Hands feature on many gravestones and are usually shown clasped, pointing, praying or blessing.
Of these, hands with pointing fingers are perhaps the most common. Some hands point skywards, and some downwards. The direction doesn’t indicate, as some may presume, the direction in which the deceased was headed!
Hands with Fingers Pointing Upwards
The upward pointing hand symbolises the reward for the righteous, the pathway to heaven or confirmation of a life after death. Despite having photographed hundreds of headstones in Canterbury, New Zealand, I have yet to find this symbol.
Hands with the Finger Pointing Downwards
On its own a hand pointing downwards can symbolise mortality or sudden death.
When a hand with an index finger pointing downwards appears with a chain, this symbolises the hand of God plucking a family member into heaven. Often the link being plucked is broken.
Sometimes the downward pointing hand is shown as coming out of the clouds, depicted by spirals or swirls.