How the East Kingdom got its Blue Tyger

The Blue Tyger (sometimes informally known as “Sparky”) serves as a sort of mascot for the East Kingdom, appearing in its populace badge as well as many of its award insignia.

Earlier this year I got curious about why this was, and asked some Eastern heralds, who provided a bunch of the context: the blue tyger had been selected by Alfgar the Sententious, first Brigantia Herald, as a figure from East-Asian mythology and a riff on the dragon of the Middle Kingdom.

This seemed plausible, but I wasn’t fully convinced, because the only system of East-Asian mythical beasts of the cardinal directions that I was familiar with was the Four Auspicious Beasts of China, which features the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise of the South — no blue tiger.

This evening, while researching something unrelated, I stumbled upon confirmation of the original story, in the form of an old post to the rec.org.sca Usenet newsgroup from September 1993 in which, responding to a comment from Katja Hjalmarsdottir that “Oral tradition has it that the East Kingdom picked an azure tyger in response to the Middle’s dragon…”, Alfgar the Sententious wrote:

It was an individual this person usually refers to with the perpendicular pronoun…er, it was I. See Borges BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS… I picked on the Vietnamese version because the Chinese one was a dragon (for obvious reasons).

Indeed, Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings contains an entry for “The Tigers of Annam” (an old name for Vietnam) which begins as follows:

To the Annamites, tigers, or spirits who dwell in tigers, govern the four corners of space. The Red Tiger rules over the South (which is located at the top of maps); summer and fire belong to him. The Black Tiger rules over the North; winter and water belong to him. The Blue Tiger rules over the East; spring and plants belong to him. The White Tiger rules over the West; autumn and metals belong to him.

Over these Cardinal Tigers is a fifth tiger, the Yellow Tiger, who stands in the middle governing the others, just as the Emperor stands in the middle of China and China in the middle of the World. (That’s why it is called the Middle Kingdom…

There’s a certain amount of free-association involved in making the connection between the Red Dragon of the SCA’s Middle Kingdom to the Yellow Dragon of China to the Blue Tiger of Vietnam and back to the Blue Tyger of the East, but it does seem to be the authentic backstory behind this bit of our history.

We don’t have an exact date for when this happened, but Alfgar became the Principal Herald of the East in early 1972 and the Blue Tyger begins showing up in heraldic registrations a couple of years later, in the Chronicler’s badge of 1974 and the title of Blue Tyger Herald in 1975, so it was probably some time in A.S. VII or VIII.

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