Onychomancy - Predicting the Future from the Fingernails of a Person


Various forms of divination have used various objects or phenomena to study signs as portents of things to come. Some of these were based in the external world as for instance the study of weather patterns, the position of heavenly bodies or even the observation of animals and other creatures. Often a few forms of divination would be based on the subject’s own body or physical traits and to this belongs the type of divination known as onychomancy.

Onychomancy is a form of divination that uses the fingernails of a person to interpret his/her personality and also to provide inkling to what is going to happen to him/her in future. The term is derived from ancient Greek where onychos means fingernails and manteia refers to divination. According to the most common practice of onychomancy, the seer would examine a person’s fingernails for shape, color, marking and any other unusual features and then interpret each of these aspects as clues to his or her personality. It was also thought that the markings on fingernails could also presage events of the future. The fingers where symbols appeared supposedly indicated the nature of the coming events, while the location of the symbols on the nail allows to date them. The higher the symbol is situated on the nail, it was believed that the sooner the events were going to take place.

Though onychomancy depended on various cultures following various systems of interpretations, some of them were more or less common in the way Shape of fingernails and general appearance are used to ascertain character. Thus for instance Greedy people will have crooked fingernails and if they are raised in the middle it is taken as a sign of an early death. The shape of the half moon on your fingernails at the base, are an indicator of longevity, the bigger the moon the longer the life.

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Indeed fingernails also made for certain predictions if a person dreamed about them in his/her sleep. Thus dreams of Long fingernails were seen as a sign of difficulties in the dreamer’s relationship, while short ones indicated the arrival of an unexpected gift . If a person dreamt of biting his/her nails, especially to the quick, it could be a warning to go to a doctor as soon as possible. Likewise if a person dreamt of polishing his/her nails, it was seen as a warning against impulsive behaviors but filing them indicated accomplishments achieved through one’s own efforts. Cutting your fingernails in a dream was a sign of prestige and advancement but bending them back painfully symbolized a difficult time coming up ahead that could last for a couple of months.

The appearance of certain marks or white spots could also hold certain meanings in more popular forms of onychomancy. Most often white spots on the fingernails were regarded as a sign of good fortune. In Germany it was believed that the number of white spots on a person’s nails indicated the years left to live. In Great Britain a white spot on the pointer finger indicated a new friend and one on the middle finger predicts a new enemy. Similarly the appearance of a white spot on the ring finger would presage the arrival or money or new love and that on the little finger would indicate that a journey was on the cards. In fact a popular ditty also exists as a way of remembering the interpretations, "A friend, a foe, money to come, a journey to go." finally a white spot on the thumb would foretell the probable receipt of a gift. However Black spots were seen as a sign of bad luck or misfortune and yellow specks warn of a death.

Popular versions of onychomancy have survived as superstitions about fingernails in many places and cultures. Thus A woman who is able to cut her right hand fingernails with her left hand, is supposed to have the upper hand in her marriage. In many cultures, people are still forbidden to cut a baby's fingernails or bite them off upon the belief that the child will then grow up to be a thief. In Japan girls are discouraged from nail-biting by the warning of difficult births. Then again in many cultures, it is considered to very unlucky to cut finger nails on certain days of the week.

One reason why so many folklores and superstitions appear to be based on fingernails is perhaps that they were seen as curious parts of the body in primitive times – something which was part of the body and could yet be separated or cut off without any apparent discomfort. This gave the fingernail an almost magical quality and indeed fingernail clippings feature in many occult practices from around the world. The use of fingernail clippings in black magic spells would ensure that the spell affected the right person. On the other side, fingernails were also utilized in healing rituals with the clippings from the person who was ill, either burned or buried. In this way it was hoped that the illness would also be destroyed and the patient get better.

The association of fingernails to the personality and fortunes of a person as underlined by onychomancy may not be such a fanciful idea after all, considering that medical practitioners consider the appearance of fingernails an important indicator of a person’s health. Fingernails, which can grow up to a millimeter a week, are composed of layers of protein, sulphur and keratin. Problems with fingernails can indicate an illness, nutritional problem or disorder occurring in a person’s body and can often be the first indication that there is a problem. If the whole nail is white it could mean kidney, liver disorders or anemia.
Yellowed nails can also indicate liver issues, diabetes, respiratory and lymphatic problems. Nails that are quite dark can indicate a Vitamin B12 deficiency but brittle nails can show iron deficiency or thyroid problems. Red at the bottom of the nail can be a sign of a connective tissue disorder. If the nails are brittle, soft, with no shine or half moon, it can be an indicator of hyperthyroidism. Then again ridges on the nail can also indicate a thyroid problem or an infection. Fingernails that are too thick could indicate a circulation problem in a person’s vascular system and if the nails beds are deep and blue it can be a sign of pulmonary obstruction or emphysema. Though all clues relating to the nails should be taken in conjunction with other bodily symptoms and only be diagnosed by a certified doctor, there is little doubt that the ancient practice of onychomancy survives, albeit to a different purpose.