This week, SCUA peers into the art and (pseudo)science of palm reading. Palmistry is one of the many subjects strongly represented in our Alternative Religious Movements Collection.
Palmistry, also known as cheiromancy or cheirognomy, is the practice of predicting the future or analyzing the character of an individual by a close inspection and interpretation of the lines, mounts, and shapes of a hand. Palmistry was practiced in ancient Greece, and was also present in the ancient cultures of India, China, and Egypt. The earliest Western text on palmistry appears in a 1160 Psalter held in the Trinity College library at Cambridge, and several books on cheiromancy were published soon after moveable type was introduced in the West after around 1450.
While SCUA’s holdings on palmistry do not begin quite that early, we do have one early modern text on cheiromancy, Das Grosse Planeten Buch, which was published in Germany in 1644. This textbook compiled previous writing on handreading from multiple ancient sources, and added an exhaustive dictionary of illustrations. Our palmistry holdings really take off in the late nineteeth century and early twentieth century, when there was a surge of interest in palmreading and other occult and astrological interests in America. From textbooks on handreading like Practical Palmistry to reference tools like the Winton Palm-O-Scope, the illustrated palmistry materials produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are among the most visually fascinating in the Alternative Religious Movements Collection.
To palm through these incredible books yourself, drop by SCUA today! (We won’t inspect your palms, but we will ask that your hands be clean!)