Hand of Glory

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A hand of glory on display at Whitby Museum

A Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a hanged man, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or, if the person was 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 people 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.[citation needed] The concept inspired short stories and poems in the 19th century.

History of the term[edit]

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.[1] Skeat writes, "The identification of the hand of glory with the mandrake is clinched by the statement in Cockayne's Leechdoms, i. 245,[2] 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.[1]

Powers attributed[edit]

A hand of glory holding a candle, from the 18th century grimoire Petit Albert

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, would render motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The method for holding the candle is sketched in Petit Albert.[3] The candle could be put out only with milk.[4] In another version, the hair of the dead man is used as a wick, and the candle would give light only to the holder.[citation needed]

A hand of glory on a mantlepiece, in a detail of the 1565 artwork The Elder Saint Jacob visiting the Magician Hermogenes by Pieter van der Heyden

The Hand of Glory also purportedly had the power to unlock any door it came across.[5] The method of making a Hand of Glory is described in Petit Albert,[6][7] and in the Compendium Maleficarum.[8]


A papier-mâché hand of glory

The 1722 Petit Albert describes in detail how to make a Hand of Glory, as cited from him by Émile-Jules Grillot de Givry:[9]

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".[9][10]

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.[11][12] 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.[13][14]

The Petit Albert also provides a way to shield a house from the effects of the Hand of Glory:[9]

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.[15] In this manuscript text, the way to make the Hand of Glory is as follows:[16]

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"

Cultural references[edit]

In comics[edit]

In Hellboy's Box Full of Evil story and Being Human story, a Hand of Glory is used to paralyze everyone except the holder of the hand.

In The Invisibles by Grant Morrison large parts of the plot surround attempts from both the Invisibles and the Outer Church to obtain, and find out how to control, a Hand of Glory. In the comic, it is seen as having the propensity to open doors in timespace - i.e. open gates to other worlds and ages.

In Black Magick by Greg Rucka, a hand of glory is crafted from the corpse of a hanged rapist and murderer, Bruce Dunridge. The body was found washed on shore, missing his sinister hand.

In Marvel Comics, the Hand of Glory is a technique used by the Goddess of Death Hela to enhance her strength with mystical energy and kill anybody with her fist.

In crime[edit]

A Hand of Glory was proposed as one of the motives for an unsolved murder that occurred in wartime England some time in mid-late 1941. The case was made more mysterious by numerous graffiti that appeared later stating "Who put Bella down the Wych Elm?", referring to the woman's corpse which was found inside a tree.[17]

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.[18]

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").[19] 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'Écho de Paris on March 11, 1893.[20][21]

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.[22] 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 titled "Étude De Mains" ("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.[23]

  • August W: Derleth's short story "Glory Hand" (Weird Tales, February 1937)
  • In "The Eyes Have It", a short story from the Lord Darcy fantasy series, published in 1964, a Hand of Glory is found among the belongings of a nobleman dabbling in black magic.
  • In John Bellairs' novel, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, the resurrected witch Selenna Izard uses a hand of glory to paralyze the two good magicians, Jonathan Barnavelt and Florence Zimmermann. It is later implied that the hand may have been that of a hobo named "Hammerhandle", who had disappeared after aiding Selenna Izard in her doomsday scheme.
  • 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.
  • The Hand of Glory device makes multiple appearances in the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross.
  • Multiple Hands of Glory appear in Cassandra Clare's book Lady Midnight, where they are harvested from murderers and used in a dark ritual to raise the main antagonist's true love from the dead.
  • A Hand of Glory is mentioned as an item for sale at the floating market in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
  • The hand of a man with Dupuytren's contracture is brought aboard ship by the naval surgeon Stephen Maturin in the Patrick O'Brian novel The Hundred Days. The ship's crew assume it's a Hand of Glory and it is thought to bring good fortune to the voyage.
  • A Hand of Glory, stolen from the Pannett Park museum, allows the protagonist to search several houses without being witnessed, in The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis.
  • In Surfeit of Lampreys, the crime novel by Ngaio Marsh, a hand is severed from the dead body of the Marquess of Wutherwood and Rune in an attempt to make a Hand of Glory.
  • In "Hand of Glory", a short story by Laird Barron, a hand is taken from a dead body and used to keep the protagonist from moving his body (except his mouth).
  • A Hand of Glory is depicted on the cover of Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, as well as being frequently mentioned and used throughout the book. It effectively turns the user undetectable, and sometimes turns someone else undetectable. It is used by alchemists, and is the hand of any murdered person dipped in wax with each of the fingers lit.[24]
  • A Hand of Glory is humorously hinted at in the Jonathan Stroud book The Golem's Eye, second novel of The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It is said by its wielder Harlequin to have the power to detect watchful magic and send enemies into a stupor, however the character Nathaniel thinks it is unhygienic and advises Harlequin to throw it away and wash his hands. It is then revealed that the severed hand is completely unnecessary for the spell to work.[25]
  • A Hand of Glory is hinted as one of the ingredients involved in the demonic possession of The Mangler, in the titular short story by Stephen King.
  • In Jane Gardam's 1981 novel The Hollow Land a Cumbrian chimney sweep entertains and frightens holidaying Londoners late at night by telling a story about a male visitor pretending to be an old woman, who used a Hand of Glory to summon a band of thieves.

In music[edit]

In television[edit]

  • A Hand of Glory appears in the sixth episode of Supernatural's third season where it is stolen by the thief Bela Talbot, only to find that the Hand is haunted by a vengeful spirit.
  • A Hand of Glory was used in the thirteenth episode of The Originals' third season by the witch Davina Claire to open a window to the afterlife to communicate with her dead boyfriend.
  • A Hand of Glory was also used by the protagonist John Constantine in the third episode of the first season of Constantine. Here, the candle is used to briefly resurrect a dead friend of John's by using a spell and lighting all five fingers. The spell also briefly resurrects every other dead body inside the morgue. The spell lasts as long as the fingers are burning.
  • Graceland, season three, episode nine, titled "Hand of Glory", a brief description is given to the origins of a Hand of Glory during a torture scene.
  • In The Dresden Files, season one, episode seven, titled "Walls", three college students use a possessed Hand of Glory to commit robberies.
  • In Lost Girl, season two, episode seven, titled "Fae Gone Wild", a group of selkies use a Hand of Glory to steal their pelts from a holographic safe.
  • In The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Part two, episode six, titled "The missionaries", Sabrina uses a hand of glory to gain entrance to the academy of unseen arts.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 5 episode 5 former vengeance demon Anya states to Rupert Giles, watcher of the slayer Buffy and the owner of the magic store she helped out that day that a "Hand of Glory packs some serious raw power. Better institute a seven-day background check for-" This is the first episode you see the villain for this season, named "Glorificus", "Glory" for short.

In film[edit]

  • In the 1944 film A Canterbury Tale, a pub called 'The Hand of Glory' is featured.
  • In Terror in the Crypt (1964), with candles burning on each fingertip, the hand is used by a witch in an occult ceremony to contact Satan.
  • The Skull (1965), there is a hand of glory in Dr. Maitland's study, which is referred to by Anthony Marco.
  • In the 1973 film The Wicker Man, the innkeeper tries to put Sergeant Howie to sleep using a Hand of Glory. Its power is such that the innkeeper's daughter expresses concern that "he might sleep for days."
  • In the 1987 film Angel Heart, Mickey Rourke's character finds a Hand of Glory in Margaret Krusemark's apartment.
  • In the 2002 film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, a Hand of Glory appears when Harry Potter finds himself in Knockturn Alley.
  • In the 2022 film Talk to Me, an embalmed hand with the ability to conjure spirits becomes the latest party trick among the youth.

In video games[edit]

  • In the 1998 video game Thief: The Dark Project by Looking Glass Studios, Garrett, the protagonist, searches for his lost Lucky Hand of Glory that he had lent to Issyt the beggar who was caught and thrown into Cragscleft Prison. In mission #2 of that game, Garrett must break his friend Basso the Boxman and his fence Cutty out of the prison, where he also takes the opportunity to find his Lucky Hand of Glory from Issyt's cell.
  • In the video game series Conquest of Elysium by Illwinter Games, Hands of Glory are resources used by players to perform Necromantic rituals.
  • In the 2016 video game Darkest Dungeon, three "Hand of Glory" provision items are provided in the second quest of the titular Darkest Dungeon, "Lighting the Way". They are described as "The left hand of some malefactor who died on the gallows, made into a candle with the man's own fat." The items are placed on altars called "Iron Crowns" in order to weaken the eldritch horror the player must defeat to beat the game.
  • Four hands of glory can be obtained while exploring digsites using the Archaeology skill in RuneScape. Combining them with each of the four tiers of luck rings in turn will create relic versions of the rings, which can be offered to the mysterious monolith to unlock the respective tiers of luck as passive powers.
  • In Board Game Online, the Hand of Glory is one of the Artifacts obtained in the Archaeology Dig Site, where it passively grants Sneaky and Arcane Vision, and can remove fire from the player and root other nearby players.

In podcasts[edit]

  • In the 2007 podcast series "Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery", the main protagonist Dr. Xander Crowe has replaced his left hand with a Hand of Glory. Among other things it gives him the power to open any lock, and a running gag in the series is that it disassembles his cell phone while he sleeps.
  • The horror podcast The NoSleep Podcast features a tale entitled "The Hand of Glory" by author Colin Harker about a drug addict who crafts a hand of glory from the corpse of an erotic asphyxiation victim. There are predictably gruesome consequences.[28]
  • The horror podcast Lore (podcast) describes the origins and purpose of the Hand of Glory in episode 113.
  • Pastor Drom occasionally makes use of a Hand of Glory when she and Mord go on dangerous outings in The Hidden Almanac. It is implied to be synthetic, or at least that synthetic Hands of Glory are available. Drom's Hand of Glory has a fairly extensive utility, offering a number of powers, spells, and effects depending on the manner and configuration in which the hand is lit, although it's not always 100% reliable and the fingers need twiddling from time to time.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 109.
  2. ^ Cockayne, Thomas Oswald (1864). "Mandrake". Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green. p. 245.
  3. ^ "La main de gloire, & ses effets" [The Hand of Glory, and its effects] (in French). Chapter 45. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  4. ^ Frazer, James G. (1923), The Golden Bough : A Study in Magic and Religion, London: MacMillan and Co, Limited, p. 31, retrieved 2021-07-18
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Joseph H. Peterson, ed. (2006) [1782]. Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du petit Albert [The marvellous secrets of natural language and cabalism of Little Albert] (in French). Lyon: Héritiers de Beringos fratres. OCLC 164442497.
  7. ^ Davies, Owen (2008-04-04). "Owen Davies's top 10 grimoires". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  8. ^ Francesco Maria Guazzo (2004) [1626]. "Of Soporific Spells". Compendium Maleficarum. San Diego: The Book Tree. pp. 83–90. ISBN 1-58509-246-0.
  9. ^ a b c De Givry, Grillot; Locke, J.Courtenay (tr) (1931). Witchcraft: Magic and Alchemy. New York: Courier Dover Publications. p. 181. ISBN 9780486224930.
  10. ^ Lowes, John Livingston (2008) [1930]. The Road to Xanadu, A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (Second ed.). London: ReadBooks. ISBN 978-1443738118.
  11. ^ Lucius Parvus Albertus (1752). Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du Petit Albert. Lyon: Les heritiers de Beringos frates.
  12. ^ Grose, Francis (1787). A provincial glossary:with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions. London: S. Hooper.
  13. ^ 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). ISBN 9781410209160.
  14. ^ Montague Summers (2012). A Popular History of Witchcraft. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781136740183.
  15. ^ "Hand of Glory". Whitby Museum. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  16. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Stephen (2000). A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 455–456. ISBN 9780192100191.
  17. ^ Vale, Allison (22 March 2013). "Is this the Bella in the wych elm? Unravelling the mystery of the skull found in a tree trunk". The Independent. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  18. ^ Tricomi, Albert H. (2004). "The Severed Hand in Webster's 'Duchess of Malfi'". SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900. 44 (Spring, Tudor and Stuart Drama). Rice University: 347–358. doi:10.1353/sel.2004.0023. JSTOR 3844634. S2CID 161895389.
  19. ^ Cámpora, Magdalena (2010). "Representaciones del imaginario medieval en el silo XIX: la mano de gloria según Nerval, Bertrand, Maupassant y Schwob" [Representations of medieval imagery in the nineteenth century: the hand of glory according to Nerval, Bertrand, Maupassant and Schwob]. Letras (61/62). Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina: 23–32. ISSN 0326-3363.
  20. ^ De Meyer, Bernard (2004). Marcel Schwob, conteur de l'imaginaire. Peter Lang. p. 127. ISBN 3039103687.
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ "Ingoldsby's Legends". Exclassics.com.
  23. ^ Gautier, Théophil (1887). "Étude De Mains" [Studies of Hands]. Émaux et Camées [Enamels and Cameos] (poem) (in French). Paris: Librairie L. Conquet. pp. 15–19. Retrieved 1 May 2010. Curiosité Depravée
  24. ^ McGuire, Seanan (2019). Middlegame. Macmillan.
  25. ^ Stroud, Jonathan (2004). The Golem's Eye pp 276-278.
  26. ^ Roger-Ducasse; Jacques Depaulis (1999). Lettres à Nadia Boulanger. Editions Mardaga. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-2-87009-697-0.
  27. ^ "About Jean Francaix". Nicolenarboni.wordpress.com. 11 August 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  28. ^ "NoSleep Podcast S8E05 - the NoSleep Podcast". Archived from the original on 2018-09-14. Retrieved 2018-01-02.

External links[edit]