or many centuries, the idea that mankind is made in the image of the heavens has been the essence of European culture. This idea is embodied in the numerous depictions of zodiacal man, where the sequence of the zodiacal signs is connected to the different parts of the body, starting with Aries ruling the head and concluding with Pisces ruling the feet. Perhaps the most beautiful example in European art is the depiction of zodiacal man in De Duc De Berry's Les Trés Riches Heures, (see below). Here the central figure is unusually surrounded by the ovoid shape of the vesica piscis. Analogous to a vulva, the vesica piscis is a powerful symbol of the Universal Mother. Within the labia or lips of the womb are found the zodiacal signs in the heavens.
The placing of zodiacal man at the centre of the vesica piscis, provides a potent symbolic image of mankind quite literally being born from the universe. Furthermore, the zodiacal signs in the heavens can be seen to correspond with the different zodiacal parts of the body, demonstrating the Hermetic principle of 'As above, so below'.
In particular the hand has long been regarded as a microcosm of an individual's creation, and its interpretation is invaluable for revealing a person's inner potential. As the bible says:
"God has placed signs in the hands of all the Sons of
men, that all the Sons of men may know His work." - Job 37:7
This is the basis of 'cheiromancy' which, deriving from Greek, literally means divination through the hand. The underlying premise of hand-reading is that the shape, structure and features of the hand are a symbolic expression of a person's innate psyche.
Astrology and hand-reading are sister disciplines that have explored this macro/microcosmic relationship from opposite poles; astrology illuminating the macrocosm of the planets in the heavens, and cheiromancy revealing the microcosm within the hand. As a consequence, the cosmology and symbolism of the elements, planets and zodiacal signs are common to both disciplines and a number of astrologers in former times were also known to read hands. It is likely that they used cheiromancy to refine their interpretation of natal charts, and to see how the chart was specifically acted out in the life of the individual.
In European culture cheiromancy is integrally linked to the spread of Hermetic teachings. Appropriately enough in zodiacal man, the two arms and hands are ruled by the double-bodied sign, Gemini. In turn the hands are also connected to the planet Mercury, reflecting their importance for translating ideas into action. Mercury is also linked to Hermes Trismegistus, the philosopher/sage reputed to be the source of Hermetic teachings. Cheiromancy has therefore been used as a mnemonic for communicating Hermetic teachings, in a similar way to the ritualised hand positions, called mudra, being used to express spiritual principles within the art of oriental religions.
The Hermetic philosophers visualised the universe as having four distinct realms, in accordance with the four elements: Fire, Air, Water and Earth respectively. Their cosmology is based upon the Three World View, whereby existence consists primarily of a Realm of Light (Fire) or God, from which the Three Worlds are created. Out of the Light the Intellectual World (Air) is generated. Next the Celestial World (Water) descends From the Intellectual World. Finally the Elemental World (Earth) precipitates from the Celestial World.
Each world has its own rulers; The Intellectual World - or heaven - is ruled by angels and archangels, the Celestial World is ruled by the planets, and the Elemental World - or Mother Earth - is ruled by the elements.
Figure 1: Robert Fludd's Three World View
The process of creation as perceived within Hermetic philosophy is shown by Robert Fludd's illustration of The Three World View in figure 1 above. The spiral pattern describes the descent of Light from God (Deus) into matter. In this descent, three distinct Worlds are formed. Commencing with Mens, the universal mind, the spiral leads down through the Intellectual World indicated by the various angels and archangels: Seraphin, Cherubin, Dominationes, Throni, Potestates, Principatus, Virtutes, Archangeli, Angeli. Below the Caelum Stellatum - 'the stars in the heavens' - the spiral leads down through the Celestial World indicated by the planets: Saturnus, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercuri and Luna. Finally the spiral leads down through the Elemental World indicated by the elements: Ignis, Aer, Aqua and Terra. In the spiral, Fludd also connects the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet with each of the rulers of the Three Worlds as the spiral of Light descends to Earth. The rulers of the worlds are used as symbolic tools for understanding matters corresponding to that particular World.
When this cosmology is transposed into Man:
This is reflected in cheiromancy as the three aspects of hand reading. The palm embodies the Elemental World, the lines encapsulate the Celestial World and the fingers reflect the intellectual World, as shownn in Figure 2 below. At first glance, the outline of The Three Worlds - Elemental, Celestial and Intellectual - may seem somewhat medieval in conception. However, when seen in terms of physical, emotional and mental experience respectively, they are just as valid today as they have been in former centuries.
- the Elemental World corresponds to the body
- the Celestial World corresponds to the soul
- the Intellectual World corresponds to the spirit
Figure 2: The Three Worlds in the Hand
The Elemental World
The palm, embodying the Elemental World, is divided up into four areas called quadrants corresponding to each element: Earth, Water, Air and Fire (see fig. 3 below). Assessment of the relative size and development of each quadrant shows how a person is utilising each element within their temperament. In conjunction with elements reflected in the hand shape and skin texture, a picture of a person's basic constitution is generated. Without going into detail here, if the Earth element predominates then they would be physical and practical. If the Water element predominates then they would be sensitive and emotional. If the Air element predominates then they would be nervous and intelligent. If the Fire element predominates then they would be energetic and dynamic. The Elemental World can be considered as reflecting the type of vehicle they are born into.
Figure 3: The Allocation of the Elements to the Palm
The Celestial World
The palmar lines describe how a person experiences the Celestial World, which encompasses the whole realm of emotional experience. The lines are formed by the vital force flowing across the palm, in the same way as a river erodes a channel as it flows across various terrains. The filth element Ether and the planet Mercury are both used to symbolise the vital force which, while sustaining the structure of the physical body, simultaneously constitutes the medium of emotional experience. It is variations in the flow of the vital force that we experience as different emotional states.
The Etheric vital force also constitutes the substratum of mental experience, for all the ideas and images within the mind are generated out of its substance. Since the vital force is linked to the animation of the body, the flow of emotions and the formation of ideas, the lines intimately describe the consciousness of an individual. In order to ascribe meaning to the lines and thereby describe the consciousness of an individual, the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon - rulers of the Celestial World - are used. Originally in cheiromancy all the planets were allocated to the palmar lines; however, only Saturn, Mars, Sun (Apollo) and Moon (Lunar) are found in palmistry today.
Figure 4: The Traditional Rulership of Lines and Mounts
This allocation of planetary rulership to a line was done by considering its location and orientation of flow. Through the centuries particular regions of the palm - called mounts - have been linked to the planets, so when a line passes through or towards a certain mount it partakes of this energy in its flow. Figure 4 (above) shows the traditional rulership between lines and mounts. Thus the Mars line, for example, flows through the Mars active mount.
With the decline of cheiromantical knowledge in the last 300 years, other names like 'head line' and 'heart line' have crept into palmistry. However the planetary symbolism can be seen in these palmistic names. For example the 'vitality line', which curves around the base of the thumb, rarely has its Venusian rulership mentioned yet its flow clearly circumscribes the mount of Venus. On contemplation of the relationship between traditional Venusian correspondences such as love, mother, womb, birth and life, it is easy to see how the energy flowing through this line describes the 'vitality' that sustains the body.
Similarly, the two lines ruled by Mercury can be found disguised as the 'head' and 'health' lines. Their identity is revealed when the Zodiacal rulerships of Mercury, Gemini and Virgo are noted - Gemini, the Air sign, links Mercury to mental experience, hence the 'head' line. Virgo, the Earth sign, links Mercury to the flow of vital energy within the body, hence the 'health' line.
The relative length, width, degree of presence, markings, degree of curvature and orientations are all taken into consideration when interpreting the lines. In particular the clarity of a line describes how the energy present is flowing in their consciousness, whether harmoniously or disharmoniously. These observations are then considered in relation to the planetary rulership of the line. For example, if the 'head' line (Mercury) is clearly defined, free from markings and disturbances, then that person expresses their ideas with directness and clarity. On the contrary, if it is ill-defined and marred with islands, breaks and bars, then a person has many difficulties in mental expression.
If the Elemental World describes the type of vehicle a person is born into, then the Celestial World of the palmar lines describes the driver of the vehicle. Where they have come from, where they are currently at and where they are heading.
The Intellectual World
Here it is important to clarify and describe what is meant by Intellectual World, since the term is likely to invoke the inappropriate idea of academic life at a university. To the Hermetic vision, the Intellectual World is synonymous with heaven, the source of all knowledge; additionally implying that a person can only gain knowledge in so far as their hearts are open and receptive to the inspiration from the heavens.
From Fludds illustration of The Three Worlds, in Figure I, the Intellectual World can he seen as ruled over by the angels and archangels. Between the Intellectual and Celestial Worlds is found the name Caelum stellatum or the 'stars in the heavens', which referred to the constellational patterns that were originally seen to constitute the Zodiacal signs. In contrast to the contemporary dry and static astronomical conceptions, the light from the stars was seen to mediate the different types of Intelligences (the angels) from the Intellectual World. Thus the stellar patterns were regarded as 'living beings' of light. The word Zodiac comes From the Greek kylos zodiakos meaning 'circle of animals', again reflecting that the star patterns were seen as 'living beings' rather than inanimate objects.
With the Intellectual World symbolically connected to the fingers, the Christian prayer position can now be seen as particularly significant. For as the supplicant prays for knowledge, guidance, inspiration and illumination, their hands are clasped together in front of the heart with the fingers pointing upwards to the heavens - the source of knowledge. If the Elemental World describes the type of vehicle a person is born into, while the Celestial World describes the driver of the vehicle, then the Intellectual World of the fingers provides the knowledge, skills and understanding for the driver.
In accordance with the connection of the Intellectual World with the fingers, the twelve signs of the zodiac are used to interpret them. One sign is allocated to each of the twelve phalanges, as shown in Figure 5 below.
Figure 5: The Zodiacal Signs and the Phalanges
This allocation of signs to phalanges is generated by a cross-ply of the elements connected to each digit and the quality connected to the three phalangical levels: The index finger is ruled by the Water element, the middle finger by the Earth element, the ring finger by the Fire element and the little finger by the Air element.
Of the three phalanges present in a finger; the upper phalanges connect to inspirations that spark off new ideas, initiate new actions and projects. It is a realm of ideals, goals and aspirations. The cardinal [moveable] signs are applied to the upper phalanges.
The middle phalanges correspond to a realm of action, where ideas are expressed and applied. It is linked to disciplines, skills and practical abilities. The mutable [common] signs are connected to these phalanges.
The lower phalanges correspond to ideas made manifest, concrete and assembled into fixed structures. It is a realm of material concepts, pleasures and sensual experience. The fixed signs are connected to the basal phalanges.
There is not the space here to outline the significance of all the phalanges; however by looking at one in detail, a glimpse of what all the phalanges encapsulate can be attained. The upper phalanx on the Water - or index - finger is ruled by Cancer and is traditionally connected to religious ideals, personal goals and intuition. Water is an element of connection (and religion in its deeper sense coming from the Latin religio which means 're-joining', implying the idea of rejoining with God or one's spiritual source. The Cancerian aspect is well shown in the tenacity people have for their religious ideals and how vehemently they will defend them if challenged. It also reflects how birth into a particular set of family values colours a person's religious ideals and the way they see themselves. The clannish behaviour of religious sects that dogmatically hold specific points of view, can he seen in the ruthless way that a crab defends its own territory. The Moon ruling Cancer with its connection to the imagination, emphasizes the importance of visualisation in developing intuition and thereby perceiving the spiritual world.
Energy from the palmar lines can he seen to flow in the fingers; so that the energy from the Sun (Apollo) line flows into the ring finger, energy from the Saturn line flows into the middle finger, energy from the Jupiter (heart) line flows into the index finger and energy from the Mercury (health) line flows into the little finger, as in Figure 6 below. In modern palmistry this underlying idea has become lost with the consequence that the planets have come to be ascribed to the fingers and known as the Apollo, Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury fingers respectively, highlighting the gross inconsistency between the number of fingers and the seven traditional planets.
Figure 6: Lineal Energy flows to the Fingers
The flow of energy through the phalanges is indicated by the lineal markings on the phalanges, shown in Figure 7 (below), which reveals how a person is drawing upon the knowledge in the Intellectual World. Up to three longitudinal striation lines on a phalanx shows a utilisation of knowledge from that particular phalangeal area. The intensity of use increases as the lines multiply in number. Six or more striation lines suggests stressful over-use of the phalanx. Horizontal bar lines running across the phalanx obstructs the energy flow along the finger. The bar lines indicate fears, limitations and obstacles that prevent a person from freely drawing upon that phalangeal area of knowledge. Grills are a composite pattern of both striation and bar lines. They indicate conflict wherever they are present on the fingers. The pattern shows the struggle to derive knowledge despite blockage and limitation.
Figure 7: Markings on the Phalanges
The wearing of a ring upon a particular finger is symbolically significant when seen in terms of the energy flowing through the finger. The metal of the ring enhances its conduction so 'amplifying' the energy present in the finger. The wearing of the wedding ring upon the ring finger is particularly illustrative. The ring finger receives Solar energy from the Sun (Apollo) line. The Sun rules the heart which in former times meant not only the physical organ but also the seat of the soul - the source of light and vitality. There is a strong nervous connection between the heart, and this finger. This is illustrated when people suffer angina: a classic feature of the syndrome is the radiation of pain down the left arm to the hand, specifically to the ring finger. Traditionally wedding rings are made of gold, the metal of the Sun, so their mutual wearing symbolises a union of souls. The Latin name for this finger is annularis, from anulus meaning a ring, which also recalls the annular movement of the Earth around the Sun, giving rise to the further idea of the eternal bond when two souls are properly joined as one.
has been involved in the practice of handreading for the past 25 years, as well as being a practising Medical Herbalist, (qualifying as a prize-winning student with the National Institute of Medical Herbalists
in 1982), and an astrologer. He originally became interested in the subject through its diagnostic potential while a student of herbal medicine. Dylan teaches Cheiromancy as well as giving handreadings and lecturing widely in the UK and overseas.
He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Dylan Warren Davis. Published online June 2005. This article was published in The Traditional Astrologer
magazine, issue 18, March 1999, of which Dylan was a contributing editor, and is extracted from his book on the subject: The Hand Reveals - A Complete Guide to Cheiromancy, The Western Tradition of Handreading