Over the past few years I have experimented with my branding and followed trends, using different titles or terms that all amount to different ways to say palm reader. I did all that because I felt the need to stay modern and scientific, and reach a larger audience that may not be comfortable with the associations that come to mind when you hear “palm reading.” But a part of me always felt that there was a certain magic and charm, and a lot of tradition, that was lost in that effort. Over the past few months I have been trying to reconnect with that magic and tradition, and I want to share some of my findings with you, both good and bad.
Palm reading is an ancient study, with the earliest references possibly dating back to about 2000 BCE in India, but as an oral tradition, is likely to be even older. For some time now I’ve been really interested in the tradition of palmistry, how it evolved and what it’s roots are. So imagine my surprise when I set off to learn the history of an art that I have been practicing for a decade, only to hit a brick wall around about 1100 CE! So here I am, aware that palmistry is very roughly about 4,000 years old, BUT I hit a brick wall digging back just about 900 years!
Well, here’s a bit of what I discovered. It does appear to hold true that palmistry originated in India (or at the very least, the oldest texts referencing it come from India) and then migrates west, and most likely remains an oral tradition in both India as well as during it’s slow migration.
The earliest western texts date from the 10th and 11th centuries and appear to be translations of Arabic texts by the Christian Church. So these translations are expectedly colored by the interpretation of the Church at the time, and are not necessarily wholly reflective of the source texts and /or practices prior to that point in time. And very little remains of any Arabic source material. So palmistry has a long history, possibly around 3,000+ years, as an oral tradition, and then when it finally makes it to the west in print, it becomes largely biased and colored by the influence of the Church.
But all is not lost! In recent years work has been compiled and shared on the practice of Vedic palmistry in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they continue to practice a traditional form of palmistry that is very closely tied to Jyotish, or Vedic astrology. I noticed that there were a few key differences between what was being practiced and taught in Sri Lanka and what is currently practiced in the West, but also noted that these different practices weren’t lost in the west, they simply weren’t associated with palmistry in the west.
See, in the earliest western texts on palm reading there are two clear objectives. One is an assimilation of the knowledge by the church and a bias in it’s translations (seen by a strong focus on signs and marking referring to the Church, Saints, sin and repentance) and the other is the objective to legitimize the practice of palm reading for use in medical diagnosis at the time. While in the east, there is a long tradition of close association between astrology and palmistry, in the earliest transmissions of palm reading in the West, there are no such references, and I believe this to be intentional in support of the two objectives mentioned.
In Sri Lanka, the practice of Vedic palmistry includes the use of Nakshatras and propriatiation or remediation, basically the idea that certain planets or energies represented in the palm can be malefic or harmful, and that there are ways to fix that. Now here’s where things start to pick up for me: in traditional western astrology and arabic astrology, the Nakshatras are called Lunar Mansions and had similar importance and use. Similarly, the idea of remediation of harmful planetary influence was also taught in traditional western astrology, with similar techniques used!
So if palm reading originated in India and continued as a largely oral tradition for the past 3-4,000 years, and the modern practice still shows a close relationship between both palmistry and astrology, and commonly uses techniques that were in fact transmitted to the west and were commonly practiced in traditional astrology (both in the east and west), I begin to wonder and my mind comes to the tentative conclusion that:
Rather than being a case of traditional techniques and practices being lost to the ages, it is more likely to me that it is a case of two siblings being separated on arrival. The techniques aren’t lost, so much as they may have been intentionally removed, but if we follow a somewhat leaf-bare family tree, we can see that the techniques and practices have in fact been preserved, we just have to look at a different family line.
Of course over time, it can be expected that the practices have in fact changed, as is the nature of any oral tradition. There is no way to know for certain that what is practiced in Sri Lanka today is the same or even remotely similar to what was practiced 4,000+ years ago in India. Much has changed in the world in the past 4,000 years and if palmistry hadn’t also changed alongside it, then it would not be nearly as valuable or accurate a tool as it still is. But I am happy knowing that thousands of years of a tradition hasn’t been completely lost to the ages, and happier still that I am able to re-integrate parts into my modern practice.