Utriusque Macrocosmi et Microcosmi Historia

Robert Fludd, the archetypal Renaissance Man The hermeticist Robert Fludd (1574-1637) also wrote several short treatises on chiromancy, a copy of one of which was reproduced in Praetorius' 'Ludicrum Chiromanticum' of 1659 as we have already seen. Fludd had studied medicine at Oxford but had been strongly influenced by the writings of Paracelsus, from whom he developed a fascination for all the occult arts. In addition to being interested in astrology, physiognomy and chiromancy, he had an active interest in the cabala and in alchemy and is known to have been involved in esoteric societies such as the Rosicrucians.   Robert Fludd is very much the embodiment of the archetypal 'Renaissance Man', as a survey of the huge range of his written works more than adequately testifies.

In 1605, he was admitted as a fellow of the College of Physicians but was never really fully accepted by the medical orthodoxy because of his mystical and occult inclinations. However, in addition to his occult interests and his medical qualifications as an anatomist and physician, he was also an accomplished physicist, chemist and mathematician. Between 1617 and 1619, his two volume work 'Utriusque Macrocosmi et Microcosmi Historia' was published at Oppenheim. This enormous work includes the discussion of many mundane as well as esoteric subjects, such as the use of geometry in art and surveying, a theory of vision and musical theory, the harnessing of water power to run clocks and organs and even designs for castles and defences and machines of war!

The second volume of the work begins with a long treatise on anatomy and physiology but is then followed by more occult and esoteric studies. This includes treatises on mystical anatomy, hermetic philosophy, the cabala and astrological meteorology. The section on the divinatory sciences encompasses the seven traditional divinatory arts: the art of natural prophecy, geomancy, the Lullian Art of Memory, natal astrology, physiognomy, chiromancy and pyramid science. The treatise on chiromancy is entitled 'De Scientia Animae Naturalis cum vitali seu astrologia chiromantica' and can be found on pages 140-178.

Astrologia Chiromantia

As with all Fludd's writings, the treatise itself is laid out in a very ordered and systematic fashion. The introduction is followed by a listing of the names for the different parts of the hand and an illustration of the main chiromantic formations in the palm of the hand itself. As can be seen from the diagram itself, Fludd follows the nomenclature and associated astrological correspondences that by now have become pretty much standard throughout the whole of Europe. However, note that he calls the middle finger the Medicus rather than the Medius, which is undoubtedly an error on his part given that it is usually the ring finger which is referred to as the 'medical finger'.

Almost the entire text of this treatise is given over to a consideration of the lines of the hand. Fludd begins by making some general observations about the lines themselves, dividing them into those which he calls Natural Lines (the seven main lines) and those which he calls Accidental Lines (subsidiary lines and markings such as stars and crosses). The second part of the treatise deals with each of the Natural lines in turn, detailing the variety of their formation and interspersing these with many small diagrams illustrating the markings that can be found on them. Most of these sections are extremely short, though the linea vitalis and the linea mensalis are considered in more detail. Curiously, he calls the head line the linea hepatica and the health line the linea cephalica, as Belot was later to do also. Short sections are also given on the meanings of the Triangle and the Quadrangle and the lineal formations to be found on the mounts and the fingers themselves. The third section of the work deals with the Accidental lines and gives a brief exposition on the astrological indications of the planets. Two chiromantic illustrations are included here, marked with many crosses and small line formations in different parts of the palm with a list of the meanings of all these given below.

In addition to writing about the chiromantic significance of the lines, Fludd also gives a list of practical instructions or rules for reading hands themselves. He advises us that the principal line of the hand is to be noted as this indicates the basic complexion of the person and that we should never make a judgement from one line or marking alone but weigh up and assess all the line features equally.   William Benham clearly was not the first author to recommend an organic and synthetic approach to the reading of features of the hands.

One curious assertion that he makes here is that in order to know which hand one should consider, one should enquire as to what time of day they were born. If they were born in the night, the left hand should be considered whereas if they were born in the day one should look at the right hand. It is this kind of comment, along with his misnaming of the middle finger and two of the major lines in the hand, that makes one rather sceptical about the true nature of Fludd's actual knowledge about chiromancy. Either he has not studied much of the extant chiromancies of his day or somewhere along the line, he has simply forgotten that which he has read. Either way, this does not inspire much confidence.

Much of what he has to say about chiromancy does not, however, differ that drastically from other contemporary works; he is neither an innovator nor is he especially original. Moreover, despite his interest in alchemy, astrology and the cabala, there is no attempt made here to integrate these ideas and perspectives together, such as we saw with Belot and Rothmann, for example. From this, we may deduce that he was not an avid devotee of chiromancy, else we might have expected to see more of the hermetic philosophies expressed within his chiromantic writing. For his treatise is merely a simple and straightforward exposition on the meaning of the lines of the hands and differs little in its content from other chiromancies of this era. Perhaps his reason for including a treatise on chiromancy here is more a manifestation of his desire for order and completeness rather than from a really thorough grounding in the principles and practice of the art.

Medicinae Catholicae

A later work of Fludd's, published in 1631 on the mysteries of disease, entitled 'Integrum Morborum Mysterium: Medicinae Catholicae' also contains a chiromancy. Although this work concentrates largely on medicine, there are a considerable number of treatises on the occult sciences and we find a work on chiromancy in a section which includes writings on numerology, astrology, physiognomy and geomancy as well as on meteorological prognostication. The book as a whole also discusses the complexions, the medical examination of urine and the taking of the pulse for, like Paracelsus before him, Fludd found no problem in combining science and occult wisdom together in his practice of medicine. There is even a section on the astrological judgement of urine samples!

The work as a whole is an absolutely huge tome; the chiromancy is on p221 and is to be found in the second book of the second part of the third section (!) and is entitled 'De Signis sive praesagis Chiromanticis'. Despite the size of the volume as a whole, the treatise on chiromancy is actually very short, being only some eight short chapters over ten pages, and in fact, we find that it is merely a severely truncated and edited version of the treatise from the earlier work 'Utriusque Microcosmi Historia'. Much of it is a verbatim reproduction of the earlier text, but he deals with the material much less thoroughly; many of the original diagrams and illustrations and their interpretations are just simply left out.

There is also further evidence here that Fludd is merely copying extant chiromantical traditions - for instance, he repeats the centuries old nonsense that a circle found on the linea vitalis indicates the loss of an eye whilst two circles found here indicates the loss of both eyes! Once again, this does not suggest that Fludd was a very earnest researcher of chiromancy and certainly does not suggest any interest on his part to integrate his chiromancy with any of the other hermetic sciences he has studied and written about. One would normally expect a later treatise to be more comprehensive rather than less; the fact that this is an edited chiromancy with no evident progression or development of his ideas from those printed in 1619, once again suggests that chiromancy was not really an active area of study for Fludd.

Given the meagre extent of his writings on chiromancy, as compared to the volumes of his writings and studies on other subjects, it certainly cannot be correct to claim that chiromancy was an integral part of either his work as a hermeticist nor in his practice as a physician. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that he was interested in hands, he is not the major player that so many modern handreaders would have us believe that he was.


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