Fortune Tellers and Chiromancy

by Albany Poyntz

Of the numerous family of impostors, composed of mountebanks, gypsies, chiromancers, fortune-tellers, and sorcerers; the gypsies date from the fifteenth century, and were first seen in Bohemia, in strange garbs, with swarthy faces, and pretending to great proficiency in the art of soothsaying.

They made their appearance in Paris, 1442; proclaiming themselves to be pilgrims wandering in expiation of their sin. Among them, were a Duke, a Count, and ten Cavaliers. The remainder, one hundred and twenty in number were on foot. These strangers were lodged at the Holy Chapel, to which the Parisians flocked to obtain a view of them. They had sallow complexions and black frizzly hair, and spoke an unknown tongue. The females who accompanied them, devoted themselves to fortune-telling.

The Bishop of Paris eventually excommunicated them, and had them expelled the city; a persecution which served to create an interest in their favour; and returning to Paris, they multiplied both in that city and in other parts of France to such a degree that, in 1560, the States of Orleans found it necessary to rid the kingdom of them; and subject them to the pain of the gallies if they dare return. Treated with merciless severity, they gradually disappeared; taking refuge in Germany, Hungary, England, and the banks of the Danube; where they have remained ever since.

Gypsies are known by different names, according to the countries they inhabit; and constitute a wandering tribe in all the civilized states of Europe, still retaining their pristine habits and customs.

Public curiosity has long been directed towards the origin of the gypsies. Theologians first traced them to Cain on the following grounds: when by the murder of his brother, the elder born of Adam had brought upon himself the supreme malediction, a mark was set upon him to secure his recognition, at that time mankind were white. The Almighty is supposed to have changed the complexion of Cain, that all men might know him. The gypsies, therefore, who exhibit such remarkable complexions, and lead such vagabond lives, had every appearance of being a proscribed race; and the progeny of the first murderer. Other theologians make the gypsies descend from Shem, the son of Noah, or Cham, the inventor of magic; for the gypsies pretend to be magicians, and to descend from Cham. Father Delrio asserts their sorcery to be so effective, that if you give them a piece of money, the others in your purse invariably take flight to join their fellow.

The gypsies, uncertain of their origin, suppose themselves to have been expelled from Egypt, and condemned to wander the world for having refused hospitality to Joseph and the Holy Virgin, when they took refuge on the banks of the Nile. But even in Egypt, the gypsies are declared to be of foreign origin; so that the problem has still to be decided.

These people ground their predictions upon an inspection of the palm of the hand. Juvenal distinctly alludes to female drawers of horoscopes. “Such a woman,” said he, “exhibits her hand and forehead to the diviner.”

The chiromantic principle has much analogy with those of judiciary astrology; and Aristotle cites chiromancy as a positive science. Chiromancers divide the hand into several regions, each presided by a planet. The thumb belongs to Venus, the index to Jupiter, the middle finger to Saturn, the annulary to the Sun, the auricular to Mercury, the centre of the hand to Mars, the remainder to the Moon. The direction of the line of life is still undecided by chiromancers; some placing it between the thumb and index, traversing the centre of the palm; while the Hebrew cabalists make it diverge in a quarter of a circle from the middle of the wrist to the first joint of the index. To denote long life, this line should be deeply defined; when feeble and superficial, it implies a limited existence, (even if the person so qualified should have survived his eightieth year!)

The triangle in the palm of the hand is consecrated to Mars; the three lines of which it is formed being regarded by chiromancers as most important, and comprehending the united indications of mind and body. The hepatic line proceeds from the liver, and forms one of the large sides of the triangle. When deeply indicated, it is characteristic of an exalted soul and magnanimous character; but accompanied by a propensity to anger and despondency. The mediana, which forms the base of the triangle, implies frankness, sprightliness, and the love of pleasure. Should the thumb and its root be furrowed with numerous lines, crossing at right angles, or forming ellipses, stars, and repeated circles, you are favoured by Venus; but should you possess the ring of Gyges, beware of her wrath. This name implies the circular line of the thumb, and indicates an infamous death. Adrian Sicler declares in 1639, a notorious villain who met his fate on the wheel had this awful sign on the first phalanx.

Between chiromancers and fortune-tellers with cards, the sole difference consists in the means employed; and if you watch the sleight of hand of the latter, instead of listening to their chattering, you will be amazed by their dexterity.

Card-conjurors are mere upstarts by comparison with chiromancers, who were consulted by Augustus in the zenith of his power. Their art cannot have existed previous to the days of Charles VI., for whose diversion cards were invented.

The miserable personal plight of these foreshowers of the future, is singularly at variance with their reputation. How many of them grovel in filthy retreats; where for the smallest sum, they dispense their promises of fame and fortune. It is lamentable to think how many dupes such impostors still command. Fortune-tellers captivate the confidence of the vulgar, by predicting circumstances of frequent and common-place occurrence, with the certainty of occasionally hitting home. Should one of these by accident make a fortunate guess, his fame is established. But their extortions are unimportant compared with the debasement of faculties apparent in those who consult them; whom they disgust with their useful callings by fostering hopes of impossible eventualities; or keep weak minds in a state of terror for the mere guerdon of a piece of silver.

There are examples of people being so awe-struck by the predictions of jugglers, as to fall their victim. A person has been known to die at forty, merely because that term of life was assigned him by a fortune-teller. A slight illness having brought to mind the fatal prediction at the appointed period, cerebral fever ensued which ended in death. Such a fact is mentioned by Dr. Bruhier in his work upon the Caprices of the Imagination.

Though evil is said never to exist without corresponding good, it would be difficult to point out a compensation for the mischiefs of fortune-tellers and card-conjurors. Their predictions have often proved fatal in private life, and they have exercised their evil influence by urging Princes to acts of cruelty. The Emperor Valens having incensed his subjects by his tyrannies, certain of them, meditating his overthrow, consulted a soothsayer, who predicted future events by means of a cock. A circle being described with the letters of the alphabet around it, a grain of corn was dropped on each, and a cock placed in the centre. The letters from which he pecked the corn were immediately taken up and a horoscope grounded upon them; and the cock having, in the present instance, pecked up grains from letters T. H. E. O. D., the conspirators concluded that the empire ought to belong to Theodore, the Secretary of Valens, a man of merit, and generally esteemed.

The crown was offered to him, which he was rash enough to accept; but the plot being discovered, he and his accomplices were executed. Not satisfied with this act of vengeance, Valens banished all those whose names began by the letters selected by the cock. But this did not prevent Theodosius the Great from being his successor.