Art and Superstition
Are you superstitious? I can swear I'm not… Superstitions are not very acceptable in the modern world. We already know that there is no evil eye, that there are no demons, and that black cats are actually very sweet animals.
So why do we “knock on wood”, spit three times, and put a red ribbon on the newborn baby’s wrist? Well, mostly because “it wouldn’t hurt…” and because “you can never know”, and obviously because it is “better to be safe than sorry”. Superstitions are usually cross-religion and are either adopted and adapted from one religion to another, or in some cases are “used” without the person being aware of using a superstitious trait of another religion. A good example is the “knock on wood” which originally comes from touching the Cross to ward of evil, and is widely used by Jews, even the religious ones.
One of the most common superstitions is the belief in the existence of the “evil eye”. It is believed that a person can bring you bad luck by simply looking at you enviously and too long. There are many preventive methods for warding off the evil eye – keeping garlic in your pockets, tying a red ribbon somewhere on your body or simply wearing red, wearing turquoise, wearing an eye symbol amulet, and of course keeping a Hamsa in your vicinity.
One of the best known methods for warding off the evil eye (Ayin Hara in Hebrew) in the Middle East is the Hamsa, which is used either as a decoration in the house or a charm for personal use.
The Hamsa symbol predates the monotheistic religions and appears in ancient Middle-Eastern archeological finds. While it is rare to find a person who will openly admit to believing in the evil eye, you can find at least one Hamsa in most Arab and Jewish houmes. What is it about the Hamsa that makes it so popular?
The attraction of the Hamsa is in its decorative value which combined with the anti-bad luck qualities of the amulet create a very attractive deal. You can have a nice decoration or piece of jewelry and at the same time protect your good luck, just in case. Moreover, since the Hamsa is associated with the Middle East it became an accepted ethnic symbol of this area and as such became a popular present for various occasions.
Hamsa literally means “five” and depicts a stylized open hand. It is also well known by the name “Hand of Fatima” among the Muslims, and “Hand of Miriam” among the Jews. The Hamsa can be symmetrical, in which case it has two thumbs, or a more natural looking shape. It is usually combined with other evil eye protection symbols such as a stylized eye in the center or the turquoise color. As an alternative it can be combined with good luck symbols such as the pomegranate or fish, or with prayers and blessings for various occasions. The shape lends itself beautifully to stylized decoration and interpretation into various media.
All in all I find the Hamsa a very practical adornment for my house. There is also a handmade blue glass eye in my bedroom – I received it as a token wedding present, and while I definitely don’t believe in it, I am afraid to throw it away: it might bring bad luck…