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Book Reviews


?You and Your Hand

by Cheiro

Reviewed by Richard Unger

Cheiro was one of the most famous and controversial palmists of all time. Quoting Fred Gettings in his excellent history of palmistry (Book of the Hand, Hamlyn Publishing, 1965),

"Count Louis Hamon, better known as Cheiro, is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of cheiromancy. His ability as a palmist is legendary and so many people testified to it that it cannot be doubted.

The difficulty in assessing Cheiro is that his theory was unsound, his knowledge of the history of the subject ludicrously inaccurate, his sense of honesty sadly impaired, and his sense of importance verging on megalomania."

You and Your Hand (Doubleday, 1936) was Cheiro's last book, and in his own words, one he considered to be "the most complete and extensive work that has ever been given to the world." (page xx). As the Cheiro quote indicates, the man had a big ego. However, unlike Gettings, I do not consider Cheiro's theory unsound, merely repetitious.

Almost everything in You and Your Hand (except Cheiro's astounding personal experiences) can be found in the standard palmistry books of the 1800's. Immediately, in his first sentence, Cheiro echoes one of the oldest "rules" of palmistry and sets the tone for the rest of the book. "The first principle I use in the readings of hands is that the left is the hand you are born with and the right is the hand you make." (page 3) Later research with sequential handprints has indicated that the left hand changes as often as the right, a fact that could not be true if the left were your birth hand. This is just one example of Cheiro's leaning on historical but not necessarily accurate palmistry. (As a general rule, I prefer to think of the left as the more private, personal, emotionally oriented hand and the right as the hand you present to people. Even this rule I do not apply in all cases.) Julius Spier in The Hands of Children (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1944) sees the right hand as a subjective picture of the person's parents, with the emphasis on incomplete personality patterns. Each child's purpose is to attempt to complete the personal development begun by the parents. Without taking time to explore Spier's approach, it is certainly new and interesting. In contrast, Cheiro rehashes old ground, adding little to the literature already available.

Similarly, Cheiro goes on to discuss the major and minor lines, the thumb, the seven hand shapes, nails, etc. etc. each in much the same way as most books of his era. It is not just that Cheiro is so inaccurate, it is that he presents so little that is new.

Since Cheiro and William Benham are two of the giants in the history of palmistry (at least in the English speaking world) it is instructive to compare the two. Benham wrote The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading, often referred to as the standard reference text in the field. You and Your Hand, as the title implies, is much more personal. Benham sought to bring palmistry to popular attention by emphasizing logic and analysis, therefore, it is no surprise that his work displays an anti-Moon (anti-intuition) bias. In contrast, Cheiro, also eager to advance palmistry as a study that could be of great benefit to humankind, relied heavily upon his intuition; making his mark with fantastic predictions that later came true.

It is no surprise to find You and Your Hand filled with descriptions of how to read accidents and death. For instance, Cheiro says that breaks on the Head Line "generally indicate some fatality by which the person's head is injured," (page 34) and that having breaks in both Life Lines almost always means shortened life (page 5). Both these statements seem extreme and disempowering in today's world.

There are several clear-cut inaccuracies in You and Your Hand, although no more than in most palmistry books. For instance, Cheiro, in talking about the Simian Crease, states that this combination of Head and Heart Lines occurs in about one hand per thousand (the actual average is between three and five per hundred). In addition, there are the usual differences in interpretation based upon the worldview of the eighteenth century compared to today. Cheiro describes flat Heart Lines as stable and reliable (just like Benham does), whereas today's, less Victorian interpretation might focus on the challenge of appropriate display of feelings.

As in almost every palmistry book I have read, I did pick up a few pointers. I enjoyed Cheiro's discussion of the Girdle of Venus, particularly his assertion that, when inclined towards Jupiter, it indicates hero worship. I can see that possibility. Cheiro's timing on the Fate Line is quite different from Benham's and, in my experience, more accurate. However, more often than not, all I get from Cheiro is the straight party line of all the eighteenth century palmistry books.

Mostly, what impressed me about Cheiro was his sense of personal destiny, his spiritual mission to share palmistry with the world. In this way, he and Benham stand out like brothers across the years; each driven by an unyielding desire to assist in the emergence of hand reading into the mainstream of public awareness. Benham with his science and Cheiro with his personal magnetism, each holds his special place in the pantheon of palmists, each profoundly affecting my own hand reading career.

Whereas Benham was my first true teacher, it was the introduction to a Cheiro paperback that got me started looking at hands.