Witch, a Hand of Glory and a Gallows

Episode 10: The Hand of Glory

Now open, lock! To the Dead Man’s knock!

Featuring the pug!

A shorter than usual episode telling a spooky tale. Originally released as a Halloween bonus episode, this story from Kent is not strictly about Halloween but does feature a host of seasonal favourites: Black magic, dismembered body parts, murder and a pug.

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time of year it is I’d still like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy Halloween! It’s always Halloween somewhere. Even if that’s just in our hearts.

And there they stand, That murderous band, Lit by the light of the GLORIOUS HAND,

The Ingoldsby Legends, Thomas Ingoldsby
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

The gallows that night should have been abandoned. The hanging had been many hours before and the weather now was a real dark and stormy night.

But despite this three cloaked figures looked up at the swinging corpse above them. They had a job to do.

One of them climbed up the gallows as his companions held the feet of the corpse to still it. The climber produced his knife, reached over to the body. And he hacked and he cut and with some effort procured that which they had come here for.

They left hurriedly. As they did a flash of lightning behind them lit up the gently oscillating cadaver, now suffering the further indignity of having just the one hand remaining. 

The hand soon ended up with a witch. A stereotypical halloween witch. All pointy hat, warty nose. The lot.

And she took the hand and she worked a strange awful “arts and witch craft” type project into its flesh: twisting wicks and mixing wax and inserting them into the tips of the four fingers and the lifeless thumb.

As she finished she let out a clichéd cackle and finally uttered the words of the spell:

“Now open lock To the Dead Man’s Knock,
Fly blot, and bar, and band
Nor move, nor swerve, Joint muscle or nerve
at the spell of the dead man’s hand.
Spell all who sleep! Wake all who wake
But be as the Dead for the Dead man’s sake!”

And with these ominous words, the scene fades out.

We go now to Tappington Hall, a grand house with a vast estate. It’s night a day later. Most of the household is fast asleep. Save for three. One: the be-wigged Lord of the place. An old man who is counting his riches in some up-stairs room. Two: a little snuffly pug at his feet.

And three: a Page-boy who thought the Lord had gone to bed with everyone else and had made the significant error of sneaking into the room. Just to have a look mind you, not to steal anything, for he was a scrupulously honest sort.

But then he’d heard the old Lord’s footsteps approach the door.

And now he was hidden in a closet desperately trying not to make a sound.

And as this scene played out downstairs foul deeds were afoot.

Four black hearted brigands had turned up at the house, clutching their ghoulish talisman. They had lit the fingers on the hand, and they had intoned the words the witch had instructed them:

“Sleep all who sleep! Wake all who wake
But be as the Dead for the Dead man’s sake!”

And, at that, every sleeping member of the household had been taken with a magical sleep, and could not be woken until the flames were extinguished.

And every locked door of the house opened. The thieves strode in. Went to the upstairs room where they knew the wealth was stored. And it was much unlucky for the Lord, who shouted for his servants. But they slept soundly as their master’s throat was cut and his blood fountained out over the room.

The Page though, he saw everything from his spot in his closest. And he tried even more desperately before not to move, and prayed they would not find him.

Luckily for him there was already too many jewels, money and gems for the thieves to carry. So they didn’t need come look in the closet.

That next morning when the people finally awoke Tappington Hall was soon alive with the sounds of shrieks and screams, as the gore drenched body was discovered.

Now the villains thought they had committed the perfect crime. That the foul magics had kept them safe. 

But they had not reckoned with the Page, who remembered well their faces and garb.

A few days later and they were sitting down to enjoy a hearty meal in an inn, purchased with their ill gotten gains.

Only to find themselves interrupted by a regiment of burly police constables and a young man with a pug (who came with him now… don’t question it).

“That’s them! The murderers!” cried the boy. 

We’re back now where the story began: on Tappington Moor, on another gloomy day. A gallows has been erected yet again, and now three lifeless figures dangle from it.

Though it hadn’t averted their fate they’d given the authorities the details of the Witch before they died.

A mob descended on her house, intent upon testing her witchcraft by the time honoured tradition of drowning her and calling it a test.

But at the point they had her surrounded a black clad horseman emerged, as if from nowhere, pushed through the throng and snatched up the hag, swinging her on to the saddle behind him. And then he rode off into the sky, the witch screaming madly behind him.

Justice had been served, one way or another. And apparently the moral of this story is “Murder will Out”, though I’ll let you judge how well it makes the case for that.

The End

The Ingoldsby legends

Hand of Glory
Hands of Glory are a popular figure for illustration

As discussed in the Episode the source of these is the Ingoldsby legends (1840) – a collection of comic pastiches of folkloric tales and Saints stories mostly told in a doggerel rhyme and with an effected pomposity: using grandiloquent language full of classical allusions and biblical references.

This combination makes them both intensely silly and down right stupid at times, and yet also kind of high brow.

They were supposedly written by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor, a kind of nom-de-plume, or perhaps more accurately just a character, à la lemony snicket, with the real author being Richard Harris Barham.

On a much more serious note I do need to point out, as is also briefly discussed in the episode, there are certainly some sections of the book that are plain offensive – particularly noticeably is anti-Semitism in the retelling of a medieval story. Does this mean we shouldn’t enjoy the rest of the stories today?

I think an argument could certainly be made for it, though it’s hardly unique for the time. Obviously I’ve decided to tell this story despite this. I might be wrong to do so, and I might change my mind on this in time. It is a bit of a beam in the eye when it comes to this overwise amusing book.

Hand of Glory, Whitby museum. No Candles.
An actual hand of glory at Whitby museum

Now the Inglodsby legends were wildly popular. Really incredibly so. For decades. Now that I know of their existence I can’t help but notice that seemingly every second book shop in the land has at least one, but usually multiple, copies. And I do kind of get the appeal.

Given their fame and their fantastic themes they were a popular topic for illustrators so lots of weird and wonderful images exist floating around the internet, by some of the biggest names in illustration: Arthur Rackham (of every fairy tale book ever fame) and Sir John Tenniel (of Alice in Wonderland fame) amongst them.

There are reams and Rheims (read it to get the pun) that could be written about the legends. And indeed have been by people far wiser than I, so I’ll stop there and just leave you with perhaps my favourite ridiculously-stretching-all-credulity-genuinely-just-awful set of rhymes from the entire book. No context needed:

“Now David Pryce
Had one darling vice;
Remarkably partial to anything nice,
Nought that was good to him came amiss,
Whether to eat, or to drink, or to kiss!
Especially ale —
If it was not too stale
I really believe he’d have emptied a pail;
Not that in Wales
They talk of their Ales;
To pronounce the word they make use of might trouble you,
Being spelt with a C, two Rs, and a W.”

Just a few illustrations from various editions of the Ingoldsby legends

Halloween Pug

When I wrote the original brief description of this episode I included a ‘joke’, if that, indicating that pugs, though featuring in this story, were not very halloween like. But because of the internet I subsequently found out that happily I was very very wrong.

Enjoy this Halloweeny pug, at least the first sketch of it dressed as a ghost, which rather tickled me.

Selected Sources

  • The Ingoldsby Legends – This is it for this one. I didn’t do a lot of reading around this, or look at other detailed sources

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:

Lionel Schmitt
Tales from asylum

Kevin Hartnell
Libidinous Orison

Ben Von Wildenhaus
Week Thirty

The hag’s spree

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