The origins of Palmistry!

August 20, 2008

The origins of palmistry

The origins of palmistry

The origins of Palmistry:

There are at least two palmistry traditions; Eastern and Western. A relationship between those two traditions has existed historically as well. It turns out not everyone believes that the Gypsies brought palmistry to the West.

Theories and speculations about the origins of western palmistry

According to Fred Gettings (1965), the earliest reference to palmistry (palm reading) in Indian literature appears in the Vasistha, Rule 21. There, an ascetic is forbidden to earn his living by explaining omens, or by engaging in astrology and palmistry. The Ancient Code of Manu, also Vedic, upholds similar principles.Yet, in later times, palmistry became highly regarded in India. Palmistry was considered so important that the hands of gods in paintings and sanctuaries were carved with markings of lines and symbols. They were highly exaggerated, and not very similar to real-life palms.

Trade was open to the Greeks through established routes used by Arabs for centuries. What became Western palmistry traveled East. Alexander the Great, a pupil of Aristotle, is conjectured to have brought interest in the art back. Lines appeared on the palms of Greek statues of gods as well.

However nice this theory sounds, I would be remiss not to point out that Ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, Sumerians, and Babylonians all have been credited with originating the art as well.

A few months ago I even received an email from an Independent reader in Thailand who suggested that palmistry began with Native American tribes in the US. My reader suggests that Carl Jung wrote the forward to the book by Julius Spier, The Hands of Children, and was remiss in not mentioning that Erich Neumann’s wife was an internationally know palmist. Jung took an interest in palmistry, the reader points out, and regarded Neuman highly, but didn’t in all his letters or books mention his wife reading hands.

In the Western tradition, the art evolved from basic lines, to hand shapes, to texture and markings. Medieval writings focus on the lines. By the sixteenth century, the spirit of individuality was emerging. Early Renaissance scholars were often well versed in palmistry, and markings for different kinds of patterns were devised.

The practice, still thought of as an art, was closely connected to astrology. Each finger and mound was related to a planet. It was thought a whole constellation of one’s life could be read in the thumb.

So, when you go in for the art of divining, be sure you get your money’s worth. The whole story is not told in the lines. Like the history of trauma, the history of palmistry is buried underground and often veers off course. Its development has not unfolded in a linear fashion. In England, palmistry was not pursued with the same intensity as it was elsewhere. Chiromancy was primarily associated increasingly with the gypsies. Universities did not pursue its scholarship and practice, as did institutions of higher learning on the other continents.

If the gypsies came from the Pariahs of India, as some maintain, this would mean an alternate route of dispersion of Western knowledge. Traveling from shire to shire in the 1500s, they performed all sorts of crafts to get money from the landholders; palmistry being one such craft. But a practitioner among the lower classes was considered to be either a gypsy or a witch, thus the practice of palmistry merited death according to a law that was not repealed in England until the reign of George III.

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The history of Palmistry

August 16, 2008

The history of Palmistry

The history of Palmistry

From gypsies to modern science:

Long ago gypsies used palmistry as “a crafty means to deceive people”. But nowadays acedemic science shows an interest for the work of modern Palmists.

The history of palmistry

Speculation existed that the gypsy fortune tellers prevalent in England had come from Egypt. But practice in Egypt had long ago died out by the time the gypsies arrived in Europe. In high social circles in India, however, the art was still popular and thriving.Yet the official British attitude towards palmistry expressed in a statute of Henry VIII in 1530 was that it was “a crafty means to deceive people.” Such an attitude was not found on the continent. Furthermore, there was already a written chiromantic tradition 200 years before the gypsies arrived.Eventually, the British began to rescue the art from the gypsy veneer, which was thought to spoil the practice.

New books on palmistry began to appear in England in 1652, such as George Wharton’s The Art of Divining by the Lines and Signature Ingraven on the Hand of Man. These books appeared during the so-called “golden age” of the pseudo-sciences in England; supported by Thomas Hyll’s publication of a book on palmistry in 1613.

Hyll was able to support himself as a “miscellaneous” writer, working on translations for publishers and on compilations. But he also was a very enlightened Jack of all trades whose interest in palmistry, astrology, and the like showed through in his publications — which flourished between 1550 and 1599.

Alchemical research was also on the rise at this time. All sorts of arts were being rescued from where they had been buried during the Dark Ages. But chirology (a scientific approach) began to replace chiromancy. The latter was more intuitive. Chirology set the tone for rationalization of the art during the Enlightenment. And guess what? (This should come to no surprise to those familiar with the history of women in Western civilization); as medical doctors ousted the female midwives, the scientific rationalists gradually usurped the female gypsy fortune tellers from society.

The palmists portrayed in Italian paintings of gypsy chiromancers during the 16th century were women, delicately holding the hands of male clients. Go see an engraving by Benoit Audran and Caravaggio’s The Gypsy Fortune Teller the next time you are in the vicinity of the Louvre.

Gradually, these visual images were replaced by portraits of distinguished-looking gentlemen bearing books, such as that of Richard Sanders in his text, Physiognomie, And Chiromacie, Metoposcopie.

The man in the portrait holds a book. He stands between a British family seal and a window to the outside world. Beside him is a globe situated behind a table with various instruments suggesting scientific procedure.

But his books are readable, which helped to re-popularize the arts. His love of more occult sciences — like divination by nails reflecting sunrays (onychomancy), divination by the flight of birds (orniscopy), and divination by wine (oinomancy) — remained in the picture as he disclosed the secrets of palmistry.

Sanders later became an advocate of the interpretation of signs on the various mounds of the palms, combined with alchemical and astrological references. Both Hebrew and Latin are used on the front of the above-mentioned book.

Palmistry was thus rescued from the lower classes — from foreigners and from women — for the benefit of titillation of the British upper class.

Palmistry psychology