Hand of Glory
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."
Old European beliefs attribute great powers to a Hand of Glory combined with a candle made from fat from the corpse of the same malefactor who died on the gallows. The candle so made, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The process for preparing the hand and the candle are described in 18th century documents, with certain steps disputed due to difficulty in properly translating phrases from that era. The concept inspired short stories and poems in the 19th century.
The term itself derives from the French main de gloire, a corruption of mandragore, the genus of plants commonly called mandrake.
History of the term
Etymologist Walter Skeat reports 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, 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.
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 render motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The method for holding the candle is sketched in Petit Albert. The candle could be put out only 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. The method of making a Hand of Glory is described in Petit Albert, and in the Compendium Maleficarum.
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. 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".
In the French 1752 edition (called Nouvelle Édition, corrigée & augmentée., i.e, "New Edition, corrected and augmented"), however, this reads as "..du sisame de Laponie..", that is, in Francis Grose's translation from 1787, "sisame of Lapland", or Lapland sesame. This interpretation can be found many places on the Internet, and even in books published at university presses. Two books, one by Cora Daniels, another by Montague Summers, perpetuate the Lapland sesame myth, 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
An actual Hand of Glory is kept at the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire, England, 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:
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"
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.
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"). 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.
- 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 titled "Étude De Mains" (English: Studies of Hands) 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. Norman R. Shapiro translated it to English.
In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Draco Malfoy sees a Hand of Glory in Borgin and Burkes, a specialist Dark Arts shop. He is told by Mr Borgin that it "gives light only to the holder". Draco later buys the hand and uses it in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
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- Cámpora, Magdalena (2010). "Representaciones del imaginario medieval en el silo XIX: la mano de gloria según Nerval, Bertrand, Maupassant y Schwob". Letras (0326-3363) (61/62). Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina. pp. 23–32.
- De Meyer, Bernard (2004). Marcel Schwob, conteur de l'imaginaire. Peter Lang. p. 127. ISBN 3039103687.
- Hillen, Sabine Madeleine (1994). "La main coupée.» ou la forme d'un récit bref chez Nerval, Maupassant et Schwob" [The Hand of Glory, the Structure of Short Stories by Neval, Maupassant and Schwob]. Revue Romane (in French) 29 (1).
During the nineteenth century, the image of the severed hand stimulated the production of several short fantasy stories. And "The Magic Hand" by Nerval served as support for continuations by Guy de Maupassant ("The flayed hand") and Marcel Schwob ("The Hand of Glory"). The latter two showed themselves indebted to Nerval's account of not only the recovery of some diegetic elements, but also one generic layout: Gradually a fixed number of features such as symmetry, the premonitory index and the pivot is dependent reveal the genre of the short story.Abstract Translated
- "Ingoldsby's Legends".
- 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.
- Théophile Gautier; Norman R. Shapiro. "Study in Hands". Selected Lyrics. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- The Hand of Glory and other gory legends about human hands – Edited by D. L. Ashliman.