The hand's exact origin is surrounded in mystery. The words from which the symbol derives its name—hamsa, hamesh and khamsa—all mean five and refer to the digits of the hand. Historically, it has roots in Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures; however, it may have originated as a pagan fertility or goddess symbol used to ward off the evil eye—the ancient harbinger of bad luck.
The folklore from each culture that has built up around the hand is fascinating. In Islamic lore, it's the Hand of Fatima, daughter of Mohammed, and represents faith. When her husband brought home a new wife, she continued stirring a pot of soup with her hand even after dropping the spoon in not noticing the burning sensation on her bare flesh.
In Jewish tradition, the hamsa may represent the Hand of Miriam, Moses' sister or as a way to invoke the hand of God. Other symbols besides the eye may appear in the middle of the hand such as a fish, the Star of David or Hebrew letters. It entered Christian culture as the hand of the Virgin Mary.
While pendants and other jewelry pieces are common, the hamsa is also seen in wall art, keychains, paintings, sculptures and window hangings. You'll see simply elegant pieces to ones that incorporate a kaleidoscope of color and complexity. Besides being a symbol of traditional religious lore, it has also become a popular modern kabbalistic symbol and one of all around good luck, faith, blessings and protection.
- Wecker, Menachem. Hamsa. My Jewish Learning, accessed 2013. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Magic_and_the_Supernatural/Practices_and_Beliefs/Amulets/Hamsa.shtml?p=1
- Yronwode, Cat. The Hamsa Hand. Lucky Mojo, The "Lucky W" Amulet Archive, 1995-2003. http://www.luckymojo.com/hamsahand.html