The Hand of Glory

[Hand of Glory]

Although most people aren't aware of what they are, every Hallowe'en, most novelty shops stock candlesshaped like bleeding hands. These are supposed to be Hands of Glory.

Thomas Ingoldsby (1788-1845), in his Ingoldsby Legends, wrote the following verse:

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 (Wedeck 11-12)!

The Hand of Glory is a grisly candle-holder. To create it, one must:

  1. Go to a gallows near a highway or crossroads and cut off a hand (preferably the right hand) of a hanged felon.
  2. "Using a strip of the burial shroud to wring it dry of any remaining blood, you then put the hand into an earthenware pot, filled with a concoction of herbs and spices, and left it to marinate for two weeks."
  3. Take it out and expose it to bright sunlight until it is dry. If it is not a sunny day, it is permissable to heat the hand in an oven along with vervain and fern.
  4. Make a candle out of the fat of a hanged man, ponie (probably horse dung), sesame, and virgin wax. The dead man's hair should be used to make the wick.
  5. Place the candle between the fingers on the hand.

With such a candle, witches and sorcerers could cast a spell over the inhabitants or any home, rendering them insensible and motionless. The potential for burglary is obvious.

According to one account, form the sixteenth-century demonologistMartin del Rio, a thief once lit the Hand of Glory outside a family's home, but he was observed by a servant girl. While he was busy ransacking the house, she was desperately trying to put out the candle. First she tried blowing it out, to no avail. Then she doused it with water, which didn't work; then she tried beer, which also didn't work. Milk, for unknown reasons, did. The moment the candle was extinguished, the family awoke and caught the thief red-handed; the maid was, of course, rewarded for her bravery and quick thinking.

There was a way to ensure your home couldn't be broken into with the help of a Hand of Glory. During the dog days of summer (July 3-August 11), one should prepare an unguent from three ingredients:

  1. The gall of a black cat
  2. The blood of a screech owl
  3. The fat of a white hen

This ointment should be smeared over the thresholds, chimney stack, window frames, and any other place a person might use to break into one's home. Once the unguent was in place, no one can break in using the Hand of Glory (Masello 1996 32-33).

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