The Hand of Hamsa is a hand-shaped amulet depicting the open right hand often with a flowering eye in the center. It is a popular symbol in the Middle East and Northern Africa used in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is sometimes called the Hand of Miriam, the Hand of Mary, or the Hand of Fatima depending on the cultural context. However, this symbol is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) before many of the Abrahamic faiths reached that area.
In Exodus 3:14, God reveals His name to be "I AM WHO I AM" spelled with the Hebrew letters Yod Heh Vav Heh (Yahweh). The letter Heh is associated with the eye and the word behold. Vav is associated with the number five and the hand because of its five fingers. Yod is associated with the words flower and nail. So the name of God, Yahweh, can be rendered "Behold the hand, behold the nail." These associations help explain why the Hamsa is a five-fingered hand with a flowering eye in the center and why it found its way into all three Abrahamic faiths.
The Hamsa symbol has been used in some of the most religious and divine objects in Judaism including decorating marriage contracts, Passover order of service booklets, and pointers for the Torah. Jewish historians point to Deuteronomy 5:15 which says, "The LORD your God brought you out from [Egypt] with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." The hand-shaped symbol is seen to exemplify God's willingness to intervene on behalf of His people and direct them out of struggle.
However, the hand of Hamsa has become a symbol of secularity, a trendy talisman, and a cheap good luck charm. It appears on jewelry, keychains, postcards, and advertisements. The Hamsa is popularly believed to ward off the evil eye—a malicious stare thought to cause misfortune and bad luck. People believe the symbol will bring them protection, blessing, and strength. It is often displayed in babies' bedrooms or worn on jewelry in hopes of boosting fertility. The hand can be depicted pointing upward with open fingers to ward off evil or pointing downward with fingers closed together to bestow blessing.
Of course, like all man-made symbols, there is no supernatural power in the Hamsa. Christians are called to abstain from superstitions in Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 8:4, "we know that 'an idol has no real existence,' and that 'there is no God but one'" (see also Psalm 115:4–7 and Isaiah 44:12&ndahs;20). It was God's mighty hand that rescued His people from Egypt and His outstretched arm on the cross that rescues those who believe from the power and consequences of sin. No empty symbol, man-made decoration, or cheap charm could accomplish that salvation. We must trust in God alone (Isaiah 31:1).
Because empty charms hold no power, we are free to admire the beauty of the hand of Hamsa in its many artistic forms and use it to remind ourselves of God's power, presence, and love in our lives. At the same time, we are wise to consider how our use of the Hamsa might affect our witness as we do not want to unintentionally promote superstitious deception.
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