rotten > Library > The Occult > Palmistry


There is a long tradition of human beings trying to unravel the future through virtually every imaginable means. And in almost every form of divination, there is a grain of common sense.

Tarot can be said to invoke Jungian archetypes to characterize the elements of our perception of the universe. The i-Ching is in many respects a reasonable model of processes in physical systems. Seeing the future in dreams is surprisingly feasible in a world where Quantum Physics applies. You can even construction a decent-sounding (albeit intellectually flimsy) rationalization for the general concept of Astrology under the auspices of chaos theory.

Palmistry, alas, is the red-headed stepchild of divination systems. There's just no good reason to think it might work no matter how loosely you apply the strictures of "science."

What it lacks in credibility, palmistry makes up for in drama. There's nothing quite like reading palms for a moment of drama especially if you happen to be a mysterious gypsy with a husky Marlene Dietrich-style voice.

The theory itself is pretty basic. The lines on your hands are said to describe important elements of your life, ranging from your success in love to your allotted span of years. It's a great romantic notion.

Now, in vaguest principle, some of this information is in fact encoded in your body somewhere, whether it be your DNA, your neural pathways or simply the stiffness of your arteries. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who can explain why these characteristics would manifest themselves as creases on your hand, or why any given person should be particularly qualified to judge the content of those creases.

Most estimates of the origins of palmistry run back about 3,000 years, which is probably a low estimate since people had hands for a long time before that. It's known to have been practiced in China, Egypt and India, at the very least.

There are various lines on the hand which supposedly chart to the days of our lives (much like sands through an hourglass). The most famous of these (and the most frequently consulted by 9-year-olds first discovering the exciting world of alternate spiritualities) are the life line (life expectancy), heart line (success in love, or lack thereof) and a few hatch marks down the side of the hand which are supposed to indicate how many children one may expect.

If the practice of palmistry pretty much stopped there, it would no doubt rest in the same general category as the scientific pursuit of how to break your mother's back by stepping on sidewalk cracks (an area surprisingly neglected by most major university programs).

But there's sooooooo much more. And what's really fascinating is just how pedantic and tedious most of it is. Virtually every mark you can find on your hand is charted to some portent of meaning by one person or another.

It's tempting to throw the "New Age" slur over the whole mess of practitioners and move on, but the practice of palmistry differs from the mass of New Age practices in that it never really went out of style so that it could have a proper renaissance. Like tuberculosis, it's just always been there. The Catholic Church banned palmistry during the Middle Ages, but at the same time embraced it as a method of finding witches to burn. Through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the practice was commonly accepted, and even studied in universities as a form of Physiognomy.

Persisting into the 20th century with little dampening of enthusiasm, the adherents of palmistry did at least pick up some pointers from the birth of the New Age movement in the 1960s. Those wishing to learn more about reading palms may now treat themselves to thousands on thousands of pages of hifalutin verbiage which purports to explain how it could possibly be that these tiny lines on your hand could portray your life in any reasonable way.

Centuries ago, the sages of India established a system of knowledge stemming from the Vedas, the earliest sacred Hindu writings. They studied the hands as a means to unveil and understand the self and relationships with others. They saw that the unique patterns of lines and signs in the hand come into being as a direct result of the way we think. Just as a pebble thrown into the water creates ripples, so our thoughts create similar effects.
The first rule of the New Age: When it doubt, it comes from the Vedas.

Viewed by many as an extremely useful tool, organizations such as Scotland Yard and the French police currently use palmistry and the study of hands for detecting criminals.
The above apparently refers to the practice of fingerprinting, which is hardly the same as palmistry. But try telling these schmucks. And how about this one?
Hand reading gives us instant, easy access to the person within, so that we no longer have to take the people in our relationships at face value, leaving us wondering if we really know them at all. The hands give us access to the inner person, allowing us to see strengths and weaknesses, behaviour patterns, things that have affected us in the past, how we feel right now, and what we might be doing or feeling in the future. We can see ourselves as we really are, allowing us to really step back and see ourselves as others see us! No hiding! No pretending! The hands do not lie!
Yes, you can't trust anyone, the fucking bastards! Thank god you can surreptitiously read their palms, pry into the deepest corners of their psyches, learn their weaknesses and secrets, then use this knowledge to keep them firmly enslaved to your almighty will! Now THAT'S good thinking! Even more telling are the writings attempting to legitimize palmistry with records of its historical appeal and current popularity. One widely reprinted "history of palmistry" demonstrates not only that palm readers can't spell or perform simple grammatical functions, but that they aren't even bright enough to spellcheck material before lifting it from someone else's site on the Internet:
"The practise (sic) of palmistry was unfortunitly (sic) forced underground by the catholic (sic) church who (sic) branded it devil worshiping (sic). ... Proffesional (sic) palmists can be found reading palms in every country in the world. Pick up almost any copy of a womens (sic) magazine and there is some information on palmistry." (A Lexis-Nexis search of magazines published over the last three years did not seem to bear this latter claim out.)
In a world where beliefs such as Scientology, Homeopathy and even Mormonism are comfortably ensconced within the acceptable range of beliefs held by people outside of institutional settings, it has to tell you something when a belief like palmistry (or physiognomy in general) finds its niche catering to the lowest common denominator. If something is too flaky for even Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley or Priscilla Presley to publicly espouse it, it's got to be pretty damn flaky.

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