William John Warner, aka 'Cheiro the Palmist'

         Cheiro the Palmist

The most renowned figure of this period was the Irishman William John Warner, who also went by the name of Count Louis Hamon and is best known as 'Cheiro' (1866-1936). Cheiro's reputation stems from the fact that he not only had an unusual gift for the occult sciences, but also that he had a rather remarkable talent for befriending some of the most eminent people of the day. Reading his books, especially his autobiography, is almost like reading a 'Who's Who' of Victorian and Edwardian England! He read the hands of Prince Edward the Prince of Wales, General Kitchener, William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain as well as other leading military, judicial and political figures from both Europe and America. He also read the hands of many literary and artistic figures such as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde - along with a tale to tell about how he met them and their reactions to his pronouncements. Mark Twain included references to fingerprint identification in one of his novels ('Puddin'head Wilson') and Oscar Wilde was so stunned by what Cheiro had to say to him that he penned a short story ('Lord Arthur Saville's Crime') based on this encounter.  Cheiro's ability as a predictive palmist is legendary and with such a range of respectable and eminent people to attest to it, it cannot seriously be doubted.

However from a consideration of his written works alone it is hard to see how he managed to be able to be so accurate in making any predictions from the hand.   Certainly, nobody could learn how to read hands in the way that Cheiro did from a study of his books as they contain nothing which point to such 'predictive powers'.   The system of hand analysis he advocates deviates little from the writings of Messrs. D'Arpentigny and Desbarolles, so it can be inferred that his predictive ability was not gleaned from anything that he saw in the hands themselves.  As he was also an adept at astrology and numerology, it may have been through these arts, rather than from the hand, that he managed to make such accurate predictions in particular cases. The hand does not really provide such scope for prediction in the way that the more fatalistic arts of astrology and numerology can.

However, it is undoubtedly true that he was actually something of a psychic or clairvoyant. he describes this intuitive process in several places within his written works, freely admitting to using numerology and astrology as a means of making such predictions.  In his autobiography he also relays incidents in which 'premonitions' came to him and from which he made such predictions as Lord Kitchener's death.  From these, it is clear that he is not actually 'seeing' anything from the lines and features of the hands at all.

The print of his own hand, which he reproduces in his book 'The Language of the Hand', shows this intuitive ability quite clearly, as it also reveals the 'double-life' of the man with more than one name and more than one personality. Whatever the truth of his abilities in this regard, together with his penchant for the exotic as reflected in the decor of his consulting rooms, there can be no doubt that he deliberately sought to cultivate an aura of mystery around himself. The right hand of Cheiro. Note the strong line of intuition and the double head line, showing his 'double personality'

The title and tone of his autobiography, 'Confessions - Memoirs of a Modern Seer' suggests that he very much saw himself as a gifted psychic and intuitive and he most certainly liked to present himself in that way.   He was involved with the Rosicrucians and had close connections with various spiritualist groups and psychic mediums, and, at various times, Cheiro also worked as a journalist, ran a champagne business, owned two French newspapers, ran a chemical factory in Ireland and later was to become a scriptwriter in California for Hollywood films. It has also been suggested that he was also a secret agent for the British Government.  Whilst very little actual chirology can be learnt from reading the works of Cheiro, they do reveal some things about his character and temperament. Although a courteous and undoubtedly charming man, he seems also to have been somewhat arrogant and boastful. He had a lively imagination and a gift for distorting facts and embellishing stories. He was a smoothtalker as well as a natural entertainer and these qualities undoubtedly assisted his chirological career even though it may make it difficult to establish the true facts of the story of this enigmatic man.

Some of the chirology he details in his written works and some of the stories he relates often seem either rather dubious or rather fantastic and it is sometimes difficult to know for certain how much of what he reports is true. Moreover, much of his writing is incredibly anecdotal which, though entertaining, gives few clues as to how to work with the hand in the way that he did. For these reasons, most of his books are not actually worth studying in any depth.  Their only redeeming virtue is the fact that they contain the handprints of so many famous and eminent people.

Whilst Cheiro's books are repeatedly reprinted, especially in India and the Far East, his legends still linger in the public imagination.   As people love colourful characters and they love to be entertained, so he still retains a certain fascination.  Indeed, it is probably only because of Cheiro that so many people have even heard of handreading in the first place.  However, it is also quite clear that his continued presence actually does a disservice for the progress of modern chirology.   For people still think that handreading is all about 'prediction' and 'fortune-telling'.  That image serves only to augment William John Warner and those that aspire to be like him.  It does very little for the serious business of chirological diagnostics.

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