The Hand of Glory
The Ingoldsby Legends was once some of the most popular and delightful stories to tell. However, as with many tales, legends, fables, and other fun midnight myths, they weren't entirely unique to the author, Thomas Ingoldsby (a pseudonym).
Unsurprisingly, the stories have gone through the game of telephone but were also somewhat played up for laughs in the Ingoldsby Legends. Thomas Ingoldsby did not entirely craft them, but he knew the famous ghost stories, myths, and other urban legends of his time —and those well before his, too— and compiled them into this delightful bundle. What you are about to read is a story passed down from mouth to mouth, from pen to pen, and from page to page. No story is quite so fitting for this as The Hand of Glory.
On the lone bleak moor, At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
"Now mount who list, And close by the wrist
Sever me quickly the Dead Man's fist!—
Now climb who dare Where he swings in air,
And pluck me five locks of the Dead Man's hair!"
The opening lines tell the reader what exactly the hand of glory is. They are indeed from hanged men, and by that, presumably guilty men. But, what's this about hair? It's a morbid tale, and if you know what a hand of glory is traditionally, you might be able to guess it.
And now, with care, The five locks of hair
From the skull of the Gentleman dangling up there,
With the grease and the fat Of a black Tom Cat
She hastens to mix, And to twist into wicks,
That's right, wicks. Of course, this whole process is seemingly governed by a witch. There's not enough time to get into the seemingly paradoxical affair with them in English mythos.
However, in this story, the Hand of Glory finds employ in the hand of crooks.
"Now 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!!"
This reveals two things about the power of the Hand of Glory, according to legend. Firstly, it can unlock any door or break any lock; secondly, it can paralyze anyone caught in sight. But, for anyone asleep, the spell puts them in a deep and unwaking slumber.
Of course, despite being cut from a criminal's hand, they would use it most. That makes sense since they would be the type of person who wouldn't have a problem cutting off someone's hand and turning it into a candle.
Though the subject matter is immensely dark, the story itself does have a humorous bent to it. If you're curious, the story is readily available online if you're in the United States, as it has fallen into the public domain.
Despite being a fun legend and story, it does reveal a more modern appeal to the Hand of Glory and the very early English Victorian attitudes to their history. The powers of the hand and their use are nefarious, but again that is rather fitting given what it is.