Palmistry is a method of Divination by studying the shapes of hands and lines on the hands. Palmistry is one of the oldest forms of divination. It is also known as cheiromancy or chiromancy, after Cheiro, the pseudonym of “Count” Louis Harmon, a popular Irish fortuneteller of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

History of Palmistry

The exact age and origin of palmistry are not known. Prehistorical handprints found on cave walls in France, Spain, and Africa have a magical significance that may be connected with the earliest forms of palmistry. As a formal system of divination, palmistry was in use as early as 3000 B.C.E. in China and India. From the East, it spread through the Middle East and into Greek and Latin cultures. The ancient Greeks studied it, and Aristotle was interested in it. Among the early Hebrews, the Merkabah mystics read palms to determine if a man was fit to receive esoteric teachings.

Palmistry was widely popular during the Middle Ages, as were numerous other methods of divination that had an intellectual basis. In Hermetic thought, nothing in creation happens by chance. Humanity is a microcosm of the universe, and the body, in turn, is a microcosm of the person. Therefore, the lines on a hand are stamped by occult forces and will reveal character and destiny. Palmistry readers say that this view is reinforced by biblical scriptures:

• “Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of thy hands; thy walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:16)

• “He sealeth up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work.” (Job 27:7)

• “Length of days in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor.” (Proverbs 3:16)

In medieval Europe, hand readers were women: the village wise women, witches, and Gypsies. Among the kabbalists, rabbis were skilled at it, reading palms after Sabbath to foretell the future. Palmistry appeared in kabbalistic literature, including the Zohar, until about the 16th century.

Numerous medieval and Renaissance books and tracts were written about palmistry by the learned scientists of the day. The first textbook on palmistry, Die Kunst Chiromantie, was published in Germany in 1475, written by Johann Hortlich. In the 15th century, all such works were ordered confiscated by the Catholic Church, which forbade palmistry. The church was unsuccessful in squelching interest in it, as well as in other divination systems. In the 17th century, palmistry became a parlor art as scientific discoveries revealed that the universe operated according to immutable physical laws.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, palmistry enjoyed a revival of interest in the West, along with other divinatory arts. In 1889 the English Chirological Society was founded with the purpose of making the study of the hand a scientific pursuit. Cheiro, the pseudonym of “Count” Louis Harmon, an Irish fortune-teller (1866– 1936), did much to popularize both palmistry and NUMEROLOGY. His books are still highly regarded.

Palmistry is practiced in modern times, though is not as popular as the TAROT and other methods. In India, China, and other parts of the East where the occult is more esteemed, palmistry has been treated more seriously and is part of some esoteric teachings. It is also a common divinatory method used by Eastern fortune-tellers. As in all forms of divination, psychic and intuitive ability enhance the skill of the reader.

As a means of prediction, palmistry, like other forms of divination, reflects the conditions of the moment. Edgar Cayce once said that a palmistry prediction was about 20 percent absolute and 80 percent chance, depending on free will. Some palmists say choices can physically change the hands, within certain limits. In China, it is believed that the palm patterns can be improved through Zen and Yoga disciplines, especially in young children.

Elements of Palmistry

Palmistry is associated with Astrology. The signs of the zodiac, the SUN, the Moon, and the PLANETS are assigned spots on the hand. A palmist first looks at the shape of the hands, which indicates physical or artistic activities. The palmist then observes the lines, digits, fleshy mounts, and flexibility. The passive hand (usually the left hand) carries the imprint of destiny at birth and one’s potential, while the dominant hand (usually the right) is a map of how that destiny has or has not been carried out.

Hand Shapes.

The shapes of the hands are associated with the four Elements and the characteristics that are in turn associated with those elements:

• Air hands have long fingers, square palms, and many fine lines. They indicate artistic talents, communication abilities, and emotional stability.

• Earth hands have short fingers and deeply lined square palms. They indicate a serious, practical nature and interests in physical activities.

• Water hands have long fingers, rectangular palms, and fine lines. They indicate sensitivity and a quiet personality who needs low-pressure jobs.

• Fire hands have short fingers, rectangular palms, and clear lines. They indicate an interest in highrisk, challenging occupations.

Palm Lines.

The palm has five major lines:

• The line of life, which rules longevity and stages in life

• The line of the heart, which rules emotions and intuition

• The line of the head, which rules the intellect

• The line of Saturn, which rules good fortune

• The hepatica line, which rules health. In addition, marriage lines are on the outer palm, and numerous other small lines yield more details about a person.

Fingers and Thumbs.

The fingers and thumbs each are governed by a sign of the zodiac and thus rule certain characteristics. Finger shapes fall into four categories:

• Conic, which shows intuitive ability, sensitivity, impulsiveness, and a love of art and beauty

• Round, which shows a well-balanced disposition, adaptability, and openness to new things and change

• Square, which shows orderliness, clear communication, and confidence

• Spatulate, which shows independence, energy, enthusiasm, and a love of action and adventure Thumbs—their length, shape, placement on the hand, and flexibility—reveal a person’s personality.


Mounts are fleshy portions:

• The mount of Venus, at the base of the thumb, reveals emotions, sexual energy, compassion, warmth, and the ability to give and receive love.

• The mount of the Moon, located on the outer palm, reveals psychic ability, intuition, and imagination.

• The mount of Saturn, at the base of the middle finger, reveals one’s introspective nature.

• The mount of Apollo, at the base of the ring finger, governs creativity and artistic ability.

• The mount of Jupiter, at the base of the index finger, rules self-confidence, leadership ability, and social sense.

• The mount of Mercury, at the base of the little finger, rules self-expression and disposition.

• The lower mount of Mars, located inside the thumb joint, governs assertiveness and perseverance.

• The upper mount of Mars, located beneath the mount of Mercury, rules determination, courage, and self-reliance.

The Palm Destinies of Napoléon and Josephine Bonaparte

Napoléon Bonaparte became interested in palmistry through his wife Josephine. Lunar aspects in the left hand of Josephine foretold that she would “enjoy boundless glory, have two husbands, amaze the world by her portentous fortune, and sadden her friends by her grievous and premature end,” according to her palmist, Madame M. A. Le Normand. Her destiny was, for the most part, fulfilled.

Born Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie on June 23, 1763, Josephine was a comely but unsophisticated girl who aspired to the glittering courts of high society. In 1779 she married Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais, and bore him a son and a daughter. He lost his head to the guillotine in 1794 for his role in the revolution.

Josephine, by then quite sophisticated, caught the eye of Napoléon Bonaparte, a rising young general, whom she wed in a civil ceremony on March 9, 1796. He was madly in love with her, but she considered him primarily an entrée to the society she desired. During his Egyptian campaign from 1798 to 1799, she ignored his passionate love letters and instead amused herself by having an affair and running up stupendous debts with her lavish entertaining. The furious Napoléon threatened to divorce her but then relented. After he became emperor, Josephine persuaded him to marry her in a religious ceremony on December 1, 1804. However, she remained cool toward him and did not produce a male heir. Within a few years he decided to divorce her.

In 1807 Napoléon had his first palm reading with Le Normand, who astonished him by revealing secrets of his character, his tastes and desires, and, most important, his impending divorce of Josephine. The divorce had not yet been announced to either the public or Josephine. Fascinated, Napoléon ordered Le Normand to compile a complete record of her predictions. To ensure her discretion, he had her arrested and jailed for 12 days in 1809 until his split from Josephine was accomplished. He was able to nullify the marriage on a technicality—the absence of a parish priest at the religious ceremony. The marriage ended on December 14, 1809.

Napoléon then wed Marie-Louise, daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria. Josephine, out of the limelight, retired to her private residence at Malmaison outside of Paris. She continued to throw lavish parties, however, and Napoléon continued to pay for them, perhaps out of guilt.

Soon after Napoléon’s abdication, Josephine died quietly at Malmaison. She was 50, a respectable age for the times and certainly not premature in death, but her life ended in faded glory, which saddened her friends.

Further Reading :

  • Asano, Michael. Hands: The Complete Book of Palmistry. New York: Japan Publications, 1985.
  • Grillot de Givry, Emile. Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931.
  • Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: New American Library, 1974.
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Scribner, 1971.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.

Also called chiromancy or chirosophy, palmistry, or palm reading, is a form of divination by which a person’s fortune and character supposedly are discerned by looking at the naturally occurring lines, marks, rises, and indentations in the palm of the hand. Palm readers rely on a wide variety of books that explain the significance of these features. These references give various features in the palm names depending on their purpose. For example, the “life line” is believed to tell how long a person will live, the “head line” reflects on a person’s intellect, and the “heart line” relates to a person’s emotions and love life. Scholars disagree on where palmistry originated, but most think that it began in ancient India and then spread, also during ancient times, to China, Tibet, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Much later, palm reading came to be used for more than just divination. In Europe during the Middle Ages, some people used palmistry to identify witches, believing that an individual’s evil activities could be “read” in the hand, and any dark spots in the hand indicated its owner had a pact with the devil. Indeed, it was around this same time that palmistry and other forms of divination began to be associated with witchcraft and the devil. Today, some people continue to associate palmistry with witchcraft, but adherents to New Age beliefs consider it to be a valid and helpful form of divination. Skeptics and scientists do not think it has any value in this regard, though scientists do think that palmistry might have some merit in regard to how modern palm readers often remark on human health. For example, a palm reader might tell someone that, based on the color and shape of his or her hand, the person is eating too many carbohydrates and will suffer from an illness if this habit is not curtailed—and physicians have indeed found that by looking at someone’s hands, much can be learned about that person’s physical health.


  • Divination
  • New Age
  • Witchcraft


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

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