The hamsa hand appears both in a two-thumbed, bilaterally symmetrical form, as shown, and in a more natural form in which there is only one thumb. There is good archaeological evidence to suggest that the downward-pointing protective hamesh / hamsa hand predates both Judaism and Islam and that it refers to an ancient Middle Eastern goddess whose hand (or vulva, in other images) wards off the evil eye.
The hamsa hand at the top of this page is a 2 inch long modern reproduction of an older piece, manufactured in pewter; the original was silver and of Arabic origin. For another example of an Arabic hamsa hand amulet, see Wills's Cigarette Card #17, The Crescent and Hand. For an early 20th century French hamsa hand, see the good luck postcard featuring a European charm bracelet.
Here is a Jewish hamesh hand, or Hand of Miriam, contained within a Star of David and surrounded by six apotropaic all-seeing eyes. This pendant is of unknown age and was bought used in 2001 at a "car boot sale" (an open car-trunk sale) by a man named Marc Beaumont (firstname.lastname@example.org), who then posted its image to the internet. Embossed on the wrist of the hand are the rather blurry English letters MIRY or MARY; either spelling is equivalent to the Hebrew name Miriam.
Although most hamsa hands are amulets, modern Israeli hamesh hands are sometimes made in the form of ceramic wall plaques in which a hand-lettered Hebrew prayer occupies the center of the palm. These include variants that seek to prevent earthquakes as well as forestall overlooking by the evil eye. Hamsa hand plaques, usually made of turquoise-glazed pottery, are also found in modern Egypt. I don't have one to show you here, but they resemble other anti-evil-eye plaques from Egypt, such as one in my collection with a blue horseshoe for luck and blue beads for magical protection from the evil eye.
Because the hamsa or hamesh hand protects against the evil eye, the design in some examples merges into another design called the eye-in-hand motif. In those instances, a realistic or stylized eye appears in the center of the palm of the hand.
From modern Egypt comes the filigree-style metal hamsa hand key ring at right. It is set with a glass "eye" in the palm and has little metal danglers on each of the fingers. The blue glass eye in its palm means that the key ring does double-duty as both a hamsa hand and as an eye-in-hand. It is not a "jewelry quality" piece of work, just an ordinary trinket, but it is useful in warding off the envious gaze of those who might be paying attention to one's car.
The protective hamsa hand pendant charm at right from Egypt. A diminutive 1" x 1 1/2" in size, this stamped tin Hand of Fatima features translucent bright blue enamel overlay and eye-in-hand design for protection. It is double-sided, yet light-weight enough to wear as an earring.
At left is a Hamsa Hand wall hanger from Egypt.
About 3" x 3 1/2" in size, it is made of stamped silvery-coloured metal covered with a transparent
wash of bright blue enamel paint that gives it a lovely "dimensional" effect. It
is fitted with a central blue glass eye-applique, which makes it an
eye-in-hand design, and it
also has a bunch of little "danglers" for added protection. It comes with a
silvery-coloured metal chain, and can be
hung in a car from the rear-view mirror or on a wall at home, either near the door or over a
baby's bed, where it will ward off the evil eye.
The back is unpainted; if it is to be hung where it can be seen from both sides, glue two together
back-to-back; they fit together perfectly. The maker of these hamsa hands
also makes a similar stamped metal
all-seeing eye wall hanger.
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