Excerpt from the Hanukkah: Festival of Lights issue:
Another Jewish talisman used to ward off the “evil eye” is a scarlet string worn as a bracelet. The red string is worn on the left wrist and is knotted seven times while saying a prayer, and then worn until it naturally falls off.
The red string bracelet may have seen a resurgence in popularity because of Kabbalah, a form of Judaic mysticism. But tying or wearing a red string for protection and luck has been used around the world, from ancient Greece and Egypt to tribes in China, or Native Americans.
In The Red String: The Cultural History of a Jewish Folk Symbol, Elly Teman writes “As an ancient and universal magic symbol, the circle created by binding the red string around a body part enables a barrier to be erected between the encircled private domain and the external, public domain, providing a visible rampart that excludes demonic forces from entering the enclosed area.”
In some Rosh Hodesh groups, women bring red strings and tie them, saying a blessing, around the left wrist of a pregnant group member. In Israel, it is a superstition for mothers to tie the red string around their male baby’s wrist before their brit milah (circumcision), and around their son’s wrists before they leave to join the army. Many people in Israel wear red string bracelets, as both a protective talisman and fashion statement. In the early 2000s, several celebrities, like Madonna and Demi Moore were seen wearing the scarlet string bracelets. And now you can even buy them on Amazon.
I don’t know anything about Kabbalah, but I feel like I understand the appeal of the red string. Red is such a powerful color, knot tying can be a form of magic, and circles are universally known as protective. And maybe wearing the red string bracelet to protect yourself from the “evil eye” of others can remind you not to think with envy or wish others ill.
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