Face Reading: a Respected Divinatory Art?

“Everything is falling apart… except for my face
which I’ve had lifted so many times I wear earrings on my kneecaps.”
Joan Rivers

Having a face reading can throw you off balance, even when you don’t have anything to hide. You begin to recall being told as a child that that the eyes are the windows of the soul.Could the Face Reader see right through you, or the soul leak out like air, or an energy vampire break in? Should we not be on guard lest our faces give away all that we are? Sceptics might scoff at this idea, and the so-called science of Phrenology – reading head bumps – which had its heyday in the early 19th century, has been ridiculed to extremes.

But is it so implausible that our faces give away a piece of who we are? It is well known that writers can nail a person by deftly describing their face to reveal character. One of the dozens of memorable lines by Shakespeare is “you have witchcraft on your lips.” Point made. If emotions are transmitted through the eyes, why not your life through your face? A face can be like a book; open or closed, battered or untouched. Oscar Wilde said “a man’s face is like an autobiography, but a woman’s is like a work of fiction.” Whichever part of the globe, our faces tell our life story, but many of us do not yet have the literacy needed to read the individual chapters in those biographies. Face Readers claim to have mastered this skill.

Master Ming, Little India, Penang
Master Ming, Little India, Penang

In little India of George Town Penang, my eyes caught sight of a poster of a face plastered on a corner shop/art gallery. This was Master Ming, a fortune teller and face reader working at Trimurti biz, a nearby store. It  specialises in guru-blessed amulets made of lek lai, a stone found in bat-less caves in Thailand to which miraculous powers are are attributed. Some even claim it is bullet proof, yet it is also sacred to Buddhist gurus who use it to make these black totems/accessories. Master Ming’s face looked suitably impenetrable, yet transparent. This wise-innocent ambiguous expression can be read in different ways like the laughing Buddha statues scattered around gardens and temples throughout Asia. It is both happy and sad, typifying comi-tragedy, and even beyond that, in a non-polarised view of life. It  fuses into an expression that only a handful of the best trained actors could achieve at will.

Master Ming reads palms, does name readings based on numerology, and is a Face Reader. So this perked my interest:  We all suspect that those with symmetrical harmonious faces prosper much better financially and socially than those with a nose kink, a clipped chin, close-set eyes or a unibrow. But are they more interesting? People who are photogenic seem to us blessed, yet a striking  face, with an irregular slant may be more memorable.  It is the uniqueness of each face that makes it similar to a fingerprint. We may know a little about palmistry, or even numerology, based on your name, but how is it possible to ‘read’ a face, and where does that knowledge come from? Even the science of physiognomy (interpretation of the physical appearance) originates from Aristotelian ideas that a man’s fate was embodied in his face and physique. So I had no hesitation in going for a face reading.

Chi Points
Chi Points

Face Reading (Mien Shiang) originates from 3,000 year old Taoist practices. The trained reader uses it as a diagnostic tool to recognise a person’s Wu Xing or combination of five elements that reveal character, health, fate and potential. The Taoist five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These elements  represent emerging and shifting patterns within us and in the universe. Everyone has a basic face shape in which one or more of these elements predominates. Some have combinations of three and deficiencies in the other two. Knowing your basic face type can help understand yourself and how to work better with others. But first start looking in the mirror.

Chinese medical practitioners based their knowledge on a rounded philosophy that includes acupuncture which utilises the intricate network of energy channels linking all the systems and organs in the body.Taoist practices also centred on being aware of and channeling one’s ‘Chi’ or ‘prana’ which is the life force that gives the body its vital energy. The goal for the Taoist is to achieve harmony and balance and being able to adapt to the flow of life. Each portion of the face  represents a yin or yang point, constantly shifting from one to the other.Taoist doctors often checked their patients astrological animal, emotional state, the condition of their energy body, and by combining all these details could view the ‘whole’ state more easily.

Four inside four Eight Pointed Star
Four inside four Eight Pointed Star

The concept of the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; God, Son, Holy Spirit etc) is evident in the tripartite division of the face. For a reading, the face is studied in three parts: Upper, Middle and Lower. So for me at my age, the the Upper section from the head to the brows is the early life, up to age 21; the middle of the face, nose and cheeks represents from 21-40; and the lower face from 41-60. Presumably, the chin would then reveal the potential of someone’s life even if they haven’t reached 30 yet.

There are many things that probably we are already reading instinctively when we look at a face. It’s just an impression, something you sense, but it can give you the vital information you need to know that person. Wide eyes see the big picture; close set eyes are more detail oriented. The shape of your ears reveal how much you are a risk taker or lily-livered. Your jaw shape shows levels of determination or lack of it. The nose reveals levels of leadership and independence, and, as I was to discover the end of the nose and nostrils can indicate whether you lose money easily,  are a spendthrift, or are able to save money and prosper, and so on: the ideas are similar to those of Feng Shui, yet also involve some precision of technique.

So you may be wondering, what exactly did Master Ming have to say about me based on my face? Well, that’s another autobiography. He read all the ‘rooms’ of my face, told me about the phases of my life, my family and major events. What he said kind of made sense, but only in a general way.  But he didn’t only use Face Reading to do it. It was just one tool in his armoury. The prime divinatory arts are Astrology, Tarot, Numerology and Qabbalah- four pillars that support the whole.  These are four to be studied in unison and not separately. The one without the other would not render the complete picture. Ming also used palm reading, the birth date, numerological analysis of my name in Chinese Characters, by a Taoist system that differs from the Western, yet seemed equally accurate. Some things he said were guesswork, off the mark, but not way off.

What impressed me was that he also made a number of spot-on hits. More than was probable, given that I had just walked in off the street. Along with commentary on my astrology- the Chinese version- he identified key aspects of my character that it takes people months – even years -to learn about me.

Luangpo Garlong, Thai Buddhist teacher
Luangpo Garlong, Thai Buddhist teacher

He was aided by a much younger Buddhist monk , Eddy, who did the translating from Chinese to English. Eddy offered to give me a Buddhist blessing at no extra cost since one of my questions Ming found difficult to answer. This blessing was done with an air of solemnity and ritual that was even more impressive that Master Ming’s skills, yet added the icing on the cake. It took place cross legged in the dark next to private altars that had life-size wax models of his gurus. Wax in candle light is notoriously humanly flesh like, giving glints in the eye that looked like the master was coming back from the dead. This would have spooked anyone. He asked me to form my hands into a mudra,  intoned rapidly delivered mantras in Thai, anointed of my face with herbal oils, and tied of a string around my wrist. The statuary and religious iconography that crowded these altars was a blend of Indian, Thai, Burmese, Chinese and Malay. Syncretism is alive and thriving it seems in South East Asia showing that cultures need not act like separatist states, but drink happily from the same source.

Angelina Jolie follows Thai teachers
Angelina Jolie follows Thai teachers

This is where I discovered that to be gifted such a blessing- more rightly called ‘aura cleansing’- was in itself a blessing. I was given a Lek Lai amulet, to take away with me, a depiction of the highly respected teacher, Luangpu Garlong, now deceased. The very same teacher who officiated over the tattooing of Angelina Jolie’s shoulder. My link to the stars was sealed  according to Eddy; a fact trotted out to impress tourists no doubt. Not that it really matters that it was her, but it does point to another fascinating area of Thai Buddhist culture, that of spirit tattoos.

As for Face Reading, we are all doing it all the time without articulating it, or realising. Why is that every year thousands of people flock to see the National Portrait Gallery’s annual exhibition of portraits, large, small, vivid or vague? Because faces and all they reveal are endlessly fascinating. Imagine a world without faces? That puts a stop to your people watching habits, right?  The intensity of detail, of expression, on these portraits, each line on the face can delineate a whole world, or one brush of paint or stroke of graphite can suggest an entire life. Faces are thumbnails, icons of the inner self.

It does not always work however.If people have plastic surgery then that makes Face Reading more difficult. As with Joan Rivers, she may have managed to divert the inevitability that we get the face we deserve by the age of sixty, but that does not stop the ancient Chinese practice of Face Reading from being a venerable method of gleaning insight and information about the people around you, open to  modern interpretations and adaptation as I’m sure business leaders and recruiters already know. Your face is your unique story, able to be read by those able to discern the story written there.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved

2 thoughts on “Face Reading: a Respected Divinatory Art?

  1. There are many `fakes` out there for sure, but some of these guys are really incredibly insightful and see through us in an uncanny way. Maybe it is all about paying attention… not only to the physical but to the energy moving around us. And i daresay this is what they are so good at ! Of course their knowledge of ancient teachings and wisdom are also big tools in their `reading` arsenal, so when we bump into a `real` one, it is a very fortunate thing . With their help we can more objectively get to know parts of ourselves we often try to keep buried . Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful adventure with us !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Foal for your comment. It’s true I noted my own ‘fakery detector’ on full alert during the reading, and it’s true that some of it was general, that anyone could guess, but some of it was spot on, so by the laws of probability, that alone is remarkable. I felt that the Buddhist blessing was also genuine, as he kept saying he didn’t want any money, so I got the blessing – written out for me to repeat-a string, a lek lai stone to take with me, the oil etc and I felt many feelings of good will-which I learned was about purity of intention. I recommended Trimurti biz to two friends in Penang but I’m not sure they’ve been there yet. We’ll see. But there are many books on face reading e.g.Patrician McCarthy of the Mien Shang institute. She makes it very accessible to westerners and makes it seem less technical. If I go back to Penang I’ll definitely go there again.


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