Oh, and don’t try this at home, kids!
The Hand of Glory is a magical talisman dating back to the 1600s. It was made from the severed left hand of a hanged criminal and supposedly enabled a thief to successfully enter a house without waking its occupants. It was also claimed to unlock doors and burn brighter in the presence of money or treasure.
The following recipe is mentioned in Grillot De Givry’s book Witchcraft: Magic and Alchemy.
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 …
Sometimes horse dung and the blood of the hanged man was included in the crafting of the candle. I bet that smelled absolutely horrible!
Once the candle was lit, the thief would recite this little rhyme for added protection: “Hand of Glory, shining bright, lead us to our spoils tonight!”
The first step in making a tsantsa was to remove the skull from the head through an incision in the back, carefully peeling the skin away from the bone so as not to tear it. A wooden form was then inserted into the deboned head to keep its shape. Next, large seeds were placed under the eyelids, which were then sewn shut. The lips were fastened together with slim wooden pegs.
The tsantsa-in-progress was boiled in water with herbs containing tannins, then dried with hot rocks and sand. The skin was molded by hand during the drying process, then rubbed with ash as an added protection against its former owner’s vengeful soul. Afterwards, the shrunken head could be decorated with beads, cording, and strips of leather.
Since the 1940’s it has been illegal to import shrunken heads into the United States, and the practice seems to have died out except in perhaps the most remote regions of the Amazon. The majority of shrunken heads that might be found today are fakes made for the tourist trade using leather or monkey heads. Actual shrunken heads are rare and illegal to own in the United States.