Hand of Glory

PaganGreen Paganism and Witchcraft

The severed hand of a hanged murderer,
magically preserved, once was used as a charm in
hand of glory
black-magic spells and was believed to aid burglars in
breaking into homes and buildings.

The hand of glory was the right hand of a murderer,
ideally severed while the corpse still swung from the gallows,
or cut during an eclipse of the Moon. It was wrapped
in a shroud, squeezed of blood and pickled for two weeks
in an earthenware jar with salt, long peppers and saltpeter.
It was then either dried in an oven with vervain, an
herb believed to repel demons, or laid out to dry in the
sun, preferably during the dog days of August.
Once preserved, the hand was fitted with candles
between the fingers. The candles, called “dead man’s
candles,” were made from the murderer’s fat, with the
wick being made from his hair. In another method of
curing, the hand of glory was bled, dried and dipped
in wax, so that the fingers themselves could be lit as
candles.

With candles or fingers burning, the hand of glory supposedly
had the power to freeze people in their footsteps
and render them speechless. Burglars lit hands of glory
before breaking into a house, confident that the charm
would keep the occupants in a deep sleep while they
plundered the household. If the thumb refused to burn, it
meant someone in the house was awake and could not be
charmed. According to lore, once a hand of glory was lit,
nothing but milk could extinguish it.
As a counter-charm, homeowners made ointments
from the blood of screech owls, the fat of while hens
and the bile of black cats and smeared it on their
thresholds.

Hands of glory were linked to witches during the
witch-hunt centuries. In 1588 two German women,
Nichel and Bessers, who were accused of witchcraft and
the exhumation of corpses, admitted they poisoned helpless
people after lighting hands of glory to immobilize
them. John Fian, who was severely tortured in his witch
trial in Scotland in 1590, confessed to using a hand of
glory to break into a church, where he performed a service
to the Devil

 

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