Hand of Glory Tattoo: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Hand of Glory Tattoo: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Few mystical objects are as feared and revered as the Hand of Glory. 

Many legends surround the supernatural powers of this severed limb. And with its striking appearance, the appendage is also a popular subject to get inked.

Hand of Glory tattoos generally symbolize magic, foreboding, and belief in the supernatural. Additionally, they can signify a form of protection against evildoers and occult forces.

However, many also get tattoos of the Hand for its eye-catching and bewitching appearance.

What is a Hand of Glory?

A Hand of Glory is the pickled and dried hand of a man who has been executed by hanging.

And yes, you read that right!

The history behind this ghastly tradition is equally disturbing and fascinating. 

In 18th century Europe, many people believed that a Hand of Glory had supernatural properties. But only if prepared under specific conditions.

Firstly, the appendage must come from a criminal who has died by hanging. Customarily the left hand or whichever one committed the felony.

Next, the severed limb had to be pickled and dried in the summer sun. 

But that’s not all. After preparing the hand, one must then make a candle from the fat of the dead man. 

Once the candle is ready, it’s placed into the Hand of Glory—usually clasped between the fingers.

When lit, this eerie charm will supposedly freeze in place anyone that’s in its presence. Although, the holder can still move freely. 

The Hand of Glory also purportedly unlocks any locked door it comes near.

What is the History of Hand of Glory Tattoos?

The Hand of Glory is a classic subject of the American traditional tattoo style.

From the ’70s to the ’90s, the US (and the UK) experienced a boom in tattoo popularity. And ink with supernatural and macabre meanings, in particular, became fashionable.

Subjects like skulls, the death’s-head moth, and gravestones were especially huge. 

But over time, the Hand of Glory rose to prominence. Its iconic shape and eerie vibe were great for people looking for charmingly morbid ink.

Movies and books contributed to its popularity as well. The Hand of Glory has appeared in Harry Potter, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Furthermore, social media like Pinterest and Instagram have further spread the Hand’s meaning.

Early on, ink featuring this severed limb was almost always in the American traditional style. But new school designs and stick and poke are now prevalent as well.

What Does a Hand of Glory Symbolize?

The symbolism behind the Hand of Glory is full of mystique.

First and foremost, these objects are associated with magic—particularly dark magic related to the occult.

Several secret societies and groups have adopted the Hand as their sigil. And it’s often used in movies and television to signify malevolent supernatural forces.

Owing to a well-known legend, the Hand can also represent thievery.

According to the myth, a strange man came to an inn during a stormy night long ago. Once everyone was asleep, he lit a Hand of Glory to freeze them in place and steal their valuables.

Thankfully, a young girl saved them all. Because she cleverly realized the only way to douse the flame was with milk.

The Hand of Glory sometimes represents intelligence and foresight as well.

This perception comes from its association with wizards. There are several legends where these magic users rely on the Hand to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

What Do Hand of Glory Tattoos Mean?

Hand of Glory tattoos represent numerous, enigmatic things. 

The most well-known connotations are dark magic and the macabre. After all, a tattoo of a severed hand is bound to have some morbid meanings.

However, it can also represent personality traits like cautiousness and savoir-faire. Or even preternatural powers such as insight.

Below are the positive connotations of ink featuring the Hand of Glory:

  • Intuition
  • Wisdom
  • Prudence 
  • Vigilance
  • Foresight
  • Charm
  • Poise
  • Enchantment

Old European tradition says that leaving a lit Hand in your home would freeze intruders in place. So tattoos of the appendage can symbolize a protective ward against evildoers.

Next, here are some negative things that these tattoos can signify:

  • Betrayal
  • Trickery
  • Deception
  • Dread
  • Thievery
  • Darkness
  • Fear

Despite all these possible meanings, many opt to get the tattoo primarily for its spectacular aesthetics. And with good reason—few designs are so instantly recognizable and downright striking.

Additionally, some get the tat as an homage to the history of American traditional ink.

Where Do Hand of Glory Tattoos Usually Go?

Most people opt to get Hand of Glory tattoos on the side of their calf. This placement complements the Hand’s shape, as it looks best when orientated vertically.

Furthermore, getting the ink on your calf makes it easy to show others and appreciate it. But it’s still easy to hide with pants or a long skirt.

In terms of orientation, the fingers almost always point upwards. Meanwhile, the palm faces out. If there’s an eye in the palm, it’s typically open and looking outward.

That being said, these tattoos are very versatile. With their one-of-a-kind appearance, they look stunning almost anywhere. 

Here are some other popular places to get this tat:

  • On the side of the arm or shoulder
  • Back of the leg, under the knee pit
  • Front of the thigh
  • Side of the neck, under the ear

Characteristics and Styles of Hand of Glory Tattoos

Without a doubt, the most prominent style for Hand of Glory tattoos is American traditional.

The vivid hues and cartoonish flair are a perfect contrast to the grisly nature of the severed limb. And this juxtaposition makes for striking, memorable pieces.

Although, many others opt for a realistic, black and gray design.

Ink in this style is often more shocking and morbid. And it may include a macabre Latin phrase, like memento mori.

But despite their grim subject, these realistic pieces are nonetheless mesmerizing.

As a final note, ink featuring the Hand of Glory almost always includes an eye in the palm. Even though the original object does not.

Most believe the eye symbolizes supernatural foresight and wisdom. It can also impart connotations related to the occult or the Illuminati.


The Hand of Glory tattoo usually represents a link to the supernatural and occult. After all, these macabre objects were said to possess magical properties.

Still, some opt to get the ink mostly because it looks hauntingly beautiful and eye-catching.

Leave a Reply