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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fortean Card: Spring Heeled Jack; Steampunk Tarot

Unexpected birthday gift: Steampunk Tarot: Wisdom from the Gods of the Machine, designed by John and Caitlin Matthews. I haven't explored this deck yet, but this card did get my attention: Springheeled Jack. As any Fortean knows, Spring-Heeled Jack is a mysterious -- and quite steampunkian -- figure. Spring-Heeled Jack was a real person, or entity, (we don't know if he was human or not) that terrorized London in the 1800s:

In January 1838, the Lord Mayor, Sir John Cowan, drew public attention to a letter he had received from a resident of Peckham giving details of an attack by the so-called "Spring-Heeled Jack." This public acknowledgement of the rumors by the Lord Mayor immediately led to a flood of letters from individuals who had been too frightened and embarrassed to report their own encounters previously.
        On a February night of the same year, Jane Alsop, who lived with her father and two sisters, was assaulted by a devilish -- some say alien -- being who spat blue and white flames at her and scratched and tore at her with iron claws, only to leap away into the darkness when one of her sisters called for help. Less than a month later, Lucy Scales and her sister met Jack as they walked home through Green Dragon Alley in Limehouse. A tall, cloaked figure leaped from the shadows and belched blue flames into Lucy’s face, blinding her and causing her to collapse. As her sister attempted to help, the cloaked figure walked quietly away. (From Anomaly Info.com)

Sightings continued for decades afterwards. There is an interesting related phenomea that occurred in the U.S. in the 1940s: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon, Illinois:

The oft told tale of the Mad Gasser of Mattoon — also known as the “Mad Anesthetic” — began (aptly enough) in the small town of Mattoon, Illinois in 1944. Between the dates of August 31st and September 13th, a thin, black clad assailant would spread a reign of terror with a series of unprovoked and invasive “gas attacks.” Although police and FBI agents attempted to dismiss the whole thing as a classic case of mass hysteria, the evidence supports the reality that during those weeks in 1944, an unidentified person (or persons) managed to infiltrate the homes of local citizenry with an unknown gaseous substance, which rendered — through means as yet unidentified — the occupants incapacitated or violently ill. (Rob Morphy, Mysterious Universe)

The Spring -Heeled Jack card in this deck is the Major Arcana "Death" card. Not representing literal death but transformations, changes. Although at first glance this could also represent the Devil card, however, I haven't seen the Devil card in this deck yet.

As to the usefulness of this deck, to each their own. I have no opinion yet since I haven't worked with the deck. I'm engaged in a debate with my dear one concerning "being arbitrary" and "playing around with symbols." That's a whole other issue though! What do we think of creating new decks with new symbols to stand in for more traditional ones, new contexts and designs, etc? More on this in a future post.

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