very respected, holy and common symbol. It is a symbol used on many ketubot (marriage contracts) as well as in Passover Haggadot. There are many examples of Hamsas on items that dress the Torah, such as pointers. The amulet is believed to bring the owner success, harmony and protection from the Evil Eye (or Ayin Ha’ra). In other religions, it is often referred to as the Hand of God, the Hand of Mary, or the Hand of Fatima.
The symbol often appears in two main styles: sometimes it is shaped like a stylized hand with three fingers in the middle and two symmetrical thumbs on either side. It can also look like a regular hand with a thumb and a pinky finger. The Hamsa can appear (or be worn) with fingers facing up or fingers facing down. Both ways are acceptable. In addition to the eye, many hamsas feature images of fish. In the Talmud, the sage Rabbi Yossi Ben Hanina stated that the descendents of Joseph were blessed with multiplying like fish and like fish, are protected from the evil eye. He explained that the water covers the fish of the sea so that the eye has no power over them.
In more recent years, the Hamsa has actually become a symbol of secularism, and is a very popular image for jewelry, amulets, wall hangings and artwork. It has become an incredibly trendy image for body art and tattoos and in Israel is as ubiquitous as the Star of David.