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Palmistry - A History Part 2

Updated on February 27, 2012
Julius spier
Julius spier

From Medieval Times to the Present

Palmistry has undergone a transition over the years. Like many forms of divination, Tarot included, Palmistry has altered as more individuals became involved. It has changed to suit the times and nature of its environment. While there is evidence of its existence among the Ancient Greeks, Chinese and Indians, they did not leave texts on the subject behind. These were to come later.

Medieval Texts

The first published texts on palmistry herald from the Medieval period. The earliest works include the two so-called Aristotle-based treatises the Digby Roll IV and John Methan’s work. The first printed book, however, is German. Johann Hartlieb’s Die Kunst Ciromantia, published in 1475.This was followed by a number of texts appearing throughout Europe. In the process, palmistry became associated with and worked in conjunction with other arts and sciences, notably astrology and physiology. Among these early palmists or Cheromidists, many of whom were scholars, were Bartelmy Cocles, Tibertus Antiochus, Alexander Achillinus (1463-1512) and Patritio Tricasso de Cerasari . In the 16th century, a prior, John Indagine wrote Introductiones Apotelesmaticae. In the same century, Theophrastus Bombastus Von Huhrnheim - the well-known Paracelsus (1593 -1541), wrote a short treatise on the study, Rudolph Goclenius (1572-1621) borrowed his material almost intact from Paracelsus.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Palmistry Works

In later centuries, the popularity of palmistry ebbed and waxed in accordance with public taste, the stand of the Christian Church and the ability of scholars and palmists.[1] In the 17th century, there was a revival. George Wharton and Richard Saunders were at the front. The prestige of palmistry had risen in Germany to such a degree it was taught in Universities.

The 18th century was relatively quiet in exposition and expansion. The 19th century, however, saw a rebirth in interest in palmistry, as well as the appearance of several influential works. Carl Gustavus Carus (1789-1869) started a system of hand classification according to the usage of the hands. This approach was similar to that taken on by Casmir Stanislau D’Arpentigny (1798 -? ), one of the fathers of modern palmistry. His book, La Chirognomie, established the system of six basic and one mixed type of hands used by many palm readers today. In 1886, the book was translated into English by another well-known student of palmistry, Heron-Aller, as The Science of the Hand.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Palmistry

Adrien Adolphe Desbarolles (1801-1886) established the foundation for theoretical approaches. Desbarolles, however, had more in common with the Renaissance palm readers and writers. His book, The Mysteries of the Hand, took a very spiritual stance. He utilized the Cabala and other aspects of the mystic. He borrowed from D’Arpentigny, acknolwdging his debt but noting the incompleteness of this early work. Desbarolles indicates further his mysticism in emphasizing the number three. In his work, even the letter M common on mist hands, signifies the three worlds of the hand: elemental, celestial, intellectual. Desbarolles refers and studies kaballah, astrology and other mystic arts in his works. In his approach, he differs significantly from his French compatriot, Cheiro.

Cheiro, born William John Warren, self-proclaimed Count Louis Hamon (1866-1936), wrote a number of books on the topic, including Language of the Hand and Palmistry for All. His last book, You and your Hand (1936) summed up his approach to the scientific art of palmistry. He, to a large extent, regulated the craft, providing some form of respectability. His work has provided some of the basic concepts followed by many palmists today.

Another important figure during the early 20th century was an American. In 1900, William G. Benham, with his book The Benham Book of Palmistry: A Practical Treatise on the Laws of Scientific Hand Reading,[2] established a theory of what is referred to as “organic palmistry.” This book, the “Palmists’ Bible,” combined direct observation with traditional or classic palmistry to produce this new brand of palmistry. It set the bar for all to follow. Decades later, it is still a highly recommended work by and for practitioners. Benham continued to stress the scientific nature of his work. Another of his works intended to help people choose their correct vocation in society. This book, How to Choose Vocations from the Hand (1932), focused on the practical application of palmistry in the world.

The middle of the 20th century saw Julius Spier, take palmistry and the study of the hand to a different level. His works strongly reflected a psychological basis for the old art. Carl Jung was impressed by his research believing them to be intuitive. Spier in his seminal work on children’s hands, The Hands of Children (1940), provide people with a psycho-chirology. This was a decisive step in what has since been described as the division of palmistry into three types: Medical or Therapeutic, Psychotherapeutic, and Divinatory. The end result has been diversity. No two persons will read a palm in exactly the same way. Different interpretations and varied Foci are common in this craft now part of the 21st century.


Today, people still practice palmistry. It is not, however, as popular or as common as card reading. It also still suffers from a poor media image. It cannot shake its portrayal as being somehow shabby, a poor cousin to Tarot, a tool of charlatans. This is a shame as it is one of the most portable of tools for both character analysis and divination.

[1] It must never be ignored that palmistry has attracted more than its fair share of charlatans and immoral people.

[2] Later known as simply The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading,


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      Diane Ward 

      6 years ago

      Really interesting


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