Chiromantia Theorica Practica

The English version of Rothmann's 'Chiromantia Theorica Practica', translated by Geo Wharton in 1652 One German chiromancer who went out of his way to emphasise the interconnections between astrology and chiromancy was Johannes Rothmann.  His major work 'Chiromantia Theorica Practica' was first published in 1595 and translated into English by George Wharton in 1652. The basic premise of Rothmann's work is that the mounts of the hand are ruled by the planets and since everyone has a planet dignified in their birthchart, as derived from their time of birth, characters and signs will appear in the mount of the hand corresponding to the dignified planet. From looking at the hand, we should be able to describe the horoscope and from looking at the birthchart we should be able to describe the hand. Rothmann's work is therefore the first attempt to directly tie the chiromantic and the astrological 'maps' together.

He first outlines the features of the hands under consideration and allocates the mounts their astrological rulerships. He is aware that different ideas have been presented as to the rulerships of the different parts of the hand, but disagrees with the system proposed by Antiochus Tibertus and stays with the more familiar astrological allocation, such as we saw with Indagine, and expresses this in a little rhyme:

Venus the thumb and Jove the index guides,
Saturn the middle, Sol the wanton brides;
Stilbon the least, Luna the ferrient
And Mars in cavea doth pitch his tent.

He divides the lines into two types, the major lines being the Cardiaca or life line, the Epatica or head line, the Table line, the Cephalica (the uranus line) and the Restricta or rascettes. The lesser lines are the via Solis, the via Lactea, the Line of Saturn or the via Combusta, the linea Martis and the Cinculum Veneris. The bulk of the first part of the text then deals with the explication of the various markings and formations of these lines and this is then followed by a section on the planets and the mounts of the hand.

He explains how the condition of a planet in the birthchart can be seen by reference to the markings that are to be found on its corresponding mount. Benevolent or fortunate placements of a planet in the nativity will be shown by markings such as a cross, star, parallel lines, ladders, a quadrangle or the symbol for the planet Jupiter. Unfortunate or malevolent placements of a planet would be indicated by markings such as a semi-circle, a grid-iron or the symbol for the planet Saturn. The star is given as being one of the best formations of all - for a star on a mount indicates that that 'star' or planet is indeed shining brightly in that person's life.

After this preliminary discussion of the main principles involved in his approach to the study of the hand, the bulk of the text is taken up with nineteen examples of the correlations between the natal chart and the hand. Each hand is sketched within the frame of an astrological chart and then an extensive interpretation is given to illustrate how the two coincide in their prognostications. However, even with only a rudimentary knowledge of either handreading or astrology, its not difficult to be rather sceptical about this whole approach. First of all, we could never be sure whether Rothmann has in fact faithfully drawn the lines on the hands that he has given. The illustrations are extremely crude and An astrological birthchart correlated with a drawing of the person's hand, allegedly to demonstrate their correspondence...

even a cursory glance at them shows he has drawn in some most unusual and unlikely line formations that one rarely, if ever, sees. Moreover, it is obvious that he has not drawn in all the lines on these hands (or the all the markings on the lines themselves), some of which we might have wanted to see. And if he's left some lines out, who is to say that he hasn't left in only those lines that agree with his interpretations?

A more serious question that raises itself though is, how did he manage to get such exact birthtimes for all the charts he has drawn up (eg 4.20pm) in a time when most people were illiterate and innumerate and watches were not the order of the day! It is a notorious problem for astrologers that most people even today do not know their time of birth to within an hour, never mind the exact minute. With this in mind, we should be sceptical about all the charts that Rothmann has drawn up and hence we should be sceptical about his judgements and his correlations. For if the birthtime is wrong, then the chart will be wrong and the dignified planet (at least the ruler of the chart, the ruler of the ascendant) will not correlate with any markings to be found in the mounts of the hands. And yet Rothmann argues these nineteen delineations as perfect examples of the congruence between the charts and the hands!

It is also easy to see that his interpretations of both the charts and the hands is extremely selective; none of the interpretations are particularly extensive and one just has the sneaking suspicion that he has only looked for those things that agree with his desire to see concordances and agreements. This would not necessarily be so bad if he was only suggesting that there might be some correlation between birthcharts and hands...  But he isn't, he's expounding a whole new approach to chiromancy and is actively trying to synthesise astrological ideas in hand interpretation. However, even Rothmann admits that he has not always found concordances between the lines on the hand and the birthchart and seems extremely puzzled why this should be so. His only explanation for these 'anomalies' is that the 'seed of the parents' must have interfered with the conception in some way!

Erroneous Interpretations

Chirologically, we can be critical of his approach in as much as he is very limited in terms of the features that he actually considers in the hand. For nowhere does he apply astrological symbolism extensively to all the lines of the hand, as one might have thought that he would. This would not be an incredibly difficult innovation to make, but instead he churns out the same old interpretations for the main lines and the markings to be found in them that have been repeated over and over for at least the last two hundred years. The ending of the Mensal line between the index and middle fingers still means death in childbirth for a woman, circles in the line of life still mean loss of one's eyes. Even the interpretation we saw in the Ms Digby Roll IV for a complete circular line formation around the thumb is still given as being an indication that one will die from being hanged! But he even seems to break his own rules. In two examples, he has 'the mark of gout' given as a star-like formation on the mount of Saturn. Gout can hardly be considered a 'benevolent and fortunate' condition and although Saturn is often seen in a very negative light, one would have thought that such a bright star would bring something of the more beneficent aspects of Saturn. And this cannot be put down to Rothmann having only a negative understanding of Saturn, for he clearly states elsewhere that a strong Saturn line shows 'cogitation and good fortune'!

Rothmann also has a slightly strange approach to some other features of the hand, and it is perhaps these which we can see as being more innovative than his attempt to relate chiromancy and astrology together. For instance, like Julius Spier some 350 years later, he reads the life line up the hand from the rascettes up towards the fingers! However, he agrees with other authors of his time that the Mensal line begins under the little finger and moves towards the thumb and that this line has something to do with sex and procreation, in as much as he tells us that certain markings to be seen in this line indicate "strength of the genitals and a burning lust". However, he also sees the Cinculum Veneris in this way, describing it as an indicator of intemperance and lust, baseness and bestiality.

He has noticed that the lines of the hands change over time, but seems to be a little muddled about the names for some of the lines, though it must be said both Robert Fludd and Jean Belot also refer to the head line as the Hepatica and the uranus line as the Cephalic as well. However, it may be that these two later authors were simply copying from Rothmann's mistake. He also informs us that in order to know which hand we should look at, we should see which hand has the lines and characters more strongly marked, for those born in the night will have stronger line markings in the left hand whilst those born in the day will have stronger formations in the right hand. He also tells us that line markings on the finger phalanges also have significance and can be used for prognostication and divination. Markings on the lower phalanges indicate events in our youth, on the middle phalange events in our middle years and on the top phalange, events that will befall us in our later years.

Rothmann also includes tables of astrological data and outlines the principles of both horary and electional astrology to round in this work and finishes off with a chapter entitled 'A brief discourse of the soul of the world', in which he defends astrology and chiromancy by reference to the poet Virgil and with quotes from the Bible. Job 37:7 is conspicuously present in the frontispiece to the book. All in all, Rothmann's work tells us much more about the philosophy of the age rather than how we might attempt to relate astrology and handreading together. Much of what he has to say is the old Mediaeval chiromancy wrapped up in Renaissance clothing. We might admire his attempt to relate astrology and chirology more systematically together, and can respect him for being the first person to really have a go at it, but we should remain unconvinced by the methods he outlines and the interpretative approach he gives. This is not to say that there is no correspondence between these two arts, only that we are unlikely to be successful in relating them together utilising the approach outlined by Johannes Rothmann.

Whilst Rothmann's work is perhaps the most comprehensive of all the attempts to relate astrology and chiromancy together, it was not uncommon for other authors to have something to say on this issue as well, as we shall again when we consider the writings of Jean Belot. A much later astrological chiromancy, written in Latin, is Mauritius de Flisco's 'Decas de Fato Annisque Fatalibus', published at Frankfurt in 1665. Although he includes a treatise of some dozen pages on physiognomy and chiromancy, the bulk of the text is astrological and much of the book is taken up with the birthcharts of famous Italians such as Cocles, Pico and Savanarola.

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