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Palmistry Basics

 Palmistry is often thought of as the art of reading the lines in the hand. The lines tell only one part of the story that is etched into the hands. A skilled Palmist looks at palmar lines and ridges, the shape and length of each finger, the mounts and bumps on the hand as well as skin color, warts, cuts, blisters, scars and the subject's own unique calling card, the fingerprints.

Recognition of the shape of the palm and the correspondences given to the mounds and fingers provides a grounding in the study of the map of the hand. Once this mapping is understood, it becomes much simpler to learn to read the hand by viewing the lines, bumps, wounds and other unique markings as an 'overlay' on top of the map.

The study of hand shapes, including the size and shapes of the fingers and mounds. This section contains information about the four basic hand shapes. To learn about the map of the hands, visit the Meaning & Myth section.

The study of the lines in the hands. This word is also often used to describe the entire study of palmistry. This section gives a basic overview of the three major lines found in the hand as well as commonly found vertical lines.

The study of the skin ridges of the hand. In the section you will find an summary of the four basic types of fingerprints.

A History of Palmistry

Many have wondered where our present day knowledge of palmistry comes from. The study of the human hand's as old as mankind itself, probably older. It's principles can even be applied to non-human species.

So where did the idea of palmistry originate? All mammals, marsupials, reptiles and birds take extensive pains grooming themselves, and know their own body parts perhaps better than we do. Watch young animals, particularly birds, and you'll see them examine and poke at their feet or paws with great interest. This is mirrored by the action of human babies, who often move their fingers around and watch them for hours.

When questioning consciousness dawned in early humans, causing them to wonder why things are as they are, the study of the hand was not far behind. People of the Old Stone Age decorated their sacred caves with unsurpassed artwork, and hundreds of hand prints. The hand print signified 'I have been in this cave and witnessed these sacred mysteries'. The association of the hand with individuality had begun, and it's not a great mental leap to work backwards and assess an individual by their hand.

During those many centuries of innocence, when humanity lived as part of nature in the gardens of Eden, before any plough had raped the earth, the hunting communities had their witchdoctors who healed and communicated with the spirit world. Palmistry was doubtless part of their stock in trade, but it's only with the advent of literate cultures that we can begin a documented history.

The practice of palmistry's recorded in China, Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome and Tibet, so it can be assumed that it was common to most of the human race, and that most cultures had their own traditional methods of hand reading. The question of whether palmistry was a science or a sorceress art in ancient times, can be answered by reference to the present.

Nowadays, most palmists follow the tradition of reading the lines of the hand and letting their intuition aid the process. At the extremes, some practitioners will have no truck with the occult and claim palmistry as a pure science, while others know nothing of the science and claim to read the hand intuitively.

The same would have applied in the ancient world, the fortune tellers and witches would have mixed the art with the science, while the philosophers would have carved a system out of logic.

The palmistry system used by the classical Graeco-Roman civilization, is the foundation of the one still used throughout the Western world. At first, palmistry was transmitted orally, down through the centuries, then more latterly in writing. The Chinese system's quite different, but equally ancient and accurate.

The philosopher Aristotle (384-348/9 BC), tutor to Alexander the Great was a devoted palmist, who passed his enthusiasm on to his pupils. Legend tells that he found an ancient palmistry scroll on an Arabic altar dedicated to Hermes, which he presented to Alexander.

Aristotle wrote on physiognomy, the art of judging character from the outward appearance, and mentioned the lines of the hand in his 'De Historia Animalium', stating that long lived people have longer palm lines than short lived people. It's believed that he wrote a major treatise on palmistry which is now lost. Many later writers passed their work off as his, hoping to give it the seal of ancient wisdom.

One story of Aristotle tells that when he had his hand read for the first time, his pupils were surprised that it showed so many signs of personality weakness. Aristotle accepted the palmist's judgment, explaining that the faults shown were exactly the ones he'd striven all his life to conquer.

Galen of Pergamum (born 129AD), physician to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote on physiognomy, including material on the hand, and Roman satiric poet Juvenal (born 55-60AD) explained how aristocratic ladies favored astrologers while middle class women consulted hand readers.

The link between palmistry and astrology has always been strong, with both planets, lines and mounts named after the same gods. This system of planetary gods, and the palmistry based on it, spread from Greece to Rome, and may have reached Greece from Babylon, the reputed birthplace of astrology.

With the ascendance of Christianity, the occult arts were persecuted as pagan leftovers, which of course they were, as all divination systems are founded on belief in fate, a doctrine not part of the Christian world view.

During the Middle Ages palmistry was the work of witches and herbalists. However, it was championed by many pioneers of science, such as Paracelsus (1493-1541), a medical reformer and innovator, who used astrology and palmistry.

The nomadic gypsy tribes that wandered into Europe in the early 15th century did much to popularize the art, but it was the invention of the printing press which made knowledge of the subject more readily available. The first printed palmistry book was 'Die Kunst Chiromantie' by Johann Hortlich, published 1475.

The 'Canon of Medicine' by Iranian physician Avicenna (980-1037AD), was translated for use in European medical colleges, complete with it's hand and palm section. Science parted ways with palmistry in the 18th century, but from 1650-1730 it was still taught at the German universities of Leipzig and Halle.

In the 19th century, two Frenchmen, Captain Stanilas d'Arpentigny and Adolphe Desbarrolles, provided the impetus for a palmistry renaissance, lifting it from the disrepute into which it'd fallen.

D'Artpentigny made a life study of hand shapes, and formulated their classification into seven main types. It's his system that I've explored in Horoscope magazine. His friend Desbarrolles actually worked as a practising palmist, reading for such luminaries as Napoleon III and Alexandre Dumas. He used d'Arpentigny's hand shape system and his own knowledge of the lines. His major contribution was sorting out which palmistry traditions held truth and which were superstitions. His 'Les Mysteres de la Main,' was a turning point, encapsulating the knowledge that was to be further refined by the next century's great palmists, such as Cheiro, William G. Benham and Comte C. de Saint-Germaine.

Today the future of palmistry is bright. Palmists are numerous and scientists are using the study of the hand as a tool in psychology and as part of dermatoglyphics, the study of skin patterns, which can pinpoint inherited diseases and even mental difficulties from the study of the hand.


Meaning & Myth

The astrological map of the hand is key to palm reading. Without an understanding of the qualities that correspond to each part of the hand and each finger, the lines, dots, squares, cuts, hollows and bumps are meaningless. A star on the mound of Apollo has a very different meaning than a star on the mound of Mars. A person with a large thumb and a long, straight Jupiter finger will behave very differently than a person with a large thumb and a short, twisted Jupiter.

The astrological map of the hand is the base upon which the highways and byways of the nervous system become etched. A firm grasp of the meanings and myths associated with each area is the basis for the study of palmistry.

The mounds and fingers were named for the seven planets that were recognized by astronomers and astrologers at an earlier time in our history. Some modern palmists have added the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, to the map. As these are not personalized planets, I prefer to work with the classic diagram. 

Jupiter - The pointer finger and the mound below it
Saturn - The middle finger and the mound below it
Apollo (Sun) - The ring finger and the mound below it
Mercury - The little finger and the mound below it
Mars - The upper mound inside the life line
Venus - The lower mound inside the life line
Moon - The mound on the heel of the hand







Chirognomy is the study of the size, shape and appearance of the hand, including analysis of the color, texture and resiliency of the skin. A good place to start the study of Chirognomy is by getting to know the basic hand shapes. Assessment of the shape of the hand provides insight into the essential character of the individual.

Throughout history palmists have developed various systems of categorization for hand types. One popular system classifies the hand into 7 types: Elementary, Square, Spatulate, Philosophic, Conic, Psychic and Mixed. In traditional Chinese Palmistry there are 5 hand types that correspond to the 5 elements of Water, Fire, Wood, Earth and Metal.

The simplest type of classification, and the one that I favor, reflects the 4 elemental categories used in western astrology: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

The elemental type is defined by the shape of the palm in relation to the length of the fingers. Is the palm square or oblong? Are the fingers short or long?

Square palm + short fingers = Earth Hand
Square palm + long fingers = Air Hand
Oblong palm + short fingers = Fire Hand
Oblong palm + long fingers = Water hand

Earth Hand

The Earth hand is square and solid. The fingers are short and the palm exhibits few lines. Those that do appear are strong and well defined. Subjects with Earth hands tend to be level-headed, no-nonsense people. Physical experience may be more important than intellectual pursuits. Practical in nature, the Earth type may be conservative and probably prefers spending time outdoors. It has been my experience that the Earth type is the least likely to seek out a palmist for a reading.

Astrologically, the Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.

Air Hand

The Air hand has long fingers and tends to have an abundance of clear lines in the palm. Air types spend their time in the intellecual realms. They are curious and full of ideas. They thrive on nervous energy and may be prone to worry and stress. Air types are communicators and are often good at working with the public. However they may tend to intellectualize their feelings and can have difficulty with close, personal relationships.

Astrologically, the Air signs are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.

Fire Hand

A hand with an elongated palm and short fingers fits into the Fire classification. The lines in the palm are usually strong and well-defined and the hand may have a busy or vibrant feel to it. Fire types are energetic and action oriented. They have a need for variety and may lack patience. Then tend to be individualistic and often make good leaders.

Astrologically the Fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.

Water Hand

Water hands have many fine, spidery lines and both the palm and the fingers are long. The Water hand is found on the sensitive, emotional type of individual. Water types are caring, receptive and artistic. They are primarily motivated by feelings. They may have trouble coping with stress and are often happiest in a peaceful environment.

Astrologically the Water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces



 The lines in the hand can be divided into 3 groups: the major lines, the minor lines and the personal lines. There are 3 major lines to be found in the hand. These are the Life Line, the Heart Line and the Head Line. The minor lines run vertically in the hand and each is named for the finger under which it terminates. Everything else is considered a personal line. The personal lines may have names and fit into categories though there may be some lines that are quite unique to the individual. It is through practice and experience that the palmist can learn how to interpret these lines.

Though most hands will have the 3 majors and at least one or two of the minors, every hand is unique and many of these lines will be absent from a number of the hands you observe.

The lines in the hand change all during the life and reflect the changes in behavior, attitude, lifestyle and experience of the individual. Taking dated prints of the hands provides a record of what the hands reveal at a particular point in time.

The Major Lines

The Life Line - The Life Line begins at the edge of the hand between the thumb and forefinger and arcs downward around the thumb area. Contrary to popular belief, this line does not indicate length of life. It does identify vitality, robustness or weakness, enthusiasm for living and state of health.

The Head Line - The head line begins at or near the beginning of the Life Line and moves horizontally across the hand. It represents mental capacity and the intellectual style. The length of the line indicates amount of time spent in the realm of thoughts. A curvy Head Line is a sign of an intuitive thinker while the very straight line indicates a logical disposition.

The Heart Line - The Heart Line begins under the little finger (Mercury) and moves across the upper palm. The Heart Line reveals the style of relating, the degree of sensitivity of an individual and the emotional history. If the Heart Line sits low in the hand, it is an indication that the heart rules the head. If the line is very straight it shows a person who intellectualizes the emotions.

The Simian Line - Some hands have only 1 line moving horizontally across the upper hand, a combination of the usual 2 lines representing head and heart. This marking is known as the Simian Line. With the Head and Heart lines running together, the emotional and mental functions do not operate separately. Those who possess this line exhibit intensity of temperament.

The Minor Lines

The Line of Saturn - The Saturn Line begins just above the wrist and moves up the hand to the middle finger. It is commonly known as the Fate Line. This line represents the measure of personal success and the subject's attitude toward handling responsibility.

The Line of Apollo - This line is also known as the Line of the Sun. It appears under the finger of Apollo, the ring finger. The presence of the Line of Apollo indicates artistic talent. This line is often short, rising just above the Heart Line and may not appear on the hand at all.

The Line of Mercury - The Line of Mercury may sometimes be referred to as the Line of Health or the Line of Inner Dialogue. It may not appear on the hand but when it does it rises from the base of the hand and angles up to the Mound of Mercury under the little finger. When present this line will give information about the subject's nervous system. It is also an indication that the individual is seeking a path of self-improvement or spiritual growth.






Dermatoglyphics is the study of the skin ridges in our hands. The word is made up of two parts -- "derma" meaning skin and "glyphs" meaning carving. When we talk about Dermatoglyphs we are mainly concerned with the fingerprints, though on some hands there are glyphs to be found on the palm itself.

Your fingerprints are fully formed 16 weeks after conception, a full 5 months before you enter the world, and they will never change.

Each fingerprint is composed of between 50 and 100 lines. Though no 2 fingerprints are exactly alike, prints can be classified into one of 4 major types: the whorl, the loop, the arch and the tented arch. There are also 2 subtypes of the whorl. The peacock looks exactly as the name suggests, like the eye on a peacock tail feather. The composite resembles a yin/yang symbol, 2 loops swirling around each other.

In general, a preponderance of a particular type of fingerprint can tell you about the basic temperament of the subject. A formula for determining the karmic life purpose by mapping out the number and type of print along with which finger(s) it falls on was developed by Richard Unger of the International Institute of Hand Analysis in Sausalito, CA. To learn more about this process, visit Richard's Web site at


People with many whorls on their hands like to be in charge. They are often deep thinkers and may be dogmatic in their viewpoints. The whorl can be associated with the element of Fire.


This is the most common fingerprint. It denotes flexibility and a dislike for routine. Subjects with many loops may display an emotional nature. The loop can be associated with the element of Water.


Arches on the fingertips can indicate someone who has trouble expressing their emotions. The owner of these fingerprints can be practical in nature and may find change to be unwelcome. The arch can be associated with the element of Earth.

Tented Arch

This print is usually found only on the index finger, though I have seen hands where they appeared on the middle and ring fingers as well. This mark is a sign of a sensitive, impulsive nature. People with tented arches may be seekers of the truth and may tend toward perfectionism. The tented arch can be associated with the element of Air.

Other Glyphs on the Hand

A common occurrence of a glyph on the palm may be found between the fingers. A loop between the Mercury and Apollo fingers is called the Loop of Humor. Having this loop indicates a subject with an optimistic outlook and a good sense of humor. A loop between Apollo and Saturn is called the Loop of Seriousness. People with this loop exhibit common sense and may feel a great sense of responsibility in their lives.

Less common is a loop between Saturn and Jupiter. Called the Rajah Loop, it was once thought that this marking indicated descent from royal lineage. One author has renamed this mark the Loop of Charisma. It can be viewed as a mark of executive ability.