July 5, 2010
Scrotum Reading: an historical and sociological survey
A great man once said: "A man's destiny is not written in the stars. It is not traced on his palm or hidden in a deck of cards. The true window to a man's destiny hangs with him and holds the answers to the mysteries of his existence."
Scrotum reading is an ancient practice which has persisted to the modern era. The Mesopotamians were the first to produce a comprehensive guide to the art. Written in cuneiform, the Scrotal Tablets of Zagros were unearthed in the excavation of the Great Ziggurat of Ur in 1923 by Sir Reginald Foxley. Although the excavation of the Great Ziggurat of Ur was credited to Sir Leonard Woolley, it was Foxley who recognized the tablets amongst the artifacts. From his journal:
"The excavation was an enormous undertaking. Sir Leonard described it as the single most important archeological event of the century. I would describe it as a colossal waste of time. Everything here smells like hot camel shit. This is the worst sex tour I've ever been on."
As much as Sir Reginald eventually died on the expedition as one of the first recorded victims of camel rape, his discovery of the Zagros Tablets literally revolutionized the practice of scrotum reading in the West. Prior to the discovery, scrotum reading in Europe was relegated to gypsies moving west from Russia and the eastern parts of the Austrian and Prussian Empires. There is no written record of their methods, only eyewitness accounts:
"To have one's scrotum read by a gyspy was a mystical and terrifying experience. The readers were always women blinded at birth to enhance their scrotum reading skills. The reading house which was little more than a shack with two holes cut in one wall. One would put money through one hole and one's scrotum through the other. The reader would grasp one's scrotum firmly in one hand and poke at it with a reading wand, giving vague, thickly-accented predictions. If one attempted to ask questions, the reader would deal a sharp blow to one's scrotum and demand more money. This would continue until one passed out from pain or ran out of coin."
But with the discovery of the Scrotal Tablets, scrotum reading achieved a huge surge of popularity in Europe, particularly England. Scientists developed elaborate models of scrotal mapping which linked wrinkle and follicle patterns to various humours and psychological proclivities. Dr. (later Lord) Elliot Bramsbury edited a collection of studies conducted by the Royal College of Physicians which documented this nascent medical practice. The Bramsbury Principles were distilled from over 2000 individual case studies, described here in part:
"The seminal works of mysterium follis, or 'the mysteries of the scrotum,' have centered largely on human studies involving subjects from all segments of the spectrum of humanity ranging from office clerks to labourers to psychotic criminals. Borrowing measurement techniques from leading phrenologists, we have mapped the scrotum to a degree of precision that enables us to detect and predict modes of behaviour and philosophy which should prove invaluable at both the individual and societal levels. A debt of gratitude is owed to our stalwart field researchers who displayed exemplary fortitude and perseverance in collecting data. Some subjects were highly intransigent, requiring our field researchers to employ advanced wrestling holds to keep the subject in place for the two to three hours required for a complete interview and scrotal mapping. Others offered to pay to participate in the study for reasons which remain unclear to us."
Scrotum readings became the vogue of Paris and London in the 1930s. The economic and social unrest of the inter-war years left many with a profound sense of uncertainty from which they sought refuge in the scrotum reading parlours which flourished in the period. Often promoted under such unlikely names as "Personal Prognosticatory Services" or "Greek Readings," such parlours drew on the Bramsbury Principles but often with a twinge of orientalism reminiscent of the practice's gypsy forebears. In his practice journals, Dr. Horatio Wengle describes the clientele of his parlour:
"A more varied collection of characters I have never seen. Men of all walks of life would burst through my parlour door with questions of finance or love or destiny. Some were so desperate that they would scarcely wait for the door to close before whipping out their parts and asking whether this or that wrinkle meant they should invest in lumber. Others still would thrust some very sickly looking sacs under my lens, the most pertinent prognostication I could give them being to stop hanging around the transvestites in Soho. But the clientele was largely looking for solace rather than answers. Scrotum reading...it's not a science."
Look out for part II of this series: "Scrotum Reading and Nuclear Strategy: the Post-War Period."