Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Dead Man's Hand

“I last night lay all alone
On the ground, to hear the mandrake groan;
And plucked him up, though he grew full low,
And, as I had done, the cock did crow.”
- Ben Jonson, Masque of Queens.

“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!

Now lock, nor bolt, nor bar avails,
Nor stout oak panel thick-studded with nails.
Heavy and harsh the hinges creak,
Though they had been oil'd in the course of the week.
The door opens wide as wide may be,
And there they stand,
That murderous band,
Lit by the light of the Glorious Hand,
By one! -- by two! -- by three! ”
- Tom Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.

“No person who is familiar with the humours of Ingoldsby will have forgotten the wondrous legend of the Hand of Glory, which includes a transcript from the Grimoires. It is less generally known that there are two processes, serving distinct uses, and there can be little doubt that they should both be in the possession of every well-equipped operator who is anxious to test the virtues of White and Black Magic in this particular form.”

The Black Dragon vs. Le Petit Albert
I recently purchased a copy of Mike C.'s Crossed Keys, because I am eternally late to every party, and was pleased to discover that it contained a section on the Hand of Glory. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that the ritual in the Black Dragon to create a Hand of Glory differed for the most part from everything I had read previously on the subject.

For a moment, I wondered if I was way more ignorant than I normally assume that I am. I re-consulted the online edition of Le Petit Albert (1782), and it's relevant section, along with Montague Summers' edition of the Compendium Maleficarum, which remains half-insane and will only be referenced where appropriate. Incidentally, as the initial quote by Arthur Waite will tell you, it was simply the second process.

There are some relations to be found, however, within folklore and literature about the Hand of Glory which not only ties aspects of these two different rituals together, but which provide an alternative approach to the subject altogether. It is my deepest desire to convey this information, for several reasons.

Sources from the Grimoires and the Witch Hunters

Le Petit Albert: (Via Waite for non-Google translated clarity)
The Hand of Glory is indifferently the right or left hand of a criminal who has been gibbeted. The sorcerer obtains it as he can, and in the days of Tyburn Tree such requisites might have cost nothing beyond the personal risk of the adventure; it is indispensable, however, that it should be wrapped in a piece of winding-sheet, and this suggests that the criminal must have been previously cut down with a view to interment. Thus enclosed, the hand must be well squeezed to as to force out any blood which may possibly remain in the member, after which it must be placed in an earthen vessel, together with some zimort, saltpetre, common salt and pepper-corns--all pounded. It should remain in this vessel for fifteen days and when extracted should be exposed to the heat of the sun during the time of the dog-star until it is extremely desiccated. If solar warmth be insufficient, it may be placed in a furnace, heated with bracken and vervain. The object is to extract all the grease from the member, and therefrom, in combination with virgin wax and sesame from Lapland, to compose a species of candle. Wheresoever this frightful object is lighted, the spectators will be deprived of all motion and the sorcerer can do what he will. It is possible to destroy its influence by anointing the threshold of the door, or other places through which entrance may be gained to a house, with an unguent composed of the gall of a black cat, grease from a white fowl and the blood of a screech-owl. This should also be confected in the dog-days.

It is to be regretted that this signal process does not rest upon the personal testimony of its historian, but he was present, as report tells us, at the trial of several who confessed, under torture, that they had applied it with complete success.

The Black Dragon (from Crossed Keys; “The Fourth Part”):
Pull out the root, with its root, from a mare in heat, the closest to nature, saying: Dragne, Dagne. Conceal this hair. Go at once and buy a new earthenware pot with its lid, without haggling. Return home with it, fill this pot with water from a fountain to within two fingers from the top, and put the aforesaid hair within; cover the pot and put it in a place where neither you nor others can see it, for that would be dangerous. After nine days, and at the same hour you hid it, uncover the pot; you will find within it a small animal in the form of a serpent, which will raise itself upright and after which you say immediately: I accept the pact. That done, you take it without touching it with your hand, and put it in a new box expressly without haggling. You give him some wheat, nothing else, and do not forget to give him some every day...”

Compendium Maleficarum (Summers Edition):
“Witches used to also make use of strange lights in order to induce sleep, and I think Apuleius called the smoke of them 'a cloud of smoke'. Sometimes they set fire to the feet or hands of corpses, which they have first anointed with an oil given to them by the demon: or else they fix candles to each of the corpse's fingers, or light the way before them with enchanted torches made from a horrid fat known to them, or they fix these torches in a certain place in the house; and the sleep lasts as long as those corpse lights burn...” (p. 84)
It should obvious that these two rituals are very different on the surface. What they share in similarity is actually to be found in folklore from France and Germany which ties them squarely together, despite the obvious differences. There are some areas of occultism this discussion can hedge into such as: ghosts, fairies, and “magical treasure hunting,” but for now I shall leave some of those aspects alone to save space. I should like to get into them eventually, however, as they also shed enormous light on the subject in my opinion.

Folktales and Superstition
In addition to appearing in two Grimoires and at least one witch hunter's manual, a whole slew of folktales and fictional tales about the Hand have appeared in various forms. German tales of “thieves lights” are essentially the same as those of the Hand of Glory, with a few possible differences. “Thieves Lights” may also be made from the fingers of child-corpses, with references to unbaptized children being quite frequent. Just as often, however, the hand is from a thief as it is in the two Grimoires cited above.

However, the hand is just necromantic materia if you will. There are more important associations stemming from the Hand of Glory, which can be found in James Frazer's Jacob and the Mandrakes:
The Journal of a Citizen of Paris, written in the fifteenth century, speaks of this superstition.
“At that time”, says the anonymous author, “Brother Richard, a Franciscan, caused to be burned certain madagfoires, (mandragoras, mandrakes), which many foolish people kept and had such faith in that rubbish as to believe firmly for a truth that so long as they had it they should never be poor, provided that it was wrapt up in fine cloths of silk or linen.”

He continues:
This superstition lasted into the eighteenth century. “There has long prevailed in France,” says Sainte-Palaye, “an almost general superstition concerning mandragora; a relic of it still lingers among the peasants. One day, when I asked a peasant why he gathered mistletoe, he said that at the foot of the oaks which bore mistletoe there was a Hand of Glory (Main de Gloire, that is, in their language, mandragora); that it was as deep in the earth as the mistletoe was high on the tree; that it was a sort of mole; that he who found it was obliged to give it food, whether bread, or meat, or anything else, and that what he had given it he must give it every day and in the same quantity, otherwise it would kill those who failed to do so. Two men of his country, whom he named to me, had perished in that way, but to make up for it the hand of glory gave back twofold next day what any one had given it the day before. If to-day it received food to the value of a crown, he who had given it would receive two crowns next day, and so with everything else; such and such a peasant, whom he named to me, and who had become very rich, was thought to have found one of these hands of glory.”
Indeed, a quick check of wikipedia will reveal that W.W. Skeats agreed with this stance. He writes under his entry on the Hand: “One of the Ingoldsby Legends is called the Nurse's Story; or, the Hand of Glory. It introduces the line – 'Lit by the Light of the Glorious Hand.' This 'glorious hand' was supposed to be the dead man's hand, which gave a magic light... We find in O.F. Madegloire in Godefroy; it was supposed to signify 'hand of glory' but, as a fact, it is a variant spelling of mandragore (Shakespeare's mandragora) and means a mandrake, the plant often associated with magic... The identification of the hand of glory with mandrake is clinched by the statement in Cockayne's Leechdoms, I. 245, that the mandrake 'shineth by the night altogether like a lamp.'”

Mandrake: Spiritus Familiaris & Beyond
Spell for picking a plant: Use it before sunrise. The spell to be spoken: “I am picking you, such and such plant, with my five fingered hand, I, NN, and I am bringing you home so that you may work for me for a certain purpose. I adjure you by the undefiled name of the god: if you pay no heed to me, the earth which produced you will no longer be watered as far as you are concerned – ever in life again, if I fail in this operation, MOUTHABAR NACH BARNACHŌCHA BRAEŌ MENDA LAUBRAASSE PHASPHA BENDEŌ; fulfill for me the perfect charm.”
- PGM IV. 286-95
Mandrake enjoys some very fertile mythic ground. It was well known even in antiquity as a “special” plant. Frazer indicates that it was Dioscorides who related the information that the Pythagoreans called the Mandrake “man-like,” or “anthropomorphic”. This is because the root is forked and “otherwise shaped so as to present a rude resemblance to a humand figure.” He goes on to state that the Arabs called Mandrake “the face of an idol,” refernecing Richardson's Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English from 1777.

Not only that, but through Jakob Grimm's Deutche Mythologie we get Hildegard's rather interesting mythological origin for the Mandrake plant: “the mandrake was fashioned out of the same earth whereof God created Adam, and that its likeness to a man is a wile of the devil which distinguishes it above all other plants; for that reason, when a mandrake is dug up, it should be placed for a day and a night in a running stream.” Frazer suggests that the placement of the plant within the running stream is to “cleanse” it of it's diabolic associations.

The Grimms', of course, were no great fans of the “foreign” cult of Mandrake that existed in Germany in their days. In Jakob's Galgen-Männlin (1673), he attempts to trace the roots of the German cultural associations surrounding the Mandrake plant. We are immediately plunged, as with the earlier cited Grimoires, into the heart of criminality. The Galgen-Männlin can be translated as “little gallow's man,” and he shares some important commonalities with both versions of the Hand of Glory in the Black Dragon and Le Petit Albert.

The Galgen-Männlin can be explained thusly, in the view of Grimm:
“The saga tells of congenital thieves to whom stealing comes naturally. This happens when a man has descended from a long line of thieves or when a person has become a thief because his mother stole while she was pregnant. In this instance he has at least an overwhelming desire to steal (according to others, when an innocent man confesses to thievery under torture) and he is a pure youth but is hanged for the crime and waters the ground with his seed (aut sperma in terram effundit), then the mandrake plant or Gallow’s Man grows at that spot.”
There are several taboos regarding the harvesting of Mandrake, which were further encouraged for several reasons. Since it “groans” as it was harvested, and has some intense associations with death (for reasons that will likely be covered tomorrow, as I'm about to pass out), the groan was believed to be able to cause death to those that heard it. These taboos were encouraged in Medieval Germany, due to what Charles Thompson refers to as a “universal cult in the belief of the power of the mandrake” in his The Mystic Mandrake (p. 131). This is central to understanding why Grimm focuses on the “criminal narration” of the Mandrake's powers as the Little Gallow's Man. Secondarily, Adolf Taylor Starck seems to indicate in his Der Alraun (1917) that the limited availability of Mandragora Officinarum in Germany at the time lead to tricksters and con-artists forging fake Mandrake roots from other species of the nightshade family. This con-artistry helped cement Mandrake's associations with criminality in Germany, and similar factors may be involved with it in France.

Be that as it may, once the Galgen-Männlin has been procured it has several potentials which are born out in myriad uses for Mandrake in the occultism of the past and present. Frazer writes, culling from Grimm, that: “At the awful yell which the plant utters in the process, the poor dog drops dead to the ground, but you have got the mandrake. All you have now to do is to pick up the plant, wash it clean in red wine, wrap it in white and red silk, and lay it in a casket. But you must not forget to bathe it every Friday and to give it a new white shirt every new moon. If you only observe these precautions, the mandrake will answer any question you like to put to it concerning all future and secret matters. Henceforth you will have no enemies, you can never be poor, and if you had no children before, you will have your quiver full of them afterwards. Would you be rich? All you need do is to lay a piece of money beside the mandrake overnight; next morning you will find the coin doubled.”

Concerning the Black Dragon, following accepting the pact with the serpent we are told that “when you want to have silver or gold, put as much as you would like to have of it in the box, and lie on your bed, placing the box near: sleep, if you wish... after this time you will find the money doubled, but take care to replace the same amount.” It goes on to comment that the form of the serpent comes by the power of the spell, and if “your planet gives you power over supernatural matters” then it will have a human face, and you can present it with even more money for a larger cash return. The Galgen-Männlin, on the other hand, can only be given up to a “ducat” according to sources I have seen. What that would translate to today, is beyond me...

In his Mastering Witchcraft (1970), Paul Huson presents an operation in which a witch-to-be can create a “Magistellus,” or Little Master using the Mangragora root. It bears a good deal of resemblance to the creation of the Galgen-Männlin, and like the Hand of Glory in Le Petit Albert requires heating in afurnace (to try) in the smoke of Vervain (Verbena Officinalis). Oddly enough, Huson associates Alraun with Rowan (not Mandragora), whereas Grimm indicates that Mandragora is both. According to Thompson (p. 132) “There was no more powerful German magic than the alraun in German folk-lore.”

Lastly, at no point does Huson indicate that either can function as a full on “witches' familiar.” This contrasts, again, with Grimm and other sources in which Mandrake is the sorcerer or witches' familiar par excellence. One could go so far, if one wished to be romantic, as to call it “the witches' lamp”!

At this point I must pause and take a nap, because I haven't slept while reading and writing all goddamn night, and my brain is about to fry. I shall return tomorrow to discuss Mandrake's rather interesting associations with sleep, and how that ties in with the Hand, too. I'll even break out the PDM and show you the “evil sleep spells” which involve Mandrake! Hell, I might even talk about how Mandrake has ungodly amounts of “wealth” associations. And maybe how it was considered, when employed as a familiar, to be a kind've elf or goblin at the service of the individual.

Be seeing you,


Anonymous said...

I am so in love with this post right now. I await the follow up

Mr VI said...

Hey, that's my line! ;)