The Night We Cremated the Mummy’s Hand
FATE July 1961 Vol. 14, No. 7 -
THE MUMMY’S HAND was given to me over 30 years ago by an Egyptian out of gratitude for services I rendered him while I was at El Karnak. It has been seen in my possession by hundreds of people in various parts of the world where I traveled; the photo of it lying on a table was taken in my house in Paris in 1908 and the entire account of what subsequently occurred can be vouched for by my wife. I passed some considerable time among the wonderful ruins of Thebes, that city spoken of in the Bible as “the city of Amon.” While there I struck up a friendship with a very old man who claimed to be a direct descendant of the great race of Egyptian builders, the ruins of whose pyramids and monuments are the marvel of modern civilization. This man lived by himself in some ruins close to Thebes. Even his religion he kept apart for he continued to worship the old gods, Isis, Osiris, and especially Amon Ra, to whose glory the far famed Thebes had been created. He was an educated man and why he lived in the lonely way he did is beyond my comprehension. We became friends after I found him one day very ill and a considerable distance from his strange abode. I helped him to get back and later called with medicines and looked after him until he eventually recovered. He swore he owed his life to me.
Finally, when I was preparing to leave, the old Egyptian sent a message that he wanted to see me for the last time. It was the night before I left. I shall never forget that brilliant moonlit night as we stood side by side looking down the great Hall of Columns. One could almost read the hieroglyphs on the nearest pillars. My Egyptian friend and I sat down on a huge square of stone and I asked him bluntly if he had something on his mind. “Yes,” he answered. In that weird place, surrounded by broken sphinxes and images of long dead kings, very softly, as if afraid the dead would hear, the old man rapidly sketched out the chief events of the long years that lay before me. What he told me seemed unlikely and the opposite of my ideas and plans. How- ever, I must confess that all the leading events that I remember have been fulfilled in a most singular way. I was looking for- ward, now that the fever of my wander- lust had spent itself, to settling down in England or France to live a quiet, conventional life. “On the contrary,” he said, “you will wander from country to country; from land to land. It will be a period of three times 10 and toward the close of a great war you will be in a more settled life and know what the word ‘home’ really means.” This part has been fulfilled to the let- ter but in those far off days I laughed and told him he was wrong. “It is because I am not wrong,” he said, “that I am about to give you something that will wander round the world with you until it also reaches its appointed rest.” He had taken something from a small canvas bag under the folds of his burnouse. Reverently he laid in my hands a peculiar brown object that, for a moment, I did not recognize. Then the brilliant moonlight revealed the most perfect hand of a mummy 1 had ever seen. It was the right hand of a woman, without linen wrappings. The skin shone like polished ivory. It was a long, delicately shaped hand, with beautiful almond nails on the fingers, some of them gilded as had been the fashion for the nobility in ancient Egypt. I noticed how strangely cold it felt. It was so hard it did not seem ever to have been a human hand. I marveled at that wonderful lost art that could mummify to perfection. Almost in a whisper the old man continued, “Will you take it? Will you keep it with you? Will you make a vow in the name of our ancient God, Amon, and call on your own God to bear witness, that you will carry it to the very ends of the earth, if need be?” I felt I had to do it. Standing there in the moonlight amid the ruins of the bro- ken temples of Amon, I bowed my head and asked my own god to bear witness that I would keep my promise. Then the old man told me a strange story. Alas, I was too young to grasp the whole of the mystery. My brain was too full of my own dreams to allow a dream of 3,000 years ago to make the impression it should have done. The sieve of my memory holds only the facts that the mummy’s hand belonged to one of the seven daughters of the Heretic King, the predecessor of the great Pharoah Tu- tankhamon. History says that Tutankha- mon married one of her sisters and by so doing became the king. History also says that when he became king he reverted to the worship of Amon and returned with all his court to Thebes, where the priests of the old religion held sway. The old man told me how this one daughter of the Heretic King had remained faithful to the ideals of her father. She remained in the new city built by him to the worship of Aten. Later, when Tutankhamon died she led her people against the army of the priest-kings of Thebes, and fell with the sword of rebellion in her hand on the first field of battle. He went on to say that, although her body was embalmed by her relatives and placed in one of the kings’ tombs, as be- fitted her rank, her right hand that drew the sword was severed from her body by the priests of Thebes and kept by them for hundreds of years in the temple of Amon. They preserved the hand in some special way, so that it remained naked and hard as ivory and was exhibited as a warn- ing to those who would rebel against the great god, Amon. “There it remained,” he said, “until the destruction of the temples of Thebes. The priests cursed the hand and condemned it to wander in every country of the world, to know no rest until the lost tomb of great Pharaoh Tutankhamon is discovered and the history of the Heretic King, her father, given to the world. “This hand was preserved in the temple of Amon up to the Mohammedan conquest in 950 A.D. It was then hidden with the papyri containing its story and was found in recent years by one of my ancestors, who were direct descendants of the priest-kings of Thebes. It has been treasured by us ever since. In giving it to you I am fulfilling the curse that was put on it—that it would one day wander over the world. “This hand that I give you will be your companion. Guard it carefully until some day in the far off future it will desire to leave you of its own accord, and then you will not be able to keep it, no matter how much you may try to do so.” On reaching England I found that the plans I had made for a quiet life were knocked in the head and in a few weeks I was bound for the western continent of America. It would be too long to enter into the details of the long period of traveling that lay before me. It is sufficient to say that after passing through Canada, North and South America, Australia, and South Africa, I visited China during the Chinese- Japanese war; then Russia and nearly every country in Europe. The mummy’s hand was always with me. It became, as it were, part of my very existence. At last the 30 years of travel appeared to be reaching its close. Finally in 1914 the great war engulfed Europe; destiny sent me to the middle of Ireland to make a substitute for coal out of peat. One morning as I stood looking at the hand lying on its little velvet cushion on a table in the drawing room, I thought I noticed some change in its appearance. It did not look quite as rigid as before. To my amazement I saw that the first finger no longer lay flat like the others. It was lifted fully an inch above the cushion. I pressed the finger back gently. It yielded to my touch and sank back. I felt the back of the hand. I could hardly be- lieve my senses: it was no longer hard like a piece of polished ivory, but soft and clammy, and the marks of my fingers remained on the flesh. Although I now went in to see the hand every morning, I did not notice any other changes until another month had passed. Then one morning I noticed the little finger had bent itself under the other fingers. Something seemed to glisten across the knuckles. I saw tiny little beads of dark red blood standing out across the back of the hand! Every day these drops of blood in- creased in size until they oozed from the ends of the fingers and the velvet cushion became wet. I could not believe that the hand of a mummy over 3,000 years old could have such a thing as blood in it, or that petrified blood that might have remained could liquify. Yet my fingers became stained red every time I touched it. It dawned on me that I would not be able to keep it in this state. I determined to save it. I called in the English chemist who was working in the factory and I told this man to do everything possible to save the hand for me. He was able to solidily it by steep- ing it in a solution of thin pitch and shel- lac, and so it was once more placed on its table. For some months it remained in this condition; then the drops of dark red blood began to appear as before. It was with feelings of regret and sadness that each day I saw it slowly, steadily getting in a worse condition. Finally the chief reason for my living in Ireland was gone and my wife and I de- cided to send our furniture back to Eng- land and clear out of the place. The draw- ing room was dismantled until nothing remained in it but the mummy’s hand lying on its velvet cushion on its table in the center of the room. One evening my wife and I had been in to see it and were about to switch off the electric light and close the door when a crowd of masked men with ugly look- ing revolvers poured in through the back part of the house. These men were neither Sinn Feiners nor Republicans, but a band of desperadoes known in the country as “the looters,” and right well they de- served their name. Pushing past us, they rushed into the drawing room and gave a howl of rage as they saw the empty room. What might have happened to my wife and me I do not know, but at that moment the leader of the band caught sight of the mummy’s hand. The band of gold at its wrist prob- ably attracted his attention. He caught it up and held it for perhaps one moment. Then, with eyes starting out of his head, he dropped it. Holding up his hand, dyed red with blood, he yelled, “Great God! It’s a dead hand!” He bolted for the door and the rest of the gang followed him out into the night. We were leaving in a few days for England. But we had not packed the mummy’s hand. It was in such a condition that we dreaded to take it with us. During the last few weeks it had seemed to be melt- ing away. In several portions the naked bones had made their appearance. I decided the best thing would be to cremate it and carry the ashes with us. Not wishing to upset our servants, we did not start the fire until the house was shut up after 11:00 o’clock at night. We chose an exceptionally large fireplace in the old square hall and while waiting for the fuel to burn up my wife and I opened the glass doors of the front porch which commanded a magnificent view of the surrounding country. The night was calm and beautiful. A brilliant moon lit up the copper beeches on the lawn. I spoke of that moonlit night among the ruins of El Karnak when the mummy’s hand was given to me. We re-entered the hall closing the doors of the outer porch behind us, and also the heavy oak doors of the inside hall. The flames were now so bright that we had no occasion to switch on the electric lamps. I went into the empty drawing- room and took up the little ebony stand on which the velvet cushion with the mummy’s hand rested. We both felt intense sadness. It was as if we were about to say farewell to some dear old friend. Our resolution to cremate it was weakening when a curious thing occurred.
The hand moved on the cushion! The first finger slowly raised itself and pointed di- rectly towards the heart of the fire. Reverently, I lifted the little ebony stand. My wife asked, “Can we say some prayer?” A verse from the Egyptian Book of the Dead came to my mind: Thy flesh have I given unto thee, Thy bones have I fastened together for thee Thy members have I collected for thee Thou art set in order Thou seest the Gods Thou settest out on thy way and thy hand reaches Unto the horizon and unto the holy place where Thou wouldst be. As these words died away I opened the heart of the fire and slipped the ebony stand, the velvet cushion, and the hand into it. It has been said of some people that “if an angel came down from Heaven they would not believe” but I am going to re- late my wife’s and my experience. The moment the hand reached the heart of the fire long white flames of in- tense brilliancy shot from it. The perfume of the spices by which it had been embalmed pervaded the whole place. We sat watching until all had disappeared, until only the red glow of the fire remained. Finally we turned away to go upstairs but we heard a strange noise at the outer doors of the porch—as if a whirlwind was forcing itself against them. We heard these doors open and saw the inner doors of the hall bend to a pressure behind them. With a crash they were flung wide open. And nothing but moonlight entered the hall! I think my wife and I would have pre- ferred the sight of armed men to that un- canny silence. Then far out in the glass porch, where a Passion Flower formed an arch of dark green leaves, something was tak- ing shape, something so intangible that the moonlight seemed to shine through it. It moved towards us and in the deep shadows of the hall we saw the form of a woman. A wonderful face looked to- ward us. Nobility and grandeur seemed carved in every line. The eyes were large, deep-set, and shone with an inner radiance. Slowly and majestically the figure moved farther into the hall. Her head- dress of beaten gold, formed like wings of beetles, rested gracefully on her ivory shoulders. In the center of her forehead was a golden snake, the emblem of Egyptian royalty, while an enormous scarab held together a wonderful girdle of jewels round her waist. The jewels caught the white beams of the moonlight and scintillated like rainbows.
The figure reached a position opposite the large fireplace. For a moment she bent towards it, then turned completely around with two hands clasped together. For a second her lips seemed to move; we thought she was going to speak. Her eyes looked straight into ours. Then she glided backward through the hall and again onto the porch. We followed. We could not help our- selves. When the figure reached the Pas- sion Flower it dissolved. Only her won- derful eyes remained for a few seconds longer looking straight into our own. Three days later, on November 3, 1922, the steps leading to the long lost tomb of Tutankhamon were discovered. Only coincidence? Perhaps. Yet Tutankha- mon was the relative of that princess whose hand had been cursed to wander over the world until the tombs of her- ancestors were found. Ω
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