Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Screaming Cards

This obscure cousin to the Tarot first came to prominence in England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603), where for a brief period such noted mystics as the astrologer John Dee used their ability to divine the codified messages conveyed by the cards to win favour with the Queen. Elizabeth herself was said to be much taken with the Screaming Cards, privately consulting her own pack on several occasions on matters of state, and some say the heart.

Though popular belief considers the cards to be a product of Elizabethan England, the true history of these remarkable devices is far older, and lies much further east than many suppose. Whilst a full discussion of the various, often conflicting, theories on the origins of the Screaming Cards would occupy many pages, what follows here is a distillation of the latest, most scholarly thoughts on the subject. Avid students of esoterica and the paranormal alike will find this brief overview more of a taster than a comprehensive guide, and are encouraged to research further either online or in specialist libraries.

It was the Cistercian monk Roger de Hardgrave (1469 – 1547) who truly popularized the use of the pack among Tudor society, with the publication of his hand-painted English translations of the earlier German 'Linz' pack, or Schreiendekarten. De Hardgrave was an illuminator by training, studying first at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire and then later at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria. It was doubtless here that Brother Roger first encountered the Linz pack, inspiring the scholarly monk to adapt them for his English-speaking fellows upon his return to Yorkshire in 1538, just prior to the dissolution of the monasteries.

This so-called 'de Hardgrave pack' is the version that came into popular use at the court of Queen Bess, passing through the hands of Dee, the actor Edward Alleyn and of course the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon. Notable for their distinctive intricately painted scenes of Tudor life, it was this set of 13 cards that first used the English names for the symbolic characters we know today: Long Armed Jack, Peter Scatterkin, Master Nosedrip and so forth. However, with the death of Elizabeth and the crowning of the ascetic James I, de Hardgrave's Screaming Cards fell into disfavour. Few copies were subsequently made, the surviving packs decaying over the years or else lying forgotten in dusty corners of the Bodleian and Royal Windsor Libraries until their revival in the early 20th century by the likes of MacGregor Mathers (1854 – 1918).

Early History
The first known appearance of the Screaming Cards in Europe was in the 15th century, arriving along the Silk Road from India. They were carried and no doubt traded by merchants via Constantinople, Venice and Genoa, finally reaching the court of the Holy Roman Empire in Linz, where the Emperor Frederick III (1452 - 1493) was intrigued by the cards' supernatural ability to reveal his past, present and future. Our modern English name for the pack comes from the old German (Frühneuhochdeutsch) word Schreiendekarten – shouting or screaming cards.

But this term for the Linz pack is itself nothing but a phonetic corruption of the Hindi 'Shri' (Master) – a word in common use by Indian traders in the 15th century - identified as an early title used to refer to the inhuman (some say demonic) figures as they appeared in an earlier version of the pack, originating somewhere in northern India. This honorific 'Shri' would have sounded to a German-speaking ear like 'schrie' or 'screamed', hence Schreiendekarten and eventually Screaming Cards. Documentation collated by the University of Rajasthan in the 1960s painstakingly identified these earlier 'Master' figures on the cards as Shri Asvapna, Shri Sujana etc, though of course English speaking scholars tend to use the classic de Hardgrave names such as John O'Dreams, The Battered Man and so forth.

It is also worth noting that earlier, in a letter to the Pope, the missionary Friar Carpini (1180 – 1252) wrote that he had witnessed Mongolian mystics advising the great Khan Güyük by 'casting a score of icons about them, divers spirits most strange engraved upon'. Some editions of his noted work Historia Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus also make mention of this incident. If Carpini did indeed encounter an earlier incarnation of the Screaming Cards at the court of the Khan, the discrepancies in his description imply that it is likely not a direct ancestor of the Indian pack that arrived along the Silk Road centuries later, but rather a variant pack. This in turn suggests a common 'Ur' pack of cards, sire to both the Indian and Güyük cards, now long lost to history, but perhaps containing a heretofore only guessed at 'Full Pack'.

The Berkeley Pack
The pack presented here is a new edition, based on the older Indian version and using the figures' original Hindi names, as opposed to the more well-known Linz and de Hardgrave versions. The depictions themselves are taken from the notorious experimental studies on thought projection carried out at University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s, where attempts to visually manifest incarnations of the Screaming Cards using an oscilloscope connected to students' frontal lobes yielded intriguing results.

de Hardgrave
Shri Asvapna
John O'Dreams
Shri Barpa
The Snowherd
Shri Cimk
Master Nosedrip
Shri Cot
The Dwarf
Shri Gamx
Peter Scatterkin
Shri Jaga
Long Armed Jack
Shri Jel
The Scaredyman
Shri Jijfasu
The Inquisitor
Shri Kusa
The Joyous One
Shri Lalaci
Squire Pygge
Shri Sujana
The Battered Man
Shri Ult
The Upside-Down Man
Shri Wakawa
Master Squares

For simplicity, the honorific Shri has been omitted from the cards themselves.

Note also that the figures fall into two camps – the six Elysians (depicted with a light blue background) and the six Tarterans (depicted with a ruddy brown background). Some scholars hold that Elysians represent nobler, perhaps heavenly traits, while the Tarterans embody baser, even hellish leanings. One card, Cot (the Dwarf) remains apart from both groups, as befits his special status (see below).

The Figures
John O'Dreams, an Elysian
This mysterious fellow represents dreams, fantasies, aspirations and inspiration, and is brother to Ult. He is associated with the Greek Muses, the god Morpheus, and Oneiros. In the de Hardgrave pack, John O’Dreams appears as a dark wanderer with a glittering eye. Inverted, Asvapna may signify nightmares, lack of motivation or dullness.

The Snowherd, an Elysian
This frosty gentleman represents the physical elements of snow, ice and cold, as well as generosity, purification and preservations, and is brother to Kusa. He is associated with St Nicholas, Jack Frost and other Winter spirits. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Snowherd appears as a massive white-bearded man, swathed in furs. Inverted, Barpa may signify harsh times, deprivation or killer frosts, hence his depiction here bearing a scarf cum noose, reminiscent of the Tarot’s Hanged Man.

Master Nosedrip, a Tarteran
This unfortunate figure represents illness, disease and general sickness, and is brother to Sujana. In medieval times, he often appeared on images of the Plague and Black Death. He is associated with lepers, historical figures like Typhoid Mary, and the Horseman Pestilence. In the de Hardgrave pack, Master Nosedrip appears as a sickly plague-bearer, gaunt and covered in buboes. Inverted, Cimk may signify immunity to illness, good health or a symptomless carrier.

The Dwarf
This diminutive character figure represents smallness, youth and adventurousness. Unique amongst the Screaming Cards, he is neither Elysian nor Tarteran, standing figuratively between Paradise and the Inferno (as denoted by the verdant, earthly background of his card). He is associated with overcoming great odds, children, Mankind and everyman heroes such as Jack the giant killer. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Dwarf appears as a wide-eyed youth of low stature, bearing a walking stick, reminiscent of the Tarot’s Fool. Inverted, Cot may signify age, largeness or meekness.

Peter Scatterkin, a Tarteran
This anarchic fellow represents chaos, untidiness and unpredictability, and is brother to Jaga. He is associated with primal Chaos, the elder god Azathoth, Set/Sutekh, and poltergeists. In the de Hardgrave pack, Peter Scatterkin appears as a grinning imp, making a mess as he runs through the market. Inverted, Gamx may signify neatness, order or law.

Long Armed Jack, an Elysian
This prankish gentleman represents mirth, mischief and freedom of spirit, and is brother to Gamx. He is associated with trickster gods like Coyote and Loki, as well as clowns and folklore creatures like Br’er Rabbit. In the de Hardgrave pack, Long-Armed Jack appears as a jester with freakishly long limbs, stealing pies from the kitchen window. Inverted, Jaga may signify theft, invasion of space, ill-humour or confidence tricks.

The Scaredyman, a Tarteran
This nervous figure represents fear, anxiety and excitability, and is brother to Wakawa. He is associated with cowards, Phobos, and the Cowardly Lion. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Scaredyman appears as a soft-featured monk, trembling in the candlelight. Inverted, Jel may signify courage, calm or firmness.

The Inquisitor, a Tarteran
This prying character represents curiosity, meddling and questions. He is associated with detectives, busybodies, and cats. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Inquisitor appears as a masked witch-finder, his long nose literally sniffing out secrets. Inverted, Jijfasu may signify impartiality, sensory loss such as blindness or answers. 

The Joyous One, an Elysian
This smiling fellow represents pleasure, happiness and the Sun, and is brother to Barpa. He is associated with Apollo, Ra and other sun gods. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Joyous One appears as a chubby golden child, beaming with good cheer. Inverted, Kusa may signify pride, self-satisfaction or searing heat.

Squire Pygge, a Tarteran
This lustful gentleman represents gluttony, desire and indulgence. He is associated with Bacchus, Tuck, Falstaff and the deadly sin Avarice. In the de Hardgrave pack, Squire Pygge appears as a corpulent country nobleman, his tight, wine-stained coat bursting at the seams. Inverted, Lalaci may signify abstinence, self-control or the Horseman Famine.

The Battered Man, a Tarteran
This dreaded figure represents misfortune, injury and mortality, and is brother to Cimk. He is associated with the number 13, victims and Death. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Battered Man appears as a pale knight, dragging bloody bandages behind him. Inverted, Sujana may signify good luck, recovery or life.

The Upside-Down Man, an Elysian
This singular character represents reversal, improbability and challenges, and is brother to Asvapna. He is associated with wizards, the Monkey King and Merlin. In the de Hardgrave pack, the Upside-Down Man appears as a robed magician walking upon his hands. Inverted, Ult may signify conformity, the mundane or failure.

Master Squares, an Elysian
This powerful fellow represents invulnerability, strength and potency, and is brother to Jel. He is associated with Hercules, Thor, Gilgamesh and other mythic heroes. In the de Hardgrave pack, Master Squares appears as a broad-shouldered circus performer, clad in a lion skin. Inverted, Wakawa may signify weakness, flight or infertility.

Tomorrow: Reading the Cards

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