One of the most iconic symbols in both Mexican and Puerto Rican folk art is the Mano Poderosa or the All Powerful Hand, and while it does have much Catholic "Cristian" elements, and its based on the Cult of Saint Ann and the Holy Family. Much of its elements are rooted in folk Espiritismo traditiones, West African Religion and Indigenous Spiritual beliefs.
The Mano Poderosa as we know it today is an ancient symbol of protection and its idea was brought to Mexico and the Caribbean by Spanish and other European settlers and missionaries who settled in Latin America. Saints and religious paraphernalia such as Las Cinco Personas or Los Cinco Señores, was used as a way of teaching the then illiterate African and Indigenous population the life and veneration's of its Catholic saints. Originally the Santos brought to the Americas where wooden statues or expensive art paintings. The earliest known folk art of the Mano Poderosa "with hand intact" comes from Mexico in its tin Retalbo form that dates back from around 1807 through 1809, and then in Puerto Rico in its Santo de Palo wooden saint carvings forms that date from 1915. The Puerto Rican Wooden Mano Poderosa mimicks its elder Mexican predecessor Tin Retalbo, with some differences. Often the Mexican Mano Poderosa demonstrates the Cinco Señores "Seniors" or Cinco Personas each on top of a finger of the hand, while the hand rests on a chalice, as blood from the wound on the palm over flow es and quenches the thirst of a group of 7 "Seven" sheep or lambs. The Puerto Rican Mano Poderosa does not include the Chalice or Lambs, but rests on a heavenly cloud, surrounded by what seams like four Archangels, which are believed to be Saint Michael, Saint Rafael, Saint Gabriel and Saint Uriel. Each of the angels is holding an emblem of the Passion of Christ, one angel carries the thorned crown, another the cross, one the holy sponge, hammer and nails, while the fourth is holding what seams like a pillow or bowl of blood, in some instances only three of the Angels hold an item from the Passion of the Christ while one clasps his/her hands in prayer. Another difference between the Mexican Mano Poderosa and the Puerto Rican Mano Poderosa is the position of the Saints. In the Puerto Rican Mano Poderosa, the child Jesus, or Niño Jesus sits on the thumb, the Virgin Mary stands on the pointing finger, Saint Joseph on the middle finger, Saint Ann on the ring finger and finally Saint Joachim on the little finger. Its Mexican predecessor follows this order. Saint Joachim on the thumb, Saint Joseph on the pointer, the Christ Child on the middle, Mary on the ring finger and Saint Ann on the pinky. In painted form, both include cherub angels looking down from the sky. The Mexican Mano Poderosa often includes either God or a white dove "holy spirit, la palomita blanca" above the hand, which often is not included in the Puerto Rican Mano Poderosa and symbolizes the holy spirit. Both Mexican and Puerto Rican Mano Poderosa depict the open palm which demonstrates the stigmatic wound made by a nail. Some say the hand is the adult hand of Jesus Christ, while others say the hand is that of Saint Francis of Assisi who is commonly believed to be the first Saint to have suffered and lived with the stigmata. In both traditions, the hand is the right hand, and on rare occasions one will find the left hand used.
For those who understand the art of Western Palmistry or palm reading "as apposed to Eastern Palmistry", in the Mexican Version the Hand is often an Earth hand, while the Puerto Rican version is a Fire Hand. Also the wound appears to be in the center of the head and heart line, while the tip of the wound closest towards the fingers touches the line of the destiny or fate, which is jointed to the life line, each of the lines are strong and very visible. Again Mary stands on the Jupiter finger, Joseph on the Saturn finger, Saint Ann on the Sun finger and Saint Joachim on the Mercury finger. The thumb is called the Moon Finger and it is where Jesus stands.
"In Puerto Rico the term Santero had nothing to do with the Yoruba Ocha tradition, usually a Puerto Rican Santero was a practitioner of Espiritismo or a Catholic who was a carver of Saints of wood."
To my knowledge the Mano Poderosa has not been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, but it has become a staple religious icon not just in Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures but in all Hispanic cultures which have included it into their folk religious practices, many usually of an Espiritismo tradition.
The Hand in many cultures has always been seen as a symbol of protection and magical occult and arcane powers, from black magic to white and everything in between. We know of the Hand of Glory, the Hand of Power, Hand of Fatima, the Mano de Azabache "Mano Fico" , and the Mano Cuernuto.
The Hand in ancient and primitive times has always been viewed as a source of magical powers, and gestures such as the form we bestow our Benediction, the way we communicate messages, and as a form of directing our energies. It is with our hands that we clasp them in prayer and deviation, we greet others, and use our hands to manifest our wishes and desires with Spirits and deities. With our Tcha Tcha, Maracas, Chekeres and Cabasas we invoke our spirits which is held in our hand, and with our hands we draw our Sigils, Firmas and Veves as a form of communicating with the Spiritual world. It is with our hands we play music to the spirits, and through our hands we communicate the will of the Spirits through oracles and divination.
In many religious traditions, the right hand is associated with cleanliness and benevolence, while the left hand is associated with filth and evil, it is for this reason the Left Hand Path is another term for black magic and Satanism. The right hand is viewed as the hand of God while the left is viewed as the hand of Satan. In Vodou and Sanse we do not hold this view. In our traditions we view the left hand as the hot hand, the hand in which we venerate our Spirits which deal with a hotter energy such as the Petwo and Gede, while our right hand, we view as the cooler hand, that which deals with cool energy such as that of the Rada. This does not mean that the Spirits of a hotter energy are demonic or evil as would be viewed in a Christian point of view, this simply means that these Spirits of nature and the cosmos are seen in our limited human minds as being of a hotter more aggressive nature. It is no surprise that when we make offerings we hold the candle and fire water "liquor" offerings in our left hand, while our water offerings we hold in our right.
If you enter any Botanica you will often come across 7 day candles, holy cards, pictures, prayer pamplets, oils, powders and even statues of the Mano Poderosa. It is a very important Espiritismo talisman used for protection, and warding of evil and it is a staple altar piece for those who practice Puerto Rican Espiritismo and Sanse. As is with the traditions that use the talisman the Mano Poderosa is a blending and syncretism of various beliefs, such as Taino, West African, and European Spanish beliefs.
La Mano Poderosa The Powerful Hand and the Loa "Oricha" that are represented.
Similar to the image of the Seven African Powers which demonstrates seven Catholic Saints with African Orisha names printed below each one, the Mano Poderosa in Sanse temples and societies are viewed as Loa Spirits, for example.
- Saint Joachim = Papa Loko or Papa Boco
- Saint Joseph = Ogun Herrero, Ogun Carpintero or Ogun Guerrero
- Saint Anne - Gran ErSili "Erzulie' , Grann Aloumba Daome
- Virgin Mary - Anaisa Pye
- Child Jesus - Piti Solier or Chiqui Sole
There are generally 9 main figures in the Mano Poderosa, 9 in Hispanic cultures is known as the number of the dead, "la Novena" but it also symbolizes patience and harmony. Nine is the number for accomplishing ones destiny and divine will, as well as the number of immortality. Also it is said that Jesus died on the cross on the 9th hour, and he appeared to his disciples and apostles nine times after his Resurrection.
LA ORACION THE PRAYER
Aquí vengo con la fé de un alma cristiana, a buscar Tu misericordia en situación tan angustiosa para mí. No me desampares y la puerta que quiera abrirse en mi camino, sea tu mano poderosa la que me la cierre para no entrar en ella si no me conviene, o me la deje abierta, si ha de volver mi tranquilidad tanto tiempo deseada. A tus pies dejo esta súplica, que te hace un alma obligada por el destino a grandes sufrimientos, que ya no puede combatir si Tu mano poderosa no tiene la ley de la razón. . Dios mio, perdona los desaciertos que yo he cometido durante esta existencia, la cual llevo de frente, dame fuerzas para soportar las amarguras de esta vida.
Sancista Brujo Luis