Our palms have been the subject of interest for thousands of
years. Human handprints found in prehistoric caves show this
fascination stretches as far back as the Stone Age. The study of
the lines on our hands, known as palmistry or chiromancy, appears
to have originated in China and India and came to the West with the
Roma peoples. The practice is now found throughout the world, and
remains a popular way of telling our fortune.
The practice of palmistry has itself experienced mixed fortunes
over the years. The coloured illustration of a palm in this section
has been taken from a book published in 1501 by Magnus Hundt the
Elder, lecturer at the University of Leipzig. The fact that
academics at this time were writing about palmistry gives a good
indication of its reputation. However, things were to change with
the advent of Pope Paul IV (r. 1555-59) and Pope Sixtus V (r.
1585-90), both of whom issued papal edicts against the study of the
divinatory sciences. Thus the practice of palmistry was widely
discredited and forced underground.
Nowadays, the reading of palms is a much less dangerous
The three principal lines used in palmistry are the life line
(the large crease encircling the thumb joint, to predict future
health and vigour), the heart line (the crease made by bending the
fingers towards the palm, to predict emotional events) and the head
line (starting between the thumb and the index finger and running
horizontally across the palm, showing cognition). Diagrams of the
hand highlighting these three lines can be seen in the 16th-century
German printed book and the 17th/18th-century Turkish manuscript
shown in this section. The separate origin of each image and the
similarity to modern palmistry shows how pervasive this ancient art
has been through time and culture.