What power did the mysterious Hand of Glory possess?

A Hand of Glory on display at Whitby Museum

The hand was severed from a just-hanged man at the gallows by an enterprising hangman.

Thievery of old may have been the only means of support for some in the ancient British Isles—or it may have been an exhilarating sport.  Theft of a mere five schillings—the value of a handkerchief—could carry a penalty of death on the gallows, for the thief.  It was treated as a serious crime.

Venturing into thievery took careful consideration if one valued one’s life and measures were taken to insure success without discovery.  The method of choice for this purpose was the thief’s possession of a Hand of Glory which put a spell on the inhabitants of the home being burgled. 

The Hand of Glory spell caused the occupants to go into a deep coma or trance, and the burglar could go in and make off with valuables without the residents even knowing.  A whole household would be smitten unconscious.  The Hand of Glory also had the power to unlock all locks on the robber’s mission.

What exactly is a Hand of Glory?  The macabre artifact had to be made by a special recipe or it would not be effective.  The hand was severed from a just-hanged man at the gallows by an enterprising hangman.   The hangman received considerable restitution for the procurement of the hand, and it then had to be pickled or cured.  It was pickled in the urine of a man, a woman, a dog, a horse, and a mare. 

It was then smoked in herbs and hay for a month, after which it was hung in an oak tree for three nights in a row.  It was then laid at a crossroads, then, hung on a church door for one night while the pickler of the hand kept vigil on the porch.  If no terror drove the pickler from the porch, it was considered a true and authentic charm.  (from:  Dictionary of English Folklore)

Another method of curing the hand was to wrap it firmly in linen and press until all of the blood drained out of it.  Then it was crocked in an earthenware vessel that contained salt, saltpeter, and long peppers.  It had to remain there for a fortnight, then, it was totally exposed to the sun in the dog days. 

However it was pickled, it was important that the hand be formed into a fist so that it would hold a candle.  The candle’s creation was of equal importance.  It had to be made of purest wax and the fat of the hanged man.  The hair of the hanged man was woven into the candle wick.  I am not sure how this worked, as hair does not normally hold a flame.  It singes while giving off an unforgettable odor.    

The completed artifact was then carried into the home being robbed and it provided light and immediately put the residents to sleep.  The thief could take his time selecting coveted valuables.

The local hangman was invaluable in these matters.  Not all of the condemned were hanged at outdoor public gallows, some were hanged inside buildings.  The hangman knew all of the whos, hows, whens, and wheres of executions. 

This was important because there were other uses for the hanged that a hangman could profit from.  A competent hangman knew how to make the most from his handiwork.  Folklore relays that people of olden times believed that the body of a hanged man had many valuable parts.  When removed, these various body parts could produce magic, cast spells, remove spells and cure diseases. 

There was a body part for each condition—a certain body part could work wonders in the hands of the right practitioner.  A hangman could get a hefty fee for hanging the condemned, then, he could keep the money coming in, as long as he had body parts.  Sometimes just touching the body of a hanged man could charm someone in the midst of a downward life spiral.

How did these macabre body parts get the name Hand of Glory?  One good guess is that the hand of glory is believed to be derived from the French, main de glorie, the name for the magical mandrake root which often resembles a human form.  The Hand of Glory had to be made from the sinister or left hand.  If the man was hanged for murder, however, it had to be the hand that did the killing.

The only remaining hand of glory thought to be in existence was found hidden in Castleton, North Yorkshire, England.  It was found in the wall of a thatched cottage by a stonemason, Joseph Ford and he turned it over to the Whitby Museum in 1935—Ford knew it was a significant find.

What is thought to be the last existing Hand of Glory was not fashioned into a fist to hold a candle, but remained flat.  Since it is not the left or sinister hand, we can loosely conclude that it is the hand of a murderer and that it was his right hand that did the awful deed.


Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious, Indeed, a collection of true stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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