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Book Reviews


?The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading

by William Benham

Reviewed by Richard Unger

The first thing that impressed me about The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading is its size: 650 pages. Benham is certainly comprehensive. He has entire chapters on hand gestures and the hair on the back of hands, as well as the most complete discussion of mounds and lines found anywhere. One hundred years after its initial printing, The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading remains unmatched in its scope, the most influential palmistry book ever published in the English language, the standard text in its field. Because no other palmistry book attempts as much as "The Laws" it should come under tighter review. Let's do just that.

Mr. Benham's painstaking attention to detail obviously represents years of careful research. He is exceptionally thorough and exact. His chapter on thumbs, with its constant comparisons and relativistic approach, forces the reader to think in 'palmese'. If students could read only one chapter in one palmistry book, this should be the one.

But William Benham does more than simply sum up and present the typical material of his age. While his contemporaries were busy rephrasing the seven hand shape system of D'Arpentigny, he boldly initiated a new system based upon the mounds. His vivid descriptions of the Jupiterian, Saturnian, etc. are classic. His total dedication to the advancement of hand reading as a proper science has helped create an atmosphere of scientific inquiry and professionalism.

However, The Laws are not immutable. William Benham has many biases that stand out against the background of the passage of time. Written during the Industrial Revolution, Benham sees the main contribution of palmistry to be in the field of right livelihood, with secondary value in proper mate selection. Looking at people as machines (special machines to be sure), Benham draws the analogy of using the right tool for the job: what a waste it would be, he says, to see people in careers and / or marriages for which they are unsuited. Today's metaphors have switched from cogs and machines (including the cosmic machinery of Newtonian physics) to paradigms and quantum effects. In this day of overthrown stereotypes and sex roles, it is not so obvious (as Benham maintains) that any particular type of person is the right type to be a lawyer, a doctor or a hand analyst. As a matter of fact, the entire concept of right/wrong dichotomies seems archaic. This is not so much a criticism of Benham as a red flag to those attempting to apply his theories to current conditions.

Benham feels he is on an historic mission to upgrade the gypsy image of palmistry into the science of hand reading. In line with this goal, his system of reading hands is based entirely on "objective" findings. While I can easily identify with his fervor for widespread legitimization, I do not agree that hand reading should ignore the personal, intuitive or subjective; to me, a combination of data-base and intuitive awareness seems the optimum hand reading mode. No system describing human behavior, psychology included, is likely to ever reduce itself completely to a set of scientific formulae.

Perhaps the most troublesome view that underlies The Laws is the assertion that you can modify your life with only self control, definiteness of purpose and clarity of thought (important though these attributes may be). As a measure of Benham's almost religious benediction to reason and will is his treatment of the Mount of Luna (The Moon). After granting the need for imagination as a source of fuel for the intellect, Benham seems to say he hopes he never has to deal with another of these cold, selfish, restless, disagreeable types (Lunarians). Further, although he goes out of his way to include women (more so than the other palmistry books of he era), today's readers are more likely to interpret this as a mild tolerance, way short of a full acceptance of the role of the feminine principle in individual growth.

But personal growth is not Benham's focus. Summarizing his philosophy, we can say that he sees life's purpose in terms of fitting the right pegs into the right holes (talent / job, temperament / marriage); hand reading's function being to better identify the pegs. Today's definition of life purpose would be more inclusive: achieving a state of consciousness that is in alignment with one's higher self, with appropriate expressions at the levels of body, mind, heart and spirit.

Besides philosophic differences, I have some purely palmistic comments as well. First, however, I would like to say I learned a lot from Benham, especially early in my career. He is consistent, thorough and more accurate than many other palmists. He constantly speaks in combinations, thus helping the student to think 'palmese.' This being said, I would like to bring up several points of contention not related to the date of publication.

Benham adheres to the concept of the left hand being what you are born with and the right hand being what you have made of yourself. I have not found this to be the case. Sequential handprints of both hands show major changes over time. If the left hand is what you are born with, why does it keep changing? The fingerprints, unique and unalterable from approximately five months prior to birth, are what you are born with, both hands are what you have made of yourself.

I have not found Benham's timescales to be accurate. For example, using the Fate Line, Benham has the mid-point between the Head and Heart Lines as age 36. My experience indicates age 45 would be more accurate. Perhaps things have changed in the 100 years since The Laws was printed, after all, people are living significantly longer today.

Illness and accidents seem to predominate in Benham's interpretations, out of all proportion to my reading experience.

Benham sees the Heart Line moving from under Jupiter across to the outer percussion under Mercury. Several hand readers whose views I respect concur. My own interpretation is the opposite (palmist's of the world, what is your view?). Electron microscopic photographs of developing fetuses show the growth of the Heart, Head and Life Lines: Head and Life starting under Jupiter, moving across the palm; and the Heart Line starting under Mercury, moving toward Jupiter. Also, the Heart Line under Mercury looks a lot like the origin of the Head Line under Jupiter. These two facts, plus my own experience, points to a Heart Line moving towards the thumb side of the palm. Then again, Benham's perfect Heart Line is one whose owner does not make much of a display of their feelings (page 402). This view makes it hard for me to take any of his Heart Line interpretations too seriously.

Benham states that a long Head Line indicates avarice. My view leans towards a busy mind, probably results oriented, but not necessarily greedy.

According to The Laws, if your Head Line is straight you have fixed views.. This seems an extreme interpretation without a stiff thumb, etc.

In my experience, stars at the end of a short Head Line do not indicate sudden death.

Squares more often operate as blocks rather than as repair indicators as Benham suggests.

Pointy fingered, broken Head Line people are not Benham's cup of tea. He labels them "totally unreliable." Utopianistic seems more like it; Benham's square tipped bias is showing here.

Ten seems to be enough contentions, so I'll just say I disagree with many of the observations Benham makes about the Life Line, Lines of Marriage, and the Girdle of Venus. Most of my disagreements with Benham are either philosophical or deal with line formations, but I would like to make a last comment about his 7 Mounds Hand Identification System: namely that I use it as often as I use the D'Arpentigny system, in other words, hardly at all. I prefer to use the Gettings' Earth, Air, Fire, Water system augmented by some hand shape archetypes of my own.

Most of Benham's observations seem valid to me, though numerous others leave me scratching my head, wondering where he came up with that one. While I have no doubt that Benham was a great hand reader, that he failed to achieve his goal of putting hand reading onto an entirely scientific footing does not diminish my admiration for his dedication and intent. Critiques aside, this is a must read for any serious student of hand reading.