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Early modern palmistry

The instructions below outline how to read your palm, according to a 1700 source from England.

Lines on palmPalmistry key


The High Dutch Fortune-Teller Wherein All Those Questions Relating to the Several States, Conditions and Occasions of Humane Life, Are Fully Resolv’d and Answer’d, According to the Rules of Art Used by the Ancient and Famous Egyptian Magi, or Wise Men and Philosophers (London, 1700), pp. 18-19


Observations and Judgments to be made on the several Lines of the Hand.

Always in Palmistry inspect the left Hand, the Lines therein being most obvious, and have the freest Communication with the Heart and Brain; and then proceed to give Judgment in the following manner:


[1] Life-line

If the Line of Life be fair to its full extent, and not broken with Cross-lines, it denotes Health and Long life: And the like if a double Line of Life appears: When three Stars appear in this Line, it threatens the Party with great Losses and Calamities … If it twist with the Table-line, then Honour and Riches are promis’d to be gained by Prudence and Industry: If the Line be cut or jagged at the upper end, the party will be much afflicted with Sickness: Lines coming from the Mount of Venus [circled on diagram], and cutting this Line, denotes the Party unfortunate in Love and Business, and threatens sudden Death: A Cross between it and the Table line, denotes the Person of a noble Spirit, very Liberal and Charitable.


[2] Table-line

This Line being broad and of a lively Colour, promises a healthful Constitution, and contented Mind, and very Couragious: Crosses in it towards the Little-finger, denotes the Party to be much afflicted with Sickness: If the Line be double, or divided into three Parts, in any of the Extreamities, it denotes good Fortune, and the Party of a generous Temper: This Line forked at the end, denotes Doubts, Fears, and Jealousies, Riches got by Deceit, and as soon lost … If it branch towards the Fore or Middle-finger, and ends blunt, it denotes Preferment [a profitable / prestigious position].


[3] Middle-line

This has in it many times divers significant Characters, viz. Many small Lines between this and the Table-line, denote Sickness in young Years, but that the Party shall escape: A half Cross branching in this Line, promises the Party fortunate Success, Riches and Honour: A Half-moon threatens cold and watry Diseases: But a Sun or Star, Prosperity and Riches: This Line double in a Woman, denotes she will have many Husbands, but by them no Children.


[4] Line of Venus

If this happens to be cut or divided near the Fore-finger, the Party’s Ruin is threatened, by keeping bad Company, especially lascivious Women: Two Crosses upon the Line, one being on the Fore-finger and the other bending towards the Little finger, denotes the Party meek, inclined to a vertuous and modest Course of Life; in Women it generally denotes Modesty, and therefore the wiser sort make it the Standard of choosing virtuous Wives.


[5] Liver-line

This Line straight and crossed by other Lines, denotes the Party of a sound Judgment: If it be winding and crooked, bending outward, it denotes Deceit and Flattery … If it happen this Line, as well as the Middle-line, begin near each other, this betokens weakness of Judgment and Imbicility in a Man; and Danger to a Woman, by reason of hard Labours.


[6] Plain of Mars

This is the Hollow of the Hand, and thro’ it pass most of the Lines, therefore it is very significant, viz. The Plain being hollow, and the Lines crooked and distorted, denote the Party to fall by his Enemies: Then the Lines beginning at the Middle of the Wrist are long within the Plain, reaching towards the Brawn of the Hand, they declare a hot and fiery Spirit, given to Broils and Quarrels, to great Hurt and Damage: If deep large Crosses be in the middle of the Plain, it signifies the Party shall rise by Martial Deeds; if a Woman, that she shall have many Husbands, and be easie in bringing forth Children.


[7] Line of Death

This Line is fatal when any Crosses and broken Lines appear in it; they denote Sickness, and short Life: A clouded Moon appearing in it, denotes in a Woman Death in Child-bed … a Star, like a Commet, presages Ruin by War, or Death by Pestilence; but if a bright Sun appear therein, it betokens long Life. As for the Wrist-lines, they being fair, denote good Fortune; but if crossed and broken, the contrary.

This material was circulated in relatively inexpensive pamphlets. Palm-reading was also performed by local cunning-folk and itinerant fortune-tellers. There was also an astrological theory of palmistry, which mapped different parts of the hand to the zodiac.

Note the kinds of concerns that are highlighted, and the different prospects for men and women.