Palmistry – also known as Chiromancy – is the practice of foretelling an individual’s future as well as the evaluation of their character through the observation and study of the palm. Palmistry has a long and chequered history, spanning thousands of years. Here is it’s story; a story just as rich and fantastic as our very own.
A (not so) Brief History
It is unclear when palmistry first began however one thing is certain – humans have been fascinated by the palm since prehistoric times. This is apparent from the vast evidence of hand paintings found throughout the ancient world. Archaeologists believe this ritual to be an expression of remembrance; where the elders would cover their palms in dye and then adorn the walls with their palm print meaning the subsequent generations had a symbol to remember them by. Remarkable this proves that even the most primitive of humans were aware that every palm is unique and therefore intrinsically linked to the individual. Some excellent examples of such paintings can be seen in Lascaux Caves, in France and the Santander caves, in Spain.
The first documented account of Palmistry is found in Ancient India, where verses and poems can be seen in the Puranas; it states that the Sage Narada used palm readings as part of his teachings. Another account is from the author of the epic Ramayana, Sage Valmiki, who wrote – “The Teachings of Valmiki Maharishi on Male Palmistry”, where he documents the craft and how it benefits the individual. The Sages of India established a system of knowledge from the Vedas, the earliest Sacred Hindu writings. They studied the hands to understand the self and relationship with other people. While these texts are thousands of years old, it is a fair assumption that what they taught was merely passed down to them, making the practice considerably older.
The interest in Palmistry grew; firstly through Tibet, Nepal and China, until finally it had reached all corners of the known world. In the 3rd Century BC, the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote –“Lines are not written into the human hand without reason” – taken from his work, Historia Animalium. Evidence of palmistry can be found in Old Testament where is states – “Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honour”(Proverbs 3:16) and – “Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16). By Roman times the art form was common practice, as it is reported that Julies Caesar would judge the character of a man simply by reading his palm.
As Christianity grew in popularity subsequently the art of palm reading became more underground, as the Church branded the practice as witchcraft however it’s popularity still didn’t waver and by the 11th Century – with the migration of the gypsies – palm reading finally arrived in Western Europe. The story goes; when the gypsies arrived at the gates of Paris, they were refused entry due to the “black arts” they practiced, however the citizens were intrigued; they could not help themselves; and rushed out through the gates to have their fortunes told subsequently allowing the gypsies inside. The tradition of crossing a gypsies palm with silver dates back to this time; nevertheless, through the Church this act became symbol of witchcraft and Devil worship. The truth however is that the gypsies believed the Devil to be afraid of silver thus by crossing your palm it would aid as protection. Alas, the Church didn’t see it this way, and by the medieval times the sentence for practicing palmistry was death.
The Churches control over the perceived notion that palmistry was connected with Devil worship lasted for the foreseeable centuries and it was not until the 17th Century for the craft to gain more acceptance. Notable writers, such as Robert Fludd brought respectability to palm reading through their writings and Marie Anne le Norman a French fortune-teller brought notoriety to the craft with the successful predictions she made for Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine.
Palmistry has grown and grown and today is considered – not only as a respectable art form – but also as a science. Studies have shown that the ratio between the second and forth digit is linked to levels of testosterone and oestrogen in the body; the colour of the hands can indicate circulation or liver dysfunction and the lines on our hands have been linked to certain genetic disorders.
From the Stone Age to 21st Century; our hands have been a source of wonder. What was once demonised and thought of as superstition, is now regarded as fact and science. Palmistry is humanity; it’s been with us from the beginning – nobody knows from exactly when it all started however one thing is certain; it’s definitely here to stay.
References & Other Resources
Confessions of a Palmist
Chiromancy, or The science of palmistry, by H. Frith and E.H. Allen