Ever since civilization began, we’ve worn jewelry not only to pretty ourselves up, but to feel inspired by the otherworldly and divine, give ourselves a little extra luck and security, and express ourselves through wearable art.
You’re probably familiar with some of these symbols, but do you know them all?
The Cross – In western culture, the cross is most recognizable as an important Christian symbol – a reminder of death and resurrection, love and sacrifice. But similar shapes also have meaning outside Christianity. Since the stone age, cross symbols have been worn all over the world for decoration and meaning – like the ancient Egyptian Ankh, a symbol of life and fertility.
The Nazar (or Evil Eye) – Though the “evil eye” is now thought of as little more than a mean-spirited glare, being on the receiving end of this cruel look was bad news back in the day. Without protection, you could expect a world of bad luck or injury. So how did you fight it? With apotropaic (how’s that for a fancy term?) symbols like Hamsas (see below) and Nazar, eye-shaped talismans of concentric circles. Once that hideous glance hit a Nazar, it would bounce back - think of it as the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” principle at work.
The Hamsa (or Khamsa) – Meaning “5”, this hand-shaped design has been popular throughout the Middle East and northern Africa for millennia. Much like the Nazar, it defends against the Evil Eye and also represents blessings, power, and strength. It’s an incredibly ancient symbol – maybe more than 4000 years old. It really took off with the advent of Islam (though many Imams saw it as a form of idolatry, and thus, weren’t exactly thrilled with it). Through Islam, its use spread to Judaism and some Christian communities.
The Tree of Life – Talk about a look with roots! For thousands of years, this symbol’s popped up all over the world – from ancient Persia and Egypt to China to North America to Germany and Scandinavia. While details vary, its meaning generally remains the same: we’re all interconnected, to heaven, to creation, to all life on earth.
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