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Adele Moreau, Marie Anne Lenormand, and Documentary Films

Still on the Road, Batya Reflects on Palmists Past; Offers Insight to Filmmaker in Ohio


Sunday, September 4, 2011

I’m reading Jill Johnston’s memoir, Paper daughter (1985, Dutton), where she is in Bellevue and turns in her dance critic column to the Village Voice saying dancers should write about dance themselves; from now on, she’s going to write about anything she wants.

Johnston has always been my hero; my alter ego as I write this first-person new journalism column about palmistry, often foraying off into what some readers seeking purely technical information might see as tangents, about the lives of palm readers, and even the life of this one. But I do this because so many people ask, at festivals, how I got into palmistry. Sometimes I wonder myself—wasn’t exactly a “Career Day” option in the small town in the Midwest where I grew up.

Opening Palms

And here we are: The United States is heading toward a second major depression, with more collapses predicted for 2012 and 2013, and social security and other social support programs crumbling. And I am reading palms? How did I get into this edgy profession?

I rifle through the papers I brought along with me to write some entries between shows, and I pick up a portrait of Adele Moreau, from the frontispiece to her book on palmistry, The Future Foreseen, The New Chiromancy. I discovered that there is a copy in English at the British Library, which has the highest concentration of palmists’ literature per capita in the international registry. (Don’t be surprised if you find some entries of this column in there at some point in the coming year.)

Who was this woman? I wonder, as she stares back at me. In some senses, we will never know. Back in the 1800s, she did so much to rescue palmistry from the shrouds of the devil under which it had been cast for 250 years. She made a deck of playing cards (not the mysterious one I found in Argentina, but another) that I just bought for $25 online, and that Amazon sells starting at $60—go figure.

Moreau was stout, wore her hair back, probably in a bun, parted in the middle; she had no stems from the oval eyepieces that sat on her nose; she had dark eyebrows, wide cheeks, a serious mouth, double chin, white collar; the portrait has her set in an oval within an oval. She fascinates me.

She published L’Avenir Devoile, Chiromancie Nouvelle in 1869, and practiced in the booth of Napoleon’s palmist, Marie Anne Lenormand, who trained her, as I mentioned in an earlier column (Women in Palmistry, Jan. 16, 2008). But who was she, really? We lack the biographical information on Lenormand that would shine light into her true self.

So when a 22-year-old documentary filmmaker had her palms read at a street fair in Cleveland Heights, OH, and expressed interest in making a film about me, as soon as I got her over to my own front porch, we shot “Using Palmistry to Change Your Life” (available for $25).

But first, I spent 22 minutes talking about my life; how I had first started to paint portraits of palms of people in mental hospitals, before I knew anything about the profession. I could only tell that each palm was different—just like each face is different—and I could see colors emanating.

Then the filmmaker cut the first 22 minutes, and we focused instead on a 22-minute collage of how getting your palms read is like getting a chiropractic treatment, where a palmist reads your energy and makes suggestions to make an adjustment. Then I went through three samples of readings, injecting clips about how to use your talents; how to live up to your potential; how to improve your love life. In a final segment, I talked about how I incorporate into my repertoire various aspects of what I learn from practitioners around the world, like Hindu palmists selling transformation charms and jewelry.

As for the the life story? We left that for a second project.

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