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History of Face Reading

The practice of physiognomy or face reading is an ancient art known around the world. Some texts on this fascinating subject have been preserved through the ages, and it has been a part of Chinese medicine for centuries. It has been a facet of Western civilization starting with the Greeks, who studied and wrote about the relationship between facial structure and character. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, was familiar with physiognomy. Aristotle, in his addendum to History of Animals, discussed how to read a person's character from his face. He also wrote a treatise devoted entirely to the study of face reading.

The fact that these works survived demonstrates how highly regarded they were throughout a significant period of Western history.

Over the centuries, many noted western scholars have studied and valued physiognomy, including Galen, the famous first-century physician, Chaucer, the author of Canterbury Tales, and Roger Bacon, the author and poet who many believe used the pen name of Shakespeare.

The first great advancement of physiognomy in the West came

in 1775 with the publication of Essays on Physiognomy by

Johann Kasper Lavater, a pastor and poet in Zurich.  His book,

with its scores of superb illustrations and his rigorous effort to

produce a classification system, was the first Western attempt

to approach physiognomy as a scientific study.

Many followed in Lavater's footsteps.  For example, as late as

1913, The Encyclopedia of Face and Form Reading, by Mary

Olmsted Stanton, was published and well-received. It was an

exhaustive effort to classify the meaning of facial features and

structures. Unfortunately, her work also reflects the prevailing

sentiments and prejudices of that time period.

The reason you may not have heard of face reading is due to

the initial success then ultimate failure of another competing discipline called phrenology. Phrenologists believed that the shape of the skull indicated the type of mind and character of its owner.

Initially, the phrenologists, called "bump readers," enjoyed tremendous success and had a large following. However, the theory that bumps on the skull correlate with the development of the brain beneath the bump was disproven by scientific research on brain mapping. Phrenologists quickly fell from favor and were ridiculed as frauds and charlatans.

This led to a rush to apply rigorous scientific proofs to all the disciplines, resulting in abandonment of many other avenues of research and study, including such worthwhile studies as hypnosis, reflexology, palmistry and telepathy. It has taken half a century for these to regain respectability as legitimate fields of research.

Excerpt from Amazing Face Reading by Mac Fulfer

Lavater's book was the first Western attempt to approach physiognomy as a scientific study.

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