The History of Palmistry

The wish to foretell what the future might bring is a desire as old as mankind. Many forms of divination have been tried through the ages including reading entrails and the patterns of birds as they flock. Most have been discarded as greater knowledge has accumulated. Palmistry is thousands of years old as well but it is still in use today as we understand to a greater degree what the lines mean and how they reflect different aspects of the body.


“God caused signs or seals on the hands of all the sons of men, that the sons of men might know their works.” 


This quote from The Book of Job illustrates the ancient heritage and importance placed upon the lines of the palm. But this is not a Christian or Jewish art and its history far predates this quote.


Some claim that the art of  palmistry originated in China or India, and it is possible, maybe even probable, that it did arise in multiple places at different times.  Aristotle, in his “De Historia Animalium” described the practice and outlined his belief in the fact that the lines of the palm reflected aspects of the persons soul along with some observations on what the lines meant. This knowledge was passed to Alexander the Great who took the knowledge on board both in military and diplomatic fields.

As Alexander’s empire expanded to India and Persia the awareness of Palm reading expanded as well. Soon it was being practised as far afield as Tibet, China, and Egypt. Whether these cultures originated palm reading or not it is without doubt that the popularity spread because of the empire and also that it was in these areas, and especially in Persia, that the understanding of the lines and their meaning was codified.


The death of Alexander led to the fracturing of his Empire as his generals fought for their own bit of control. As noted, the practice was by this time entrenched in the East. However it had not spread westward.

The Romans always had a great fascination with Greek culture and saw themselves as the inheritors of their knowledge. This fact combined with their conquering of many of the Eastern lands that had formed Alexander’s empire resulted in widespread usage of palmistry as a form of fortune-telling.

But, unlike the Greeks, the Romans also spread their Empire westward. And with it came palm reading.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire the practice continued. However the Catholic Church was always suspicious and treated the chiromancy (as it is also known) as pagan superstition to be suppressed. The Middle Ages saw the church with enough power in Western Europe to enforce this belief and palmists were treated as witches and condemned.

While palmistry remained a little-known underground belief in Western Europe it continued to flourish further East, particularly among the Romany of Romania, Bulgaria and surrounding areas which were firstly under Byzantine rule and then Ottoman.


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victorian palmist cheiro

The Victorians had an ongoing fascination with all things occult and this led to the re-awak

ening of knowledge and interest in palmistry. One of the leading forces in this revival was Irishman William John Warner. He studied under gurus in India and, under the soubriquet of Cheiro opened a palmistry studio in London. He achieved international fame and read the palms of as wide a clientele as Thomas Edison, William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain, the Prince of Wales, Oscar Wilde, Mata Hari, and Mark Twain. Indeed Mark Twain, a noted sceptic, wrote that his reading had “…exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy.”

His books were sensations and spread knowledge of the art farther than he could in person.



Since the Victorian age palmistry has come in and out of fashion amongst society as a whole. At times it is seen as simple amusement but increasing knowledge of anatomy has shown led to increasing acceptance that the lines of the palm convey information about our body and history. Indeed the lines themselves change continuously and a good palmist can see differences in as little as 3-month intervals. The meaning of the lines has been understood for some time now and the knowledge of palmistry itself can be learned.


Modern technology now means that, for the first time in history, the quality of your reading is no longer dependent upon the chance of where you are born or live. Now you can have a personal reading from the best palmists no matter where they or you are.