John Meteham of Norfolk

A third treatise of the Summa Chiromantia type from the mid-fifteenth century can be found in what are known as the Metham Manuscripts. John Metham was a scholar working under the patronage of a Lord Stapleton of Ingham in Norfolk and reports that the treatise he presents on chiromancy is a translation from an earlier Latin treatise on the subject written by a certain Doctor Aurelyan. The text is thought to have been written c.1449 and two copies of the manuscript are still extant, one being kept in the library of Princetown University in the USA and the other at All Soul's College Oxford.

The treatise is altogether more extensive than either Digby 88 or Digby Roll IV, in as much as it is longer and considers the astrological rulerships of the fingers as well as considering the lines of the hands in more detail. There is still the emphasis on the Triangle and the Quadrangle (formed by the head line and the table line) and the various markings in the hand which are indicative of marriage, children, fortune and death. But there is more on the significance of the table line, including the assertion that it has its origin from under the shewing/index finger. In addition, there is discussion of the nails and the fingers, the mounts and the rascettes and a consideration of the Saturn line and sister lines in the hands.

Hands, Fingers and Lines

As with Ms Digby 88, the right hand is read for a man and the left hand is read for a woman and as with Ms Digby Roll IV, the fingers are named as the shewing finger, the lengest finger, the leeche finger the lytyll finger and the thombe. Whilst neither Ms Digby 88 or Ms Digby Roll IV invoke any astrological symbolism, in the Metham manuscripts we find that the fingers are given astrological rulers. This is perhaps the earliest extant manuscript that explicitly demonstrates an attempt to correlate astrology and chiromancy by placing astrological symbolism within the hand. The thumb was seen to be ruled by Venus, the index finger by Jupiter and the middle finger by Saturn, as even contemporary palmistry still teaches. But the ring finger was seen to be ruled by Mercury whilst the little finger was ruled by Mars!

The line formations of the hand are described in detail. The life line relates to the disposition of the heart, the 'middle line' relates to the brain and the Table line relates to '...the private life of men and women generally'. As with Ms Digby Roll IV, Metham also associates the length of the Middle line (the Head line) with length of life and longevity (though he also says that if it ends beneath the little finger this indicates shortness of life!).

The Table line is given to be especially significant as an indicator of the disposition of '...those parts that belong to the begetting of children'. He introduces an interesting variation to the meaning of this line where it begins between the index and middle fingers: although he agrees with the author of Digby 88 that men who have this formation of the line should die of a wound or the flux, a woman with this mark '...should die of a long continuation of menstrual flow' as well as the familiar assertion that this indicates death in childbirth'.

Lines and Markings

He is particularly interested in those line markings in the hand which reveal whether one has dispositions to lechery and lustiness or to chastity. In addition, there are the usual concerns for the various vexations, tribulations and sorrows that may befall one's life, such as losing one's eyes, death in battle, being hanged, death by fire or water, sudden death through being beheaded or death by drowning. But he is also keen to describe something of the personality of people from the lines of the hand, for instance whether they are honest and steadfast, as well the indications the line markings give of riches and worship, poverty and wretchedness, power and prosperity ie indications of one's station in life either as a religious person or as a man of the world. And of course, there are the indications of the number of wives, sons and daughters one will have....

Metham concludes with some general instructions on reading hands - that the hands should be washed before being examined so that every line can be seen and that judgement should not be made from one line alone but that all features should be considered before one pronounces whether the person is to be deemed either 'worshipful' or 'unfortunate'. Both hands should be considered, though the principal indications for a man are in his right hand whilst the principal indications for a woman are in her left hand. Finally, he exhorts us not to read the hands of anyone under twelve years of age, which is perhaps very sound advice!


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