The Fortune Teller, by Caravaggio (1594–95; Canvas; Louvre), depicting a palm reading
Palmistry or chiromancy (also spelled cheiromancy, Greek kheir (χεῖρ, ός), “hand”; manteia (μαντεία, ας), “divination”), is the art of characterization andforetelling the future through the study of the palm, also known as palm reading, or chirology. The practice is found all over the world, with numerous cultural variations. Those who practice chiromancy are generally called palmists, palm readers, hand readers, hand analysts, or chirologists.
The information outlined below is briefly representative of modern palmistry; there are many ― often conflicting ― interpretations of various lines and palmar features across various schools of palmistry. These contradictions between different interpretations, as well as the lack of empirical support for palmistry’s predictions, contribute to palmistry’s perception as a pseudoscience among academics.
Palmistry is a practice common to many different places on the Eurasian landmass; it has been practised in the cultures of India, Tibet, China, Persia, Sumeria, Ancient Israel and Babylonia.
The Fortune Teller by Enrique Simonet (1899)
According to some, it had its roots in Hindu) Astrology (known in Sanskrit as Jyotish), Chinese Yijing (I Ching), and Roma (Gypsy) fortune tellers. Several thousand years ago, the Hindu sage Valmiki is thought to have written a book comprising 567 stanzas, the title of which translates in English as “The Teachings of Valmiki Maharshi on Male Palmistry”. Renowned palmist Cheiro learnt palmistry in India where he is believed to have read ancient scriptures on palmistry. From India, the art of palmistry spread to China, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and to other countries in Europe. From China, palmistry progressed to Greece where Anaxagoras practiced it. Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) discovered a treatise on the subject of palmistry on an altar of Hermes, which he then presented to Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.), who took great interest in examining the character of his officers by analyzing the lines on their hands. Aristotle stated that “Lines are not written into the human hand without reason. They emanate from heavenly influences and man’s own individuality.” Accordingly, Aristotle, Hippocrates and Alexander the Great popularized the laws and practice of palmistry. Hippocrates sought to use palmistry to aid his clinical procedures.
During the Middle Ages the art of palmistry was actively suppressed by the Catholic Church as pagan superstition. In Renaissance magic, palmistry (known as “chiromancy”) was classified as one of the seven “forbidden arts,” along with necromancy, geomancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and spatulamancy (scapulimancy). However it experienced a revival in the modern era starting with Captain Casimir Stanislas D’Arpentigny publication La Chirognomie in 1839.
The Chirological Society of Great Britain was founded in London by Katherine St Hill in 1889 with the stated aim to advance and systematise the art of palmistry and to prevent charlatans from abusing the art. Edgar de Valcourt-Vermont (Comte de St Germain) founded the American Chirological Society in 1897.
A pivotal figure in the modern palmistry movement was the Irish William John Warner, known by his sobriquet, Cheiro. After studying under gurus in India he set up a palmistry practice in London and enjoyed a wide following of famous clients from around the world, including famous celebrities like Mark Twain, W. T. Stead, Sarah Bernhardt, Mata Hari, Oscar Wilde, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison, the Prince of Wales, General Kitchener, William Ewart Gladstone, and Joseph Chamberlain. So popular was Cheiro as a “Society Palmist” that even those who were not believers in the occult had their hands read by him. The skeptical Mark Twain wrote in Cheiro’s visitor’s book that he had “…exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy.”
Edward Heron-Allen, an English polymath, published various works including the 1883 book, Palmistry – A Manual of Cheirosophy which is still in print. There were attempts at formulating some sort of scientific basis for the art, most notably in the 1900 publication “The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading” by William G. Benham.
The three lines found on almost all hands, and generally given most weight by palmists:
- The heart line is the first of the major lines examined by a reader and represents love and attraction. It is found towards the top of the palm, under the fingers. In some traditions, the line is read as starting from the edge of the palm under the little finger and flowing across the palm towards the thumb; in others, it is seen as starting under the fingers and flowing toward the outside edge of the palm. Palmists interpret this line to represent matters of the heart, that is, more literally, our emotional living; it is therefore believed to be an insight into how the emotional sides of our mindframes will act out and be acted upon during our lifetimes, and often said, to what extent we possess emotional reservoirs within us, for example, a chained or gridded heart line (or emotional line) is often seen in people who are highly strung, nervous and draw upon emotional strength and insight to attain their ambitions, i.e. they wear their ’emotions’ on their sleeves, often to draw strength. Such chaining or gridding on the heart line (emotional line) is often seen in intensely creative artists such as musicians and writers, as well as deeply driven scientists. Dealing with emotions, the line is also claimed to indicate romantic perspectives and intimate relationships, again, a chained or gridded heart line is said to point to a flirtatious attitude to love, and one which can be prone to fall in love easily. On a physical level, the heart line is indirectly associated with heart health, more so through the effects that emotions can have on the body such as with blood pressure. A chained heart line is often associated with high blood pressure, but also of an ‘adrenaline junkie’ attitude in life.
- The next line identified by palmists is the head line. This line starts at the edge of the palm under the index finger and flows across the palm towards the outside edge. Often, the head line is joined with the life line (see below) at inception. Palmists generally interpret this line to represent the person’s mind and the way it works, including learning style, communication style, intellectualism, and thirst for knowledge. It is also believed to indicate a preference for creative or analytical approaches to information (i.e., right brain or left brain).
- The life line is perhaps the most controversial line on the hand. This line extends from the edge of the palm above the thumb and travels in an arc towards the wrist. This line is believed to represent the person’s vitality and vigor, physical health and general well being. The life line is also believed to reflect major life changes, including cataclysmic events, physical injuries, and relocations. Contrary to popular belief, modern palmists generally do not believe that the length of a person’s life line is tied to the length of a person’s life.
- The combined length of these three main lines (heart, head, life) can also be used. If this combined length is longer than a persons foot they may be over bearing. However, if it is shorter they may give in too easily to other people. A similar length suggests a well balanced individual.
Some of the lines of the hand in Palmistry
1: Life line – 2: Head line – 3: Heart line – 4: Girdle of Venus – 5: Sun line – 6: Mercury line – 7: Fate line
Additional major lines or variations include:
- A simian crease, or fusing of the heart and head lines, has special significance in that both emotional as well as reasoning nature have to be studied from this line alone. The peculiar line is thought to be a combination of the head and heart lines on such hands that are separately marked on the rest of the hands.
According to Cheiro, this line is thought to endow a person with an intensity of purpose or single-mindedness, the nature of which is decided upon by exact position of this line on the hand and the direction of any branches shooting from it, which is normally the case. In hands where such a line exists without any branches as a singular mark, it indicates an extremely intense nature and special care is needed for such persons. The normal position for the line is starting below the index finger and ending where normally the heart line terminates at the edge of the hand below the little finger, indicating average interests for the person and the intense side of the nature is decided purely by the direction of any branches shooting from it.
The upper half of the palm lying immediately below the fingers is considered to represent the higher or intellectual nature and the lower half of the palm to represent the materialistic side of the nature. If one of these halves is larger than the other as decided by the central placement of the head line or in this case the single transverse palmar crease it shows greater development of that aspect of the nature. Based on this general principle, if this line is placed below its normal position it indicates an intensely intellectual nature; if it is placed above its normal position it indicates an intensely materialistic nature and interests.
The direction in which any branches may be found shooting from this line have a significant impact on the nature of this line resulting in suitable modifications from the above defined results depending on the nature of the mounts on the hand. For instance, if a branch from this line shoots to the mount of Moon lying on the lower edge of the hand exactly opposite the thumb, it indicates an intensely vacillating nature and emotional temperament.
- The fate line runs from the bottom of the palm near the wrist, up through the center of the palm towards the middle finger. This line is believed to be tied to the person’s life path, including school and career choices, successes and obstacles. Sometimes this line is thought to reflect circumstances beyond the individual’s control, or alternately the person’s choices and their consequences.
The mounts in Palmistry
Jupiter, Saturn, Apollo, Mercury, Mars positive, Mars negative, plain of mars, Luna mount, Neptune mount, Venus mount.
Other minor lines:
- Sun line – parallel to the Fate Line, under the ring finger; believed to indicate fame or scandal
- Girdle of Venus – starts between the little and ring fingers, runs in a rough arc under the ring and middle fingers to end between the middle and pointer fingers; thought to relate to emotional intelligence and the ability to manipulate
- Union lines – short horizontal lines found on the percussive edge of the palm between the Heart Line and the bottom of the little finger; believed to indicate close relationships, sometimes – but not always – romantic.
- Mercury line – runs from the bottom of the palm near the wrist, up through the palm towards the little finger; purported to be an indicator of persistent health issues, business acumen, or skill in communication.
- Travel lines – these are horizontal lines found on the percussive edge of the palm between the wrist and the heart line; each line is said to represent a trip taken by the subject – the longer the line, the more important the trip is to the subject.
- Other markings – these include stars, crosses, triangles, squares, tridents, and rings under each of the fingers; their supposed impact and meaning varies by location on the palm and freedom from other interfering lines.
- “Apollo line” – the Apollo line means to have a fortunate life; it travels from the Mount of the Moon at the wrist to beneath the Apollo finger.
- “Ominous line” – crosses life line and forms ‘x’ shape; very bad sign to find; palm readers will often not mention this line because of the worry it causes to the person being read. Common indicators of ominous line include ‘M’ being formed by other lines.