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Palmistry - A History

Updated on July 10, 2012

Palmistry Origins

Palmistry is one of many forms of divination. The attempt by humans to perceive what lies ahead has taken many different shapes. From oracles at Delphi to the toss of a Dice to the howling of dogs, humans have used all to discover the future. Palmistry is less popular than Tarot among neo-pagans and various individuals. It has fallen into disuse by many over the years. The shelves of the average bookstore are weighted down with books on Tarot but scant with works on Palmistry.

The lack of material and teachers should not deter a potential student. Palmistry, in spite of its somewhat shaky reputation, is potentially as effective as Tarot. In the right hands, Palmistry is an excellent tool for character analysis and even divination. Unlike Tarot, it truly does have ancient roots. It does have a recorded history that dates back several centuries. Yet, like Tarot, it is sometimes difficult to separate the reality from the myth.


The beginnings of palmistry are not precisely dated. As author Fred Gettings has so accurately pointed out, there are far more imaginings than actualities or facts connected with its emergence. The problem lies with the availability of sources and the nature of palmistry, itself. It is personal, private and individualistic in character. Readings are usually done for people not, as prophecies and other forms of divination, for nations or nationalities. Furthermore, each era approaches the art in accordance with its own comprehension of the world and the craft; each palmist creates his or her version which may or may not become part of the common lexicon of future generations. As for sources - few remain. Attempts have been made to definitively tie palmistry, through literary references, to different eras of time. These are, as in the case of obscure Biblical quotes, a stretch. Early historical material is few and far between and only hypothetical leaps of preference link the origins to earlier civilizations.

Eastern Origins

Through past authors and practitioners, palmistry has found its origins to lie in the Far East with Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans and Sumerians. For many early writers, the Indians and Chinese are likely candidates. In actuality, there are passing references made to it in Greek and Roman works, but the earliest recorded references are from India. The Vedic text of Vashishtha Rule 21, compiled approximately 3,000 years ago, contains a specific reference to the art, adjuring all aesthetes to note they cannot use the practice to earn money.

It is fitting that palmistry originate, or at least be prominent in India. This is the birth place of those most associated with the practice - the Roma. Although the Roma or Gypsies did not introduce the raft of palmistry any more than they did Tarot, they did help enhance and spread the knowledge of this form of divination. In Europe and the Royal Courts, including that of Henry VIII of England, the Gypsies made themselves known for their skill at this particular form of divination. At the time, the form they practised differed somewhat from that used by the Medieval palmists. Medievalists tended to look more at such things as longevity through medical inference from the major lines. Yet, it should not be ignored that China, too, has a parallel development taking place within this time frame. The Greeks, although most certainly not Aristotle and his student Alexander the Great, Romans and Macedonian were perhaps exposed to these Oriental sources and spread the practice further, though leaving few texts on the subject behind.


Palmistry is both a craft and an art with a history that extends back to the Far East. It was practiced by various early civilizations such as the Greeks and Chinese. Part two will continue to look at the history of Palmistry beginning with the first recorded texts on the subject.


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      Diane Ward 6 years ago

      very cool!