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Book Reviews


?The Palmist's Companion

A History and Bibliography of Palmistry, by Andrew Fitzherbert Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, NJ and London 1992.

Reviewed by Richard Unger

It was a rainy December day in New York, and my wet shoes found the marble floors of the Forty Second Street Library slippery. The enormous vaulted ceilings always seemed to bring out the reverential in me, and I unloaded my jacket and notebooks as quietly as possible. Serious thinkers, aged philosophers and sleeping street people filled the cubicles near mine, where palmistry books from the late nineteenth century were stacked up high. These books could not be checked out of the library, and I settled in for another day of deep reading from the archives.

I had already read over 5,000 pair of hands and was hungry for knowledge. Wanting to read everything that was ever written on the subject, I figured this was a good place to start. The eyes of Katherine St. Hill, founder f the London Cheirological Society, stared back at me from years ago when a woman who seemed still older interrupted my reverie by handing me a note. I had received permission to view Indagine's Book of Palmistry and Physiognomy, 1676. 1676!

Indagine's book was not available to the general public. Held in a special reading room in the bowels of the library, I had to fill in a three-page questionnaire, wait a day as my references were checked; only then would I gain permission to enter the inner sanctum. After the FBI, Interpol, and who knows who else said I was OK, I was presented still another form that required me to swear I would not bring pen or pencil into the sacred domain. I was asked if I was willing to face possible search and seizure and, I suppose, a lifetime ban on reading if caught "in delecto". I made the appropriate vows and signed on the dotted line. The ancient woman walked slowly in front of me, leading the way and, choosing from among fifty keys, opened the wire-caged doors into the sepulchral chamber. There, on a long wooden table, was Indagine's 300 year-old book. I was alone with history.

I didn't learn much from Indagine, other than the fact that palmistry had come a long way since the seventeenth century. But I did get a sense of connection to those who have walked the palmistry path before me, and who, in so doing, made my journey easier and more interesting. Andrew Fitzherbert's book has added an important chapter to this legacy.

Nothing I have done in life has opened me up to my inner world as has the study of hands. It was over thirty years ago that I began this remarkable journey, and it has taken me to so many fascinating places that, as life changing as they were at the time, it is hard to remember them all. Like the memory of first dates at Palisades Park, it all dissolves in my consciousness into a haze of images. I know I was there, but how much do I really remember, and how much did I make up?

No matter, it is good to find a fellow traveler. And just like the adolescent me stumbling into the wold of sexuality and relationships, where I had felt so confused and alone; the world of hands seemed a daunting place to me back then. Lines going all over the place, none of them seeming to match the elaborate diagrams in any of the palmistry books; how would I ever learn the rules? Were there any? Was I the only one with these questions?

Again, like in relationships, my trepidation at the doorway would not stop me from venturing forward, It was as if an irresistible force was at work. Andrew, where were you when I really needed you? If only I knew then what I know nowahh but, the journey would not have been the same, would it? If only I could have had a guidebook. Not really a book with the answers; I would find the answers, or not, on my own. But a guidebook to give me an overview of the territory, some structure to the search, and in effect, let me know that others have come this way before: that would have been good.

Earlier in my life, Andrew, you would have been my constant companion. I would have taken you with me everywhere I went, and coming upon another palmistry book, fresh and excited, I would have referred to you for advice, listened carefully, proceeded cautiously, and drawn my own conclusions. You were not my companion this time, Andrew, but I know you will be the companion of many of those who are standing at the same door at which you and I once stood, I am glad they will have you to help them along.

You have written an important book, one that needs to have been written, and done a wonderful job.

The Palmist's Companion is, as the subtitle suggests, a history and bibliography of palmistry. It is nothing if not thorough. Fitzherbert has gone to enormous lengths to compile his list of books, has obviously read them carefully, and commented on each. His comments are depthy, opinionated, and revealing; opinionated in the best sense of the word! Any person starting a study of hands will find this book indispensable, and those who have been reading hands for years will have a good time comparing Fitzherbert's book reviews with their own. I particularly enjoyed his award for the worst palmistry book ever written: Saint Germain's; I was upset that he gave such short shrift to Maurice Cooke's Body Signs (but so glad it was included); and although I don't agree with his conclusions regarding Noel Jacquin, I find Fitzherbert's comments incisive and insightful.

Besides book reviews, The Palmist's Companion contains an extremely detailed history of palmistry, an essay on scientific attempts to validate the study of hands, biographical text, and a chapter on medical palmistry. Fitzherbert seems particularly enamored of British palmists. From my perspective, a definite bias exists, but not so much as to overly cloud the full range of his observations. And I loved all the pictures of palmists past (but not present. Andrew, where is a picture of you?).

Thank you, Andrew, not so much for your new book, quite a feat in itself, but for your dedication to the palmistry path apparent on every page. Your contribution is hereby noted. No doubt, many will be served by your efforts as hand analysis takes its rightful place among those who search for inner awareness.