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The one in the upper right-hand corner is one-fourth the real size, made
superstition is due to physical causes or to ritual practice, such as ablution, cannot be easily decided.”
In Judaism a priest's hands, represented as in benediction, on a tombstone indicate that the deceased was descended from the family of Aaron; on the title-page of a book they indicate that the printer was descended from the family of Aaron. The hand is also represented on the walls of synagogues and on mirrors. A hand is generally used as a pointer for the Torah. A hand with two ears of grain and two poppyheads is seen on coins. Two hands joined together are often represented on “ketubah. ” blanks and on the so-called “siflones-tefillah. ” there is a hand hewing a tree or mowing down flowers. A hand either inscribed or cast in metal, was often used as an amulet.
20 Dresslar remarks concerning similar beliefs in the United States, “Experiments upon school children show that there is more disparity between the right and left sides of the body of the brighter pupils than there is between the right and left of the duller ones. Doubtless this same augmented difference holds throughout life, or at least to the period of senescence. It is nothing more nor less than the result of specialization which increases as growing thought-life calls upon the right members of the body for finer adjustment and more varied and perfect execution. Hence, the right members become more the special organs of the will than the left, induce a greater proportion of emotional reaction, and altogether become more closely bound up with the mental life. That this specialization gives an advantage in accuracy, strength, control, and endurance of the right side there can be no doubt. But it seems equally certain that it introduces mental partialities not at all times consistent with well-balanced judgment, or the most trustworthy emotional promptings. Indeed this difference is recorded in the meaning and use of the two words, dextrous and sinister. The thought that relates itself to the stronger side is more rational than that which deals with the weaker and less easily controlled half.
“In addition to this fundamental basis for psychic differentiation with respect to the left and right, it is probable that the beating of the heart, strange and wonderful to the primitive mind, had some influence in connecting the left side with the awful and mysterious.” (“Superstition and Education,” pp. 206–207.)
We now turn to Moslem superstitions of this character. A missionary in Morocco writes: “Of all the talismans by which Moorish women ward off the evil eye with all its danger, none possesses so much magic power as a silver ornament worn on the breast and called Khoumsa. Its virtue lies in its five points, that number, in whatever form presented, being the most potent of protective agencies. In Moorish folk-beliefs it means the dispersion to the four corners of the earth, of any malign influence which has been directed against the life of the wearer.” In Palestine this goes by the name of Kef Miryam; in Algeria the Moslems very appropriately named these talismans La Main de Fatima, and from this source another superstition has been developed: the mystic virtue of the number five, because of the five fingers of the hand or its sinister power.”
“The hand of Fatima,” says Tremearne,” “is a great favorite in Tunis, and one sees it above the great majorities of doorways; in Tripoli there is hardly one, and this is only to be expected, since the sign is an old Carthaginian one, representing not the hand of Fatima at all, but that of Tanith. It has been thought, however, that the amulet is so curiously similar to the thunderbolt of Adad, worn in the necklet of the Assyrian kings along with emblems for the sun, the moon, and Venus, that it may be a survival of that.””
The hand is often painted upon the drum used in the bori (devil) dances in Tunis. It is held up, fingers outstretched and pointing towards the evil-wisher, and this, in Egypt, North Africa and Nigeria, has now become a gesture of abuse. In Egypt the outstretched hand pointed at some one is used to invoke a curse. They say yukhammisuna, or “He throws his five at us,” i.e. he curses. Not only the hand but the forefinger is used for this purpose. It is therefore called, as we have seen, the Sababa. Goldziher gives many examples of how the fore-finger was used in magical ways long before its present use in testifying to God’s unity. A controversy arose in Islam very early about the raising of the hands in prayer. It is regarding the position of the hands that the four sects have special teaching and can be distinguished. Perhaps this also indicates a magical use of the hand. In Egypt the hand is generally used as an amulet against the evil eye. It is made of silver or gold in jewelry, or made of tin in natural size, and is then suspended over the door of a house. The top of a Moslem banner is often of this shape. It is used on the harness of horses, mules, etc., and on every cart used in Alexandria we see either a brass hand or one painted in various colors. The following points are to be noted. It is unlucky to count five on the fingers. All Egyptians of the Delta when they count say: “One, two, three, four, in-the-eye-of-your-enemy.” Children, when at play, show their displeasure with each other by touching the little finger of their two hands together, which signifies separation, enmity, hatred. The same sign is used by grown-up people also to close a discussion. The origin of the stretching out of the hand with the palm exposed toward the person was explained by my sheikh in this way: Tradition says that at one time a woman who saw Mohammed became very much enamored with his handsome presence, and Mohammed fearing she would work some power over him, raised his hand (said to be the right one) and stretched it out to one side in front of him with the palm exposed toward the woman, and at the same time he repeated Sura 113. When he did this the covetous glance passed between his two fingers and struck a nail in a tree near by and broke it in pieces ! Finally we may add the curious custom also common in
27 Mr. Lefebure in his short work, “La Main de Fatima,” has gathered all that is known on the subject. 28 “The Ban of the Bori,” p. 174.