Today I started working on a new series of drawings, namely; magical objects in folklore. I have made a couple of drawings before concerning this subject (which can be found here) but I wasn't all that satisfied about the result, so I thought I would give it another try. This time using much more black and leaving away the recipes. The first drawing is made after the famous story; 'The Hand of Glory'.
Hand of glory was the name given to the severed hand of a hanged man, which was carefully dried and prepared into a candle. It was a popular amulet among thieves as it was believed the hand of glory could open locks, make one invisible and bring the owners of a house in a deep sleep from which they could not awake until the hand/candle was removed from their sight. A little incantation is said to be used by thieves to increase the power of the amulet when they needed it the most. It goes as follows:
"Let those who rest, more deeply sleep;
Let those awake their vigils keep.
Oh, hand of glory, shed thy light
And guide us to our spoil tonight."
But not only thieves were accused of possessing such amulet. In several witch trials we can find evidence that the hand of glory was also believed to be a favorite object among so called witches. It was said they used to light these candles while brewing deathly potions and to be charged of possessing a hand of glory was a big accusation.
After reading this you might think the hand of glory was only seen among so called outlaw, but you are wrong. In folk medicine we can find examples of the use of such a hand to cure headaches, whooping-cough and even leprosy.
In fact it's powers were so highly valued that only its touch would be enough to cure the sickness.
How to create the amulet
There are several recipes on how to prepare the hand of glory, but the most detailed description is to be found in "Marvellous Secrets of the Natural and Cabalistic Magic of Little Albert" (1722). The recipe (though a bit shortened) goes as follows:
"Cut of the hand from a corpse which is still on the gibbet, preferable the right hand of a felon (better said, the hand which committed the crime). Wrap it carefully in a piece of shroud and squeeze out all fluids. The hand must then be pickled with salt, nitre, long peppers and 'zimit powder' and placed in an earthenware pot. Let it rest for two weeks and then take out the hand to let it dry in the sun.
The candle must be made of the fat of a hanged man combined with virgin-wax, 'ponie' (horse dung) and sesame. Place the candle between the fingers of the dead man's hand and lit to obtain it's magical properties."
It is funny that though, this is the most complete account given, most people only know the image of a hand which finger tops are on fire. This is not incorrect as there are other recipes in which it is said that after drying the hand one must lit the finger tops. And let be honest this gives a far more interesting picture then the hand holding a candle....
How to protect yourself against the evil influence of the Hand of Glory.
Though many powers were described to the use of the hand of glory it was not invincible. There is one recipe which could protect your house against the evil intentions of thieves and witches.
To protect yourself you must prepare an ointment from the gall of a black cat, the fat of a white hen and the blood of a screech-owl. Once this is done you must smear the ointment over the thresholds and other entrances to the house.
This all might sound disgusting to most of you, something I am not going to deny, but it is most certainly not rare for human/animal body parts and fluids to be used in folk medicine and magic. Fat, blood, teeth, skulls, hair, urine and bones are quiet common ingredients when you are looking in books on old healing methods. I know it's not that tasteful but it is most interesting matter to read about...
For those who are interested, prints are now available at my shop!