The Hand of Glory was a magic talisman used by superstitious thieves and robbers in the 18th Century. It was believed that a dead human hand, when fashioned into a candle, had supernatural powers. When it was lit, criminals believed that it could open doors and locks and put people into a deep sleep or completely paralyze them.
One moonless night, at the stroke of midnight, a thief slipped into the deserted courtyard and made his way to the hangman’s gallows. The corpse of a murderer was dangling from the noose, twisting in the wind. The thief took a sharp knife out of his pocket and, making sure nobody was watching, began sawing off the dead man’s hand. When his grisly task was finished, the thief wrapped the severed hand in a burial shroud and stuffed it into his pocket. Then he climbed up the gibbet and cut five locks of hair from the dead man’s head. Finally, he climbed down and disappeared into the night.
When he returned to his hideout, he began preparing the severed hand. First he squeezed it until all the blood was gone. Next, he dipped it in animal fat and left it out to dry in the mid-day sun. He twisted the locks of hair into candle wicks, dipped them in wax and allowed them to set. Then he screwed the wicks into the four fingers and the thumb of the dried hand. At last, the Hand of Glory was complete.
High on the windy hills of Yorkshire, on Bowes Moor, sat the Old Spital Inn. It was a stormy night in late October 1797. The landlord and his wife were preparing for bed. The butler and the cook were locking all the doors and windows when, suddenly, they heard a loud banging at the front door.
The curious little servant girl who slept in the kitchen was peering through a crack in the kitchen door. She wondered who would be visiting her master at this time of night. In the hallway, she saw her master and the butler greeting a bent and wizened old woman. She was dressed in a long cloak and a hood that obscured her face. Shivering and shaking from the cold and the rain, the beggar woman pleaded with the landlord to allow her to stay the night. Being a generous man, the landlord told her she could spend the night on a bench in front of the fire.
After the landlord, his wife, the butler and the cook had gone to bed, the little servant girl heard noises coming from the next room. Looking through the keyhole, she saw the old woman standing up and lifting up her cloak to reveal a big pair of men’s boots. Instantly, the servant girl became suspicious and decided to keep an eye on the stranger.
She saw the old woman pulling off her hood to reveal the scarred and embittered face of a hardened criminal. From beneath his cloak, the thief took out a grotesque severed hand and placed it on the bench. Then he lit the stiff bony fingers of the hand. The terrified servant girl watched in horror as she heard the thief reciting an ancient spell.
All those who isten, and in this house dwell
Hear ye the words of the Dead Man’s spell!
Unlock every lock at the Dead Man’s knock
Open bolt and band with the Dead Man’s hand!
Sleep all who sleep! Let none here awake!
Sleep like the dead for the Dead Man’s sake!
The thief finished his incantation and the fingers of the severed hand glowed with an intense, brilliant light. Each finger flamed, but the thumb would not light. The thief hadn’t seen the little servant girl and thought there were only four people in the house, so he gave up trying to light the thumb.
Instead, he went to the door and opened it, letting in two other men who were lurking outside. Gathering around the flaming hand, the thieves began murmuring over and over, “Hand of Glory shining bright, lead us to our spoils tonight”.
While the thieves were busy filling their sacks with valuables, the frightened little servant girl tip-toed into the butler’s quarters and tried to wake him up and alert him to the danger. But no matter what she tried, she could not shake him from his deep slumber. Then she went into the cook’s bedroom and tried to wake her, but it was no use. Finally, she slipped up the stairs and went into the landlord’s bedroom. She found her master and his wife lying in bed, their eyes wide open, staring lifelessly into space. They seemed to be in some sort of trance.
The little girl realized that the Hand of Glory must have cast some sort of spell over the household, so she crept down the stairs again, grabbed the flaming hand and brought it into the kitchen. She took a deep breath and tried to blow out the burning fingers, but she couldn’t extinguish them. Suddenly, she had an idea. Grabbing a jug of skimmed milk that was sitting on the table, she poured it over the grotesque hand. The milk quenched the burning wicks and the spell was broken.
She was able to creep upstairs again and rouse the landlord and his wife. Then she shook the butler and the cook until they were wide awake.
The landlord came running downstairs with a pistol in his hand as the cook and the butler stumbled wearily out of their rooms, rubbing their heads. They were able to surprise the thieves and forced them out the front door at gunpoint. Then they slammed the door behind them and locked it.
The thieves began to circle the house and banged on the windows and doors.
“Gives us back our hand of glory”, they exclaimed. “Just give us the hand and we will go away quietly, and do no harm to anyone.”
The landlord knew the thieves were lying so he threw open his bedroom window and began firing his pistol into the darkened street. The screams and cries of the robbers echoed through the darkness as they fled into the night.
In the morning, a pool of blood was found outside on the cobble stones. The little servant girl was able to identify the thieves and helped the police track them down. The whole gang was caught and tried for their crimes. They were sentenced to death and hanged on the gallows until they were dead. The Hand of Glory was confiscated by the police.
Their corpses were left hanging from the gibbet overnight and when the police returned in the morning, they were shocked to discover that someone had stolen in during the night and cut off all of the dead men’s hands.