Hand of Glory
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The identification of the hand of glory with the mandrake is clinched by the statement in Cockayne's Leechdoms, i. 245, that the mandrake "shineth by night altogether like a lamp.""--Notes on English etymology; chiefly reprinted from the Transactions of the Philological society (1901) by Walter William Skeat
The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or else, if the man were hanged for murder, the hand that "did the deed."
According to old European beliefs, a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, virgin wax, and Lapland sesame oil (the candle could only be put out with milk), and the hand having come from the said hanged criminal, lighted and placed in the Hand of Glory (as in a candlestick) would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The Hand of Glory also purportedly had the power to unlock any door it came across.
The legend is traceable to about 1440, but the name only dates from 1707. It was originally a name for the mandrake root (via French "mandragore" and thus "hand of glory") that became conflated with the earlier legend. The confusion may have occurred because mandrakes are said to grow beneath the bodies of hanged criminals.
In popular culture
The Hand of Glory makes numerous appearances in popular culture including:
- There is also a short story by Gérard de Nerval entitled La Main de Gloire
- Guy De Maupassant's fantastic novels "La Main" and "La Main D'Ecorché"
- The Hand of Glory appears in the film The Wicker Man, where it is placed next to the bed of Sgt. Howie, apparently in order to keep him asleep.
- The Hand of Glory appears in the film Angel Heart.
- The Hand of Glory is also mentioned in the short story "The Mangler", in the book Night Shift, by Stephen King.
- In Neil Gaiman's comic Sandman The Hand of Glory is a book written in dreams by fictional cult author Erasmus Fry. The book is found in the library of dreams which contains many books (some by popular authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien) that were only imagined by their authors but never written. A Hand of Glory also appears in Gaiman's work Neverwhere.
- Witches were supposed to employ the Hand of Glory for their own dire and secret purposes, and were sometimes accused of doing so at their trials.
- James George Frazer, The Golden Bough.