Hand of Glory


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Illustration, from the Albertus Parvus grimoire, of a hand of glory. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Hand of Glory

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The hand of a hanged man, dried and preserved, used in various magical charms and spells. Frequently a lit candle was attached to each extended finger and thumb, or perhaps even the digits themselves were set afire. It was believed that such a burning Hand of Glory would cause the people inside the house where the hand burned to pass into a deep sleep; those already asleep would stay in a deep stupor. While the inhabitants slept, the house would be robbed. It was also believed that a burning Hand of Glory induced all locks to open.

The book Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle at cabalistique du Petit Albert (Cologne, 1722) gave full details on how to make a Hand of Glory. It stipulated that the hand, which could be either left or right, had to be cut from a felon hanging from a gibbet. Once severed, the hand was wrapped in part of the funeral pall, having been well squeezed to remove any lingering blood. It was then placed in an earthenware vessel for two weeks with zimat (possibly verdigris), nitre, salt, and long peppers, all well powdered. It was then taken out and exposed to the sunlight until well-dried, preferably during the dog days. If the sun was not strong enough, then the hand could be dried in an oven heated with vervain and fern.

Meanwhile, a candle was made from the fat of the felon, with virgin wax, sesame, and ponie (which may have been horse manure). A single candle was placed in the palm of the hand, or five separate candles could be made and attached to each of the fingers and the thumb.

The book says that the Hand of Glory "would become ineffective, and thieves would not be able to utilize it, if you were to rub the threshold or other parts of the house by which they may enter with an unguent composed of the gall of a black cat, the fat of a white hen, and the blood of a screech owl." The only way to extinguish a Hand of Glory was with milk, as no other liquid would work.

Many witches were accused of using a Hand of Glory in their practices to break into churches and to immobilize people and then do them harm. John Fian of Saltpans, Scotland, one of the North Berwick Witches, was accused of using a Hand of Glory in such a manner.

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