Hand of Glory

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The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or, if the man were hanged for murder, the hand that "did the deed."

According to old European beliefs, a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, which comes from the same man as the fat in the candle; this would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The candle could only be put out with milk. In another version, the hair of the dead man is used as a wick, and the candle would give light only to the holder. The Hand of Glory also purportedly had the power to unlock any door it came across.[1] The method of making a Hand of Glory is described in Petit Albert,[2][3] and in the Compendium Maleficarum.[4]

Etymologist Walter Skeat reports[5] that, while folklore has long attributed mystical powers to a dead man's hand, the specific phrase "Hand of Glory" is in fact a folk etymology: it derives from the French main de gloire, a corruption of mandragore, which is to say mandrake. Skeat writes, "The identification of the hand of glory with the mandrake is clinched by the statement in Cockayne's Leechdoms, i. 245,[6] that the mandrake "shineth by night altogether like a lamp" (Cockayne in turn is quoting Pseudo-Apuleius, in a translation of a Saxon manuscript of his Herbarium)[5]

Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire, England possesses a Hand of Glory.[7]


The 1722 Petit Albert describes in detail how to make a Hand of Glory, as cited from him by Grillot De Givry:

Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway; wrap it in part of a funeral pall and so wrapped squeeze it well. Then put it into an earthenware vessel with zimat, nitre, salt and long peppers, the whole well powdered. Leave it in this vessel for a fortnight, then take it out and expose it to full sunlight during the dog-days until it becomes quite dry. If the sun is not strong enough put it in an oven with fern and vervain. Next make a kind of candle from the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin wax, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick to hold this candle when lighted, and then those in every place into which you go with this baneful instrument shall remain motionless

De Givry points out the difficulties with the meaning of the words zimat and ponie, saying it is likely "ponie" means horse-dung,[8] while being uncertain whether zimat should mean verdigris or the Arabian sulphate of iron. The Petit Albert also provides a way to shield a house from the effects of the Hand of Glory:

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 the screech-owl; this substance must be compounded during the dog-days [9]

The hand of glory on display at Whitby Museum.

At the Whitby Museum an actual Hand of Glory is kept, together with a text published in a book from 1823. In this manuscript text, the way to make the Hand of Glory is as follows:[10]

It must be cut from the body of a criminal on the gibbet; pickled in salt, and the urine of man, woman, dog, horse and mare; smoked with herbs and hay for a month; hung on an oak tree for three nights running, then laid at a crossroads, then hung on a church door for one night while the maker keeps watch in the porch-"and if it be that no fear hath driven you forth from the porch...then the hand be true won, and it be yours"

In literature[edit]

Severed hands in an occult context occur as early as Herodotus's "Tale of Rhampsinitus" (ii, 121), in which a clever thief leaves a dead hand behind in order to avoid capture. They also appear in early stories of lycanthropy, such as Henry Boguet's Discours exécrable de sorciers in 1590.[11]

In 1832 Gérard de Nerval wrote the short story "La main de gloire, histoire macaronique" ("The Hand of Glory, a Macaronic Story"). The same year Aloysius Bertrand published "L'heure du Sabbat" ("The Hour of the Sabbat").[12] Guy de Maupassant made his debut with "La main d'écorché" ("The Flayed Hand") (1875) one of his first stories in the Lorraine Almanac Pont-à-Mousson under the pseudonym Joseph Prunier. Marcel Schwob wrote an uncollected short story about it: "La Main de gloire" ("The Hand of Glory", which was published in L'Echo de Paris in March 11, 1893.[13][14]

The second of the Ingoldsby Legends, "The Hand of Glory, or, The Nurse's Story", describes the making and use of a Hand of Glory.[15] The first lines are:

Now open, lock!

To the Dead Man's knock!

Fly, bolt, and bar, and band!

Nor move, nor swerve,

Joint, muscle, or nerve,

At the spell of the Dead Man's hand!

Sleep, all who sleep! -- Wake, all who wake!

But be as the dead for the Dead Man's sake!

Théophile Gautier wrote a poem on the subject of the hand of the poet thief Lacenaire, severed after his execution for a double murder, presumably for future use as a hand of glory.[16][17][18]


  1. ^ Baker, Frank (1888). "Anthropologocal Notes on the Human Hand". American Anthropologist 1 (1): 51–76. doi:10.1525/aa.1888.1.1.02a00040. JSTOR 658459. 
  2. ^ "La main de gloire, & ses effets" [The Hand of Glory, and its effects.]. Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du petit Albert. [The Little Albert] (in French). Albertus Magnus. Lyon: Héritiers de Beringos fratres. 1782. p. 115. OCLC 164442497. 
  3. ^ Davies, Owen (2008-04-04). "Owen Davies's top 10 grimoires". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-08. 
  4. ^ "Of Soporific Spells". Compendium Maleficarum. San Diego: The Book Tree. 2004 [1626]. pp. 83–90. ISBN 1-58509-246-0. 
  5. ^ a b Skeat, Walter William (1904). "Glory, Hand of". Notes on English Etymology, chiefly reprinted from the Transactions of the Philological Society. Clarendon Press. p. 119. 
  6. ^ Cockayne, Thomas Oswald (1864). "Mandrake". Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England'. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green. p. 245. 
  7. ^ "Hand of Glory". Whitby Museum Miscellany. Whitby Museum. 15 September 2011. 
  8. ^ De Givry is expressly using the 1722 edition, where the phrase is, according to John Livingston Lowes "du Sisame et de la Ponie" and de Givry notes that the meaning of "ponie" as "horse dung" is entirely unknown "to us", but that in local Lower Normandy dialect, it has that meaning. His reason for regarding this interpretation as "more than probable" is that horse-dung is "very combustible, when dry". Lowes, John L. (1927). THE ROAD TO XANADU A Study in the Ways of the Imagination. Houghton Mifflin. p. 556.  In the French 1752 edition (called Nouvelle Edition corrige&augmente, i.e, "New Edition, corrected and augmented"), however, this reads as "..du sisame de Laponie..", that is, in for example, Francis Grose's translation from 1787, "sisame of Lapland", Lapland sesame. This interpretation can be found many places on the Internet, and even in books published at university presses. Lucius Parvus Albertus (1752). Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du Petit Albert. Lyon: les heritiers de Beringos frates. p. 113.  and Grose, Francis (1787). A provincial glossary:with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions. London: S. Hooper. p. 75.  For an example of published books perpetuating the Lapland sesame myth, see: Daniels, Cora L.; Stevans, C.M. (2003 (1903)). Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World. Honolulu, HA: University of the Pacific Press(The Minerva Group, Inc). p. 1332. ISBN 9781410209160.  Check date values in: |date= (help) and Montague Summers' "A popular history of Witchcraft", Summers, Montague (2012). A Popular History of Witchcraft. London: Routledge. p. 60. ISBN 9781136740183. 
  9. ^ All descriptions from Petit Albert in De Givry, Grillot; Locke, J.Courtenay (tr) (1931). Witchcraft: Magic and Alchemy. New York: Courier Dover Publications. p. 181. ISBN 9780486224930. 
  10. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Stephen (2000). A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 455–456. ISBN 9780192100191. 
  11. ^ Tricomi, Albert H. (2004). "The Severed Hand in Webster's "Duchess of Malfi". Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 (Rice University) 44 (Spring, Tudor and Stuart Drama): 347–358. doi:10.1353/sel.2004.0023. JSTOR 3844634. 
  12. ^ http://web.b.ebscohost.com/abstract?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=03263363&AN=64368266&h=1%2bB1LMcedWCSguMniYzJ59Kbh592Csj%2boQLVq1LZrQoykWs%2fZM9%2f%2f9%2fbXl354JE26fEHrS%2fvTsljqKcQGdf%2f2w%3d%3d&crl=c/ Cámpora, Magdalena. "Representaciones del imaginario medieval en el silo XIX: la mano de gloria según Nerval, Bertrand, Maupassant y Schwob. " Letras (0326-3363) . 2010, Issue 61/62, p23-32. 10p.
  13. ^ De Meyer, Bernard.Marcel Schwob, conteur de l'imaginaire Bern: Peter Land, p. 127. 2004
  14. ^ https://tidsskrift.dk/index.php/revue_romane/article/view/12148/23131
  15. ^ "Ingoldsby's Legends". 
  16. ^ "I have made enamels and cameos". Wuthering Expectations. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  17. ^ Gautier, Théophil (1887). "Étude De Mains" [Studies of Hands]. Émaux et Camées [Enamels and Cameos] (poem) (in French). Paris. pp. 15–19. Retrieved 1 May 2010. Curiosité Depravée 
  18. ^ Norman R. Shapiro has made a full translation, Study in Hands

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