Chiromantic Revivals and the Development of Chirognomy

The eighteenth century saw very few new books on chiromancy throughout the whole of Europe. In England, France and Italy, the study of the hand almost completely disappears and even in Germany where there were some new writers on the art, very little of substantial value is added to the body of chiromantical knowledge by any of these authors. Most of these texts were either anonymous works or were merely reprints or reworkings of the texts of earlier authorities. The eighteenth century is quite remarkable in the history of European chirology quite simply because it is entirely without any central figure whatsoever!

This is not to say that the practice of handreading had died out altogether, for no doubt it continued to be practiced in its more debased and superstitious form by itinerant chiromancers and gipsies. But there was no serious and concerted study of the hand as there had been in the previous five centuries.  The only eighteenth century palmist of any note was Marie-Anne Le Normand (1768-1842), and this is only eally due to her famous associations. As a result of being acquainted with one Josephine de Beauharnais, through Josephine's marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte, she was to become one of the most famous seers of all France. She was reputedly highly skilled in both cartomancy and palmistry but seems to have relied more on her prophetic and intuitive skills in which Napoleon himself, at least, placed considerable confidence in.  Her approach, therefore, is more akin to a Renaissance chiromancer than to a modern chirologist and indeed we see this reflected in the types of marks and formations which she recorded and presumably worked from in her interpretation of hands. The illustrations she has left us of both Napoleon's and Josephine's hands are replete with all manner of mysterious signs and occult symbols that one would never expect to see in any palm at all!

Of the three main occult sciences, only physiognomy saw any progressive development in the eighteenth century. Johann Lavatar (1741-1801) was a Swiss Protestant minister from Zurich with a strong interest in mysticism. His treatise of c.1775 'Physiognomische Fragmente' was the first reasoned and methodical treatise on the subject acceptable to the eighteenth century mentality and its success was such that it was immediately translated into several European languages. Whilst he has very little to say about the study of hands, he at least recognised the individuality of the patterns they present. His work quite revolutionised the study of physiognomy and undoubtedly provided some impetus for the further study of both the form of the body and the form of the hand in the nineteenth century. Lavatar's physiognomical studies influenced both Francois Gall, who went on to develop phrenology, and Casimir D'Arpentigny who was to become one of the leading figures in the study of chirognomy.

It is only in the early mid-nineteenth century that we see the beginnings of some attempts to reconstruct the study of the hand on a systematic basis. Two names in particular stand out most prominently in this revival, those of Casimir D'Arpentigny and Adrien Desbarolles.


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The Spellbinding Power of Palmistry - Johnny Fincham
'The Spellbinding Power of Palmistry'