Twitch divination (also known as palmomancy) was the ancient art of divining the future by interpreting body tremors, tics, and twitches.
According to the Faces and Voices blog, few manuals of palmomancy survive from ancient times. But the few that do offer some interesting advice. For instance, from a treatise preserved at Manchester's John Rylands Library:
‘If the anus, that some also call ‘ring’, twitches, it shows inspections, abuses, and the discovery of secret matters’.
Two surviving texts attributed to the legendary diviner Melampous deal with divination: On Divination by Twitchings (Peri Palmon Mantike) and On [Divination from] Birthmarks (Peri Elation tou Somatos)... Both of these texts are very neglected, with no English translation of either in print...
Melampous' Twitchings covers some 187 cases. Involuntary twitchings of the body were easily interpreted as ominous by those who experienced them, and this handy guidebook provided instant advice to the reader as to their meaning... Dating to the third century AD, the earliest papyrus begins with the entry:
[A twitching of] the left buttock means joy: for the slave, something beneficial; for the virgin, blame will fall on the widow for strife [this is somewhat difficult to understand; there may be an allusion here the reader would have recognised]; for the soldier, promotion.
This is in fact a more elaborate version of two short entries in Melampous' Twitchings, which indicate that twitching of either buttock means prosperity.
Invented in the late 1970s by Vincent Siano and his cousin Nicholas Piazza. They named it the Tarottells Machine. However, it doesn't seem to have ever made it onto store shelves. So, for now, tarot readers remain unthreatened by the automation that has swept other industries.
Nicholas Piazza with the Tarottells Machine
Some details about the Tarottells Machine from an AP News story by Kay Bartlett (June 11, 1978 in the Allentown Morning Call):
Siano and Piazza have high hopes for their Tarottells Machine, an invention that so excites Vinnie, the spokesman, that he likes to take off his jacket and stand as he describes it.
Siano, an artist at Grumman Aircraft and a textbook illustrator, rises to lyrical heights demonstrating his machine: "This is the first time in the history of the world — the first Tarot machine. Automation has come to Tarot..."
The machine, with cursor and compass, has a custom carrying case. The game is made of black plastic and bright orange Tarot cards and measures some 27 inches square.
You get the cards' message by pressing a lever to cut the cards three times to the left — mandatory procedure in Tarot. Then they spin around until another lever activates a silver pointer that singles out the card.
"We have also incorporated astrology to get the best possible reading," says Siano, whipping out a tray of beautifully drawn figures of the Zodiac. "And we have also adopted ESP into this machine.
"You'll get a better answer from this than any Ouija Board. What we need is a dynamic corporation that has the guts to turn this thing out."
Siano says a big toy manufacturer had the machine in its vaults for six weeks, but the man who thought it a good idea was fired and the machine was returned.
Published in the Dayton Daily News - Sep 29, 1920. What stands out to me is that the author believed that entirely new forms of power would be in use in 2020... and while wind, solar, and nuclear do provide some power nowadays, the old forms of power (coal and gas) still dominate. So the author was too optimistic about the pace of change.
Wooden houses may not be known in 2020. The street cars, railroad cars, and other familiar methods of travel doubtless will have passed the way of history a century from this hour. Out of all the agencies which men use today electricity alone seems likely to survive. Many scientific men believe that coal and gas will have passed out of common use within the century.
Some one has suggested that the air and the water will furnish us our methods of heat and power in 2020. No one can doubt but that the flying machines of a new and important type, not known today, will be in general use a century removed.
Airplanes probably will be driven by electricity with storage batteries providing the power. Gasoline is not likely to be utilized in 2020. The fuel problem will be solved in a far different way than it is solved now. The air will provide an immense motive power for various things. The sun, doubtless, will be called upon to furnish the greater portion of the heat utilized by manking. Out of the waters on the face of the earth something will be developed for the benefit of the human family.
The automobile will be succeeded by something entirely different. Horses and cows may not be known.
Students of the human race have told us that the primitive man, like the primitive animal, was great in stature. The bones that the scientists have unearthed have verified this. Maybe human beings a century hence will become either much smaller of much larger than they are today. Everything will have changed.
A century past has given us an unlimited amount of great inventions, the sewing machine, electric irons, electric washing machines, airplanes, automobiles, radium and electricity. The next 100 years will see this process of enlargement carried on until it reaches even greater heights.
It may not be a cheerful picture to paint, but most of us will not be here to see the year 2020 roll around. But we can rest assured time will bring changes and improvements. This is a progressive earth and progress has marked each succeeding year since the beginning.
Back in the early 1980s, orthodontist David Marshall, from Syracuse, NY, liked to speculate about what humans would look like 2 million years in the future. Or what "Future Man" would look like, as he referred to our descendants. Based on previous trends in our evolution, he concluded that Future Man will be hairless, big-skulled, small-jawed, and have few teeth.
Marshall’s version of the future human being is a sleek-featured, diminutive person, much like the creatures seen in many science-fiction movies.
Today’s diet of soft, processed foods will take its toll on the human jaw and teeth, which have been diminishing since prehistoric days when our ancestors used their mouths as weapons, in addition to making tough foods palatable, Marshall says.
“Nature has a wonderful way of providing for her needs. Whatever she doesn’t need, she gets rid of,” Marshall says. “Things develop according to function. If you use something, it develops. If you don’t, it disappears.”
Since people today do not use their teeth the way they once did, future people probably will have much smaller, and fewer teeth, Marshall’s prediction indicates. They will be practically hairless and their jaws will diminish as they have for thousands of years, he says. The chin and nose will be more prominent.
The changes Marshall foresees also will give future people a wider range of facial expressions…
He has turned his office into a museum on the development of the human skull, tracing its evolutionary and embryonic progress in exhibits and photographs… One of the exhibits in his personal museum is a line of busts depicting the evolutionary changes in the human skull from prehistoric times to his vision of what people will look like 2 million years into the future…
But even with the possibility of scientific advances influencing evolution, Marshall expresses confidence that his projections cannot be disputed.
“No one is going to disprove me,” he says. “They won’t be around.”
-The Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review - June 15, 1981
According to Marshall's obituary (he died in 2006), the anatomical museum he once had in his dental office was eventually moved to Syracuse University. Although I can't find any record of it there now.
David Marshall, “Changes in the skull—past, present, and future—because of evolution.” Journal of the American Dental Association. Nov 1975.
Having recently posted about the art of knee reading, here's something along similar lines, though involving a different body part. Patrick Cullen claimed to be a "chest clairvoyant." By examining a woman's breasts, he claimed, he could predict her future. He called this the art of Mammarism. Some details:
He would tell female clients that the ancient Eastern art enabled him to predict the shape of things to come by "reading" their breasts. These were a pointer to the future, a fact well appreciated in India — where, he claimed, Mammarism originated.
The technique — perfected, he boasted in the brothels of Shanghai during a 26-year career in the army — involving daubing the breasts in poster colours with a long camel-hair brush. The breast was then pressed against a sheet of paper to achieve a life-size imprint... After studying the prints — and sometimes the breasts themselves — Mr. Cullen would predict the future.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a photo of Cullen at work — nor any photo of Cullen at all.
Toni Lockhart, aka Gypsy Rose Knee, pioneered the art of knee reading. She detailed her technique in her 1975 book Gypsy's Basic Knee Reader. A few pointers:
If one’s knee has peaks or craters on certain parts of it, they indicate traits like patience, compassion, selfishness, fear, luck, humor, humility and curiosity...
A new mole may indicate that the person’s life and profession are on the upswing.
Manhattan Mercury - Aug 8, 1975
The Pottstown Mercury - Aug 19, 1975 (click to enlarge)
Back in 1969, fashion designer Bonnie Cashin offered both a pessimistic and optimistic prediction for how people would be dressing in 2019. I'm guessing her illustration is supposed to show the optimistic one.
The pessimistic prediction:
If the very air we breathe continues to be poisoned... If the earth and sea food-yields are destroyed... If noise continues to batter the eardrums... If violence continues unabated... If the population continues to explode...
Then each of us may have to wear an environmental covering just to survive. This would be a kind of life-preserving incubator which we would be put into at birth, never to leave. This would serve as an individual habitat. There might be no private homes as we know them. Communities of people would be "stored" for sleeping in giant, multi-level containers, probably according to income level.
In this gear, perhaps called an "environmode," there would be an oxygen system, a speaker system and other devices to maintain bodily functions and self-protection. It would be made of some still-to-be-invented material which articulates with movements of the body. It would have to be close-fitting, but it might be very light and transparent. Underneath would be worn a second-skin garment. In this, the individual might be able to express some personal taste in the choice of color and texture.
The fashion market as we know it would become extinct. A market for new kinds of accessories would come into being, individuality being possible in headgear, oxygen bag, the kind of ray gun you carry and such.
New York Sunday News, Coloroto Magazine - Sep 7, 1969
The optimistic one:
If, by some lovely miracle, Washington would immediately relinquish its Model T political thinking and grant first priority to the survival of the human being... If the brilliant minds that put man on the moon are teamed with social scientists and architects on a crash program for the "scientific restructure of man on earth," by 2019 we will have triggered a renaissance that will see exploration beyond man's oldest, and newest, dreams...
The young will no longer need to look at the world through a rear-view mirror, dressing as Edwardians or gypsies or biblical characters to make their point. They will be too busy planning ahead. They will look at their bodies with pride, conducting themselves with grace.
The "in" four-letter words might be "work" and "give." And "love," in the most delightful sense. I see young people of a half century from now looking absolutely marvelous, because they reflect the great environment in which they will live. Fashion's role will be as an adjunct to the fully involved life, not a fad, not a relief from boredom or a comic relief. And not just big business.
The future look is clean, unencumbered, free and much more individual in the pure sense than fashion is today — almost, you might say, non-fashion. I see color a much greater dimension than it is now, the head-to-toe effect composed, somewhat, as a walking collage. People will be educated to this, and each person will, in a sense, be able to design himself. Cosmetics will play a large role, not so much as facial adornment but as body insulation or chemistry to protect from extreme cold or heat. This, along with actual weather control, will cancel out the need for heavy clothing and furs. Fabrics and substances yet unborn will employ technology to a creative extent that we have not yet seen. There will be more un-cut-up "dressmaking" techniques used, but the word dressmaker may well be almost extinct. The dart, the seam, the hem, the detail fittings will go into the Brooklyn Museum Design Laboratory archives, along with the obsolete government charts of sizes used in our clothing industry today. Everything will be sized small, medium and tall (not large, because obesity will be a sin). Practically all clothing will be laminated, fused, molded or knitted into shape without sewing. Another technique will be a return to simple draping and tieing — a concept still used in some "developing" countries.
I think, too, that the "layered" concept, which has long been an involvement of mine, will continue in new applications. For instance, six very thin layers of a new substances, each permeated with certain chemical coverings, could be peeled off or donned as the need requires, much like an onion. This is the concept, I think, from which space-travel clothing will evolve, and that evolution should come before 2019.
With Hurricane Ophelia headed in the direction of the U.K., it seems like an appropriate moment to remember the Great Storm of 1987. In particular, Oct 15, 1987, when TV weatherman Michael Fish opened his forecast with the remark, "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't." A few hours later, the worst storm in 300 years hit Britain, killing 18 people. Though, in Fish's defense, it technically wasn't a hurricane.
In the UK, whenever anyone makes a really bad prediction, it's still known as a "Michael Fish moment."
Back in 1969, air-pollution researcher Alfred Hulstrunk had arrived at the pessimistic conclusion that pollution levels were getting so bad that within 10 to 15 years every man, woman, and child would need to wear a breathing helmet to survive outdoors. And within 20 years, he predicted, everyone would have to live in domed cities.
Part of the problem, Hulstrunk believed, was all the stuff that society produced, such as "plastic beer containers that can be burned instead of just discarded." When burned, the beer cans added to air pollution. He noted, "Aesthetically you improve your area so that you don't have beer cans along the road, but now you are breathing beer cans."
Therefore, Hulstrunk had prepared for the future by designing an air pollution survival suit "to prevent inhaling beer cans or any other matter."
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.