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Pookline

Wills's Lucky Charms #17:
THE CRESCENT AND HAND

This is one of 50 trading cards depicting amulets and talismans published in England during the 1920s by W. D. & H. O Wills, makers of Wills's Cigarettes. For a full list of cards in the set, see Wills's Lucky Charms #0: Introduction.


1920s-era cigarette trading card art and text:

THE CRESCENT AND HAND

Crescents were worn by the ancients to safeguard
them against witchcraft and danger. From this
very early Eastern symbol, horseshoes came to
be regarded by the Greeks and Romans as charms
against sickness and the plague. In the Middle
Ages Horseshoes were used as amulets for witch-
craft, and even today they are looked upon as "lucky."
When the representation of the "Hand of Strength"
was worn with the Crescent, it signified hospitality
and generosity. "Hands of Might" are painted on
houses in Italy, Syria, Turkey, and in the East, to
protect the buildings from misfortune and the
inmates from death. The blue beads were worn to
avert the evil eye.


COMMENT

The object is a beautiful necklace, difficult to describe, in part because the text does not allude directly to it and in part because the materials of construction are ambiguous when rendered in artwork. Two strings of blue beads (glass or faience) are joined together at center front by a slice of "eye agate" (banded agate cut to resemeble an eye with a dark brown pupil), from which hang smaller blue beads and from them three pendants, each embaracing the next within, as if in concentric half-circles. The outermost pendant is a downward-facing crescent, made from what appear to be two tiger or lion claws bound together at the center with a copper band. From this copper band depends a copper link from which hangs a second downward-facing crescent moon, fashioned from a smaller pair of claws bound with a similar copper band. From that copper band depends a copper link from which hangs the innermost pendant, a small silver hamsa hand or "hand of Fatima," with two thumbs, bilaterally symmetrical. The hamsa hand combined with the crescents mark this piece as Arab or Moorish in manufacture. The age is indeterminate, but must date from the Moslem era.

This particular amulet is comprised of four parts and the brief text barely does justice to them.

1) Blue beads (and the colour blue in general) are indeed used as protective charms against the evil eye, as noted in the text. In regions such as the Eastern Mediterraanean and Aegean, where brown eyes are the norm, blue-eyed individuals are often thought to unconsciously carry the evil eye. Most evil eye prevention charms are reflective, hence blue beads and blue eye-beads bounce the evil eye back to the sender.

2) Like the cat's eye shell (mollusk operculum), the eye agate is a natural object which resembles a human eye. As such, it is another reflective evil eye protectant.

3) The crescent has a long history of association with various lunar deities. Its use as an apotropaic charm is based on invocation of a moon goddess and the resemblance of the downward-facing crescent to the protective vulva of the goddess. The link between the moon and water via the operation of the ocean tides is too well known to bear repeating here, and since, as Professor Alan Dundes so convincingly argues, the evil eye operates by "drying" things up, the invocation of a watery, lunar symbol would form a favourable anti-evil eye symbol. The relationship between the crescent-shaped horseshoe and the lunar ocean tides is made clear in Greek myth, where the sea-god Poseidon (Neptune in Rome) is invariably associated with horses. This amulet, however, does not consist of horseshoe crescents but rather crescents made from feline claws -- the intent is similar, for felines are nocturnal, moon-consecrated beasts, whose "cat's eyes" are a prominent feature of their anatomy. The use of the crescent as a Moslem sacred symbol is a late addition to the wealth of classical and fokloric lunar imagery in talismanic magic, but in the context of this amulet, it lends a degree of religiosity to the item, much as Catholic saint images do to the folk icons of Latin America.

4) The downward-hanging hamsa or hamesh hand is a popular Arab and Jewish amulet for magical protection against the evil eye and evil in general. Hamsa ("five" in Arabic) and hamesh (the same in Hebrew) refers to the five fingers. Arabs also call the double-thumbed hand the hand of Fatima, after the daughter of Mohammed, so among them this hand image acquires a slight veneer of religiosity that overlays its folk-magic roots. Similar hand amulets are used among Jews, either double-thumbed or of normal proportions, but without ascription to a personage. The Jewish hamesh hand is sometimes portrayed as an eye-in-hand, making its anti-evil eye purpose very clear; this Arab hamsa has no eye engraved on the palm. Similar downward-hanging milagro hands are common in Mexico; one can be seen in the Mexican Snow Globe Pyramid of Luck.

More information on the upward-facing pagan Hand of Strength or Hand of Might referred to in the text will be found in Wills's Card #19, The Hand. Hand of Power symbolism is also encountered in Latin American Catholic folk magic as The Powerful Hand, or Mano Poderosa, to which novena prayers are addressed. In African Amercian hoodoo a similar but sideways-facing hand is called The Helping Hand; it frequently appears on candles and "curio" labels.

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