It is worthy of note that the symbol of an open hand with extended fingers was a favorite talisman in former ages, and was to be seen, for example, at the entrances of dwellings in ancient Carthage. It is also found on Lybian and Phoenician tombs, as well as on Celtic monuments in French Brittany. Dr. H. C. Trumbull quotes evidence from various writers showing that this symbol is in common use at the present time in several Eastern lands. In the region of ancient Babylonia the figure of a red outstretched hand is still displayed on houses and animals; and in Jerusalem the same token is frequently placed above the door or on the lintel on account of its reputed virtues in averting evil glances. The Spanish Jews of Jerusalem draw the figure of a hand in red upon the doors of their houses; and they also place upon their children's heads silver handshaped charms, which they believe to be specially obnoxious to unfriendly individuals desirous of bringing evil either upon the children themselves, or upon other members of the household.
In different parts of Palestine the open-hand symbol appears alike on the houses of Christians, Jews, and Moslems, usually painted in blue on or above the door. Claude Reignier Conder, R. E., in "Heth and Moab," remarks on the antiquity of this pagan emblem, which appears on Roman standards and on the sceptre of Siva in India. He is of the opinion that the figure of the red hand, whether sculptured on Irish crosses, displayed in Indian temples, or on Mexican buildings, is always an example of the same original idea,--that of a protective symbol.
A white hand-print is commonly seen upon the doors and shutters of Jewish and Moslem houses in Beyrout and other Syrian towns; and even the Christian residents of these towns sometimes mark windows and flour-boxes with this emblem, after dipping the hand in whitewash, in order to "avert chilling February winds from old people and to bring luck to the bin."
In Germany a rude amulet having the form of an open hand is fashioned out of the stems of coarse plants, and is deemed an ample safeguard against divers misfortunes and sorceries. It is called "the hand of Saint John," or "the hand of Fortune."
The Jewish matrons of Algeria fasten little golden hands to their chidren's caps, or to their glass-bead necklaces, and they themselves carry about similar luck tokens.
In northwestern Scotland whoever enters a house where butter is being made is expected to lay his hand upon the churn, thereby signifying that he has no evil designs against the butter-maker, and dissipating any possible effects of an evil eye.
As a charm against malevolent influences, the Arabs of Algeria make use of rude drawings representing an open hand, placed either above the entrances of their habitations or within doors,--a symbolical translation of the well-known Arabic imprecation, " Five fingers in thine eye!" Oftentimes the same meaning is conveyed by five lines, one shorter than the others to indicate the thumb.