by by Alexandra Corrigan

I had heard rumors about Condessa on Thayer Street, and her upstairs boudoir full of Lay-Z-Boys and Jesus figurines. And sure, I had been advised that my money would be better used as tissues. But a friend had just told me I had large mounds on my hands indicating creativity, and I couldn’t resist third-party confirmation. One morning, Condessa clumsily welcomed me into her apartment. I followed her through the entryway of an IKEA kitchen, a living room stocked with yard-sale frames of Toulouse-Lautrec pictures and a ‘psychic’ corner of Spectrum India tapestries. Condessa, a woman of about 60 with jowls weighed down by the burden of psychic ability, aggressively pulled out my hand and sat me down.

“You get taken advantage of often. You give too much. Am I right? Do you have breakup in last two years? Terrible breakup?”
She had put down my hand almost instantly, apparently gleaning this information from photographic memory. “Sure,” I encouraged.
“Well everything will work out. Don’t rush into anything. You will marry a blonde man at age 26, you will not be rich, you will not be poor, you will be well off, and you will have three healthy children.” By now, I was sure she was playing to my strong, bourgeois, brown-haired white-girl vibes. “But there are negative energies around you. Could you tell your friend to leave the room?” Awkwardly, she ushered my friend out of the apartment. “You have lots of negative energy with her. You need me to pray on candle for you, only fifty dollar, but you need it.” I handed her twenty dollars for the reading, told her I had to think about this “difficult decision,” and made my way back onto bright Thayer Street.

From Antiquity to Athenaeum
Beyond Condessa, thirteen registered psychics practice the art of palm reading in Providence. Widely scientifically discredited, the art still maintains its seductive appeal. Dr. Brandon Gaudiano, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Brown Medical School, is an outspoken skeptic of psychics. His insights help explain why people continue to support Condessa and other Providence psychics. He wrote to the Independent: “[People] are highly susceptible to things like cold reading techniques because we are biologically hardwired to be pattern-seeking animals....[Palm readers] focus on a highly susceptible, eager audience, such as people who are grieving or in personal turmoil.” Unsure and saddled with disposable cash, students keep these palmists in business.

A trip into the Damon Collection of the Occult at the Hay Library, however, proves Brown complicit in furthering the palmist agenda. The collection reveals former professor S. Foster Damon’s dirty academic fascination with the supernatural, including alchemy, witchcraft, mysticism and palmistry. Here, alongside Lincoln’s manuscripts, one can find texts instructing the novice on the tried and cobbled science of palmistry. Historically, the collection starts with recent editions of 7000 year-old Hindu texts, which combine signs from the gods and correspondences to organs in the palm’s color, shape and size. Adapted from Indian traditions, Chinese palmistry dates back 4000 years. In Chinese palmistry, all the body’s organs correspond with parts of the hand. The fate of one’s liver derives from one’s index finger and not, perhaps, too many beers. Western palmistry, however, can be traced for the most part to the Greeks. Most famously, Aristotle found a how-to book of palmistry on the god Hermes’s altar. Modern palmistry retains the Greek names for the regions of the hand.

Banned by the Catholic Church, palmistry went underground. A new anthropological, i.e. colonialist, fascination with categorizing the body in the 18th and 19th centuries revived the tradition. Napoleon notoriously kept a palm reader in his court and inspired a legion of writers to resurrect the art. Thanks to the French colonial influence, some of these works can be found in Providence. The Hay library owns the first seminal piece of this revival—D’Arpentigny’s La Science de la main, published in 1856. The Providence Athenaeum and Fleet Library at RISD stock Desbarrolles’s Chiromancie nouvelle, another seminal relic from the mid–19th century. Some lesser known English and American how-to manuals lie in the rare History/Science section of the Hay as well. Beyond rare books, the Rock and RISD library stock the canonical texts of Palmistry—most notably, Cheiro’s Language of the Hand. Internet resources on palmistry abound, from scans of ancient texts available from the Brown and RISD libraries to dating-website compatibility charts.

Palmistry for Dummies
At $20 a pop, it’s economical to learn how to read your own palm. At the very least, it’s a great party trick. From ancient Chinese healing to French revival palmistry, from 1896 palmistry/phrenology manuscripts to Madam Anna’s Palm Faxts (1999), the consensus remains that three lines actually matter: Heart Line, Head Line, and Life Line. Beyond that, hand shape, minor lines, and mounds can all alter the picture. These lines differ on right and left hands. The left hand maps the individual’s family influence, the right hand the individual’s agency. According to palmists, the markings on the right hand change over time.

Heart Line
The heart line is the palm’s first horizontal line. It should ideally be deep and thin. A red or extreme depression into the skin denotes a violent passion. A pale and broad line indicates a blasé attitude about love. Consider treading lightly into love with a person of either heart line. The line’s direction can indicate six kinds of lover, ranging from selfish to selfless, nurturing to analytical. Lines connecting from in-between your first two fingers into your heart line indicate a high level of sexual passion.

Head Line
Head lines either descend into the lunar mound (the lower left quadrant of your hand) or horizontally traverse the palm. If yours does the former, the 18th-century palmist would probably keep you on watch for fragility of mind. In contemporary palmistry, one would, with prime political correctness, call your line ‘creative’ or ‘imaginative.’ This is especially true if your lunar mound is exaggeratedly prominent. If you’re straight across, well, congratulations: you’re a little square, but you think rationally and will probably succeed in life. Cross-check this with your Mount of Jupiter (the prominence under your index finger) to see if your ambition is to be in charge of others. Does your head line fork? You probably have had dueling influences from your parents, and have had to choose one or the other. Men typically choose what their mother passed down, and women vice-versa. Beyond line shape, watch out for chains or islands on the head line. Breaks on any line indicate flakiness, change, or, if very severe, trauma.

Life Line
Life lines start from the top of the thumb and curve down towards the palm. Some life lines originate from within the head line. A subject with this connection has a nervous, oversensitive disposition. When the life line simply joins the head line, however, the lines indicate a cautious sensitivity; a palmist would instruct the subject to gain self-confidence and let loose. A small separation between the head line and life line is the most auspicious, which shows a clever and independent thought and spirit. If this coincides with a straight head line across the palm, this wit will be used to control other people. If this gap, however, is too exaggerated, this person is reckless and excitable. A common mistake is to confuse the vitality line for the life line. The vitality line exists in about half of the population and indicates an inner strength of spirit, resistance to disease, and sexual vitality.

Line of Fate
Running from the base of the hand up to the middle finger, this line suggests a belief (or lack thereof) in fate. Breaks can be tracked over time, starting from the beginning of life (bottom of palm) to the end (top). Compare to left hand for introspective musings on family and religion.

Line of Fame/Success
The line of Apollo predicts success in the arts. It connects the base of the hand to the third finger (naturally, the finger of Apollo, denoting passion for beauty). The showy person will have an overdeveloped mount at top of this line, below the ring finger.

Saving the best (and most difficultly legible) line for last, marriage lines aren’t for the idealist. These can tell of divorces, affairs, premature death, and temporary separations. These slashes lie between the base of the pinkie and the heart line. Each deep, defined and long slash represents a long-lasting, intense love affair (and most likely, a marriage). Time is measured from the heart line up to the pinkie. So the first marriage is the slash closest to the base. A fork at the beginning of each slash represents a long engagement; a fork at the end of the relationship ends in divorce. Breaks in the marriage line indicate problems within the marriage. For a more complex inquiry into possible extra-marital affairs, social prominence, and exactly when your 26-year-old blonde, opulent hubby will materialize, you’ll need to consult your local library.

ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN B’12 blames a middle-school love of Charmed for her seduction by the Occult.