The hamsa (or khamsa) hand is an important cultural, religious, and spiritual symbol across multiple religions around the world. You’ll see the hamsa hand all over jewelry, accessories, and home decor like wall hangings, often with an “evil eye” in the center.
One unique aspect of the hamsa hand symbol is just how broad its reach is. Most religious symbols are fairly exclusive to that religion: Christianity has the cross, Taoism has the yin and yang, Islam has the crescent and star, the list goes on. But the hamsa hand has spiritual meaning in many major religions.
What does the hamsa hand symbolize? That’s what we’ll be answering today as we break down what exactly the hamsa hand is, where it originated, and what it means in various religions.
The hamsa is depicted as a single hand with the palm facing out. It’s often depicted with thumbs on both sides but can also be depicted in an anatomically correct manner with a pinky and thumb.
The word hamsa derives from the Hebrew khámsa and Arabic ḵamsa, which both translate to “five.”
Why five? Besides the obvious five fingers of a hand, the number five has significance in multiple religions:
Sikhism has five sacred symbols, colloquially known as the 5 Ks, of religious devotion.
Hinduism depicts certain deities with five faces and believes in five elements.
Islam has the “Five Pillars” representing the core religious beliefs.
Catholic Christianity believes Christ had five significant piercings during his crucifixion, called the Five Holy Wounds, Five Sacred Wounds, or Five Precious Wounds. Roman Catholics call these the five stigmata.
Baha’i uses five lines in the ringstone symbol (along with two five-pointed stars) to represent God, prophets, and humanity.
Besides having five fingers, the hamsa hand symbol usually has an eye in the palm called the “evil eye,” which comes with its own significance.
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Quite often, you’ll see a hamsa hand with an eye in the center called the “evil eye.”
But what is the evil eye?
The evil eye represents a belief that someone’s ill intent towards you (often from envy) carries metaphysical consequences. That ill intent is reflected at you with a malevolent gaze, sending bad luck your way. However, an evil eye talisman is meant to shield you from that malevolence.
In short, the evil eye is a curse and a physical amulet that can protect you from that curse.
So, what is the difference between the evil eye and the hamsa?
As far as protecting you from the evil eye curse or general negativity, the hamsa hand and the evil eye function the same way. The main difference is that the hamsa carries many additional meanings.
Before we get into those meanings, where and when did the hamsa hand start?
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Historically, the hamsa has predominantly appeared in the Middle East and North Africa.
The earliest known hamsa hand depiction dates back to ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) roughly 2,000 years ago, where it was seen in amulets adorning the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna (or Ishtar).
Additional ancient artifacts depicting the hamsa have been found in Carthage (present-day Tunisia), Spain, Portugal, and North Africa.
Another theory about the hamsa’s origins traces it to the Phoenicians — an ancient Mediterranean civilization also called Punics or Carthaginians — between 1550 to 330 BC. The Phoenician hamsa hand represented Tanit (or Astarte), their chief goddess who governed fertility and lunar cycles.
The hamsa hand likely spread from Mesopotamia to Egypt, adapting into a two-finger talisman called the Mano Pantea (meaning “Hand-of-the-All-Goddess”) representing the ancient Egyptian gods Osiris and Iris.
Eventually, ancient Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula adopted the hamsa, renaming it the “Hand of Miriam.”
The hamsa hand is not exclusive to one religion. However, it’s most closely associated with religions that originated in the Middle East like Islam and Judaism.
Other religions have adopted the hamsa as a spiritual symbol, even calling it by different names:
Hamesh: This is the Hebrew word for “five.”
Hand of Fatima: In Islam, the Hamsa symbol is named after Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, the Prophet and founder of Islam.
Hand of Miriam: In Judaism, Hamsa symbolizes the Hand of God and is named after Miriam, the sister of Moses.
Hand of Mother Mary: In Christianity, this symbol is named after Mother Mary, Jesus Christ’s mother.
Next, we’ll dive into the specific meanings of the hamsa in different religions, starting with Islam.
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Islam is the second most commonly practiced religion, and around 24 percent of the world’s population is Muslim based on 2015 data from Pew Research Center. While Muslims live all over, countries with the densest Muslim populations are in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, northern Africa, and central Africa.
The religion originated in the Middle East, so it’s no surprise that the hamsa hand symbol is intertwined into Islamic religion and culture.
Many Muslims use the hamsa to ward off the evil eye, which is warned about in the Qur’an, the primary religious text of Islam.
Another interpretation of the hamsa in Islam is that it represents the hand of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Somewhat similarly, some call the hamsa the “Hand of Fatima,” Muhammad’s daughter.
Fatima was held in high regard by Muhammad, and her significance to many Muslims is compared to that of the Virgin Mary to Christians. Many Muslims see Fatima as a role model for resilience, empathy, and benevolence.
Yet another hamsa meaning ties back to the five fingers, representing the religion’s core beliefs called the Five Pillars of Islam.
Remember when we said earlier that the hamsa isn’t always anatomically correct? Well, one reason may be that some Muslims believe reproducing the human form in art is a form of idolatry, hence the stylization.
This belief is also held by some Jews, who believe depicting the hand of God as a human hand is wrong. Speaking of Judaism…
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, going back almost 4,000 years.
In Judaism, the hamsa is the hamesh, Hebrew for “five.” Like the Islamic meaning, the Jewish hamsa hand meaning is often interpreted as a protection from the evil eye, or the ayin ha’ra in Hebrew. The evil eye is present in both Jewish cultural superstitions and scriptures.
Some Jewish superstitions claim the evil eye is a larger entity that lies in wait to curse people if provoked. Besides using a hamsa, Jewish folks may spit three times or say “let it be without the evil eye” (kinehora in Yiddish) about prospective plans to avoid the curse.
Ancient Sephardic Jews called the hamsa the “Hand of Miriam,” after the older sister of Hebrew prophets Moses and Aaron. In the Torah, the primary religious text in Judaism, Miriam and her brothers were responsible for leading the Israelites out of Egypt, an event called the Exodus that is fundamental to Judaism. She has since been labeled a prophetess.
The idea of a symbolic, protective hand of God is also present in much of the early Hebrew texts. Some Jews in medieval Spain may have used the hamsa in association with sympathetic magic, a practice to ward off demons.
Additionally, the five fingers of the hamsa can represent the five books of the Torah.
Islam and Judaism are two of the three “Abrahamic” religions, the third being Christianity.
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Just above Islam as the largest religion in the world is Christianity, encompassing almost one-third of the world’s population as of 2015.
The hamsa hand is not as present in Christianity as it is in Islam or Judaism, but it does have some spiritual significance in the religion. Christians residing in the Levant, an area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia, call the hamsa the “Hand of Mary” or the “Virgin Mary’s Hand.”
Mary, also called Mother Mary or the Virgin Mary, was the mother of Jesus Christ in the Bible. Though her importance varies, Mary is an important symbol in many denominations, particularly Catholicism. Generally, she represents humility, commitment to one’s faith in God, and generosity. As such, the hamsa can represent these same ideals, reminding Christians to live by them.
You’ll also see the hamsa symbol in non-monotheistic religions like Buddhism and Hinduism.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the third and fourth largest religions in the world, respectively. While the two religions are distinct, they both share common ancient Indian origins along with similar beliefs in karma, reincarnation, spiritual enlightenment, and certain deities.
Tantric Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism also practice energy healing, an ancient art of balancing the energy flow throughout your body by aligning your seven energy centers (chakras). That’s where the hamsa comes in!
For Buddhists and Hindus that practice energy healing, the hamsa represents chakra energy flow, mudras, and the five senses.
The specific chakras associated with each finger are:
Pinky: Sacral chakra (intimacy, creativity)
Ring Finger: Root chakra (foundation, growth)
Middle Finger: Throat chakra (truth, communication)
Index Finger: Heart chakra (love, acceptance)
Thumb: Solar Plexus chakra (confidence, purpose)
Some energy healers use mudras to balance the chakras. Mudras are symbolic, often sacred hand gestures or hand positions that each function as an “energetic seal of authenticity.” The hamsa hand can represent a mudra.
You know the various hamsa hand benefits and meanings, now how do you use it?
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You can find virtually any style of accessory depicting the hamsa hand, including various colors, simple or elaborate designs, and small to large sizes.
If you opt for jewelry, you can always go for a statement hamsa hand necklace. For a hamsa hand bracelet, it’s recommended you wear it on your left wrist for emotional protection and right wrist for attracting knowledge or wisdom.
If you’re using the hamsa hand as decor, like a wall hanging, it’s recommended you place it above your door or on a wall facing your door to keep bad energies out.
Should the hamsa hand be up or down? It depends on your intentions, as both positions are beneficial.
Generally, a hamsa hand with the fingers facing upwards is said to protect you from negative energy, both external and internal via self-destructive thoughts. A hamsa hand with the fingers facing down is said to bring good luck, improve fertility, and attract abundance.
Long before we had letters and alphabets, we used symbols to communicate. Today, symbols like the hamsa hand serve a larger purpose, representing beliefs and traditions that are fundamental to who we are. Wearing a hamsa hand necklace or hanging one on your wall can help you get in touch with your roots or simply keep the bad vibes away.
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