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The Glorious Hand

To: alt.magick,alt.magick.folk,alt.magick.tyagi
From: "Phil Legard" 
Subject: The Glorious Hand
Date: 20 Apr 1998 08:19:26 GMT

The Hand of Glory is a subject which has fascinated me since my childhood,
when my parents would take me to Whitby, where a Hand of Glory was on
display in the museum. The legends of the Hand of Glory are gruesome and
romantic, and have persisted well into popular culture. I have only recenty
started to attempting to find out more on the subject, so here's the
product of my researches so far:

 by Phil

The Hand Of Glory is a gruesome item which is mentioned in books of the
grimoire tradition and also in later folk lore. The Hand Of Glory was
believed to render the bearer invisible and it was this power which saw it
crossing from the magical tradition into the ways of the thief and burglar.
The tales of burglaries, failed and otherwise, employing the use of the
Hand of Glory are still remembered today with macabre awe.

The Hand of Glory was so called because it was created from the actual hand
of a hanged man. Then a candle was created from the fat of the hanged man
and placed in the hand, or, in some cases, the hand itself became a
fivefold candle. There are several variations on the recipe of the Hand,
but I shall present the recipe given in "The Little Albert", a grimoire
supposedly written by the great theologian Albertus Magnus:

  "Take the hand of a dead hanged man, wrap it in a mortual piece of
  fabric and press it to make the remaining blood out, and put it in an
  earth vase with powdered "Zimat", saltpeter, salt and long pepper. Let 
  it remain for 15 days then expose the hand to the Sun till it dries 
  completely. If is has to be dried more, put in an oven with vervein 
  and fern. Make out a candle from the fat in the hanged man, virgin 
  wax and sesame of Laponie. Use the hand as a candle holder..."

I will now endeavour to provide a short commentary on the above recipe.
Naturally, all associated recipes for the item insist that the hand of a
hanged man (though preferably a felon) should be used for the item. Also
the recipes insist that the hand should be pressed of remaining blood using
a length of a burial shroud. The process of 'sun drying' the Hand appears a
practical way of drying the hand, but many books of the grimoire tradition
give the insistence that a tool of sorcery should not be exposed to the
light - especially those items which have a 'dark' purpose. The final part
of the recipe varies most and is concerned with the construction of the
candle. Magnus suggests the candle should be created from virgin wax - the
use of 'virgin' materials was most important to the magicians or the time.
He also mentions "Sesame of Laponie". This has been translated in a number
of different ways. One writer claims that it is sesame and La Ponie, which
is apparently horse manure. The more accepted version is that it is sesame
from Lapland. Some recipes also say that the hair of the hanged man should
be used to create a wick.

There is another variation on the final stage of the recipe which says that
the hand itself should be turned into a candle and each finger should be
lit. There is an interesting piece of lore surrounding the use of this
variation in burglary. It was said that if the thumb would not light then
someone in the house which was intended to be burgled was still awake. 

Once the Hand of Glory has been produced it is ready to be employed in the
way which the wielder chooses. The actual effect of the hand once more
varies from tale to tale. The most popular power ascribed to the Hand is
that is makes the wielder invisible, there is a variation in this which
states that the Hand acts as a charm to prevent sleepers from waking.
Thomas Ingoldsby wrote of this power in his "Ingoldsby Legends":

		Wherever that terrible light shall burn,
		Vainly the sleeper may toss and turn;
		His leaden eyes shall he ne'r unclose
		So long as that magical taper glows,
		Life and treasure shall he command
		Who knoweth the charm of the glorious Hand! 

The final variation on the Hand's power is that it should stupefy any
person it was shown to. In other words the person would be unable to speak
or move.

As if to confuse matters more, the actual operation of using the Hand of
Glory also varies. The burglar may choose to carry it with him as he enters
the house. The candle may then be left somewhere in the house, or carried
with him. In another variation the Hand is left outside the house. In
Disquisitionum Magicarum (1599), Martin del Rio records an incident where
the Hand of Glory was seen by a servant girl outside a families home. The
maid doused the Hand in water, but it did not go out. She then tried beer,
which also didn't work. For some reason milk did work and the family woke
to catch the thief red-handed. This is a popular story in folk lore, one
which was also retold in the Ingoldsby Legends.

Along with the belief that only milk could be used to extinguish the Hand
of Glory was also the belief that only certain people could extinguish it.
It is not said who these certain people are, but it is probably safe to
assume that the people referred to are virgins.

Finally, there is a way of countering the Hand. The recipe is that between
the days of July 3 to August 11 an unguent should be created of the

		The gall of a black cat
		The blood of a screech owl
		The fat of a white hen

The ointment created from the ingredients was smeared over any entrance to
the home, such as doors, windows and chimneys. The house would then be safe
from the Hand of Glory.

Despite the Hand of Glory's reputation as a powerful charm, it obviously
failed on occasion. Until recently, Whitby museum (on the coast of England)
displayed a Hand of Glory which had been dropped by some robbers disturbed
in their work.

The legend of the Hand of Glory has persisted and passed on into
pop-culture. Every Hallowe'en candles in the shape of hands are available
as novelties, the image of a flaming hand or a hand holding a candle has
passed into the imagery of horror films. The Hand recently appeared in the
camp TV series "Poltergeist: The Legacy", in which some university students
used a hand from a morgue as a fivefold candle... even though it had been
preserved in formaldehyde for years...

Bibliography and thanks:
Gettings, Fred - Dictionary of Demons
Various - An Encyclopaedia of Magic and Superstition
Robbins, Russel Hope - The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology
"Magnus, Albertus" - "Le grand et le petit Albert"
	Thanks to for providing the excerpt - Article on tools of the great witch craze

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