Crossing your palm with silver
This will be just a short column this month, but I've always loved and been fascinated by language and I was wondering where the expression "crossing your palm with silver" actually came from and what it referred to originally. I thought you might be curious too, so I decided to look into it for you. All I knew what that it referred to paying a Tarot reader. But once my curiosity was up, I wanted to know more. And here is what I found.
It definitely has its roots in more fortune-telling superstition. There has always been, and still is, so much of that around. Which is in essence why I write this column each month to try to dispense with some of that. And the expression was originally meant quite literally.
It seems to have started out a long while back (potentially as early as the 11th century) when people coming to readers would literally make the sign of the cross over the fortune-tellers palm with a coin and then place the coin on their palm. This was a form or donation for the reading. It also was an effort to ensure a good reading by making sure that the reader was not being influenced by anything negative (as in the devil) or using any form or witchcraft.
But later on, probably by the 18th century, the expression was used by gypsy fortune tellers as a rather indirect way of asking to be paid for their readings. Silver being considered something precious, it could be considered as a gift in exchange for their talents, rather than as actual payment for a service rendered. As though they were passing their gift (talent) on the other person were giving them a gift back. More of an exchange than a payment.
Which actually brings up another superstition. I have heard both sides of the coin on this one. I have heard that a reader must never charge for their services. And alternately that a reader should always charge for their services. I have heard some people sure that you must do it and others who are equally sure you must not. Both are Tarot superstitions of course.
Clearly both can't be right at once. And pretty well anything statement that tells you that you "must" do something in Tarot or that you "must not" do it, in my experience, tends to be related to more Tarot superstition. There is nothing you have to or cannot do or things won't work as a reader. Nothing that applies universally to all readers in that way. Although, in my eyes there are certainly things of course that you should not do as a human being. And morality and a deep sense of empathy and caring are very important parts of what it means to be a reader.
Coming next month: Connecting to spirits