The art of palmistry, aka palm reading, hand reading, chirology or chiromancy—also spelled cheiromancy from Greek kheir (“hand”)—has to do with understanding character and foretelling the future through studying the palm. Palmistry is practiced all over the world, with as many different variations as there are cultures.
There are many different interpretations of various lines and features across palmistry schools. These contradictions and lack of scientific evidence that palmistry’s predictions are accurate have a lot to do with academics’ perception of palmistry as a pseudoscience.
The practice of palmistry is widespread in India, Tibet, China, Persia, Sumeria, ancient Israel and Babylonia.
According to Wikipedia, the acupuncturist Yoshiaki Omura discovered palmistry has its roots in Hindu astrology, the Chinese I Ching, and Gypsy fortune tellers. Thousands of years ago, the Hindu sage Valmiki wrote a book titled The Teachings of Valmiki Maharshi on Male Palmistry.
From India palmistry spread to China, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and Greece. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church actively suppressed palmistry, calling it pagan superstition.
Cheiro was an influential supporter of palmistry during the late 1800’s.
In 1839, Captain Casimir Stanislas D’Arpentigny’s publication La Chirognomie kicked off a revival of interest in palmistry. In 1889, Katharine St. Hill founded the Chirological Society of Great Britain to advance palmistry and to prevent charlatans from abusing the art. In 1897, Edgar de Valcourt-Vermont (Comte de St Germain) founded the American Chirological Society.
The most influential person in the modern palmistry movement was Irish William John Warner, known by the nickname 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.)