Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hand of Glory, from Sir James George Frazer's "The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion," 1922

There is a fruitful branch of homoeopathic magic which works by means of the dead; for just as the dead can neither see nor hear nor speak, so you may on homoeopathic principles render people blind, deaf and dumb by the use of dead men’s bones or anything else that is tainted by the infection of death...

In Europe [such] properties were ascribed to the Hand of Glory, which was the dried and pickled hand of a man who had been hanged. If a candle made of the fat of a malefactor who had also died on the gallows was lighted and placed in the Hand of Glory as in a candlestick, it rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented; they could not stir a finger any more than if they were dead. Sometimes the dead man’s hand is itself the candle, or rather bunch of candles, all its withered fingers being set on fire; but should any member of the household be awake, one of the fingers will not kindle. Such nefarious lights can only be extinguished with milk. Often it is prescribed that the thief’s candle should be made of the finger of a new-born or, still better, unborn child; sometimes it is thought needful that the thief should have one such candle for every person in the house, for if he has one candle too little somebody in the house will wake and catch him. Once these tapers begin to burn, there is nothing but milk that will put them out. In the seventeenth century robbers used to murder pregnant women in order thus to extract candles from their wombs...
--The Golden Bough
, Sir James George Frazer, 1922
You can read many more such factoids in the fantastic The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by Sir James George Frazer, published in 1922; you can read it online by clicking here, or purchase a hard copy (as I have done) by clicking here.

Image sourced here.

1 comment:

Christopher Courtley said...

Great book. I have it in hardcover around here somewhere, but it's been years since I read it, and seeing as I can't find it right now I appreciate the link to the online version.