HandofGlory“Look! It burns clear, but with the air around,
Its dead ingredients mingle deathliness.”

— Robert Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer, a.k.a. “The Other Other Romantic Vampire Poem, You Know, The One That Gets No Respect”

From Gerard de Nerval to Harry Potter to the pub-rockin’ Smithereens, the Hand of Glory knocks so sneakily at our culture that of course I had to let it in. Also, unkind and waspish sorts might suggest that this is yet another Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier, when in fact it is of course great fun for all games of horror and creeperie but yes okay fine there’s a Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum (DH, p. 177) so it might indeed be handy to have written up as a Director’s Handbook-style Object. But you can also use it in a properly occult Trail of Cthulhu game — the Minor Artifact version below fits right into the skeevy world of Bookhounds of London, for instance. And since it began as a cool-sounding mistranslation, it’s clearly ready for the Esoterrorists, to boot.

Quick Esoterroristic Diversion: Early modern magicians, caught in a game of one-upmanship with competing rogues and cunning-men, had to deploy ever more outré magicks to keep their clients happy. Digging through a grimoire one day (probably) in the mid-16th century, such a warlock stumbled over the Greek word mandragora, meaning mandrake-root, which brings sleep (because it’s actually the same thing as opium poppies) and grows beneath the gallows (because eww, which is to say, cool) and shines at night (see opium poppies, supra). He transliterated it into his native French as main-de-gloire, or “hand of glory.” Since that’s obviously not the same thing as a root, it had to be something else: the hand of a hanged murderer (gallows!) that you burn like a candle (shines!) to put people in a house to sleep (!) to rob them. And once warlocks started offering such things for sale, inquisitors started asking witches about them under torture and hey presto genuine occult legend is born. So thus in our early postmodern era, an eager-adopter Esoterrorist with only broken English reads about the Hand of Glory on the Internet. He (it’s always a he) decides it’s actually Hangloria, the possessed demon hand of someone who dies of autoerotic asphyxiation that glows like a computer monitor and puts your chosen stalker target into a trance. And then he tells all his Esoterrorist creepster buddies and sure enough Hanglorias come crawling out of closets all over Bangkok and Macao and Sochi.

Okay, now back to the Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum.

Hand of Glory

Appearance: Blackish-gray mummified human right hand. Forensic Pathology types it as severed after death, likely from a working-class man given the degree and type of bone deformation and callusing. Occult Studies might twig to the weirdness of a right hand being used as a Hand of Glory when traditionally the left, or sinister, hand was preferred. Of course, other traditions considered the handedness of the hanged murderer more important: the right hand of a dextral killer would be the “murder hand,” and thus more imbued with occult evil.

Supposed History: Research can trace this Hand of Glory back to 1935, when one Joseph Ford donated it to the Whitby Museum. Ford, a local antiquary, supposedly found it inside the wall of a cottage in Castleton in Yorkshire while repairing the stonework. More generally, a Hand of Glory (Occult Studies) is a magical thieves’ tool. Cut from the wrist of a hanged murderer (or thief, ideally at midnight in total silence) the hand is pickled with niter, salt, peppers, lime or borax, and an ingredient called zimat (possibly verdigris or iron sulfate) then sun-dried or oven-dried with vervain and fern. In some traditions, the Hand is potent enough now; in others you need a candle made from the fat of a hanged man, wax, and ponie (possibly one or all of: soap, horse dung, or sesame) to activate its magic. If you have the correct ingredients and a workable recipe, you can make a Hand of Glory in 28 days (17 if making the Hand during the dog-days of July-August) and a Candle in the night of the new moon. (2-point spend for all the ingredients, etc.)

Major Artifact: When the fingers of the Hand close around the Candle and the Candle is lit, the Hand has the following powers:

  • Any locked door, gate, portal, safe, etc. in the Candle light unlocks itself when the wielder spends 1 point (or 2 points for clearly impossible or advanced locks) of Stability.
  • When the wielder utters an incantation (usually given as “Let all those who are asleep be asleep, and let those who are awake be awake.”) everyone asleep in the building remains completely asleep regardless of noise or even attack. A Hand more suited to the world of 24-hour security might force a Difficulty 8 Stability (or Athletics) test to remain awake, or at least allow a +3 bonus to all surprise tests against those inside.
  • The Candle flares up blue in the presence of secret doors, buried treasure, etc. and its light reveals the invisible, including vampires. Vampires with Magic or Necromancy may of course be able to animate or otherwise control the Hand.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Candle burns for 4-6 hours, and can only be extinguished by blood; the Hand lasts until destroyed.

Minor Artifact: To use the Hand, soak the fingertips in unguent or lighter fluid and light it up. When lit, the Hand has the following powers, depending on the number of Fingers (F; fingers including the thumb) it has remaining:

  • Adds +F to all the wielder’s tests of Mechanics, Infiltration, etc. to open a lock or door. Grants the Open Sesame cherry (NBA, p. 31) regardless of wielder’s Infiltration rating. (In Trail of Cthulhu, grants +F points of Locksmith.) The exception: doors warded with owls’ blood.
  • After the wielder utters the incantation, those asleep in the house remain asleep unless attacked. If someone is awake in the house, one finger goes out for each wakeful person. This does not diminish F unless the Director is feeling cruel.
  • Adds +F to the wielder’s (or anyone else watching) tests of Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc. for the purpose of finding hidden treasure, secret doors, the invisible, etc. Counteracts invisibility, e.g.: an invisible vampire adds +6 to the Hit Threshold to shoot her, but with a three-fingered Hand burning, that advantage is down to +3 to Hit Threshold.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Hand burns for 30 minutes per Finger remaining on the Hand, including itself. So a Hand down to one Finger burns for 30 minutes. It can be extinguished by milk or blood; when it goes out it cannot be relit. After each use, one Finger no longer lights, so each Hand has only five uses.

Telluric Artifact: The Hand must be cut from the body of someone infected by the telluric bacteria, like a vampire. (Using the hand of a Renfield is only half as effective; use half F rounded up.)  The pickling, drying, etc. feeds the bacteria while (partially) shielding the wielder from infection. Until you light the Hand and inhale activated bacterial ash, of course. Its powers are the same as the Minor Artifact version, with a few tweaks:

  • The bacteria heighten the wielder’s hand-eye coordination and senses of touch and hearing, improving lockpicking, etc. tests by +F but also similar abilities such as Explosive Devices at the Director’s discretion.
  • The carbonized bacterial-zimat cloud puts everyone who inhales it to sleep except the quasi-infected wielder. If she has friends, they need gas masks or the equivalent to avoid the Difficulty 4+F Health test to stay awake in the same room as a burning Hand.
  • The bacteria also heighten the wielder’s predatory pattern-matching skills and awareness, adding +F to her Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc., and counteracting invisible (including tellurically invisible) targets as a Minor Artifact. Add F points of Notice to the wielder’s pool.
  • The bacteria also imbue the wielder with a rush of self-confidence bordering on the sociopathic. He must make an F-point Stability test to withdraw from the room, avoid touching the valuables, or generally not act like he owns the place.

Using a Hand of Glory requires an immediate 4-point Stability test.

It can be extinguished by anything that might normally put out a fire except milk or blood (or other high-protein or iron-rich fluids), which feed the bacteria and increase its effect on the wielder. (Wielder can now spend Health or Stability on any test improved by the Hand; the Stability test to resist its predator confidence is now Difficulty 4+F and costs F+2 Stability if failed.)

Fraudulent: The hand may have been mummified by actual thieves, or by a homeowner superstitiously trying to guard his cottage from thieves, or by a local antiquary who wanted his name in the paper, but it doesn’t have magic powers.

Connections: The formula for a true Hand of Glory might appear in Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273), or in another grimoire owned or coveted by the Bookseller (DH, p. 106). A true Hand makes an ideal target (or resource) for the Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160), Extraordinary Objects Department (DH, p. 161), or for the Psychic (DH, p. 96), Enigmatic Monsignor (DH, p. 114), or Online Mystic (DH, p. 126). As an early modern magician, Elizabeth Báthory (DH, p. 63) or her assets (DH, p. 135) may make use of the things. If the Sniper (DH, p. 131) has one, that could explain her ability to come and go from her hits; if Edom has one, it’s part of Pearl’s (DH, p. 52) kit. If Edom uses Minor Artifact Hands as standard field issue, that might put an intriguing spin on the origin of the term Lamplighter (DH, p. 123). In the latter case, if Pearl doesn’t keep tight hold of the stock, a Hand may turn up at Carfax (DH, p. 185) or buried inside the wall at the thieves’ target Coldfall House (DH, p. 188).