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The Hand of Glory: A Thief’s Best Friend

Over the centuries, the folklore surrounding The Hand of Glory was passed down between generations as an extremely powerful token. The Hand of Glory, or main de gloire, is a severed human hand from the body of a hanged man. Carrying mystical powers, stories tell of it being a prized possession of thieves and criminals for it’s potent powers. Accounts vary surrounding it’s actual capabilities and ways to absolve yourself of it’s wrath, but it remains one of the most intriguing stories of the magical and the macabre.

Crafting the Occult

The process for crafting a Hand of Glory was very precise and doesn’t vary too much across folklore. It was either the left hand or the hand which committed a nefarious act they were found guilty of. The left hand was often viewed as the unlucky or evil hand. Sinistra, the Latin word, originally for “left”, took on darker connotations and soon became used to describe sinister acts. Sorry all you lefties! Ideally it was removed during a lunar eclipse or at least during the night.

The hand was dried and pickled once the body was cut down from the gallows. Pickling consisted of first draining the hand of all blood then positioning the fingers. Most imagery depicts the hand as standing vertical in a natural pose but there were instances where the palm was laid flat and the fingers bent back at a 90 degree angle to be used as candles. It was then treated with a pickling solution, wrapped, and set to cure for 2 weeks. Once unwrapped it would be allowed to dry then the wax added to the fingers. Often the wax was made from the fat of the hanged man, along with wicks made of their hair. These were placed at the tips of the fingers to be lit.

Roots of the Mandrogore

The history of the hand dates back to medieval times and can be seen as early as the 16th century in texts. In general, we can see a similar thread woven throughout the folklore – the hand of a deadman has always had mystical powers.

Picture of a Mandrake root which many thought looked eerily similar to someone’s hand.

The hand’s roots, no pun intended, can be traced back to the French phrase Main de Glorie; a moniker for the Mandrake root. The word mandrogore, the French version of mandrake, bares a striking resemblance to Main de Glorie. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see how closely the two are related. Also contributing to the lore surrounding the hand was the belief that the plant grew from the seeds of a hanged man below the gallows and would even emit a glow during the night. They also looked eerily like human hands.

Earliest references to the legend of the mandrogore were present during the 15th century but the story seems to have transitioned to the hand sometime between then and the 16th century.

Hand of Glory references traced back to 1593 in the Disquisitiones Magicæ. Image provided by Folklore Thursday.

Swiss Army Knife of the Supernatural

Where this story varies greatly are the actual perceived powers of the Hand of Glory. Some of the more common stories told of the hand involve it’s ability to render anyone in it’s presence immobile or to fall into a deep sleep. It can also unlock any door encountered as well as glow bright when near treasure. It’s flames are nearly impossible to extinguish once lit in some stories. The most gruesome source of this everlasting light is from German folklore which refer to the hands as “thief’s lights”. When the fingers are procured from a pregnant hanged thief’s unborn child, cut off with the hangman’s axe it becomes almost invincible.

The Hand of Glory could render inhabitants immobile and allow thieves to scavenge as they pleased. Image provided by Folklore Thursday.

Gall of the Black Cat

As I mentioned above, some versions of the hand were seemingly inextinguishable; but there are some methods rumored to render the hand ineffective.

The only known way to extinguish the flames was with sterilized milk. An easier solution was to prevent even encountering the hand by preventing it from even entering your home. Simply rub your doors and windows with the gall of a black cat, the fat of a white hen, and the blood of a screech owl. All simple things to find, right? The door must be anointed during what’s referred to as the dog days of summer. This is a period from July 3rd to August 11th during with the dog star, Sirius, ascends to the sky.

A lot of people wonder if these legends were reality. Would people really go to such lengths to have such rumored power? The simple answer is yes. Up to recently the last physical Hand of Glory could be seen in the Whitby Museum. Perhaps we doubt the hand’s power since it’s too macabre of a concept to dare to attempt. What do you think would happen if you lit those fingers?

 

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