Sun, moon and stars

Pair of silver sha'abi bracelets from Egypt, decorated with solar motifs

The celestial bodies have been powerful symbols since antiquity. In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, studying the heavens was a highly developed art. It is therefore not surprising to find many references in jewellery, throughout the entire region, to the power of heavenly bodies. Silver, the preferred metal for traditional jewellery, is strongly associated with the cool light of the moon, while gold is related to the heat of the sun.

Five- or six-pointed stars are often employed together with a representation of the moon, and in Syria, Jordan and the Arab Peninsula, small pendants in the shape of crescents are found in abundance. The Seal of Salomo, a six-pointed star, is used by both Muslims and Jews throughout the entire region. It also features in magical inscriptions and formulae as a powerful symbol to ward off evil and to enhance spells.

The well-known symbol of the crescent moon with a single star has been in use since antiquity and predates Islam by millennia. Most probably, the single star is a representation of the planet Venus. This planet can be seen as a bright star around sunrise and sunset, and is known as Evening Star or Morning Star. As such it was already known in Ancient Egypt, where it was called the ‘Star Who Is On Her Own’.

The widely used motif of a large disc and the smaller disc consisting of 7 dots is usually called the sun-and-moon-motif. However, the seven dots could also be a reference to the star cluster of the Pleiades. This constellation, also known as the Seven Sisters or al-Thurayya in Arabic, has been extremely important for farming communities in the Middle East. The rising of this constellation in Morocco indicated the start of the planting season, and in Yemen the Pleiades were used by farmers to keep track of the agricultural season. Given their importance connected to farming and sustenance, the star cluster could very well be incorporated into jewellery design.

Click on the examples below to see their explanations.