Palmistry, or chiromancy (also spelled cheiromancy; from Greek kheir (“hand”), is the practice of characterization and foretelling 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.
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 has been practiced in the cultures of India, Tibet, China, Persia, Sumeria, ancient Israel and Babylonia.
The acupuncturist Yoshiaki Omura describes its roots in Hindu astrology, the Chinese I Ching, and Gypsy fortune tellers. Thousands of years ago, the Hindu sage Valmiki wrote a book comprising 567 stanzas, the title of which translates in English as The Teachings of Valmiki Maharshi on Male Palmistry. From India, the art of palmistry spread to China, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and Greece. 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.
During the Middle Ages the art of palmistry was actively suppressed by the Catholic Church as pagan superstition.
Cheiro, an influential exponent of palmistry in the late 19th century.
Palmistry experienced a revival in the modern era starting with Captain Casimir Stanislas D’Arpentigny’s publication La Chirognomie in 1839. The Chirological Society of Great Britain was founded in London by Katharine St. Hill in 1889 to advance and systematize 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 as 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, Sarah Bernhardt, Mata Hari, Oscar Wilde, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison, the Prince of Wales, 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.”
(More about Cheiro in tomorrow’s blog post: C is for Cheiro and the Church.)