The Hand of Glory is a traditional magic item, made from the hand of a hanged man and allegedly invaluable to thieves. Like most traditional items, accounts of its nature, provenance and effects vary immensely.
Opinion varies as to which hand - some say either, some say only the right or the left and others hold that the man must have been hanged for theft123. As far as this arcanist is aware there is no stipulation on the method of hanging but this may be a factor as well. As usual with magical materials, there are further questions about this - must the source have been hanged by lawful authority, or can you "hang your own"? Are suicides more or less useful? Must it be a hanged man or would a woman or child's hand suffice? What about the hands of non-humans? For RPG and literary purposes this arcanist reccommends making it up4. The other option is that the magical working is the important part and the materials and their preparation are negotiable.
The hand should then either hold or comprise a candle - the paragraph above concerning the suitability of hands should give the reader some idea of how big the argument about candles is: must you use human fat5? Should the hand hold the candle or be made into it? What other special ingredients are required? Again, make it up or leave it alone.
The powers of the hand are also disputed - in general the user lights the candle and uses it to light his way during a burglary. The occupants of the building are either kept from waking, forced to sleep or merely paralysed and all locks in the building may or may not be opened. In most instances the candle will provide a light that is only visible to the holder and can only be extinguished with a bodily fluid - milk and blood are the traditional ones. There are probably others...
For those who keep score of such things, the hand of glory is an artifact of black magic - corpse parts are generally a sign of left-hand path work. It may - or may not - be a fetish binding the spirit of the dead man.
Game and Story Use
- As noted above, if a Hand of Glory is to be used in an RPG (or story) the GM is advised to codify how it is made and what it can do. Unless, as noted, its the magic, not the parts that matter - or that there are a variety of ways of making a variety of things which can all be classed as hands of glory.
- In a less family friendly campaign, make your PCs experiment.
- A good mystery for PCs to solve - someone has been stealing the hands of corpses from the public gallows. Can they stop the thief before they use their hands of glory for a burglary spree (assuming that the hands work)? Or will they just find a deluded fantasist waving an unwholesome candle holder? This is particularly amusing in a modern, low magic setting, but your average copper may need to make some significant skill rolls even to make the connection.
- Alternatively, in a culture well aware of the hand of glory, cutting a hand from a dead man may amount to telling the world that he was a thief … even if he had done nothing that was actually illegal.
- Again, an underworld murder where the victim has been hanged and his hand cut off might give a clue as to motive.
- This could all lead to a rather Darwinian environment amongst thieves as they spend half their time robbing and the rest hunting each other down for parts…
- The item would make a good emblem for a Thieve's Guild - or for a computer virus intended to disable security systems.
- A useful counterbalance to this would be using the law of contagion to scry out the user of a hand of glory with parts from the same corpse as his hand came from - or using parts of the same corpse to work a counter charm7, or just animating the corpse as some kind of undead creature with a magical ability to hunt down its missing hand.
- Is it a coincidence that mandrake has the same name, or can it be used to make a hand or to protect against it?
- For an interesting twist: the hand must come from a thief, who was hanged, but who was not hanged for theft. The entire point of the Hand is that it protects against getting caught; why would you want the hand of someone who did get caught?
- The Laundry - as created by Charles Stross use a hand of glory that essentially projects an invisibility field (or, more accurately, a field that makes the user very hard to notice). It's really not that specific in its components though - the main protagonist habitually uses examples made from pigeon feet. Also, they have a modernised variant that acts a lot like a directed energy weapon.