Obj. ID: 35833
Sacred and Ritual Objects Amulet, Algeria, circa 1920
The following description was prepared by William Gross: From earliest times, man has tried to protect himself from misfortune by the use of objects which he considered holy or otherwise (e.g., magically) potent. Amulets and talismans are items generally worn around the neck or wrist, carried in a pocket or purse or hung on a wall. They are meant to protect or aid those who carried or wore them. The Hebrew word for amulet, kame‘a, has the root meaning "to bind". Jewish amulets are usually comprised of texts (either letters or graphic symbols) that are inscribed on some sort of material; some may also contain plant matter or precious stones. The texts of amulets usually include holy names that are believed to have the ability to affect reality, along with incantations summoning angels or other magical powers. For the most part, an amulet has a specific purpose: to ease childbirth, facilitate recovery from illness, improve one’s livelihood, and so on, but in the modern world many are also made for general protection.
This small silver amulet is unusual in that there is a small hamsa soldered in the center of the large hamsa, with even smaller stylized hamsas on each of the fingers at the location of the fingernail. This feature identifies the piece as from Algeria, as does the decorative design. The hamsa inside of a larger hamsa is against the Evil Eye both inside and outside the bearer.
The hamsa is arguably the most popular form of amulet against the Evil Eye and is used in a large number of countries in the Islamic world. Probably originating in Moslem Spain of the 12th or 13th century, it crossed the sea to Morocco with the expulsion of 1492 and spread across North Africa to the Middle and Far East.