Mudras & Hand Symbolism: Hand Symbolism & Beliefs Part 1
Human hands have never lost their fascination to our ancient forefathers, and even now in contemporary times, the novel roles that hands play in the humanities with their dexterity and grace never cease to amaze us. The wondrous execution of a Chopin piece, or an objet d' art fabricated carefully by a master hand--they constantly evoke a sense of joy and wonder within us. The Spirit within us responds positively to the beauty, the harmony, and the symmetry of sound and form as manifested by Nature and human hands.God's gift to man is the freedom of choice and the will to implement that choice.
On the physical plane, the hands are naturally the instruments of that will and divine blessing and have come to symbolize Man, or Adam; for only beings on the evolutionary level of man are given the prerogative to determine their own fate. It is said that not even angels have this freedom to choose, for their nature compels them to abide by the divine law. Man on the other hand, through choice, learns what it means to align himself with, or to disobey Cosmic laws. Man learns the consequences of his actions, and wise is he who takes responsibility for them. Through choice man succumbs to his lower nature and builds pandemonium in his mind and heart or he may give ear to the prompting of his divine Self and form the New Jerusalem--the new abode of peace in the lower aspects of his microcosm that this condition may become ingrained in his character and nature. By choosing the latter, the teaching of the Master Jesus--"Neither shall they say, lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke:17:21)--shall come to pass.
God, Nature, and the higher worlds communicate with Man in various ways--through dreams, through the intuitive and psychic faculties, through symbiotic energy exchange, signs, omens, and especially symbols. Basically, symbols may be classified as natural and artificial. Natural symbols are found in nature. Artificial symbols are those that we invent ourselves and assign certain basic meanings to them. Certain occult symbols--of the natural and artificial types--are known to Adepts and the multitude of beings in the spirit world. Most of these symbols have their origin in archetypal realms in the mental planes. Utilizing these in metaphysical or magickal ceremonies, rites and rituals, facilitates communication and the synergy between habitants of worlds and realms.
Objects of nature are outward symbols of inner realities within our psyche. Understand one and we will eventually understand the other. Master the inner realities and the outward symbols assume a congenial expression to correspond with the inner psychological condition. Since our hands are related to the will aspect of the Spirit, empowering one will have its effects on the other. We will not delve too deeply into this for it will take us too far into the Magical Tradition and beyond the subject matter of this article. Suffice to say that contrary to the understanding of most metaphysical students, Masterhood or adeptship has very little to do with psychicism and much to do with the magick of the divine will within man--the will to love, the will to serve, the will to sacrifice, the will to self-forgetfulness, the will to selflessness, the will to give, the will to create, the will to surrender, the will to be pure, the will to forgive, the will to be open-minded, the will not to be judgmental, etc.--most important of all, the will to implement the promptings of the Divine Spark within the microcosm.
Our hands should not be undervalued. Without them we are less effective in carrying-out our mission in life. In the higher worlds we express our creativity through thought--mind-generated sounds, colors, and light. All of these occur instantaneously with thought as the creator. Because of the density of physical matter and the factor of time, something other than the above means are required to fashion things in concordance to our desire and thus assist us to fulfill our purpose for being incarnated in the three-dimensional realm. Our hands are a projection of this need. In the higher worlds, our subtle bodies in their primitive state did not possess hands, and even though now that the astral and etheric bodies have evolved and assumed the human form, the incorporeal limbs may be dispensed with for they are not essential for us to function in the higher dimensions.
Having stated the importance of hands here in the physical plane, let us now inquire briefly into hand esotericism, symbolism, signs and the various beliefs regarding them. Though our treatment of the subject here leaves much to be desired, the metaphysical student will find many things here of great interest and they would certainly be stimulated to research further.
Because of their importance, many beliefs grew concerning the hands. Countless symbols and signs were created using the hands to convey knowledge and information to those who understood the underlying keys of the secret teachings taught in esoteric schools.
In religion, hands symbolize the divine presence, influence and power. In Catholicism, the power and influence of God is often portrayed in medieval paintings and murals as an almighty hand issuing from the clouds to convey something of spiritual importance to saints and prophets. Actually, the "All-Powerful Hand" has its origin in ancient Egypt. The monotheistic Pharaoh, Akhenaton (1379-1362 B.C.) and Queen Nefertiti of the 18th dynasty are often depicted in sculpture relief as receiving energy from Aton, who is represented by a sun-disk. This can be seen in the tombs at Tel-el-Amarna. Rays of the sun-disk are portrayed as elongated arms terminating in hands reaching out to the royal couple and bestowing upon them the life-force. The mystical Qabbalistic tradition of Judaism assigns the human hand as the symbol of the letter Yod (y). Having the numerical value of ten, which relates to the ten fingers, the letter Yod is recurrently depicted in esoteric art as "rain drops" showering from heaven. Example of these may be seen in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck.
Modern Catholics present the hand of Jesus as the Hand of Power or "Mano Poderosa." In the depiction of the crucified hand, all of the fingers are extended with various saints standing upon the digits. We present a version of the hand here with a scholar's commentary:
"The image is of a huge wounded (but not bleeding) right hand, which points up through clouds, cut palm toward us. The lines in the palm are shown, and it looks like the head line is cut. The fingers are all of eerily uniform length, with a long thin thumb. Small, disembodied, winged cherub-heads float in the sky above the hand.
"To the left and right of the hand are four kneeling female angels who gaze upward and bear the tools of the crucifixion. Of the two on the left, one holds a bowl to catch Jesus' blood; the other holds a spear and vinegar sop in one hand and hammer and nails in the other. Of the two on the right, one holds a cross and the other a crown of thorns.
"Atop clouds on the little finger stands an older male saint with a book. The ring finger's clouds hold a female saint; the middle finger's, a younger male saint with a white lily; the forefinger's, the Virgin Mary; and the deformed thumb's clouds bear the toddler Jesus holding a globe in his right hand and raising his left."
From the above we may surmise that not only are hands the symbol of Man, they are also the symbol of divinity, for the sacred hand of the Divine One have its influence upon the mundane affairs of humanity when men have gone too far astray from the path of Truth and righteousness. Scriptures are replete with stories of divine intervention or action with materialized hands as a media of information conveyance or operation. Not only did the hand of God "inscribe" the Ten Commandments upon the stone tablets prepared by Moses, it also warned Belshazzar of his impending doom--a spirit hand materialized and wrote on the wall "Mene, Mene Tekel, U-pharsin" (Daniel 5: 24-25). From a metaphysical point of view, this is not unusual. Such manifestations are actually the work of what is called in occultism, "Invisible Helpers." These are initiates with occult and paranormal abilities working on behalf of humanity. They work on the higher dimensions in their nightly excursions through "astral projection." Some of the higher initiates have the ability to materialize their hands or other parts of their body so that they may function directly on the physical sphere aiding those here who are in dire distress or as in the case above, as a warning to arrogant, tyrannical rulers.
The ancients attached special occult significance to every part of the human body. The symbolism of the human hand alone may fill several volumes. Symbols may signify abstract or concrete concepts, imaginative or real events, natural or "supernatural" phenomena, spiritual or material principles. In what we have found, the ancient sages and philosophers made used of the hands to portray and symbolize many things of worth to the evolving soul. They taught many things using the hands as similitude, allegories, analogies, and examples.
The left and right hands were often represented for the many polarities that we find and experience in life. For instance, hot/cold, high/low, darkness/light, etc. The left hand was often associated with the negative aspects of life, the right with the positive. In the Christian scriptures the Master Jesus instructed us to prevent the left hand from knowing what the right hand is doing; or in other words to be detached from the good that we do without craving for rewards. Jesus' analogy of the hand, though, has various levels of meaning other than the one cited above.
The ancient sages observed that generally, the right hand was the active one in comparison with the left. Whole philosophies grew from this simple consideration alone. The right hand is electric and is associated with activity; the left hand is magnetic and related to passivity. Gaskell explains this in another way, he says that hands are a,
"symbol of the directive principle of activity either outgoing (right) or incoming (left). The positive and negative aspects of Divine action in the soul."
Hands are a prominent feature in Judeo-Christian symbolism. In Judaic mysticism, the ten fingers of the hand represent the Ten Commandments of the spiritual law just as the ten toes of the feet represent the Ten Commandments of the physical law. In Esoteric Christianity, the thumb with its three phalanges symbolizes the threefold divinity or the Holy Trinity--the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, or the creative, preservative and destructive aspects of God, from the point of view of Hinduism. Since most religions and philosophies have their trinities what applies in Christianity regarding its symbolism likewise applies to the rest as well. We might add that hands raised upward as in prayer, is symbolic of one's aspirations towards the spiritual life.
According to Christian Qaballistic thought, the fingers signify the four elements and the 3 phalanges of each finger the divisions of the elements: cardinal, fixed, and mutable. The 12 phalanges of the fingers of each hand when brought together represent the 24 Elders. The 6 phalanges of the thumb in this context signify the six days of creation.
In hand esotericism, the thumb is regarded as the king. Hindu metaphysics teaches that the thumb signifies the Paramatma, or the spark of the Universal Soul within the microcosm, and the rest of the fingers symbolizing the other major components of the microcosm.
Anthropologists consider the development of the thumb as a vital evolutionary step in the perfection of man's anatomy. The thumb is to the hand what the hand is to the brain. It is the function of the thumb in hand mechanics that allows for cultural and technological development. Classical Romans and Greeks regarded the thumb as sacred to Venus or Aphrodite, attributing to it a phallic significance. Thus, it came to symbolize fertility. The traditional Javanese of Indonesia would never point with the forefinger as it is considered impolite to do so (the writer found this rather amusing as a child); the thumb is used instead thus implicitly revealing its sacred and royal nature.
The thumb is all-important in palmistry, especially in Chinese cheiromancy. According to Oriental palmists, with the thumb alone it is possible to tell the predisposition of a person, his character, future, and state of health. The quality of a subject's chi, or energy is revealed by the size, color, and other characteristics of the thumb.
The dimension of the thumb is an indicator of a person's will-expression. A large thumb reveals great strength of character and practicality; in contrast, a small thumb denotes weakness, and lack of willpower. The three segments of the thumb disclose certain qualities. The size of the first phalange or top segment shows whether a subject has good willpower, personal determination and other leadership qualities; the second or middle phalange, shows logic, judgement and reason; the third segment, which includes the "ball of the thumb," called "the Mount of Venus" in palmistry, shows the strength of a subject's passion and ability to love. One's karmic potential may be seen in the thumb as well as the state of one's relationship to the environmental surroundings. The thumb is a symbol of power and as such it is the one used in anointing rites in the Christian churches.
Habitually hiding the thumb in a closed fist indicates a defensive, introverted, disturbed and insecure person. Sucking the thumb is an infantile gesture. Psychologically speaking, the thumb is related to the superconsciousness.
Apart from the thumb, in palmistry, the fingers signify various strength or weakness of one's character according to their size and shape. Generally, long fingers belong to the philosopher and the intuitive person. It also shows that the subject is painstaking and loves detail. Fingers that are excessive in length indicate cowardice, cruelty, and a servile attitude. "Spider-fingers," or hands with extra-long fingers and with amazing flexibility is the condition known as "arachnodactyly," or the "Marfan syndrome" which was named after the French paediatrician, Antonin Marfan (d.1896). Such fingers are possible signs of various diseases present in the physical body such as tuberculosis, paralysis, and cardiac problems. Short fingers in contrast to long ones reveal alertness, impatience, and bluntness.
Fingers with spatulate tips indicate practicality and realistic attitudes. Individuals with square tips love system, routine, and regularity. Conic, or tapering tips shows impulsiveness, idealism, intuition, and the love of art.
The index finger or forefinger was regarded as venomous in bygone days. Even in present times it is rude to point especially with this finger. When using the japa mala, tasbih, or rosary to count beads while chanting mantras and prayers, the forefinger should never be used for it is normally applied for mundane purposes and therefore, not considered sacred. The planet Jupiter is represented by this index finger. Psychologically, it is related to the conscious mind.
The middle finger is known by various names: medius, digitus impudictus (immodest finger), digitus obscenus (obscene finger), digitus infamis (disreputable finger), and fools's finger. It is a finger normally not used for wearing rings and is the finger of the planet Saturn. When extended solitarily while the other fingers folded, the middle finger represents the phallus, like the thumb. The folded fingers in this pose represent the testicles. It is often regarded as an obscene gesture. This finger of Saturn symbolizes the borderline state between consciousness and the unconsciousness.
The ring finger (anularis) is often called medio proximus (next to the middle) and also digitus medicus, "physician's finger". In past ages it was believed to be the healing finger and was used for various medical purposes. Wounds were supposed to heal quickly when stroked by this finger. Apothecaries of medieval days used the ring finger to mix their potions, and ointments were rubbed on the skin using it. Rings were especially used on this finger thus giving it its name. Apollo, or the Sun is the ruling deity of the ring finger. This digit represents the emotions.
The little finger, otherwise known as the "ear finger," is related to one's libido, one's sexual force. Though a convenient instrument to clean one's ear with, it was named "ear finger" because it had the power to stimulate one's psychic sense of hearing by its insertion into the ear-canal in conjunction with chanting, breathing and visualization exercises. This was especially practiced by the Druids and those connected with the Mystery Schools. In seances, the little finger is used as a point of contact between sitters, forming a vortex of energy among them. The little finger represents the planet Mercury and the unconsciousness.
According to Chinese palmistry, the three phalanges of the fingers relate to three animalistic qualities. The first phalange closes to the palm represents greed; the middle phalange, hatred; the phalange at the uppermost, ignorance. In pictorial terms, these three vices are symbolized by the cock, the snake, and the pig. The spiritual opposites and antidotes to these negative qualities as taught in Taoist philosophy are non-attachment, wisdom, and compassion.
The elements are represented by the thumb and fingers. In Chinese cheiromancy, the thumb represents chi; the index finger, water; middle finger, earth; ring finger, fire, and the little finger, air. In Mudra Vigyan, the arrangement is quite different as we shall see later.
The papillary ridges on the fingertips with its manifold patterns have intrigued man since recorded history. Many believe that the labyrinthine drawings and carvings found in caves, in ancient catacombs and tombs were marks representing the identity of its possessor, in the same way that fingerprints serve to identify us in our own era--it represented a person almost like a signature. It is assumed by some that these engravings or tracings function in an occult way making it possible for one to invoke from another plane of existence the bearer with a mark similar to the one represented in concrete form. In later periods this practice may have evolved to the use of spirit sigils and seals in ceremonial magick.
Rings are often worn on fingers to strengthen certain elements lacking in the physical, emotional, and mental bodies. Oft times we unconsciously feel a certain element wanting in our psychological and physical constitution and we seek to ameliorate this condition by stressing the importance of the finger that represents the element in question with an ornament. The degree of insufficiency is indicated by the size of the finger ornament. We have personally seen subjects wearing huge stones on almost all of their fingers. Fears and insecurities were apparent in their mien and facial expressions.
There are many so-called superstitions related to hands. According to one old belief found in European countries, is that the severed hand of a murderer may be used as a charm for gaining money and breaking entry into houses. This gruesome hand-charm is commonly known as the "Hand of Glory." A careful preparation is required to form the charm. After removing the fluid matter from the hand, it is salted and dehydrated; the fat is likewise extracted and mixed with wax; the hand and concoction are then formed into a candle--after which it is ready for its nocturnal excursion. Supposedly, it has the power to open up locks and bolted doors. It is believed to have a hypnotic effect causing anyone to see it to be petrified--like the mythological Medusa's head--and to consequently, obey its bearer.
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.