Between the lines

Tarot has dominated the millennial market. And with technology affecting its modernisation, palmistry – its less-saturated sibling – looks set to follow

By Shannon Mahanty   Illustrations by Alberto Miranda    Sunday 19 April, 2020   Long read

A colourful illustration of tarot cards with hands on them.
‘Is your mum Irish and your dad Indian?’ asks Gary Markwick. I tell him he’s right, but I’m dubious. I share a first name with Ireland’s biggest river and it only takes a quick google to link my surname to India. I ask him how he knows. ‘I just had a feeling,’ he replies.

Markwick is a third-generation palm reader and I’m speaking to him on the phone after emailing him photos of my hands. Over the course of our hour-long phone call, ‘I just had a feeling’ comes up a lot. He knows I have a tendency to overthink things and recently lost a parent. He knows I’ve lived abroad and that diabetes runs in my family. In the future, he thinks I’ll have a long relationship, two children and a lucrative career, but it’s not all plain sailing – I’m going to need glasses very soon. 

I’m 29 and, like many of my generation, in the last few years I’ve reached peak millennial. And, increasingly, I find myself embracing a new-age spirituality. I use everything from meditation classes to astrology apps to find, if not reassurance, then at least a bit of relaxation – which is exactly how I feel talking to Markwick. ‘My main reason for doing [palmistry] is to help others,’ he says. ‘Most people walk away from a reading with something that gives them a bit of confidence.’ This is the case particularly with his younger client base; I’m not necessarily having a reading to ascertain my next career move, and I can’t say with certainty that his predictions are true, but it did offer me some hope for the future. In my day-to-day life, I’m simultaneously shocked by the existence of fake news and saddened by the truth of real news. Millennials are often mocked for being ‘snowflakes’, but in a period characterised by huge political, social and COVID-19-fuelled uncertainty, it’s hard not to succumb to boredom and despair from time to time. It’s human nature to want to seek comfort and meaning, and more and more young people are finding it through mystic practices. 

Take tarot cards, for example – sales are booming, with occult bookshop Treadwell’s, in London’s Bloomsbury, reporting a 50 per cent increase in two years, while in Dior’s 2018 cruise collection, feminist tarot cards were seen emblazoned across multiple looks. Palm reading is also having a resurgence, although the revival feels somewhat slower and subtler. ‘I think a lot of people go for the cards because of the pictures,’ says Markwick.
A colourful illustration of tarot cards.
‘Young people use tarot in their homes with friends, rather than getting a professional reading; it’s a lot easier in that way.’  While tarot may feel more accessible, I can’t help but notice the role technology has played in the modernisation of palmistry. Many readers like Markwick now accept images over email or WhatsApp, and can email readings to you. Has this helped attract a younger client base? ‘I love palmistry, but I don’t always have time to visit someone,’ says producer Ruby Stephens, 27. ‘The rise in digital apps and over-the-phone services makes it much easier. And the results still feel interesting and personal to me.’

While the delivery may have changed in recent years, the principles of palm reading remain the same. Its roots are thought to lie in Hindu astrology; allegedly the 5th century Indian poet Valmiki wrote a book, which translates in English as The Teachings Of Valmiki Maharshi On Male Palmistry – many of the same ideas still inform the techniques used today.

‘Much of the classical theory is still relevant now,’ says Jesse James, a 35-year-old palm reader from Brighton in the UK. ‘Although, for me, a modern reading is based less on the old fortune-teller style of predictions you may see in the movies, and more on the traits and characteristics of an individual, as seen on the palm, fingers and thumb. The art has grown, adapted and evolved somewhat, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. The life line, for example, was originally thought to highlight how long someone would live. However, this was a view held in a period when a good, long life was seen as the ripe-old age of 40. In modern palmistry, this line is now more often related to the passion and energy someone has for life, and not a prediction of its length.’ 

Markwick says his approach combines classic readings of the lines on your hand (life, heart and fate being some of the easiest to recognise) with his own intuition. ‘I look at it like a road map,’ he explains. ‘You’ve got the mounts on the hands like mountains, and also the seas, rivers and roads. There’s a lot to look at beyond the lines – the texture of the hands, the shape, the nails, the fingers and the way they bend.’ 

I look at my own hands, which suddenly take on a whole new meaning. ‘There’s so much going on, it can feel like a minefield,’ he says, a phrase that could equally be applied to modern life – politically, economically and socio-economically. ‘It’s about trusting your intuition and learning to piece it all together.’ Perhaps that’s the most reassuring thing I’ve ever heard.