What Was A Supernatural ‘Hand Of Glory’ & How Did It Make Criminals So Powerful?

According to legend, cutting off and preserving a hanged man's right hand helped thieves run rampant.

October 22, 2018

This hand was discovered in the early 20th century on the roof of Hawthorn Cottage in Danby, Yorkshire, England. [Badobadop/Wikimedia Commons]

Photo by: M&D

M&D

This hand was discovered in the early 20th century on the roof of Hawthorn Cottage in Danby, Yorkshire, England. [Badobadop/Wikimedia Commons]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

There was a time when executing a prisoner by hanging didn’t end the condemned’s involvement with crime — the corpse’s right hand could be cut off and intricately preserved in order to divine the severed body part’s supposedly magical powers to aid in other illegal activities.

According to the legend of the "Hand of Glory," which spread across Europe and parts of Russia as early as the 15th century, the pilfered appendage, if properly prepared, helped thieves steal from homes after its inhabitants were lulled into a deep sleep.

However, the rules and beliefs surrounding the creation of a supernatural Hand of Glory were complex. According to Express, the hand, which must be plucked from a still-hanging prisoner, should be wrapped and then “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.”

Whoever possessed the talisman, Sabine Baring-Gould wrote in the 19th-century book Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, should then “make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame,” and use the hand as a candlestick. As an alternative, the hand’s fingers could be dipped in fat from the corpse and lit ablaze.

The Hand of Glory was then finally ready to do its magical damage. Details have varied through the years, but, as one story went, burglars could now break into homes unhindered since light from the shining candle or fingers would cause the property’s inhabitants to fall into a deep slumber — as long as the crooks chanted:

Let those who rest more deeply sleep,

Let those awake their vigils keep,

O Hand of Glory, shed thy light,

Direct us to our spoil tonight

While the story sounds fanciful, incredibly, a stonemason and Joseph Ford, who was a local historian, discovered a mummified hand in the walls of a cottage in Castleton, North Yorkshire, England, in 1935. The appendage, believed to be the last Hand of Glory in existence, is now showcased at England’s Whitby Museum.

Despite its rarity in real life, the Hand of Glory continues to live on in pop-culture references, from Harry Potter books and Hellboy comics to a Smithereens song.

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