Les Ouevres de Jean Baptiste Belot

Jean Belot

At about the time Johannes Rothmann's work was first published at the end of the sixteenth century, the French chiromancer Jean Belot was born. Belot was fascinated by both astrology and chiromancy from a young age, though that was not to prevent him from becoming a Cure in later life. His first book on chiromancy was published at Paris in 1619, entitled 'Instruction Familiere et tres facile pour apprendre les sciences de chiromance et physiognomie'. This is very much an astrological chiromancy - in the opening sentence to the treatise, Belot tells us that in order to understand chiromancy, we must first understand the meaning and significances of the planets and the astrological signs - and the text maintains a strong astrological flavour throughout.

This chiromancy was reprinted and included in the text entitled 'Les Oeuvres de Jean Belot', first published at Rouen in 1640. This also includes a treatise on physiognomy and metoposcopy and has further sections devoted to the Lullian Art of Memory, the art of dialectics and even a work on the art of preaching a sermon! The chiromancy occupies the first half of the book and takes up some 210 pages. The astrological emphasis within his work is made very clear from the beginning, for at the frontispiece there is given a woodcut illustration of the hand depicting various astrological correlations, including the innovation of ascribing each of the signs of the zodiac to each of the twelve phalanges of the fingers.

Belot and the Cabala

Belot begins the text itself with a consideration of the significances of the planets and the signs of the zodiac, together with their various occult associations and correspondences, for instance giving a brief description of the typical physiognomy associated with each planet. An exposition on 'Three Worlds' follows, together with the manifestations of these in the lines and areas of the hand itself. The next chapter deals with the interpretation of various sacred letters that can be seen in the lines of the hand. That Belot has come into contact with Hebrew cabalistic chiromancy is abundantly clear from this chapter; not only does he describe the ten sephiroth and the Tree of Life, he even cites the Talmud and makes reference to a certain Rabbi Abraham ben Ezra. However, it is Romanised letters rather than those of the Hebrew script that he looks for in the hand, as is made clear by the table he gives corresponding each of the 26 letters of the alphabet with different planets and zodiacal signs. The divination of the meaning of a letter found in the lines of the hand is therefore achieved by interpreting the astrological symbol directly associated with it.

There then follows a section on astrological correspondences with the physical body and some rather strange chapters on how we might ascertain our day of birth, temperament and our heredity from a consideration of the lines of the hand. We can learn from such considerations whether we are more like our father or our mother and, indeed, Belot even shows us how we might find our Genie or Guardian Angel from looking at the lines of the hand! Throughout, there is much in the way of an astrological emphasis in his approach, typified by the chapter on the quadrangle whose exact formation and construction is given as being an indicator of a precise house position or 'mansion' of the moon, which can then readily be interpreted by astrological means. For ease of interpretation here he also provides a handy table, correlating the mansions of the moon with the lines of the hand, astrological and zodiacal correspondences, angels and specific letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Here Belot overtly informs us that he derived this table of correspondences from the teachings of the cabala.

Chiromantic Interpretations

The bulk of the book is, of course, taken up with explaining the significance of the various lines of the hand. However, in contrast to his penchant for infusing chiromancy with new ideas and perspectives drawn from astrological and cabalistic teachings, many of his interpretations of the lines of the hand are merely re-presentations of ideas we first heard centuries ago. Despite all the advances at a theoretical level, the interpretation of specific lineal features has stayed pretty much the same! For instance, a circle on the line of life indicates loss of an eye (and, yes, two circles here means the loss of both eyes); the mensal line ending between the index and middle fingers shows a man will die by a "flux de sang" whilst a woman with this formation will die in childbirth or through an excessive loss of (menstrual) blood. Of course, a well-formed triangle shows someone who will have good fortune, riches, a happy life and a contented old age whilst four clearly formed rascettes indicate a lifespan of eighty to one hundred years, each clearly formed line giving about twenty years according to Belot.

It is of interest here to note that Belot differs from most authors in the nomenclature he gives to the lines, calling the head line the epatique and the Uranus line the cephalique, rather than the other way round. He surely cannot be ignorant of the usual terminology, for his continual references to the writings of Tricasso, Indagine, Corvus, Taisnier and Goclenius informs us that he is familiar with many of the most important chiromantic authors of the Renaissance period. Indeed, he concurs with the prevailing view on some other interpretations of the lines - for instance that the Mensal line begins beneath the little finger and moves towards the thumb side of the hand. Frontispiece from 'Les Oeuvres de Jean Belot' showing the astrological ascriptions to the finger phalanges

One interesting interpretation he gives for stars to be found on this line is as an indication of good fortune, under the little finger, good fortune in sciences; under the ring finger, good fortune in honour; under the middle finger, good fortune in health and under the index finger, good fortune in money and wealth. This corresponds with some of the interpretations he gives for the lines, for he sees a well-formed ligne du soleil as an indicator of dignity, honour and offices (such as is to be found in Kings and Princes) and he sees a well-formed ligne de Saturne as an indicator of health and tranquillity. He gives an interesting interpretation for the ceinture de Venus, seeing it as indicating someone given to bestiality, sodomy, incest, molestation and dishonest action! It is perhaps from Belot that the nineteenth century interpretation of this line as an indicator of sexual obsession and sexual deviance was originally derived.

Associations and Correspondences

The treatise concludes with sections on the mounts of the palm and how to make predictions from them, a chapter on the nails and on why these are properly part of chiromancy rather than physiognomy and a chapter giving particular rules and general remarks for the interpretation of the morphognomic features of the hand, such as the handsize and the fingers. The whole treatise is thoroughly astrological throughout, occasionally leaving the chiromantic theme under discussion for some foray into further astrological associations and correspondences. Like Johannes Rothmann, Belot is indeed one of the foremost exponents of the astrological approach to chiromancy from this whole period. However, it is clear that his allegiance is not to astrology alone, for many other ideas inform his chiromantic method; the penultimate chapter of the treatise covers the philosophy of the 'Three Worlds' once more, giving all manner of further esoteric associations and correspondences between the hand and the four winds, the four spirits, the four humours and the elements, angels, letters and numbers. For Belot, the importance of chiromancy is not only its value as a divinatory science in its own right, it can also help us know and understand many other divinatory systems as well.

Although his system of astrological ascription to the phalanges was not widely adopted then and in fact is little used now, Belot is one of the few authors of this period to really attempt to synthesise astrology and chiromancy into one coherent discipline together with cabalistic and other esoteric ideas. This clearly shows his connection to that Hermetic stream of thought that can be traced in a number of important chiromantical authors. The attempt to relate chiromancy and astrology so neatly together and fuse these with cabalistic and other Hermetic ideas clearly reflects the esotericists need to perceive the fully integrated relatedness of all arts and sciences studied, as an intellectual edifice to match the complexity of the interreflections between the macrocosm and the microcosm in which we live. Whilst we may doubt the efficacy of such a theoretical approach to the study of chiromancy for the actual practice of hand reading itself, this does not prevent us from being able to marvel, wonder and enjoy the supremely clever way in which these ideas have been intricately woven together in their intellectual attempt to express the Whole.  In modern times, this has only been seriously attempted by Dylan Warren-Davis.

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