Hands have many symbols from romance to fashion, but can they also be symbols of fear and evil?
Hi I’m Camille and I wanted to go into the “Hand of Glory, the legend that has stayed with me since I was a young girl. I’ve grown up with the stories of myths and legends since I was able to understand them, the obsession only growing as days pass.
What do hands mean to you? The object in which rings adorn. The appendage you hold when you love someone. It can be the means of language when speaking is no longer an option; it means many things to many people.
After what I’ve read and seen, the legend has been addressed in sections in small pieces. It’s difficult to find information on this subject as it is a strange and obscure legend, but it terrifies those who hear it. There are many representations in which the “creature” is merely a disembodied hand throughout the horror genre and even folklore and tales. Why? Anything that has been separated from the body can be terrifying, but what is it about the hand? I will dive into this strange legend.
The part of the legend I am familiar with, and the reason it scared me so much as a girl, is the most recent hand of glory in the Whitby museum. I cannot for the life of me find a clip or even a quip written about this part, so it’s possible I am remembering this incorrectly. The hand of glory in the Whitby museum was a criminal whose hand had been used in one such ritual, but when it was discovered and placed into the museum, there were witnesses that claimed the hand would move through the museum and even taunt the staff. Keeping in mind this is a severed hand, staff would say they “saw a hand scurry across the hallway,” or “I watched it open a door but there was no person attached,” such claims as those are terrifying. It scared me as a child.
So, what exactly is the “Hand of glory? In this context it is an object for which a strange ritual turns it into a talisman for thieves to use so, they may steal from someone. The most common method is to lop off a hand from a criminal hanging, pickle it, then fashion it into a candle. The c(hand)le is then lit so the criminal can then burgle the location in question. Many versions detail the various effects the hand of glory supposedly has, but in my opinion it’s a macabre tale.
We shall travel to Europe when criminals were used as examples to prevent further crime. Which is where this legend stems from. The legend details the hand of glory being used as a talisman to entrance the prospective victim. Once the victim is entranced, the criminal holding the talisman would be “invisible” just long enough to steal the items they were searching for and get away successfully. One version even claims that the hand of glory would glow brightly in the presence of the precious wealth they searched for, the whole reason they needed this strange tool to begin with. There are several versions in which the hand of glory has different effects on both the victim and the thief.
The legend even offers a way to protect yourself, though is equally as troubling and obscure. I don’t think screech owl blood, gall of a black cat(whatever that means), and fat of a chicken is available for pick up these days. If all else failed, you could extinguish the flame, only, with sterilized “blue milk”. I won’t go into too much detail on how to make the “Hand of glory”, those articles and videos will be cited below. Enjoy that gory detail.
Let’s dive into where they came up with this term. I forgot to mention this idea has been around since, at the least, the 18th century. It comes from the French “Mandrake”. These strange roots were also known to have mystical qualities. It is said, they too, can emanate light and could be used as a lamp. They were believed to grow near or under the hangman’s gallows in which even the criminals who hung, had a nightlight, that went as far back as the fifteenth century. How sweet. Of course the tales are sporadic at best, as there are few true illustrations of the legend. For example in 1590, during a witch trial in Scotland, one criminal confessed after intense, coercion and torture, to possessing this “Hand of glory”. Most people believed these tales as “gospel truth” (as they say) because it was a different time to live. It was a time where a doctor could say “this has a red root, therefore it shall possess a healing quality to those with bloodborne diseases”, see how that could work?
The Antiquary [by Sir Walter Scott] “
From his wallet drew a human hand,
Shrivel’d, and dry, and black;
And fitting, as he spake,
A taper in his hold,
Pursued: “A murderer on the stake had died;
I drove the vulture from his limbs, and lopt
The hand that did the murder, and drew up
The tendon strings to close its grasp;
And in the sun and wind
Parch’d it, nine weeks exposed.
The taper . . . But not here the place to impart,
Nor hast thou undergone the rites
That fit thee to partake the mystery.
Look! It burns clear, but with the air around,
Its dead ingredients mingle deathliness.”
In the Netherlands, West Flanders specifically, the hand, foot, or finger could be used to put people to sleep for the sake of thievery. The burning fingers would keep them sleepy and unable to defend from the thief. In Germany It is the thumb they use, also keeping the victim lethargic. It makes you wonder where in the world they came up with these rituals and strange beliefs. To us, it is strange. Hence why they are legends. Were these actual events that took places? Could we be missing the vital clue to make the legend a reality? It’s an excellent question, but alas, I cannot answer. I am merely telling you a tale.
This exploration has taken time and research to develop. I’ve wanted to do an analysis on this piece for a number of years and finally got to it. There are many that have looked at this legend, but in chunks or snippets. I want it all in one place. Of course the legends and tales I enjoy, have sporadic information. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them. I am meant to investigate such subjects so that I may bring them to you. I want you to enjoy this dizzying, terrifying tale as much as I do. Enjoy the links below if you would like more information about this subject. I only scratched the surface of the how many variations there are of the story, and the methods in which it can be achieved.
Thank you for tuning into another episode of the “Dahlia Blake Corner of Intrigue.”