The Revival of Chiromancy in England

The re-emergence of the academic study of chiromancy in England doesn't seem to begin again until about the middle of the sixteenth century, over one hundred years after the writings of Metham and the anonymous author of the Digby Roll IV. However, only two English authors from this period are known to have written on chiromancy, Thomas Hill and Robert Fludd.

Thomas Hill (c1545-1599) was a prolific author and writer who hailed from London. He wrote many diverse and different books, including works on astrology, physiognomy, chiromancy, medicine, chemistry, astronomy, bee keeping, animal husbandry, gardening and botany. He was more of a compiler than an original writer but his considerable industriousness did much to popularise contemporary science and philosophy and make such knowledge available to the average uncultured and unlectured people of his day. His first work on physiognomy 'A Brief Epitome of the Whole Art of Physiognomy' published in London in 1556, was a translation and representation of the physiognomical work of Cocles. The work was reprinted in 1571 under the title 'The Contemplation of Mankind' and is a complete treatise on physiognomy covering 236 pages. Two chapters on the physiognomical significance of the hands and the nails are included at pages 166-177.

Chapter 38 is entitled 'The Form and Judgement of the Hands' and is primarily an exposition on the shape, lengths and proportions of the fingers and the palm. There is a brief mention of the lines of the hand, and two chiromantical illustrations are given showing where these are to be found in the hand, but these are not explained in any detail.

However, one interesting point to note is that he calls the mensal line (the heart line) the Veneris et Genitalium Linea. We have seen a correlation being made between this line and the sexual organs before in some of the fifteenth century manuscripts, but this is this is the first mention I have found which ascribes Venus as the planetary ruler of this line. However, the lines of the hand are not explained at all, for the main emphasis in this text is on what the Italians would have termed Natural Chiromancy, what we would now term chirognomy. Hill gives notes on the different shapes of the fingers, the significances of hand breadths and finger lengths, comments on the joints or interphalangeal creases of the fingers, most of which are expressed as terse comments or aphorisms with quotes from or reference to earlier physiognomical authors such as Rasis, Avicenna, Albertus and Ptolemy. Some of his remarks here are of some interest to even modern chirologists. For instance, Hill says: "Such a person which has the hand large and the fingers slender and long is judged to be apt or given to play on instruments", describing therefore an Air shaped hand which, even today, we would expect to be more common in musicians.

A further comment on the stature of the little finger also reflects something of the modern findings regarding this finger and its relation to sexuality and childhood emotional experiences, albeit conveying this in a more simplified and crudely expressed manner. For Hill reports that: "When the end of the little finger shall not reach unto the upper joint of the ring finger, it is then thought a perfect note of a bastard". Hill also gives us a clue as to the origin of that palmistic myth that gaps between the base of the fingers shows someone who cannot hold onto their money, for: "If any hath hollow fingers and not well joining together, it is judged to be a person prone to poverty". Chirologically, of course, this shows someone who is not sensually indulgent or who is not fat, which in those days would have no doubt been primarily caused by poverty and hence being ill-fed or under-nourished. This was probably not all that uncommon a finger formation in the sixteenth century!

There is very little in the way of astrological exposition in this treatise which again demonstrates it to be more of a Natural Chiromancy rather than an astrological chiromancy such as was being developed in France and Germany. There is no exposition of special marks and signs and the only real mention of the mounts of the hands comes in the comments on longevity, where Hill writes: "The hands hollow in the palms with goodness and eminence of the mounts and proportion of the lines is an assured note of long life". Note again, no correlation between the life line and length of life here.

The next chapter of the book deals with the nails of the hands, offering a somewhat spurious account of how and why they grow, followed by an account of the temperamental indications of the shapes of the nails and some comments on the divinatory approach to the markings that can be found on the nails themselves. White spots are given as being an indication of happiness and friendship whereas black spots are given as signifying harms, persecutions and imprisonment.

In Hill's book on gardening, we find an advertisement for the books he has written and the texts he is still in the process of completing. In this list, he gives a forthcoming work with the title 'The Great Work of the Arte of Palmestrie', which is to be a work in two parts, the first being a proof of the art by 'solemn argument' and the second being a proof by demonstration, with practical examples and instructions on how to read the hands. However, it does not seem that this work was ever published, for the only treatise on the subject of hands by Hill now known to us is the text of the physiognomy of Cocles that we discussed above.


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