The Hand of Glory was a particularly grotesque tool used by criminals, particularly thieves, to aid in robberies. The legend dates back to the 15th century, and there are numerous accounts of people using them throughout history.

American traditional Hand of Glory done by Cassie Lynn O’Neal at Floating World Tattoos.
A lit Hand of Glory with an eye and a snake done by Oskar Gurbada.

The name reportedly comes from the French, “main de glorie”, which in turn got its name from the magical mandrake root.

A more realistic and black and grey Hand of Glory done by Alex Pea at Drop of Ink in Pennsylvania.
A very magical Hand of Glory done by Pa Dundon, done at Sands of Time Tattoo in Ireland.

According to legend, mandrakes grow under gallows from the seed of a hanged man, and they were believed to shine like lamps at night, also in roughly the shape of a hand.

Another American traditional Hand of Glory with wings done by Emil Dz at Philadelphia Eddies Tattoo.
Hand of Glory radiating light for this wearer, done by Sam at Westside Tattoo in Brisbane.

The process of making a hand of glory is quite particular, and adds to the macabre nature of the thing. Sabine Baring-Gould wrote in his book, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages: “The Hand of Glory .. is the hand of a man who has been hung, and it is prepared in the following manner: Wrap the hand in a piece of winding-sheet, drawing it tight, so as to squeeze out the little blood which may remain; then place it in an earthenware vessel with saltpeter, salt, and long pepper, all carefully and thoroughly powdered. Let it remain a fortnight in this pickle till it is well dried, then expose it to the sun in the dog-days, till it is completely parched, or, if the sun be not powerful enough, dry it in an oven heated with vervain and fern. Next make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame.” (1873)

A more colourful and stylized American traditional Hand of Glory done by Jon Harper at Black Friars Tattoo.

The people who used hands of glory had different beliefs. Some believed it could give light only to them, leaving others in darkness, some believed it could make them invisible, many thought it could burn forever and could only be put out if the user so desired, others believed and hoped it could render any nearby person motionless or put occupants of a residence to sleep. All tales of the hand of glory seem to show the belief that the hand could open any nearby lock, making it an even more useful tool for those wishing to take something that does not belong to them.

A bleeding American traditional Hand of Glory done by JP Farias at Atlantico Tattoo.

Open, lock, 
To the Dead Man’s knock! 
Fly, bolt, and bar, and band! 
Nor move, nor swerve, 
Joint, muscle, or nerve,  
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!  
Sleep, all who sleep! — Wake, all who wake!  
But be as the dead for the Dead Man’s sake! 

Now lock, nor bolt, nor bar avails, 
Nor stout oak panel thick-studded with nails. 
Heavy and harsh the hinges creak,  
Though they had been oil’d in the course of the week.  
The door opens wide as wide may be,  
And there they stand,  
That murderous band,  
Lit by the light of the Glorious Hand,  
By one! — by two! — by three! By Thomas Ingoldsby

Black and grey Hand of Glory with an eye done by Lindsay K at Urge Studios in Victoria, Canada.

And of course fans of Harry Potter will be familiar with the Hand of Glory from Mr. Borgin and Burkes’ store when young Mr. Malfoy takes a fancy to it. “Ah, the Hand of Glory!” said Mr. Borgin, abandoning Mr. Malfoy’s list and scurrying over to Draco. “Insert a candle and it gives light only to the holder! Best friend of thieves and plunderers! Your son has fine taste, sir.” 

A solid linework Hand of Glory with burned out candles and an eye done by Nevada Buckley at Firefly Tattoo Collective.

Which gruesome hand is your favourite and why? Let me know in the comments and remember to check out any of the artists if you liked their work.

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