Dominicus Gundissalinus and John of Salisbury

All the evidence is also pointing towards the middle of the twelfth century as the time at which chiromancy first became widely known within Europe. This is further confirmed by the fact that the terms chiromantia or chiromanticus are not known at all in any texts earlier than about 1160. The lack of the use of such terms in Latin works explicitly written to list condemned divinatory practices suggests quite strongly that chiromancy was unknown before about the middle of the twelfth century. Moreover, the first known Latin texts to use the term chiromancy were both written about 1160, once again suggesting that chiromancy is a relatively new phenomena at this time.

Dominicus Gundissalinus mentions chiromancy in his work 'De Divisione Philosophiae', written c1160, in which he discusses the various forms of divination available at that time, including the new arts of chiromancy and scapulimancy (divination from cracks formed in the shoulder blades of sheep). However, he does not seem particularly impressed by it, for he relegates it to his list of 'inferior' methods of divination. His preference is clearly for astrology, as he explains that divination from the heavenly bodies is by far the most noble form of divination of all. These writings of Gundissalinus do perhaps suggest an Arabic connection once again; for Gundissalinus lived and worked in Toledo in Spain which, through Moorish influence, was one of the foremost centres for Arabic learning at that time. Moreover, although the source of Gundissalinus' awareness of chiromancy has not been traced, this brief reference does at least clearly inform us of the approximate dates at which chiromancy first began to gain interest and attention within European intellectual circles.

John of Salisbury (c1115-1180) also makes a passing reference to chiromancy in his 'Polycraticus' of 1159. In one section of this work, he engages in a rather long discussion of the magical arts and presents a somewhat contemptuous view of both astrology (mathematici) and other divinatory arts such as pyromancy, aeromancy, hydromancy and geomancy. His discussion of chiromancy is a little more brief, for he explains that: 'The chiromantici are those who presage the hidden aspects of things from the inspection of the hands' and that '...chiromancy professes to discern truths which lie hidden in the wrinkles of the hands, but since there is no apparent reason for this belief, it is not necessary to contravene it'. The implication here is that this is a new form of divination which has only recently become fashionable. He also informs us that Thomas a Beckett, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, was in the habit of visiting soothsayers and chastises him for having consulted a chiromancer on the occasion of a Royal Expedition with Henry II in 1157. In fact, as it is now known, Thomas a Beckett continued to consult diviners even after he had become Archbishop of Canterbury.

This evidence from the pen of John of Salisbury reveals two important things: firstly, that some form of chiromantical tradition had already reached England by the middle of the twelfth century and secondly, that chiromancy was not necessarily viewed in an unfavourable light by the Church at this time. For, by some strange coincidence, the earliest extant chiromantic manuscript we now possess dates from around this time. It was scribed in the religious environment of Canterbury and is to be found within what is essentially an ecclesiastical text.

 

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