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Mudras & Hand Symbolism: Hand Mysteries? Part 1
[Note: This paper contains images which may be seen as originally published at our website]
Before we begin discussing mudras, let us first consider some interesting topics concerning hands. This and the following article will be devoted to hand mysteries, symbolism, esotericism, signs, and beliefs. Although our treatment of these subjects may be inadequate, from the scholarly point of view, the lay person may find them interesting and we especially dedicate this work for their peruse.
The miraculous hands--we usually take them for granted and do not see how invaluable they are to us. We only miss their use should a mishap befall them--just like everything else. In the absence of hands civilizations would not have been built. No progress would have been made in our social, industrial, technological, and spiritual life. Human hands are partly responsible for our evolutionary growth from our past animal, primitive state to our present high-tech era. The hands are a projection of our soul-desire to interact and function on the physical plane, and it took million of years for this desire to manifest in the three-dimensional state. Prior to that, during the involutionary cycle, the creature called man lived in an etheric state and with a form devoid of any bodily appendages as recounted in Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine."
At least one ancient philosopher acknowledged the worth of the human hands: Aristotle called it the "organ of organs, the instruments of instruments." As one of the Karmaindriya, hands are the active agents of the cerebral system, and by extension, the human soul. It is what Immanuel Kant called "the visible part of the brain." The nature of our thoughts and emotions are reflected in ideodynamic movements of the hands that are normally visible with their gestures but at times goes unnoticed, or is invisible to the naked eye. Proof of this may be found in the occult art of dowsing where the imperceptible movement of the hand as motored by nerve impulses causes a pendulum to sway under direction of an unseen subconscious intelligence--the pendulum merely acting as an amplifier for the conscious aspect of the psyche.
Benjamin Walker in his book, "Body Magic," notes that no other part of the human body is so intimately related to human behavior than the hands. Hand movements are expressive of human thoughts, character, emotions, and attitudes. Graceful, flowing movements reveal a person who is generally poised and tranquil, a person with culture and refinement. In men, when these gestures are too exaggerated, or when they become too artificial, it indicates effeminate tendencies. A person with a dignified, noble character makes hand gestures quite differently from a person who is debased and boorish in nature. Aggressive hands can be seen by their violent and abrupt movements; just as materialistic subjects are known by their heavy, pendulous, impassive hands. A fidgety hand is reflective of a fidgety mind--someone with a nervous disposition and lacking a positive self-image. Such a person knows not how to control his energy. He releases it through unconscious drumming of his fingers and fiddling around with any available object. Limp hands betray the owner's lack of goals, self-confidence, and zeal for life. Individuals who have the habit of hiding their hands and closing their palms with their fingers reveals that they are secretive, cautious, and perhaps stingy. Hiding the hands behind the back have several possible meanings among which are prudence, restrain and observation or inspection. It is a diplomatic gesture and most nobles often unconsciously assume it.
Man not only differ from animals by possessing reason, he also differ from them by possessing hands that are able to fabricate things, to convey his intentions, to communicate his thoughts and feelings. Anthropoids may possess hands, but they lack a superior reason to take full advantage of them. Dolphins and other cetaceans may be equal or superior to man in spiritual unfoldment--according to modern New-Age thought--yet, without hands they do not have the ability to manifest certain forms of creativity. Perhaps they do not need to, it is not for us to debate over this here. We know that every life-form has its own uniqueness; and Man, in his own distinction can rightly be called "the builder" endowed as he is with the tools--his hands, to manifest his creative will. Herein lies the blessing or curse of man. With his hands he may build heaven on earth, or he may use it destructively to manifest chaos and anarchy--a hellish pandemonium that stalls evolutionary progress.
Understanding this religiously, man "the builder" constructs magnificent temples to worship his gods or representatives of his embodied ideals. That the hands may sometimes symbolize excessive mundane activity and focus to the detriment of spiritual unfoldment can be understood from the esoteric saying that the true spiritual aspirant ought to spend his time and forces building a temple "not made with hands." This in fact is what Freemasonry, one of the "esoteric brotherhoods" is all about. Though the body is regarded as a temple of the soul not made by mortal hands, a higher house of God, the Holy of Holies, the Sanctum Sanctorum, is meant in this spiritual precept. The brothers of this august fraternity through rites, rituals and ceremonial initiations are taught how to utilize carpenter's tools, esoterically understood, to build this fabulous celestial House of God in a spiritual dimension--the true "Temple of the Spirit," or to be more precise, the Causal body which relates to the many mystical symbols representing the Higher Self such as the Ark of the Covenant, the candelabra, the Holy Grail, the Philosopher's Stone, etc.
The Causal body is the lotus that forms the seat of every enlightened being as portrayed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Buddhist iconography. Though the Causal body is not built by mortal hands, personal effort in its fabrication is still required by worship, devotion, service, and spiritual exercises. We are essentially told in every religion that salvation lies in our own hands. The higher Intelligences will only assist us if we first help ourselves. No external aid is forthcoming if we refuse to take responsibility for our own liberation, salvation, enlightenment, or evolution. The saying of Jesus that heaven is "at hand," or approaching, may be construed to mean that heaven lies in our own grasp-"in our own hands," if we allow it to be so by working for it, by awakening to the Truth, to a higher awareness and consciousness. It entails personal responsibility. The New Jerusalem, King Solomon's Temple, the Causal body, the Diamond body, or whatever you may call that evolving spiritual body of the microcosm, must be perfected and made manifest on the physical plane through personal effort. Doubts of our own divine, heavenly nature prolongs the sleep of the ages and prevents us from cooperating with the Divine Architect. Later on in these series of articles we will apply the above precept literally and use our hands as mudras to awaken and unfold our divine potentials like the blossoming of a lotus flower.
Anatomy of the Hand
What is a hand? Below we quote from the Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia that explains this comprehensively:
The hand is explained to be a,
"terminal portion of the arms or anterior limbs of humans and other primates, especially adapted for grasping. The grasping appendages of other mammals and lower forms of animals are sometimes called hands in order to distinguish them from the feet of the hind limbs, but true hands appear only in the primates.
"Superficially the hand consists of a broad palm attached to the forearm by a joint called the wrist. At one side and at the outer edge of the palm are five digits, the thumb and four fingers. The thumb in humans is articulated so that it can be brought opposite to the fingers and thus be employed for grasping small objects. The fingers themselves can be folded forward over the palm for the holding of objects. The chief difference between the hands of humans and those of the other primates is that the thumbs of the latter cannot be opposed to the fingers.
"The human hand has 27 bones: the 8 bones of the carpus, or wrist, arranged in two rows of four; the 5 bones of the metacarpus, or palm, one to each digit; and the 14 digital bones, or phalanges, 2 in the thumb and 3 in each finger. The carpal bones fit into a shallow socket formed by the bones of the forearm.
"The movements of the human hand are accomplished by two sets of muscles and tendons: the flexors, for bending the fingers and thumb, and the extensors, for straightening out the digits. The flexor muscles are located on the underside of the forearm and are attached by tendons to the phalanges of the fingers. The extensor muscles are on the back of the forearm and are similarly connected. The human thumb has two separate flexor muscles that move the thumb in opposition and make grasping possible."
Four fingers and a thumb on each hand is the norm. There are cases though, when a person may have extra fingers or thumb on one or both hands. Technically, this anomaly is called polydactylism. What causes this is a mystery. According to one of the current scientific theories is that this is an atavistic condition, a genetic remnant of a bygone age that appears from time to time for an unknown reason. This anomaly not only occurs in human beings, they also appear in animals, and this the writer of this article can vouch for as he is well familiar with it personally. In his youth the writer once reared domestic chickens in his parents' farm--one had an upturned hind toe. Other than that she had the normal amount of toes on each foot. However, all of her progeny were polydactylies. They boasted five toes on the terminal part of each leg. According to popular superstition, extra digits in a hand is a sign of great good or evil. An extra finger on the right hand is supposed to bring good luck, ill-fortune if on the left. Six fingers on both hands indicates that its possessor will be famous or infamous in some way, like Gath, the Philistine giant mentioned in the Bible (1 Chr 20:6).
How does the occult scientist explain polydactylism? From the metaphysical point of view, we know that the physical body is a replica of the etheric body which is the blueprint of its physical counterpart. The structure of the etheric body is amendable to the will of the Higher Self and to a lesser extent to the psychological condition of the lower psyche. If a pregnant mother were shocked in some way, for instance, this could have a disastrous effect on the fetus or embryo disfiguring it in some way. Embryonic hands could possibly acquire extra digits as a result of its host's sudden experience of fright or terror. Another explanation of polydactylism is that for karmic reasons, the Higher Self manufactures a vessel in accord with the soul's spiritual needs. Whatever physical deformities it manifests in the physical form is for the teaching of the soul some required lesson. However, how does that apply to animals without a "soul"? As we have stated above the etheric body as blueprint of the physical form may be altered by the will. At a lower level of consciousness the imagination play a role in influencing the matrix that a higher intelligence has formed. The subconscious mind is likewise impressionable. What it perceives in a constant fashion it eventually outpictures in physical form. This is how creatures evolve camouflages on their physical forms. But how do these principles relate to our question above? In the case of animals, the evolution of their physical form and consciousness aspects are directed by what is called "group-spirits" in occultism.
These angelic spirits are always experimenting in producing forms that would best adapt to the environment so that the Law of Evolution may be best fulfilled. So abnormalities in nature are experiments done by the Directors of Nature. However, as the tale of Jacob (See Genesis) of how he influenced the nature of the wool of the sheep under his care would indicate, animals may likewise influence the form, or color of their own progeny through the power of their subconscious minds. Apropos to this, shamans are said to have the occult ability to shape-shift into various forms, just like the Greek god Proteus. But this most likely concerns the astral body.
One other anomaly are webbed hands. Although not too common, this atavistic characteristic does appear from time to time in human beings. In Buddhism, webbed hands and feet are one of the marks of a Buddha; this, however, should not be construed in a literal sense. Gaskell, the author of the "Dictionary of all Scriptures and Myth" interprets this as the " . . . as yet, fettered organs of action," or in other words, the emotional/mental glamour and illusions working through the senses, hands, feet, and sexual organ. Gaskell's interpretation actually does not make sense when we consider that a Buddha is supposed to be enlightened and to have transcended such mortal errors. A better interpretation in our opinion would be that webbed hands signify spiritual service in the cosmic sea of life.
One of the mysteries of nature regarding human hands is that there are plant-roots resembling them. These roots originate from several species of the Dactylorhiza orchids and is commonly called "Lucky-Hand Root." The number of digits vary from 3 to 10. It is normally carried in a pouch as an amulet or all-round lucky charm. Although the subject of charms and hand amulets are fascinating, they will not be discussed here; we will deal with them in another article.
The brain has more sets of nervous pathways leading to the hands than to any other part of the body. In stress and anxiety, the temperature of the hands increases and it readily becomes sweaty. Lie-detectors take advantage of this phenomenon by measuring the differences in the psychogalvanic skin response of subjects during their interrogation.
It is said that hands make more than a thousand different movements every day. A single repetitive motion of the hand may lead to serious injuries, as in the case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). This is the swelling of the tendons in the carpal tunnel and the compression of nerves resulting in numbness in the hand. Hands, especially the fingernails, are indicators of one's state of health. For instance, horizontal ridges on the fingernails may indicate malnutrition; pitted nails may be symptomatic of psoriasis; blue nails show problems in the circulation.
Function of the Hands
Hands may be used to bless or curse; to build or destroy, to harm or heal. It all depends upon how well man attunes himself and understands the Will of the Cosmos or his True Self. This reaching-out to a higher consciousness is symbolically depicted in the famous fresco painting by Michaelangelo upon the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome. "Genesis: the Creation of Man" as it is called, shows Adam reaching out his hand attempting to touch the fingers of his Maker.
The banishment from the Garden of Eden or paradise is symbolic of man's descent upon a lower level of consciousness where he unwittingly lost contact with higher intelligences and alternate realities and thus forgot his spiritual roots and purpose of being. Just like Persephone who was abducted by Hades and brought to the netherworld, the soul of man is chained to a dark materialistic consciousness by his ignorance. Ceres, the mother of Persephone, or man's Christ nature ever seeks to redeem her or the human soul from the clutches of avidya, ignorance. Adam (the generic term for man), after consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was faintly aware of the existence of the Tree of Life of which he was previously oblivious. The "Lord," anxious that man would not consume this fruit prematurely, banished him from Paradise. Man's subsequent search for immortality became a powerful passion that millions of deaths have not diminished. Man must look in the proper direction for that which he now seeks. It is not to be found in the glamorous and illusory worlds of lower psychicism and materialism. Until the false ego and all that is mortal within man are given up, until all of that false sense of egoic grandeur be displaced by the expression of the Higher Self, man will not begin to sense the immortal life running through his course and subtle veins and realize that immortality is already his as a Cosmic inheritance.
As man is a reflection of God and the Universe, a veritable microcosm, so hands can well be said to be a miniature microcosm representing the physical man as a whole. For instance, we have the five elements represented in the fingers just as we have all of the organs in the body reflected in various parts of the hand. This is basically the science of reflexology originated in China by the ancient Taoists physicians and the practitioners of alchemy. These ancient doctors discovered that massage or pressure upon specific points of the feet and hands benefit other parts of the body and promote good circulation of the chi, or life-force.
Hands are often "read" for divinatory purposes and for determining the inner nature of their possessor. In China such analysis of the hand is called Shou Hsiang. In the West it is known as "palmistry" or "cheiromancy," or to give its more accurate name, cheirogrammeomancy. Related to this is "cheirogrammeognomy," "cheiromorphognomy," and "cheiromorphomancy," all of which concerns the study of the hand--its shape, features, lines, and qualities.
Copyright © 2006 Luxamore
About the Author: Leonard Lee aka Luxamore
Metaphysical teacher, counseler, healer and merchant of occult/magickal items of Indonesia.
Magickal Items from Indonesia: talismans, mustika pearls, kerises, etc.
Magickal Bezoar Mustika Pearls from Indonesia.