According to a tradition traceable to the 16th Century, it was a charm prepared from the hand of a hanged man on a gibbet, cured and prepared according to lengthy ritual. It was used in combination with a candle prepared from the fat of a hanged man's corpse, with wax and Lapland sesame (Lapland was known as a home of witchcraft) Burglars, among other evil doers, liked to posses such a hand, which they could make themselves or obtain from witches. When they entered a house, they lit the candle gripped in the Hand (or in some versions, they lit the fingers), saying:
Let those who rest more deeply sleep;
Let those awake their vigils keep;
Oh, hand of Glory, shed thy light,
Direct us to our spoil tonight.
The residents asleep in their beds, would not wake while the candle burned and the burglars could freely ransack the place. The light could not be put out, except by pouring on blood or skimmed milk.
This hand on dispaly at the Whitby Museum was discovered in an old cottage at Danby in a recess over a door lintel. The cottage had for a long time been occupied by a man who had a 'very bad reputation' in the countryside, but against whom nothing could ever be proved.