SYMBOLS AND FOLK-LORE
The study of the folk-lore has in recent years been receiving
greater attention, its object is to collect and classify the
survival of popular beliefs and traditions and to trace their
original source. Much of their meaning has been lost during
Around every stage of life, a variety of symbols were used although
some of them appear meaningless nowadays. The belief that certain
objects sometimes possess powers against danger, disease ,is
found throughout the world and has always existed.
Such objects that were worn round the neck to prevent disease
or to protect the person from danger or misfortune, are often
called talismans or amulets.
The Arabs have a legend, that when Pharaoh's army had been drowned
in the Red Sea, the Egyptians elected a woman called Dalukah
as queen, because she was wise and prudent and also skilled
in magic. During the course of her reign, she filled Egypt with
her temples and with figures of animals. In the temples she
collected all the secrets of nature and all the attracting and
repelling powers which were contained in minerals, plants and
animals. She performed her sorcery, at the moment in the revolution
of the celestial bodies when they would be amenable to a higher
power. The figures of the gods and men were supposed to be magical
In Egypt over 275 different varieties of amulets have been discovered
and classified as e.g. Amulets to give confidence and faith,
or to protect.
The amulet of the heart was made in the shape of a scarab, for
the scarab is believed to possess remarkable powers. The Eye
of Horus was used to confer on the dead the power of seeing
out of the coffin. The Ankh was the amulet of life. The frog
symbolised fecundity and resurrection, the scorpion to make
the wearer invulnerable to the bites and stings of venomous
reptiles and insects. Shells of various kind, cowries in particular,
threaded and worn as necklaces, were regarded as a protection
against the "evil eye".
Amulets in the shape of a crescent, which originated from the
new moon, symbolised protection of the Moon god. The lizard
amulet was used to preserve from fever.
The ancient Babylonians and Assyrians hung amulets modelled
in clay outside the doors of their houses to keep away and prevent
the entrance of negative energies, and they suspended tablets
of gold inscribed with certain characters around the neck of
their children to preserve them from harm.
The Romans used stones and metals as talismans. Bronze in particular
was believed to have the power of driving away evil spirits.
Coral necklaces were originally worn on account of the belief
that they would prevent bad dreams. Solomon's ring, which was
said to possess a variety of occult virtues is celebrated by
the Arabs. His seal and the hexagonal star are believed to have
powerful magical properties both by the Arabs and the Abyssinians.
Amulets were usually worn for the purpose of protection, whereas
Talismans consist of certain symbols or characters either written
or engraved on meta. These were carried in order to protect
the owner from danger and help him in bringing good fortune.
Their powers was believed to be derived from the stars and constellations
annd were seen as s more magical in character.
The Berber people of North Africa are the original inhabitants
of that area. Nowadays there are Berber ethnic groups found
from Mauritania to Egypt.
The word itself comes from an Latin and ancient Greek barbari
, meaning the non-Latin/Greek speaking peoples of the Maghreb
(the Arabic name of this area, meaning "the Sunset" or the West.
Barbary Coast was another name given to North Africa). The Berbers
inhabit the mountain regions and parts of the Sahara Desert.
Throughout history they have maintained their identity and culture
.Berbers refer themselves as the Imazighan meaning "The Free
People". Today there are around 25 million Imazighan in North
Africa and Europe. Morocco has the largest Berber population.
The Berber symbols, designs, motifs and tattoos originated from
pre-Islamic beliefs influenced later by Islamic geometric patterns
The belief in animism (that all animals and objects do have
a spirit) is reflected in objects used as a source of magic,
power and protection from negative energies.
In the urban tradition textiles and other objects are created
as an act for worship and tribute to Allah. Many objects are
valued not only because of the way they have been decorated
but because they may contain a baraka. Although the term Baraka
has various meanings it is mainly the positive power of the
saint and the Sufi brotherhoods. The religious faith of the
artisan and his belief in supernatural forces connect him with
the object he is making. The baraka does not exist only in amulets
or talismans but in any kind of objects, such as ceramics and
textiles, plants such as henna, incenses, such as myrrh. In
the case of jewellery the rings and amulets found in necklaces
and talismans worn around the neck, are decorated with words
or phrases from the Koran. baraka is also important in order
to deal with darker forces, curing illnesses.
In North Africa there is still some symbols, motifs and tattoos
to be found such as magic numbers, magic squares, verses of
the Koran, geometric figures (triangles, spirals, crosses, eight
pointed stars, circles, diamonds).
There is a long tradition of interest in numerology in the Arab
world especially in number three, five, seven, nine and their
multiples, which are believed to have magical power. A talisman
can be made of leather or cloth inscribed with symbols as crescents,
crosses, stars and hand. It is a piece of paper on which may
be written a short prayer or verses from the Koran.
The symbols and motifs representing animals are mostly found
in textiles, embroidery, ceramics, woodwork and jewellery. The
representation of dangerous animals such as the snake, scorpion
is intended to act as a symbolic protector. The fish symbol
in jewellery represents water and rain and the fertility of
the earth. The bird often mentioned in the Koran as a messenger
between heaven and earth is associated with destiny, whereas
the eagle represents power. The lizard and the salamander symbolise
the human soul searching for the light. The snake is associated
with the phallus, itself a symbol of fertility is thought to
have healing powers. Turtle and tortoise represent the saints
and symbolise protection from evil forces.
Two parts of the human body, such as the eyes and the hand symbolise
The Hand, called khamsa is a symbol of human creative activity,
power and dominance. It does mean five in Arabic and symbolise
also the number five with its magical properties to protect
from evil forces.
The eye motif is represented as a triangle or as a row of triangles.
The eye can appear in all kind of ways, in inverted triangles
representing eyebrows, and lozenges representing the eye. All
these designs possess magical powers against evil and are believed
to protect people, animals and objects. Such protection is the
only action a human can take in the face of the mektoub (destiny).
Tattooing mainly of women is a widespread practice among the
Berbers and Arabs in North Africa. It is believed that the body
orifices were vulnerable and need to be protected from evil
forces. Tattoos are never figurative but rather simple geometric
formations. The range of design for women and the parts of the
body on which they are located are the forehead, chin, cheeks
and neck as well as the chest, arms, feet and sometimes thighs.
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about Berber symbols