The Israeli Lucky Charms Collection! (Bli Ain Hara! Ben Porat Yosef!)
In the days before science, humans were bothered and even terrified with things they could not explain nor understand. People believed that nature and life were influenced by forces that were good or evil. And they sought out ways to battle the evil.
They sought refuge in the spiritual world. And thus were born the lucky charms!
The Ashkenazi Jews used to say “Bli Ain Hara” translating into ”no evil eye” and the Sephardi Jews would add “Ben Porat Yosef Aley Ain” taken from Jacob’s blessings for his sons. (Genesis)
It doesn’t matter where from our grandmother, savta, nanna or bubby came from, they all passed on to us the ancient world of superstitions and lucky charms beliefs – Against Ain Hara! עין הרע that has been accompanying human kind and our nation for many millennia.
The Israeli melting pot of all the different Edot/origins created a very reach plethora of beliefs and charms that we are all familiar with.
The list is very long, and we have collected memories and beliefs from all over, asked everyone we know, and we do apologize if we have forgotten one you remember from your Savta, or omitted one that has meaning for you. Please do share with us via email if you know any additional ones. firstname.lastname@example.org
So here it is, our list of 25 superstitions and lucky charms with a few words about the origin of it:
- The Blue Eye – where does all of this begin? Why do people believe in the Evil Eye? Eyes are a good thing, they are our sight and when someone losses their eyes it is a horrible thing right? So how does such an important body part gets such a bad reputation? Many researchers believe that the origin is in ancient Egypt. In the Egyptian mythology, the God Horus was the god of the sky, he had the head of a falcon and his eyes were the sun and the moon. His symbol looked like an eye and symbolized power, protection and had healing powers.
It was widely used in ancient Egypt as omens and charms for good fortune and luck. In ancient Greece and Rome it was believed that an evil heart can get through the eyes and cast evil spells just by a glance. So that is how the evil eye concept was born. It was also known as the eye of Ra – another Egyptian god. The word Ra – in Hebrew means bad, evil. And that, according to some researchers was understood literally in later years and the Eye of Ra became the Evil Eye. When did it become blue? People with blue eyes were a rarity in the ancient Mediterranean and therefore thought of as bestowing the curse, intentionally or unintentionally.
2. Hamsa – The hamsa is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, depicting the open right hand and used as a sign of protection in many times throughout history, the Hamsa is believed by some, predominantly Muslims and Jews, to provide defense against the evil eye. It has been theorized that its origins lie in Ancient Egypt or Carthage (modern-day Tunisia) and may have been associated with the Goddess Tanit. The Hamsa protects the house and its inhabitants from the evil eye. It usually contains a depiction of the actual eye it is protecting against linking the two in a symbolic ancient dance. The hand is the strength the eye is the spirit.
3. Hamsa Hamsa Hamsa – Tfu Tfu Tfu –the original blessing used to say Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa x3 times when you would say something that might trigger the evil eye. Sometimes this words would also be accompanied by spitting. Just to make double extra sure the evil eye is cast away.
4. Touch wood / Knock on wood three times – saying the Hamsa Hamsa Hamsa x3 times evolved in later times, probably reaching England some 150 years ago to knocking on wood three times. The Christians say it is knocking on the wooden Cross of Jesus, the Jews say it is a reminiscing of persecution times where they had to practice secret
secret knocking on secret doors in order to hide from their persecutors. In both cases it is like a game when you are frightened of something and gives you something to do to fight your fear. 🙂
5. Garlic – The origin of this lucky charm stems probably from the strong and not so pleasant odor of the garlic, according to traditional beliefs the demons and evil spirits dislike the smell of it (as do some humans…. 🙂 ) and therefore they keep away… people would hang garlic at the entrance to their home or shop, put some in their bag or pocket.
6. Fish – live under the sea where the evil eye can’t harm them. Since people believed that, the use of fish to fight the evil eye became very common.
7. A red string on your wrist – some sources say this was a foreign custom by the Emori people, some Jewish scholars tried over history to change it into a blue string, but the custom stayed stronger, and red it remained.
8. Salt – Salt was one omen to be used in quite a few lucky charms. Parents would put some salt in kids pockets to keep the evil eye created by jealousy away, you would put salt, pepper and garlic and walk around with it in your bag for a few days, to keep the evil eye away, one could throw salt on the open stove fire and make a wish, and many more….
9. Don’t sit in the corner or you won’t marry for 7 years – that is a funny one but smart, if someone sits in the corner, clearly it is one of the least comfortable seats at the table, difficult to get things or to talk to others. A stranger if was invited might start to wonder, “why was this person given this bad seat’? “Is something wrong with this person”?
They might think negative thoughts about the one sitting in the corner, and if it is a young person at the age for marriage it kinda ruins the chances….. So, don’t sit in the corner or else you won’t marry for 7 years 🙂
10. Don’t walk under a ladder – this one is actually a Christian origin superstition, Christians believed that an open ladder on the floor forms the holy trinity and if you walk in it you break the balance of life and summon the evil powers.
11. Don’t open an umbrella inside the house – two interesting origins for that one, some say it traces back to ancient Egypt, where they believed that if you cover yourself from the sun you prevent the gods –the sun to bless you. The more modern belief is actually very practical and comes from the British Isles, the mechanism of opening an umbrella during Victorian times was rather complexed and could be quite hazardous for people and furniture and that is why it was advised not to do so indoors. 🙂
12. A broken Mirror/Covered mirrors – this superstition is common in many cultures around the world. Romans believed that gods can see the future through the mirror and if you break one you shouldn’t look at the mirror because there are things in your future you should not see. The Chinese believe that mirrors have the power to neutralize evil spirits and place them at the entrance to homes and public places. Russians believe that if you eat in front of the mirror you are “eating your luck” and in Jewish homes when sitting Shiva you cover the mirrors to prevent the spirit of the dead to be trapped inside.
13. Don’t leave your shoes turning upside down – it is like turning your back on god and therefore brings you bad luck.
14. Don’t buy shoes as a gift for someone you love or the person will walk away from you – my sister says that it was only my Savta that believed in that one…. Is she right? Does anyone else know this one? (Sharon)
15. Don’t hand each other scissors or knives or you’ll have a quarrel – this belief comes from the literal meaning – if you hand over a knife or a pair of scissors you’ll “cut ” the bond between you.
16. Put a knife under a baby/child bed to keep the demons away – since demons can’t handle metal, especially silver, people would put a knife under the mattress to keep the demons away.
17. Don’t celebrate a birthday before the actual date arrives – probably Russian or German origin this one – considered real bad luck to celebrate before the actual date, in fear you won’t make it to the real one….
18. Don’t step over a child or he or she won’t grow – another funny but clever one. In times of old, underwear was still not common practice for all…. So main reason for not stepping over a child is Tzniut, keeping what’s private private. Second reason is don’t scare the children, it can be kind of frightening no? a big tall adult hovering over you like that.
19. Never kill a Gecko- it brings you bad luck – probably always a good advice because it eats all the bugs, and crawling things….
20. Wash your home with sea water – probably comes from the salt in the water and the fact that the Evil Eye can’t see under the sea.
21. Don’t announce the baby’s name before the Brit – because before the brit the baby is still unprotected and the Lilith could harm the baby.
22. Don’t buy and bring home all the baby things before he or she are born – don’t let Lilith know a baby is on the way…
23. Grow a plant of Common Rue – the Ruta רוטא in Hebrew – protects the home and its inhabitants – the plant apparently has foul odor and this is why it keeps the demons and bad spirits away.
24. Wear a silver neckless and if a Magen David is hanging on it – even better – demons can’t handle the silver, and a Magen David – well that is always good no? (we did had some very dark times in our nation’s history were it did not bring any luck to those who wore it… but it was yellow colored and sewn onto their clothes 😀)
Throughout history people gave objects and things mystical powers in order to feel protected against the unknown. They believed in many strange and weird things just so they would feel as if they have some control over their lives and their fate and have a way to protect the ones they love the most.
Some of us still believe, some of us still do it out of habit, some just remember their granny with a smile and longing and still follow out of respect and tradition.
Whichever it is, it has been around for thousands of years, it is part of our folklore, and as you can see many beliefs are shared across cultures and religions, and it is actually something that brings us together as humans.
We wish you a long and prosperous life (in the words of Mr. Spock the Vulcan – who was actually a Jewish Cohen :-)) and that no harm will ever come to you or those you love.
Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa Aleikum!
(Oh, how I miss my Savta C’icí now. ❤❤)
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