Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oniate (The Dry Hand)

Tales of disembodied hands seem to exist all over the world in cultural folklore. One such legend is that of the Hairy Hands, a ghostly entity that haunts the backroads of Dartmoor, England. Another is Mexico's La Mano Pachona, the Demon Hand. This severed clawlike appendage hides under beds and inside toilets, where it waits to strangle unsuspecting victims and drag them to Hell. Among the Iroquois is the legend of a mummified hand whose touch brings blindness, disease, and eventual death to its victims. They know it as Oniate, the Dry Hand.

The word oniate is derived from both the Seneca and the Cayuga languages, and literally means "dry hand" or "dry fingers" (onya meaning "fingers," while te means "dried out"). The legend is especially prevalent in the folklore of these two tribes, where it appears in two different forms. In one version of the legend, Oniate appears as a mummified bogeyman that brings terror to those who enter deserted places or areas that are forbidden. But more commonly, the Oniate appears as a disembodied, desiccated floating hand (which is sometimes attached to a forearm) with diseased fingers. Although sometimes called a ghost hand, it is unknown if this entity is a spirit manifestation or if it is in fact a flesh-and-bone undead hand.

According to legend, the Dry Hand can be summoned to punish those who don't behave themselves in an agreeable or otherwise respectful manner. In other folktales, the Oniate makes itself known as a vengeful spirit that punishes those people who would speak ill of the deceased, who sow discord among family and friends, or those who would dare to stick their noses into the affairs of other people. It appears as if from thin air, flies towards its chosen victim, and then proceeds to touch them with its mummified fingers. And while the effects can vary from one story to the next, the end result is always terrible. A single touch from one of the entity's withered fingers can strike a man with blindness, while other tales say that it can infect the victim with a horrible withering disease that will eventually kill the intended victim. And yet other stories say that a single touch from the Oniate will kill a person instantaneously. It would appear that the only way to avoid the attentions of the Dry Hand is to behave oneself and to think before speaking, just as parents have taught their children for generations. Not exactly a "helping hand," is it?


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