The Hand of Glory was the severed hand (dried or pickled) of a man who has been hanged for theft, when used in conjunction with a candle made from the fat of the same dead man it was said to grant the owner supernatural powers for their own burglaries, a bit like a “lucky” rabbit’s foot.
“Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway; wrap it in part of a funeral pall and so wrapped squeeze it well. Then put it into an earthenware vessel with zimat, nitre, salt and long peppers, the whole well powdered. Leave it in this vessel for a fortnight, then take it out and expose it to full sunlight during the dog-days until it becomes quite dry. If the sun is not strong enough put it in an oven with fern and vervain. Next make a kind of candle from the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin wax, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick to hold this candle when lighted, and then those in every place into which you go with this baneful instrument shall remain motionless.”
In some examples the fingers themselves are lit like candles somehow and in others the candle made from the thief’s fat is held in the clenched severed hand like a fancy candle-holder (not available at Pottery Barn).
Likely rooted in the Hammurabi code of an “eye for an eye” in which a thief’s hand was severed by way of punishment, this tradition was common throughout the medieval era. Thieves hands were often displayed as warnings to deter other would-be criminals. To this day in St.James the Greater in Prague a thief’s mummified hand and arm still hangs on display to punish a thief who tried to pilfer jewels from the church’s display (the supernatural myths surrounding that church and this event are pretty incredible). You can see the withered arm hung below:
Luckily the tradition of lobbing off someone’s hand who’s stolen something has largely fallen out of favor. However the idea of using a severed dried limb as a totem is still as gruesome as ever.