Showing posts with label superstition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label superstition. Show all posts

14 August 2011

Burning incense in a new house to chase away the bad eye

The two photographs below picture hand-made terracotta urns known as "kanoun" in Tunisian Arabic.  These are used as small barbecues as well as for burning incense.  When a person moves into a new house or when a woman gives birth a kanoun with a special incense mixture called "bkhour" is burnt and a person goes from room to room in the house to chase away the bad eye and evil spirits whilst
the bkhour mixture in the kanoun is smoking.

So, to keep up with Tunisian tradition, on the 7th day after we moved into our new house we chased away the bad eye and evil spirits which may have been lurking in our new house by burning bhour in a kanoun.  This tradition is called, "Le kanoun au bkhour pour chasser le mauvais oeil" in French.

May we be healthy and happy in our new house and continue to get enjoyment out of living as expatriates in Tunisia.

"Poterie creuse, en terre cuite, utilisée comme un brasero, pour la cuisson des aliments au charbon de bois. Sa forme, avec des bords échancrés, permet de poser sur cet outil de cuisson, des récipients pour la préparation des plats, ou des produits à cuire directement sur les braises (maïs), l'encens.  Très répandue Afrique de l'Ouest (Sénégal, Mali) et en Afrique du Nord: cuisine marocaine, algérienne, ou tunisienne.  Il existe des formes simples ou décorées (peintes avec des arabesques).  En Espagne, cet objet porte le nom de el anafe (terme hispano-arabe)."

Figure 1:  A terracotta kanoun.

Figure 2:  A smaller terracotta kanoun.

Figure 3:  The incense mixture called bkhour.

9 May 2011

El-Barraka (Blessing)

I saw this beautiful tile on the wall of a villa with the word "El-Barraka" written on it.  According to Wikipedia, the word "baraka" means blessing.  This photograph ties in with previous blog posts I have written about the extraordinary use of tiles in Tunisia as well as words and symbols which are used to protect against the evil eye. 

8 December 2010

Penannular brooch - Traditional Berber clasp

Figure 1:  A penannular brooch (traditional Berber clasp)

Above is a brooch/clasp which is very much associated with the traditional Berber community in Tunisia.  It is made from silver and can be found in a triangular or a crescent shape which swivels freely and has a pin to fix the brooch on to the garment.  It is a utilitarian piece of jewellery and is used by Berber women to fasten clothes.  It is normally worn one above each breast with the pin pointing upwards. 

According to the Dorling Kindersley (DK) Eyewitness Travel Guide to Tunisia this brooch/clasp is known as 'hela' in Tunisian Arabic.  However I could not find a description of this brooch on the internet under that name.  It was only when I described the piece myself and carried out a search that I came across similar images of brooches but I was surprised to see that it was also known as a Celtic brooch or penannular brooch.  The DK guide book also says that "the hela combines practicality with decorative even protective roles.  Made of silver, it is often covered with designs that are believed to ensure fertility, guard against the 'evil eye' and bestow beauty on the wearer."

This was the website where I came across similar images of brooches and the following extracts describe not only the Celtic brooch but its use amongst Berber women in the Mahgreb.  "Penannular brooches are part of traditional dress to the present day among Berber women in the Mahgreb, usually worn in pairs and apparently pinning straps of a dress to the bodice, with the pins pointing straight up. They are usually large, fairly plain, brooches, not unlike some Viking examples, though another style has a very elaborately decorated head to the pin, which can dwarf the ring.  A heavy necklace often hangs between the two brooches, sometimes attached to a ring hanging from the head of the pin. Most of the women are identified as Berber. Local names for the brooches apparently include melia, melehfa, bzima, kitfiyya, and khellala in Arabic, and tabzimt, tizerzay, and tazersit in Berber. Such styles are believed to have been in use since pre-Islamic times."

The Celtic brooch, more properly called the penannular brooch, and its closely related type, the pseudo-penannular brooch, are types of brooch clothes fasteners, often rather large. They are especially associated with the beginning of the Early Medieval period in the British Isles, although they are found in other times and places—for example, forming part of traditional female dress in areas in modern North Africa.

Beginning as utilitarian fasteners in the Iron Age and Roman period, they are especially associated with the highly ornate brooches produced in precious metal for the elites of Ireland and Scotland from about 700 to 900, which are popularly known as Celtic brooches or similar terms. They are the most significant objects in high-quality secular metalwork from Early Medieval Celtic art, or Insular art, as art historians prefer to call it. The type continued in simpler forms such as the thistle brooch into the 11th century, during what is often known as the Viking Age in Ireland and Scotland.

Both penannular and pseudo-penannular brooches feature a long pin attached by its head to a ring; the pin can move freely around the ring as far as the terminals, which are close together. In the true penannular type, the ring is not closed; there is a gap between the terminals wide enough for the pin to pass through. In the pseudo-penannular type, the ring is closed, but there are still two separately defined terminals, which are joined by a further element. The penannular type is a simple and efficient way of fastening loosely woven cloth (where the pin will not leave a permanent hole), but the pseudo-penannular type is notably less efficient.

The brooches were worn by both men and women, usually singly at the shoulder by men and on the breast by women, and with the pin pointing up; an Irish law code says that in the event of injury from a pin to another person, the wearer is not at fault if the pin did not project too far and the brooch was worn in these ways by the sexes. The most elaborate examples were clearly significant expressions of status at the top of society, which were also worn by clergy, at least in Ireland, though probably to fasten copes and other vestments rather than as everyday wear. The Senchas Mhor, an early Irish law tract, specified that the sons of major kings, when being fostered, should have "brooches of gold having crystal inserted in them", while the sons of minor kings need wear only silver brooches." 

 Figure 2:  Here is the penannular brooch (traditional Berber clasp) in use.

Figure 3:  This is a penannular brooch (traditional Berber clasp) which is framed, note that the pin cannot move along the ring.

7 December 2010

Hand of Fatima a palm-shaped amulet

"The khamsa (Arabic: خمسة ‎, Hebrew: חמסה‎, khamsa lit. five, also romanized hamsa and chamsa) is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The khamsa is often incorporated in jewelry and wall hangings, as a superstitious defense against the evil eye.  It is believed to originate in ancient practices associated with the Sabaeans and Nabataeans.

Another Arabic name for the hamsa (or khamsa) is the hand of Fatima, commemorating Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.  Hamsa hands often contain an eye symbol. Depictions of the hand, the eye, or the number five in Arabic (and Berber) tradition is related to warding off the evil eye, as exemplified in the saying khamsa fi ainek ("five [fingers] in your eye").  Another formula uttered against the evil eye in Arabic is khamsa wa-khamis.   Due to its significance in both Arabic and Berber culture, it is one of the national symbols of Algeria, and appears in its emblem.

The khamsa is the most popular of the different amulets to ward off the evil eye in Egypt — others being the Eye, and the Hirz (a silver box containing verses of the Koran).  The Hand (Khamsa) has long represented blessings, power and strength and is thus seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye.  It's one of the most common components of jewelry in the region."

This is referred to as Fatima's hand or Khamsa in Tunisia.  It is a symbol which is used very widely in jewellery design and is worn as part of a necklace or a bracelet to protect the owner and it is also used inside and outside houses to protect the house.  It can be said to be a palm shaped amulet/talisman used in Tunisia, North Africa and the Middle East which is either worn on the person or used in a house or car or any other property or item which is precious to the person, to ward off against the evil eye.  According to Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Travel Guide to Tunisia, "the five fingers symbolize not only the five pillars of Islam, but also the Muslim prayer that is repeated five times a day."  If you recall, I had done an earlier blog post on the 18th June 2010 entitled, superstition and I had mentioned the "nazar boncuk" which resembles an eye and is used in Turkey to protect and bestow blessings rather like the hand of Fatima.

Figure 1: Hand of Fatima or Khamsa as part of a necklace.

Figure 2:  Hand of Fatima or Khamsa framed in an ornate wooden frame.

Figure 3: Hand of Fatima or Khamsa used on the gates of a private villa.

10 August 2010

Phobias relating to the fear of the number 13 and to Friday the 13th

Having written about superstition in an earlier posting, I am back on the subject this time to examine why the number 13 is considered to be an unlucky number.  Interestingly enough, there is even a phobia for the irrational  fear of the number 13 called "triskaidekaphobia". 

You may have noticed for example that some sky scrapers have resorted to skipping the thirteenth floor.  Does it not seem illogical and far fetched when even civil engineers and construction workers exacerbate this unfounded fear?  Likewise, people tend to be vary of the thirteenth of a month particularly when it falls on a Friday.  Friday the 13th is said to be decidedly inauspicious.  There are even specific phobias for the fear of Friday the 13th called "Paraskevidekatriaphobia" and "Friggatriskaidekaphobia".  (The months of the year which have a Friday the 13th always begin on a Sunday).

I have carried out some basic research on the internet and it turns out that there are several possible explanations for this fear.  In Christianity, there were thirteen people present at the Last Supper.  Here, the number thirteen is seen as a foreboding omen. 

The number is also considered unlucky by some as it is the sum of 1-4-5-3, the year of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire, though it may be considered lucky by Turks on the same basis.

Whatever your convictions and beliefs I hope this coming Friday, the 13th August will be a lucky day for you.  More information can be obtained from the following websites and

18 June 2010


The Concise Oxford Dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP) defines superstition as
"credulity regarding the supernatural, irrational fear of the unknown or mysterious; misdirected reverence; religion or practice or particular opinion based on such tendencies; widely held but unjustified idea of the effects or nature of a thing."

The reason why I've quoted the above dictionary reference is because last Saturday, 12 June a lucky charm which I'd had for the past eighteen years fell off the wall and broke in half.  Not only had I had this lucky charm for such a long time, but it had been with me through nine house moves and four country moves and therefore had great sentimental value.  For those of you familiar with Turkish culture I can specify that it was a "nazar boncuk" or what is better known in English as an evil eye charm to ward off evil spirits.  I hoped that it wasn't going to be the start of a spiral of bad luck.  I feel I've had my fair share already this year.  I suppose I am mildly superstitious.  I say "white rabbit" at the first day of the month (that is more out of habit really, an odd peculiarity left over from my formative years at an English boarding school), I say "touch wood" and I don't walk under ladders but that is more a health and safety precaution than anything to do with supposed bad luck.  I hope you will have a lucky weekend! 

Here is a photograph of evil eye charms to ward off evil spirits known as "nazar boncuk".  It was taken at a shop in Istanbul.  It was one of these that fell off my wall and broke in half.

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