Chiromancy, Fatalism and Prediction

In comparing these three texts together then, we can see some considerable agreements amongst them in their attitudes and orientation that gives us a pretty fair idea of the state of the art of handreading at that time. What is also interesting to consider here is how much of fifteenth century chiromancy has percolated down through the centuries. For from these texts we can see why there is the commonly held belief that palmistry is all to do with fortune telling and predicting marriages, numbers of children and death.

More markings of Death and Misfortune, from MS Digby 88

What is particularly evident is how much of contemporary palmistry still uses these outmoded interpretations! The associations made for the Apollo line and for the affection lines are still thought of as important indicators of fame and marriage even today. But it is quite clear that the use of certain of the signs and marks, in particular symbols such as the Triangle and the Quadrangle, are really only relevant only to the mind set and mentality of the fifteenth century.

The emphasis in chiromancy at that time is markedly oriented towards a consideration of the hand in terms of signs of one's fate and fortune. In the kind of fixed society that was feudalism, such a fatalistic attitude is really to be expected. Life ran to a predetermined pattern and you remained within the social class to which you were born. There was very little opportunity for social mobility or for bettering your lot - if you were born a serf you stayed a serf. Furthermore, the predetermination that was apparent in daily life was equally reflected in the philosophy of predestination that prevailed in the thinking of the Church. Given these facts of fifteenth century life, it really is no surprise that the chiromancy of the day was preoccupied with predicting one's fate and destiny.

It is obvious then that much of this early chiromancy is of very little practical use or relevance for people today, and so it is surprising to see how many of the signs and symbols used then are still used in contemporary palmistry!  From reviewing such texts as these, we can see how inappropriate it is to unquestioningly utilise mediaeval traditions of handreading in modern times and that it is really quite naive to continue to interpret the lines of the hands simply as signs and portents of one's 'fate'. Telling fortunes and making predictions is exactly what the fifteenth century chiromancer was interested in doing and, given the social, economic and political context of fifteenth century society, this is hardly surprising. To expect this of handreading was entirely correct five hundred years ago. But to think of modern hand analysis in this way is about as accurate as expecting your local GP to treat you with leeches!  (*)  To call a modern doctor a leechman is to ignore all the developments of medical science of the last five hundred years. Equally, to think of a contemporary hand analyst as a mere 'fortune teller' is also to be some five hundred years out of date....


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(*) This is not actually an invalid comparison to make here, for in the fifteenth century the ring finger was often referred to as the leech finger (or the medicine finger in the Latin texts). This accurately reflects the nature of medical practice at that time, since leeches were thought to be a beneficial means of draining and cleansing the blood and hence to be a valuable treatment for curing infections. Interestingly, they were put on the ring finger because it was thought that this finger had a special connection with the heart - hence the tradition of wearing the marriage ring on this finger.