Whilst visiting local towns and villages with guests in the SW France during our Art & Textiles courses, there have been many comments as to why are there so many ‘door knockers’ in the shape of hands.
Following a little research on the web, it does transpire that they can be found almost everywhere across north Africa and the Middle East. There are a multitude of stories about their origin, most of which are related to the Muslim world. One of the stories is that the hand -symbolizing the Hand of Fatima- was not only a talisman to protect a house from evil but also a sign for other Muslims in non-Muslim countries that in a certain house lived people of their faith.
Doors are there to provide protection and therefore it was not long before our ancestors attached magical symbols to the outside of their doors to “ward off the evil eye” with a palm-shaped symbol depicting an open hand with five fingers has been a sign for protection throughout history.
Other explanations are that there exist male and female hand-knockers, and that many doors had two knockers, one male and one female. It was inappropriate for a Muslim woman to open the door to a man, and therefore visitors were expected to use the knocker according to gender. Both made different sounds, and so the woman of the house knew if it was appropriate to open the door from the sound of the knock.
The ‘Hand of Fatima’ is particularly common on front doors in Morocco and from there spread to France, and then the rest of Europe, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its arrival in France happily coincided with the period of Art Nouveau (circa, 1890-1910) and the European castings used for the Lady’s Hand became more sensuous and somewhat more elegant.