This gruesome artifact was reportedly discovered in the early 20th century, lodged in the wall of an ancient cottage in Castleton, Derbyshire, in the UK: a severed, mummified human hand.
Local historian Joseph Ford, who found the horrific object, delivered it to the Whitby Museum in 1935, claiming that the grisly find was a “Hand of Glory” — an occult object with a historically dangerous reputation. To date, the Castleton specimen is the only intact Hand of Glory in existence, though many claim to possess similar artifacts.
In tales of European occult practices dating back to the 17th century, the Hand of Glory was traditionally cut from the body of a hanged criminal while still hanging from the gallows, then dried in the sun and treated with fat rendered from the same criminal’s corpse.
According to most legends and tales, when prepared and used properly the hand can cause a sleeping person to fall into a much deeper sleep from which they do not awaken until the charm is lifted. It was allegedly used by thieves to incapacitate their victims prior to looting their homes at night.
In most of these accounts, the fingers of the hand should be lit like candles — one for each occupant of the house — in order for the potent charm to take effect. If any of the fingers refused to light, it meant that one or more of the residents was still awake.
Also, the thief must always be holding the hand, lest the object’s powers turn on them instead of their intended victims… and it couldn’t be extinguished by blowing out the flames or dousing it in water; it could only be snuffed out by dipping the fingers in milk. When the flames went out, the charmed victims would then awaken.
The Hand of Glory was prominently featured in the classic 1973 film THE WICKER MAN, in which the subjects of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) attempt to paralyze police investigator Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward). Howie was not fully asleep when the hand was placed on his bedside table, so the charm didn’t work.
The hand is also referenced several times in J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series, as well as an episode of SUPERNATURAL.