I don't actually use an actual hand for Hand of the Mage in my campaigns - unless I'm running an evil/freaky/joke game, it seems wrong to me to let players walk around with a dead hand hanging from their neck because they bought it in a shop.
That said, if it's a well-known magic item and commonly used, perhaps the elf society in this world donates them for some reason.
This is, I believe, one of the things leftover from older editions that didn't necessarily reach for the same level of verisimilitude that we expect nowadays.
You have a few options: you can rule that it's not an actual hand, but a carved piece of wood/stone/bone/etc. Alternately, you can think of a reason why it's acceptable (elves don't have the same cultural view of dead bodies; they view the soul as more important, so they burn the bodies and save certain parts for use in magical research/crafting. Perhaps it's an honor to wear a HotM crafted from your direct ancestor's hand).
Or, change the assumption around and make HotM a black market item, the possession of which is questionable at best, and will earn it's wearer the wrath of elven rangers/wizards at worst.
If it came into question I would say that it was a monkey's and not let it interfere with the flow of the game.
It doesn't say "human" or even "sentient creature" hand. If it came into question I would say that it was a monkey's and not let it interfere with the flow of the game.
it says "This mummified elf hand hangs by..." Maybe you are reading the other mummified hand, the hand of glory?
Thanks everyone. I had already thought about the elves donating their body parts so they could be used as magical components, but I couldn't really use it in my game : the crafter is actually a neutral evil gnome bard who wants to craft a Hand of the Mage and who wanted to buy the components in a city's stores. I ended up making him find an "off the shelf" elf hand that the shopkeeper was hiding in the backstore, only selling it to those who demanded this specific component. Illegal, then. The PCs are a bunch of extremely violent and sadistic evildoers, so committing another crime wasn't going to stop them.
It's a fantasy world! Maybe you can compare it with the real world medieval ages where magic would be common.
In the medieval ages, people went with their kids to public beheadings and tortures. It was a fun way to spend free time on a sunny afternoon. Toes and other body parts were considered to ward off nasty diseases and bring you luck. A mummified hand on the neck of a great wizard would be a completely normal thing. Just take a look at the spell component list. You sometimes need rather unusual stuff for mundane spells.
I see the argument that a mummified hand is gross and evil come up frequently. True, but only in OUR time and OUR culture.
Ultimately the flavor bits of the rules like this are there for just that, flavor. If you can use it to make the game more interesting or more exciting then it's all the better. If it gets in the way ditch it. If you think something like this would be illegal then maybe make it a wooden hand or a monkey paw as suggested above.
The old 1ed Potion of Longevity had elf blood as a material component. I did a whole series of scenarios around illicit potion making, elf kidnapping and farming their blood. Organ-leggers based around some Judge Dread comic strips and the urban myth of kidney thieves.
Do the same now with the party elf. Feeling whoosy and wakes up in an alley with his hand removed. Or both. Cue scenario.
Its a creepy magic item which no elf in his right mind would like seeing.
There was a fad in the middle ages for eating mummy remains thought to increase life span, cure illness, allow you to leap tall buildings... Nothing to say that this is the same thing. Could be very, very old mummified hands. However relatives could allways still be alive.
In past times and still to some extent it was a practice to keep and cherish preserved pieces of the bodies of holymen and saints. If you were lucky/wealthy enough to be able to obtain such a token it was not uncommon to carry it with you. While generally they were in a box or some other container people knew what it was. So the idea of carrying around a mummified hand is not without precident in the real world. It really is just a matter of setting in the game.