"You Have To Wear Something" podcast hosted by owner Nicole Briggs

Talk to the Hamsa


Talk to the Hamsa

We have all seen it before, the hamsa has even made its way in to a meme or two but do we really know what it means? The hamsa is a symbol of protection with multicultural roots, specifically in North African and Middle Eastern countries. The hand is a staple in both Judaism and Islam, but there’s evidence that it predates all modern religion, tracing back to Mesopotamia. The hand has multiple meanings, but here's the part us feminists like. It’s associated with an ancient female entity who offers protection from evil. It is also known as the hand of Miriam, named for the sister of Moses and Aaron

“Hamsa” means “five,” which represents the fingers of the right hand that appear on the amulet. The fingers of the hand can be spread apart (to ward off evil), or closed together (to welcome good luck). Sometimes it resembles a real hand, more often it’s seen with two opposable thumbs. It can be worn upside down or right side up.

The meaning of the hand can vary by culture. For the Sunnis, the hamsa represents  (Belief, Worship, Fasting, Almsgiving, and Pilgrimage). For the Shi’tes, it represents the Five People of the Cloak (referring to Muhammad, his beloved daughter Fatimah, his cousin and godson Ali, and his grandsons Hassan and Husayn). In the Islamic faith, the hand is often called The Hand of Fatima. 

In the Jewish culture, the hamsa symbolizes the Hand of God and might be called “hamesh,” also meaning “five.” The number five is a holy one and the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is “Hei,” one of God’s holy names, and “hamesh” is representative of the five books of the Torah. But this hand, also known as the Hand of Miriam, can have more universal connotations such as thanking God by celebrating the five senses.

So should you wear it? It depends. Some people view the hamsa symbol as one of unity, specifically highlighting similarities between the origins of Judaism and Islam. There’s also themes of protection and femininity, which might appeal to those outside of the origin cultures. And then there’s the fact that the symbol likely predates modern religion, making it more of a spiritual symbol than a religious one. At the same time, there’s not much room to divorce some form of God from the hamsa hand.  

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