The London Cheirological Society

In 1889 the Chirological Society of Great Britain was founded in London by Katherine St Hill, joined shortly thereafter by Ina Oxenford and the publisher Charles Rideal. It was the first society of its kind anywhere in the world and its explicit aim was to investigate all aspects of chirological analysis and raise the study of the hand to the level of scientific research. A later edition of the Chirological Society journal, The Palmists Review

The society initiated a system of courses and examinations and also functioned as a professional body to safeguard the public from charlatans and imposters. By 1892 with over 50 members, the society was sufficiently established to publish its own journal, 'The Palmist' (later re-titled 'The Palmist's Review') through the assistance of Charles Rideal who owned the Roxburghe Press.  The journal was widely distributed and was even available to buy from WH Smiths booksellers and railway station news stands.  The high profile of the Society was maintained through promotions and demonstrations at bazaars and local fetes whilst study visits to hospitals, schools and mental institutions were also organised in order to examine as many different hands as possible.  The examination system that the Society instituted enabled the Society to raise the standards within chirological endeavour as well as raise the profile of the art within the land.  Charlatans and imposters now had some standards to be measured against! There is little doubt that anyone who was interested in handreading at this time could have been unaffected by the work of the Society.

Katherine St Hill

Katherine St Hill Katherine St Hill wrote at least three books on chirology, the first of which, 'The Grammar of Palmistry' of 1889, was intended as an introductory primer and was used by the Society as the basic text book for classes and tuition. It encompassed the fundamental teachings of D'Arpentigny and Desbarolles and in it she also outlines various psychological qualities, virtues and vices, giving indications of how these are manifested in the hand. With no easy method of taking good hand imprints at this time, although she does also suggest the taking of plaster casts, she strongly urges developing the habit of carefully drawing detailed sketches of hands so as to preserve a collection of faithful reproductions.

Her second book, 'The Hands of Celebrities' of 1896 is an anthology of hand drawings and interpretations originally printed in earlier editions of the society journal. These include the hands of entertainers, policemen, justices, doctors and even murderers. She also includes the hands from studies she instigated at Dartford Asylum and the Victoria Hospital for children and she gives examples of the hands of those suffering insanity and idiocy as well as cases of paralysis and diphtheria. Her third work, 'The Book of the Hand' of 1927 is a work in three volumes and here there is even more emphasis on medical analysis from the hand. The first volume outlines the whole subject of chirology and suggests various ways in which the study of the hand can usefully be applied within society, especially within the fields of education and vocational guidance. The second volume concerns itself with medical indications in the hand, whilst the third is an exposition on astrological physiognomy.

This last book is by far the most comprehensive of all her works, but it must be said that despite her unwavering dedication and enthusiasm to pursue the development of chirology, much of what she has to say owes a lot to D'Arpentigny and Desbarolles. That she is indebted to D'Arpentigny is evident from her discussion of big/small hands, skin types, fingertips and joints. However, it is notable that nowhere does she ever follow D'Arpentigny's seven fold system of handshape classification. On this basis alone, it is clear that she is not a slavish devotee of the French chirognomist.

With Desbarolles, it is a slightly different story. At times she almost seems to have too great a reverence for the man and at other times she discurs with him completely. Although she refers to Desbarolles as 'the great master of chiromancy', she also feels quite at liberty to disagree with many of his ideas and interpretations. For instance, she doesn't like his interpretation of the Girdle of Venus and also refutes his assertion that the Saturn line is not to be found in non-European races. Moreover, she disputes his division of the hand into the 'Three Worlds', a cornerstone of Desbarolles' approach to the study of the hand. She is clearly familiar with the writings of all the major writers of the day - Benham, Cheiro, Frith, Desbarolles, D'Arpentigny, EH Allen - and 'The Book of the Hand' clearly shows she was interested in collating, comparing and discussing all the different ideas on the interpretation of different features of the hand. Although all these comments indicate that she was not content to merely follow the lead of the French authors blindly, at all stages however, she does acknowledge them as important influences on her work and important figures in the development of chirology in the nineteenth century.

She had also read the Renaissance authors Saunders and Cureau de la Chambre and in her later works we can see that she has started to become rather more chiromantic than chirological. She became quite obsessed with the idea that 'one mark has one meaning' and in one part of her medical palmistry she proceeds to identify the specific type of accident that would occur given the location of particular stars and crosses in the palm! She is also familiar with the works of Benham, who she admires, and Cheiro, with whom there may have been some distrust.

From reading the rules and proceedings of the society as given in the early journals, it is clear that there is some considerable disdain for the use of pseudonyms and indeed the rules of the society forbade practising chirologists from doing so. One can't help feeling that this was almost especially directed at Cheiro himself. Although they did indeed correspond at some time, Cheiro was never a member of the Chirological Society. Katherine St Hill remained President of the society until around the end of the 1920's as it seems she died shortly after the publication of her last work. However, despite the efforts of her assistant Ina Oxenford, the main impetus of the Chirological Society itself seems to have petered out long before that, for the society journal was published only up until 1901. The rules, aims and constitution of the Chirological Society, from an early Society journal

Ina Oxenford

Ina Oxenford was at various times the society treasurer and secretary and she too contributed much written work to the society journals. She wrote four books, and curiously they follow much the same pattern as those of Katherine St Hill. One book,  her 'Life Studies in Palmistry' of 1899, was an anthology of hand interpretations, though it must be said that the drawings here are much better and much more detailed than those in St Hill's work, and she also produced a work on 'Characteristic Hands' in 1912 which was a consideration of the hands of famous people as judged from portraits or photographs. Her 'Modern Palmistry' of 1900 is essentially a reprint of her earlier work of 1895, 'The New Chirology'. Both are really nothing more than restatements of D'Arpentigny, Desbarolles, Cheiro and EH Allen and so both books turn out to be rather disappointing. For very little of what they contain is 'new' chirology at all!

Ina Oxenford However, after Katherine St Hill, Ina Oxenford was undoubtedly the most important member of the London Chirological Society, her energy and dedication making a considerable contribution to the successful promotion of the study of chirologyat that time. Whilst it is certainly true that the Society could hardly achieve its aim of 'raising the study of the hand to the level of scientific research'  without doubt, the Chirological Society had a considerable impact on the development and practice of hand analysis at this time. It stands as one of the more noble endeavours in the annals of chirological history.

Note Bene  It should be clearly noted that the Chirological Society faded out long before the Second World War and that any claims made by any persons that they represent a 'continuation' of this original society are entirely fraudulent.  For further information on this theme, please view the excellent website at http://www.cheirologicalsociety.20m.com/cheirologicals/

 


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