Cemetery Symbolism: Clasped Hands and Pointing Fingers

Hands and Pointing Fingers: Interpretation & Meaning

Hands with the forefinger pointing up or down are a common symbol on cemetery tombstones
©2005 Kimberly Powell

Gravestone Symbol: Hands & Pointing Fingers

Time Period: 1800s to mid-1900s

Seen as an important symbol of life, hands and fingers carved into gravestones represent the deceased's relationships with other human beings and with God. Cemetery hands tend to be found most commonly on Victorian tombstones and are typically portrayed in one of four ways: blessing, clasping, pointing or praying.
 

Finger Pointing Up or Down

A hand with the index finger pointing up symbolizes the hope of heaven, while a hand with the index finger pointing down represents God reaching down for the soul.

The finger pointing down does not indicate damnation; instead, it most commonly represents and untimely, sudden, or unexpected death. 

A hand with a finger pointing at a book typically represents the Bible. 
 

Hands Holding Something

Hands holding a chain with a broken link symbolizes the death of a family member or, sometimes, the bonds of marriage, broken by death. The hand of God plucking a link of the chain represents God bringing a soul unto himself.

Hands holding an open book (usually a representation of the Bible) symbolizes the embodiment of faith.

Hands holding a heart is symbolic of charity and is most typically seen on headstones of members of the Independent Order of Odd fellows (I.O.O.F.).
 

Handshake or Clasped Hands

The handshake or representation of clasped hands dates back to the Victorian-era and represents a farewell to earthly existence and God's welcome into heaven. It may also indicate a relationship between the deceased and the loved ones they left behind.

If the sleeves of the two hands are masculine and feminine, the handshake, or clasped hands, may symbolize holy matrimony, or the eternal unity of a husband or wife. Sometimes the hand on top, or the arm positioned slightly higher than the other, indicates the person who passed away first, and is now guiding their loved one into the next life.

Alternatively, it may indicate God or someone else reaching down to guide them up to Heaven.

Clasped hands can also sometimes represent lodge fellowship and are often seen on Masonic and I.O.O.F. headstones.
 

Hand Holding an Ax

A hand holding an ax means sudden death or a life cut short.
 

Cloud with a Hand Emerging

This represents God reaching down to the deceased.
 

Fingers Parted in a V or Hands with Touching Thumbs

Two hands, with middle and ring fingers parted to form a V (often with the thumbs touching), are the symbol of a Jewish priestly blessing — from Kohen or Cohen, or the plural form Kohanim or Cohanim (Hebrew for priest). Kohanim are direct male descendants of Aaron, the first Kohen, and brother of Moses. Some Jewish surnames often associated with this symbol include Cahn/Kahn, Cohn/Kohn and Cohen/Kohen, although this symbol may also be found on gravestones of people with other surnames. Leonard Nimoy modeled the "Live Long and Prosper" hand gesture of his Star Trek character, Spock after this symbol.