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Mudras & Hand Symbolism: Hand Symbolism & Beliefs Part 3

[Note: This paper contains images which may be seen as originally published at our website]

As a support for our statement above, we might mention the Tarot cards as an example. These esoteric cards nowadays degraded to a method of divination, was actually a training manual for the promotion of one's spiritual and divine expression in the world of matter. The pictorial diagrams of the Major and Minor Arcana holds secrets that the casual operator of the cards are unaware of. When properly understood the Tarot cards take us step by step to our goal of human perfection through the alchemical process.

Having gone underground the Initiates of the Mystery Schools were quick to appropriate the popular religions to embody their secret doctrines and practices. Not only are satanic elements quick to jump on the bandwagon of spiritual establishments, angelic forces are adept in letting the Dark Ones think that they have the upper-hand while in the meantime reorganizing their army and infiltrating stealth-like into their religious camp upsurped from the Light forces. Like Dante, angelic consciousness wrote books of their spiritual wisdom using Christian imagery; or painters like the multi-genius Leonardo Da Vinci, who represented important occult precepts in his artwork using Christian themes. Music composers too, cleverly inserted mystical formulas and teachings into their symphonies, concertos, operas and sonatas. As an example, the musical piece, "The Magic Flute" of Mozart comes to mind. However, what is relevant here is that occult signs are portrayed profusely, graphically in art, and we would do well to focus on that.

Above we mentioned Da Vinci who conveyed teachings in his art productions. There were many others, like Albrecht Durer, Fra. Angelico, and Raphael. The signs that these artists and many others around the world for countless generations represented in their paintings and drawings were related to the secrets of initiation and the process of spiritual development where human genius, I.Q., creativity, morality, and holiness were raised to a sublime degree. The ancient Greeks, Chinese, Hindus and many other cultures and civilizations all had their initiates who were highly developed mentally, morally, and spiritually--these men and women were well beyond their time and the lay people viewed them as demi-gods and apotheosized them.

The artists and artisans of the secret Mystery schools made used of almost every material available for conveying the metaphysical doctrines of the Ancient Wisdom, such as papyri, stone, bronze, terracotta, clay, mosaics, ivory, enamels, stained glass, gems, crystals, cloth, wood, canvas, tiles, leather, etc.

The most prominent feature of the art productions of the Initiates of the Mystery Schools were the hand signs and this was known as the Ancient Sign Language which was transmitted from Age to Age, culture to culture. J.S.M. Ward made a thorough study of this secret sign language and in his book, "The Sign Language of the Mysteries," he identifies several of these hand signs and gestures to be found mostly in Christian art although by no means limited to Christendom. In his book Ward offers many instances of each sign. He explains that these hand poses are to be found all over Europe, Africa, Asia, India, Oceania, the Americas, ancient Crete, Polynesia, Babylonia, etc., in short, all over the world. Among the hand signs that he discusses are:

Sign of Preservation

Sign of Faith

Sign of Distress/Surrender

Sign of Death

Sign of Praise

Sign of the Heart

Sign of Prayer

Sign of Benediction or Blessing

Sign of Secrecy

Sign of Destruction

Sign of Exultation

Sign of Reverence

Sign of Horror

Sign or Resignation

Sign of Sacrifice

Sign of Heaven and Earth

Sign of Despair/Regret


Sign of Preservation

There are many variations of this sign. Basically, it is posed by placing one hand over the heart and raising the other at an angle at the elbow with the hand pointing upwards. In some forms, it is the index finger that points skyward. In most depictions of this sign it is the left hand rather than the right that is raised. There are numerous instances of this pose in Egyptian art. The Egyptologist, E.A. Wallis Budge, interprets the hieroglyph with this sign as Hen, or "praise." The god Anubis is often represented with this hand posture, and murals in the palaces and tombs of the pharaohs often illustrate votaries of Ra with this significant gesture. This sign is also found in the Minoan and Mycenaen civilizations. In Christian art, Jesus is often portrayed assuming many occult hand signs, among these is the Sign of Preservation. The sun god Damuzi of the Babylonians while descending into the underworld likewise bears this sign, as depicted on certain objects. In his book mentioned previously, J.S.M. Ward tells of a Roman sarcophagus in the Bardo Museum, Tunis, showing the emergence of Jonah from the whale that swallowed him for three days, and making the Sign of Preservation--in effect, indicating that his life was saved. Among the mystical Islamic sects, the Whirling Dervishes appropriate the use of this important hand pose in their ceremonial rites and practices. In archaic times, the Sign of Preservation was adopted by those petitioning the deity for the preservation of oneself or someone else, and with the strong conviction that the request was granted. In contradistinction to this, it was also employed by those of high spiritual attainment assuring others of their salvation. In Christianity it is often associated with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.


Sign of Faith

This sign resembles the Sign of Preservation with the exception that the hand pointing upwards is not squared at an angle and not pointing to the sky. It points outwards away from the body. Like the above sign, many examples of these are to be found distributed all over the world.


Sign of Distress/Surrender

When the two hands are lifted upwards above the head with the elbows bent--this is known as the Sign of Distress. This is one of those universal hand signs, and it seems almost human nature to fling the hands into the air when in despair or when faced with overwhelming pressure as a sign of psychological turmoil and the "giving-in" to a certain situation, or when feeling helpless. Therefore, it is not surprising when we find the use of this sign all around the globe as depicted in artistic works, and experientially in everyday life. This sign is an appeal for aid and is universal like many of the other signs mentioned in this section. Its use can be traced as early as 3,000 B.C. Quetzalcoatl, one of the gods of the Mayans, is sometimes depicted with this hand pose.


Sign of Death

This hand sign is related to the throat chakra, or psychic center. It consists of placing the hand's edge-whether left or right hand-at the throat. The thumb points directly at the throat itself. It is actually a moving gesture and is effected by moving the hand's edge across the throat as if to cut it. This sign suggests that something is to be terminated or killed, or that it is already dead. The ancient Romans and Egyptians were well familiar with this sign and in some Christian paintings of the crucifixion, the disciple John the Beloved is portrayed with this sign of cutting the throat while standing before the crucified Jesus. Arabs and Sudanese make use of this sign to swear their innocence uttering that God should cut their throats should they be telling a falsehood. Several American Indian tribes employ this sign as a salutation meaning that they are "faithful or true unto death."


Sign of Praise

This sign is similar to the Sign of Distress except that the hands are not lifted above the head but extended forward in front of the body, inclining upwards with the hands facing outwards and the elbows bent. This is also a greeting sign and the initial start of the salaam gesture of the Arabs.


Sign of the Heart

This sign is accomplished by placing the hand over the heart. A survival of this gesture in modern times is the bowing of a gentlemen to a lady with his hand to his heart as a salutation of respect, or as it was customary in the 17th and 18th century in Europe, for a man to remove his hat and to place it at the heart region when greeting the opposite sex. This is a hoary sign. It is to be found in ancient Egypt, Rome, and even in Crete in the Minoan period. It is also to be seen in the mosaic art of the many old churches and cathedrals. The meaning of this sign is a little obscure. It has been suggested that it signify faith or fidelity. However, with the placement of the hand at the heart we may make a conjecture and say that it concerns the finer sentiments of a person conveyed to the object of his attention or affection.


Sign of Prayer

This is probably the best known of ecclesiastical signs which is also used by the lay person. It consists of placing the palms of the hands together with the fingertips pointing in an upward direction. Another Sign of Prayer is the folding of the hands together intertwining the fingers.


Sign of Benediction or Blessing

In Christianity, this sign is utilized mainly by the priesthood. It is used by priests to bless people and consecrate objects. To assume this sign, the third and fourth fingers are folded onto the palms with the index and middle fingers held upright. The thumb may also be erect or it may be folded upon the ring finger. The significance of the erect thumb and first two fingers in the act of blessing is that the grace, virtue, and power of the Holy Trinity are being conveyed. Occultly, the subtle energies flowing from the hands are stronger at the terminal points of these digits than they are at the ring and little fingers.


Sign of Secrecy

This is a sign that has survived to contemporary times and can continually be seen in everyday life. It probably originated in Egypt during the heydays of the Mystery Schools. This sign was associated with Horus, or Harpocrates--one of the forms of Horus. This sign is executed by putting a finger to the lips as though to seal it. Its significance is that of secrecy and silence. In the Mystery Schools the Initiates were pledged to a vow of secrecy, never revealing the secrets of the Temple unless authorized to do so. Even nowadays, the following injunction may be found in occult schools: "know, dare, do, and be silent."


Sign of Destruction

When one or both of the hands are seen on the solar plexus in religious art, it signifies destruction. We can understand the significance of this sign when viewed from a metaphysical point of view. The solar plexus chakra is a storehouse of potent energies that may be used for good or ill. When this center is awakened prematurely in a disciple's life, it may cause problems that the disciple is not equipped as yet to handle. Physical, physiological, and psychological--not to mention karmic difficulties--might arise when a disciple foolishly stimulates this center. The solar plexus chakra is an emotional focus and by being polarized at this level one may have trouble extricating oneself from the lower instinctive and egoistic nature. The disciple may be destroyed by this center and evolutionary progress postponed, thus the hand gesture on the solar plexus came to be associated with destruction. There are numerous examples of the Sign of Destruction in Art. In India, Shiva, the Destroyer is often depicted with this gesture. Many Greek and Christian art-forms also bear personages with this sign.


Sign of Exultation

This hand pose is a sign of joy and satisfaction; it is done by extending the hands above the head with the fingertips of the hands touching. Though not as numerous as some of the other signs, there are several examples of these in Christian art. In China, the Hung Society uses this sign to represent the metal element.


Sign of Reverence

Reverence in the sign language of the Mysteries, is indicated by the shading of one's eyes with the hand, whether left or right. In some variations of this sign the eyes are fully covered. This sign originated in cultures where it was impolite to look directly at one's superior; for instance, a soldier would make this sign when saluting a superior officer. Another possible origin of this sign is the experiences had by blessed individuals during angelic visitations. The presence of these spiritual beings compels the beholder to shield their eyes from the angelic radiance. This hand gesture is not unique to any race for it is to be found distributed all over the world--in Ceylon, Australia, Africa, Asia, and Europe.


Sign of Horror

One of the dramatic signs, the gesture of horror is made by extending the right hand, palm outwards, while the head is turned to the right as though refusing to see something objectionable or frightening. The left hand is this gesture point outwards and in a downward direction as if trying to expel something. Examples of this sign in art may be seen in the Vatican and in the British Museum.


Sign or Resignation

This sign consists in crossing the arms upon the chest with the fingertips of the right hand on the left shoulder and the fingertips of the left hand on the right shoulders. This gesture is sometimes portrayed with the right hand over the left, but the reverse is regarded as a more proper representation according to tradition. This is another one of those signs that may have originated in the Mystery Schools of Egypt. The god Osiris and the statues representing Egyptian pharaohs are often depicted in this pose by artisans. For some specific reason the Egyptians also buried their dead in this manner, with the hands of the mummy crossed upon their breast. Even the sarcophagi or mummy cases of the deceased bear a pictorial resemblance of them with the same sign. In the Renaissance, artists often depicted Mother Mary with such a hand pose. Like the many hand gestures described herein, the Sign of Resignation generates a certain occult power of which we shall discuss later in an upcoming article when we apply and incorporate the sign in our mudra practices. The occult function of a sign is just as important as its esoteric meaning, perhaps even more so.


Sign of Heaven and Earth

This sign is executed by extending one hand above the head pointing skywards, and the other extended downwards pointing to the earth. According to Ward, the significance of this sign in Christianity is that someone had descended to Earth and later re-ascended to Heaven. Or alternatively, ascended to Heaven and later descended to Earth. There are numerous examples of this sign in Christian art related to the raising of Lazarus, the descent of Jesus into Hell to save the inhabitants, and Jesus' resurrection. There are many variations of this sign. Sometimes the hand with its open palm pointing upwards has its fingers together; occasionally we find examples where the index finger points upwards while the rest of the fingers folded onto the palm. The British Museum has a collection of Babylonian objects where the Sign of Heaven and Earth may be seen. In Greece, examples of this sign are associated with the Eleusinan Mysteries.


Sign of Despair/Regret

Regret, despair, and sorrow is indicated by resting the head upon the right hand and the left arm, which is horizontally across the solar plexus, supports the right elbow with its hand. Occasionally, this position is reversed. There does not seem to be any strict rule to this. In paintings with crucifixion themes, the Virgin Mary is often depicted with this hand position. There are examples of this sign of Persian and Greek origins preserved in museums all over the world.

Having explained the various hand signs to be found in art it would be appropriate if we were to emphasize that the signs described above are not merely symbolic or gestures without any occult significance. It is not too commonly known that these signs generate certain virtues as they modify, purify, intensify, and empower one's auric energy-structure or one's surroundings in some subtle manner. These signs are mudras with occult values. Mantras, incantations, and liturgies often accompany the signs. Most votaries of religion are unaware that their ceremonies are actually magickal rites and processes that call forth unseen influences. For instance, making the Sign of Preservation by the spiritually evolved occult practitioner, evokes spiritual and angelic forces that protects the person or persons to whom the sign is being directed to. The sign assures the petitioners and recipients that they will be protected and preserved from negative psychic attack.

It is instinctive for people to assume specific mental and physical attitudes when interacting with divine forces. We unconsciously feel hand signs and gestures to be efficacious in aiding the establishment of a contact with higher intelligences and requesting their intercession.

Hand-signs, or mudras are of great benefit to our well-being. In future articles, therefore, we will apply this mystical science in a practical way that may be practiced by the average person.

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.




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