(Investigator 93, 2003 November)
Cheiromancy (derived from the Greek word "Cheir" meaning hand) more popularly known as Palmistry, dignifies the study of the lines or flexion folds on the palm of the hand which, together with the shape and size of the hand and the lengths of the fingers, are used to read a subject's character and the past and future events in their life.
It is an ancient belief, extending back in China to 3000 B C where it was sometimes combined with Podoscopy, or divination by reading the lines on the feet. Today it flourishes in Asia and the Middle East and to a lesser extent in the West.
Palmistry is a divinatory system; it has the charm of simplicity and definiteness, as during the ages every detail has been brought under a set of formal rules which need only perfunctory application.
Basically there are four major lines used by the Palmist, they are;
The Line of Life, which runs in an arc from between the thumb and forefinger around the base of the thumb, and from which can be judged the vitality and length of life.
The Line of Heart, lying across the centre of the palm, relates to the mental outlook of the affec-tions rather than the physical.
The Line of Head, also running across the palm, relates to everything concerning the intellect, education, improvement and mental attitude.
The Line of Fate or Destiny, starting at the wrist and extending to the base of the second finger is held to relate to the success or failure of one's worldly affairs and the barriers one is likely to meet during life.
Many other subsidiary lines and features are also taken into consideration by the Palmist such as where a line begins and ends, whether it joins or crosses another, the breaks in a line, the forks, the depths and irregularities such as "chain" formations.
The mounts at the bases of the thumb and fingers are named after the planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Mars, the satellite Moon, and the god Apollo. Frequently the characteristics interpreted by the Palmist are augmented with an infusion of astrology and numerology.
Count Louis Hamon, or Cheiro, (1866-1936), a former lecturer and editor, was considered the most successful palmist of modern times and is still regarded posthumously as the foremost exponent of the art.
The author of several books on the occult and palmistry, the latter being held in high regard by palmists who follow his basic principles.
In his book, You and Your Hand, (listed as non-fiction and of which a reviewer wrote, "It was Cheiro who lifted palmistry into the realms of serious study and led the way to the present scientific and psychological approach to the subject") he includes an introduction entitled "A Defence of Palmistry", in which he refers to the testimony and ideas given by scientific men as arguments in favour of the cheiromantic use of the lines on the hands.
Among the quotes are Aristotle, "The hand is the organ of organs, the active agent of the passive powers of the entire system." Quintilian, "For the other parts of the body assist the speaker, but these I may say, speak for themselves; they ask, they promise, they invoke, they dismiss, they threaten, they entreat, they deprecate, they express fear, joy, grief, our doubts, our assents, our penitence, they show moderation, profusion, they mark number and time." Sir Charles Bell, "We ought to define the hand as belonging exclusively to man, corresponding in its sensibility and motion, to the endowment of his mind", and Sir Richard Owen as writing, "In the hand every single bone is distinguishable from one another; each digit has its own peculiar character."
While I have no argument with the profundity of the above, not one of them argued, agreed, or even suggested, that the creases on the palm of the hand are anything other than the natural flexion folds of the skin. So much for the invocation of authoritative and scientific support, which in no way demonstrate any fundamental hypothesis or correlation existing within the province of reason.
Shortly after my fortieth birthday, an amateur palmist friend offered to read my palm. Out of curiosity and despite any misgivings I may have had about the validity of palmistry, I told him to go ahead. As he was familiar with my past, and a shrewd judge of character, I was not unduly surprised that what he purportedly read in the creases of my palm was a fair assessment – until he came to the Line of Life. According to his reckoning I would not live to see my 53rd birthday. Having lived an active life, and being in excellent physical and mental health at the time, I dismissed this with an unconvincing laugh, unconvincing, because despite my scepticism, to hear any prediction of that nature is disconcerting and hard to shake off. Over the next few months, no matter how determined I was to dismiss it from my mind, the thought kept re-occurring until finally in desperation, I successfully psyched myself into substituting another thought, "I will live to be 105."
While my 53rd birthday passed uneventfully well over a decade ago, the experience served to demonstrate one of the dangers inherent in "fortune telling." To a believer, the ramifications of such a revelation could have had a disastrous effect on both the individual and his family, and in an extreme case, even lead to the self-fulfillment of the prophecy, as with the "pointing of the bone" in the Aboriginal culture.
Coincidently, using Cheiro's charts to interpret the lines on my palm, I discovered that I had been dead for some years!
While I had been up to that time moderately sceptical, albeit passive, in respect of paranormal claims; cognizant now of the possible deleterious effects of predictions based on irrational premises, motivated me to take a more active part in critically examining those claims and reporting my findings.
To my observation I have a fairly uncomplex palm, that is, the main creases are well defined with few feathery offshoots. Using Cheiro’s textbook, I embarked on a deliberate and impartial evaluation of my character, with meticulous regard to each and every word in an endeavour to be fair to the author. The result was less than 50 per cent accurate, (no more than fair guesswork) even allowing for the ambiguity and patronising generalities.
Specifically, one point which adequately invalidates the claimed accuracy of palmistry was found when interpreting the Line of Life. In his book Cheiro (p 91) writes, "If the beginning of the Line of Life commences with a chain formation (which mine does and I suspect most others do) delicate health in the early years is clearly foreshadowed."
Given the prevalence of ailments to which the children of my generation and those preceeding it were subject – diptheria, scarlet fever, German measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, mumps, ringworm, impetigo, rickets and tuberculosis, most of which have now been eradicated in the western world by improved living conditions and health standards – "delicate health" in infants was not an unusual feature in those times. You will recall that this period was also Cheiro's hey-day, his deductions therefore would have been influenced by the prevailing socioeconomic conditions.
If Cheiro's interpretation was correct, then logically, with the improvement in health standards since his time, the chain formation should have all but disappeared from our palms. Has it? (The Line of Life runs from between the thumb and forefinger, and around the base of the thumb – check it). Cheiro goes on to say, "but if the line becomes clear of this link or chain formation, as it proceeds, it shows that complete recovery from these earlier illnesses may be promised." It should be patently obvious, that an adult who is having his palm read and has had an illness of this sort as an infant, has made a complete recovery – hardly a startling revelation!
Further evidence of the erroneous correlation between the lines on the palm and destiny, is the claim often made by palmists that "the lines in the hand begin to break down... at the moment of death." A check with the Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s Office by Michael A. Park (1982), an associate professor of anthropology at Central Connecticut State College, New Britain, indicated that this claim was unfounded, the crease lines remain after death. Furthermore, palmists' claims to be able to divine longevity from this furrow is equally spurious according to British pathologists, who examined the hands of 100 cadavers in a hospital mortuary, which revealed that "the lifeline appeared to have no bearing on how long the patient lived."
In the first and second World Wars, tens of millions of young men in their late teens and early twenties were slaughtered on the battlefields, it is interesting to speculate whether they all had atrophied "life lines", and if so, why this trend was not noted and reported by palmists around the world.
There have been many well documented scientific tests of palmistry, and all show conclusively that there is no correlation between the lines on one's hand and future or past events. Any success or accuracy accorded a palmist or perceived by a client can be explained prosaically – the astuteness of the palmist in judging character by observation, a general knowledge of the common situations we all experience in life, the use of "cold reading" techniques, and the proclivity of the client to believe.
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Cheiro, 1974. You and Your Hand. Sphere Books Ltd. London. UK.
Edwards, Harry. 1988, "Quack Attack." the Skeptic Vol 8 (4) p 24.
_____________ 1993. "Cross my hand with a Fiver." the Skeptic Vol 13(3). Australian Skeptics Inc., PO Box A2324, Sydney South, NSW. 2000.
Gettings, F 1986. Palmistry Made Easy. Wilshire Book Co. CA.
Hill, D. 1992. Fortune Telling. Hamlyn Paperbacks. England.
Laycock, D. (Ed.) 1995. Skeptical. Canberra Skeptics. PO. Box. 555. Canberra, ACT. McBride, R.M. 1939. Encyclopaedia of Occult Sciences. New York.
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Park, M.A. 1982. "Palmistry: Science or Hand-Jive?" Skeptical Inquirer. 7(2):21-32.From: A Skeptics's Guide to the New Age, H. Edwards.
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