Unlocking the Observatory: the Great Dial and Determining Times/Options

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about the myriad ideal triangles in the Great Mirror and what sort of interpretive benefit they allow in divination. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), the relevant chapters from ZT are the “Sixth Step”, “First Supplement”, and “Third Supplement”.

We’ve just finished up talking about the Great Mirror—or, at least, finished explaining and expanding slightly on what ZT has to say about it.  As ZT itself says following its own talk of the Great Mirror:

We are rather far from having said all that it would be possible to say about the astronomical regime…We cannot repeat too often that this text can and should only be a key. Profound meditations, with compass and pen in hand, must have the double success for the Candidate of permanently inculcating in them a tearing-away and breaking of the avarice of indications from the very moment of our march. Now, the Great Cabala does not include a theory of this kind. By it, the road would be made more difficult than easy; by it, the Candidate would find themselves squeezed in some way between the two flanks of a relatively open angle, while they must move freely through all the content of an immense circle, which embarrassed nothing less than all that is for as long as it shall last.

In other words, while one can certainly expand on the various cosmological and interpretive significations of the Great Mirror more than what ZT has, ZT itself declines to say more than it has in the interest of brevity.  (Or it may be that it has nothing more to say about it because it made it up and is masking that fact with claims of mysterious obfuscation, who knows.)  All the same, it is true that the Great Mirror is just one of the two main ways to use the large hexangular figure of 37 tiles.  While the Great Mirror is the so-called “astronomical regime” of the large hexagon, there is another: the “temporal regime”, which is a way to consider the large hexagon as indicating periods of time ranging from individual hours to a whole millennium.  Rather than calling this sort of temporal view of the large hexagon the Great Mirror, the temporal regime calls it instead the Great Dial (as in the dial of a clock-face):

The above is a reproduction of ZT’s own Plate IV, with one minor correction (which I’ll touch on later):

Just as we might say that the Great Mirror (the large hexagram read in the astronomical regime) has both “essential interpretations” (reading the tiles according to their houses) and “accidental interpretations” (reading the tiles according to the ideal triangles they fall into with other tiles)—even if the use of such terms “essential” and “accidental” are my own imposition on ZT here based on astrological usage—the Great Dial has two ways to read it, as well, which ZT itself calls “movements”, where one starts with greater time periods and works its way down to smaller ones:

  • Eccentric movement (movement starting at the center and working towards the edge)
    • Center house: 1000 years
    • Inner belt: 100 years per house
    • Middle belt: 7 years per house (as indicated by the number in these houses)
    • Outer belt: 1 year per house
  • Concentric movement (movement starting at the edge and working towards the center)
    • Outer belt: 5 years per house
    • Middle belt: 1 month per house (as indicated by the sign in these houses)
    • Inner belt + central house: 1 day per house (reckoned according to the weekday, as indicated by the planet in these houses)

Before we go on, let’s clarify a bit about how ZT breaks time into particular segments.  Some segments you likely already know, dear reader: 1000 years makes a millennium, 100 years make a century, 12 months make a year, 7 days make a week, and so forth.  Where does ZT’s use of 7-year segments and 5-year segments come from?

  • Climacteric period: a period of seven years, starting from the moment of one’s birth.  This actually isn’t something that ZT makes up; climacteric periods are a thing that have been recognized since ancient times in medicine and astrology.  ZT explains this as:

    The transitions from the seventh year of life to the eighth, from the fourteenth to the fifteenth, and so on are the so-called “climacteric nodes” where, ordinarily, an individual is subject to revolutions either physical or moral. It is a commonplace in medicine and physiology, and is doubtlessly not unknown to anyone.

    The word “climacteric” has its origins in Greek κλιμακτηρικὀς klimaktērikós “of a critical period”, where every seventh year of a person’s life was considered a time when they undergo particular (often critical or dangerous) changes to their body, life, and surroundings.  Even today in modern medical contexts, “climacteric” is still used in some limited contexts to refer to natural changes in life accompanied by various health consequences.  From an astrological standpoint, the origins of this are probably obvious: given that Saturn returns to its same position in the ecliptic every 27 to 29 years, this means that it crosses 90° of the ecliptic every seven years, causing a transiting Saturn to conjunct, square, or oppose one’s natal Saturn every seven years.

  • Lustral period: a period of five years, starting from the moment of one’s birth (each such period is also just called a “luster”).  We haven’t covered how ZT considers the origin and process of a human life yet—it gets kinda weird involving two angels shedding sparks of divine fire which combust into a human soul at the time of conception—but ZT breaks up a human life into 18 “lusters”, each accounting for five years (or four, or seven, depending on whether a person is a man or woman and how old they are, which we’ll leave for a later discussion as well).  To this end, ZT says that a human life only reaches its maximum of 90 years, because 5 × 18 = 90.

So, looking at the Great Dial, what do we make of the numbers and symbols there?

  • The numbers 1 through 18 in the outer belt indicate single years in eccentric movement, or the number of lusters (5-year periods) in concentric movement.
  • The numbers in the middle belt indicate climacteric years in eccentric movement, i.e. the year in which one moves from one climacteric period to the next. (There is a small error in these numbers: house 9, labeled “Taurus – 15”, should have the number 14, not 15.  I’ve corrected this in my own redrawing of the Great Dial.)
  • The signs of the Zodiac in the middle belt indicate months in concentric movement (identifying March with Aries, April with Taurus, and so forth.)
  • The numbers and planetary symbols in the inner belt and center house indicate the days of the week in weekday order.

One note before moving on: although, in concentric movement, the middle zone is used primarily to determine months, it can also be used to refer to any smaller units of time that can be broken down into a twelvefold division: hours of the day or the night, minutes of an hour (with each house referring to periods of 5 minutes), and so forth.  However, ZT says that the smallest reasonable unit of time to break down inquiries is to the level of the hour, and that while one could break inquiries down into smaller units of time to minutes or seconds:

…this mincing smacks too much of charlatanry to us, at least to seriously give ourselves over to accounting for the fussiest fractionation of time. It is a matter of divinatory nickel-and-diming which gives, at best, a knavish character to the accounts of people acting in bad faith. We indicate the possibility of extracting ever-smaller units of time only so we may establish that, if the Candidate were to find themselves deterred by some lack of teaching, then at least they should not attribute their embarrassment in this to some insufficiency of the means of the Great Cabala.

So, the obvious question arises: when do we use the Great Dial in eccentric movement vs. concentric movement?  The way I like to think about it is that concentric movement deals with the events within a human timeframe, either within a human lifetime or otherwise something that happens in the near term.  Eccentric movement, on the other hand, deals with events that occur over much grander periods of time—up to 1702 years down the line (or, I posit, in the past), beyond such a limit the Great Dial cannot be used.  As a result, when ZT gives examples of determining matters of time, it generally uses examples of concentric movement on the Grand Dial, since it generally deals with events on a human timescale instead of a civilizational one.  That said, at one point ZT does also present a fiery defense that some matters demand the inspection of not just the events of a single lifetime but even unto “the most distant future”, noting that sometimes events indicated in a Great Mirror might occur centuries from the time of the reading itself (e.g. when such a reading says that one’s descendants are destined for royalty or greatness, but such a thing only happens two or three centuries from the time of the reading).

Okay, so, we have the “what” and “why” of the Great Dial understood, so what about the “how”—how do we actually go about using the Great Dial?  Well, uh, let’s back up a bit and reconsider first that the Great Dial is a way to use the large hexangular figure in order to answer matters specifically about time in the sense of when something will happen—assuming that it will, of course, which is a matter for the Great Mirror and other divinatory processes to conclude first.  (This is much the same approach I’d take with geomantic divination: if someone wants to know when something will happen, I first confirm that it will or not, because if it won’t happen, then asking about when would yield a nonsense result.)  As opposed to the use of the Great Mirror, which never earns a proper example or case study in ZT, ZT offers lots of smaller examples throughout the “First Supplement” about various ways to predict the time of an event.

The overall method that ZT mentions for determining details of time (and other such details) generally fall under what I call “option-whittling”:

  1. For the topic under investigation, select a tile that accurately represents the thing being investigated (e.g. the 66 tile for marriage).  This will be the “speaking tile” or, in modern terms, the significator of the questited.
  2. Given a set of possible options, select a figure of the appropriate size that represents the number of those options.  Take the speaking tile and however many other tiles you need to come up with that figure, mix them up without seeing, and arrange the figure in the usual order with all tiles face-down.
  3. Starting from the last tile placed in the figure, announce what the last possible option available, and flip up that tile.  If that tile is the speaking tile, then the announced option is the one indicated.
  4. If, however, the announced option was not the speaking tile, proceed backwards through the rest of the tiles, proceeding through each option in turn in reverse, to find where the speaking tile is.

Say I know that a friend is planning a party in the coming week, but I don’t know what day of the week it’ll be on yet and, given that my friend is in the habit of giving little-to-no advance notice for such events, I want to plan ahead to see if I can make it in my otherwise busy schedule.  For this, I’ll pick the 22 tile “happy associations, friendship” to represent the party, and given that I have seven options to pick from (seven days in the coming week), I’ll pick the figure that makes use of seven tiles: a small hexangular figure.  So, to that end, I’ll take out the 22 tile and six other random tiles (it doesn’t matter what they are, even if they’re Intelligences or Principles or Spirits), put them all face down, mix them up, and arrange them in the usual small hexagon.

So, somewhere in this small hexagon is the 22 tile, but I don’t know where.  Let’s say that the current day is a Wednesday, and I know that my friend isn’t having the party today, so the party could be held as early as tomorrow (Thursday) or as late as one week away (next Wednesday).  What I’ll do is I’ll lift up the seventh tile (being the last) and say/think “is the party being held this coming Wednesday”; if the tile is the 22 tile, then yes, but if not, I’ll proceed to the sixth tile and say/think “what about Tuesday”, and so forth, ending with the first tile laid down representing tomorrow/Thursay.  Wherever the 22 tile is indicates the day of the week the party will be held on.

This “option-whittling” approach is described in many ways, and given the number of options one has to pick, different figures can be used:

  • Three options: small triangle
  • Four options: small diamond
  • Five options: small diamond + one tile held in reserve
  • Six options: hollow triangle
  • Seven options: small hexagon
  • Eight options: small hexagon + one tile held in reserve
  • Nine options: medium diamond
  • Ten options: full triangle
  • &c.

When I say “a tile held in reserve”, a good example of this is when ZT proposes how one might find out on which day of the month something might occur.  Let’s say that that we know that our friend is planning another party later on in the year in October, but again, we don’t know when and they’re not in the habit of letting us know with much warning, so we want to find out what day to plan for.  October has 31 days, but there’s no figure that comes anywhere close to that number; they’re either all too small (large triangle has only 15 tiles, large diamond only 16) or too big (large hexagon has 37), but what we can do is take the usual speaking tile and mix it together with 30 other tiles for a total of 31, then make two large triangles with one extra piece put near the second large triangle.  What we’re doing here is essentially partitioning out October into two halves: the first large triangle is for days 1 through 15, the second large triangle is for days 16 through 30, and the tile in reserve is for the 31st day itself.  We start with the first triangle and see if the speaking tile is found in that figure; if not, then the event won’t be held in the first half of the month, so we turn to the second triangle, but we start with the tile in reserve first—because it’s the actual “final” tile that represents the final option of the 31st day.  If that tile in reserve is the speaking tile, then we have ourselves a Halloween party; if not, then we have some other day in October from days 16 through 30 that the party will be on.

In this way, we can go through any number of options, though ZT says that “rarely does a a particular question require larger figures” larger than ten-ish tiles, and even then, we can always use multiple figures to determine an answer in those cases when necessary.  In this way, we can go down to three options using a small triangle, but what about a binary choice of just two options?  ZT literally says to just take the speaking tile plus one other random tile, shake them around in the hand, and pick one.  It’s that simple.

With all that understood, we now know how we can use the Great Dial in a similar way.  Let’s say that we have someone who was told that one day their family give birth to someone who will become worldwide famous, and they want to know when such a birth will occur.  For this, we’ll use the speaking tile of 1 (which indicates births), and compose a Great Dial with 36 other random pieces.  Because of the nature of this query, we don’t know if the birth will happen anytime soon or not, so let’s first use eccentric motion to determine the general timeframe in which such a birth might happen.  In eccentric motion, the outer belt is the yearly belt, the middle belt is climacteric, the inner belt is centurial, and the center house is millennial; to that end, we use the usual option-whittling approach to determine in what timeframe such a birth will occur: 18 years down the line, 17 years, 16 years, etc. down to just 1 year for tile 20.  After that, 12 climacteric periods (84 years) following these 18 years away, then 11 (77 years), 10 (70 years), etc. down to one climacteric period (7) after the first 18 years.  After that, 7 centuries (following 18 years and 12 climacteric periods), then 6, then 5, etc.  After that, we have 1000 years, after seven centuries plus twelve climacteric periods plus eighteen years—or it could just be sometime further indefinitely off than that as some upper undefined limit.

What about something closer?  Let’s say that a querent knows from a Great Mirror that they’ll be married sometime in the next few years of their life.  For this, we’ll use the 66 tile (which indicates marriages) and compose a Great Dial with 36 other pieces.  At first, we’ll read the outer belt in eccentric movement, interpreting each tile as being one year each, and so we’ll do the usual option-whittling starting with 18 years, then 17, etc.  If we don’t find the 66 tile in the outer belt, though, then (in the context of this query) it’s not that the querent will marry sometime much later, but rather, sometime much sooner, so we’ll move to the middle belt now and switch to using concentric movement instead of eccentric, which means that we now read the middle belt as being one month each, starting with 12 months away from the reading, then 11, then 10, and so forth, ending with one month away.  If we still don’t find the 66 tile, then that means that it must be in the inner belt or center, which is for weekdays; at this point, we can say that the marriage will occur sometime very soon in the present month, and the position of the 66 tile can indicate the week.

The point of this latter example is to show that a single Great Mirror can be read in either or both movements, depending on the nature of the query and what makes the most sense, but truth be told, most of the examples of ZT that indicate telling time don’t use the Great Dial at all, it’d seem.  Of all the examples ZT gives, it determines:

  • Year: by either the outer band of the Great Dial in concentric movement (to determine lustral period of a human life) or any part of the Great Dial in eccentric movement (year, climacteric period, century, or millennium)
  • Month: by the middle belt of the Great Dial in concentric movement
  • Day of the month: by either:
    • Two large triangles for a month of 30 days, or two large triangles plus one tile in reserve for a month of 31 days (for February, we could use one medium hexagon for the first 19 days plus either a medium diamond for the remaining 9 days or full triangle for the remaining 9 days in a leap year)
    • One small hexagon to determine the day of the week, then to determine the week of the month, either a small diamond (for a month of four weeks containing that weekday) or a small diamond plus one tile in reserve (for a month of five weeks containing that weekday)
  • Climacteric period: by one small hexagon to determine the first seven climacteric periods, then another small hexagon to determine the next seven (or, more properly, a hollow triangle to determine the next six, since 6 + 7 = 13, and 13 × 7 = 91, which approximates the maximum lifespan of humans according to ZT)
  • Hour: …uh…well…

So, about determining hours: ZT offers two methods on this approach, which it spends a good amount of time clarifying on the first and offers the second as an alternative, and both seem slightly confused in minor ways that aren’t impossible to reconcile, but it’s still a little weird.  It helps, however, that ZT just takes the usual system of planetary hours and planetary weekdays as a given, which we can use to our advantage here.  My issue is, however, that neither of them seem particularly robust.

Hour determination, first method: For the purposes of this method, we only care about the tiles belonging to the solar or lunar intelligences, where all the tiles of Genhelia/matter-Sun and Psykelia/spirit-Sun indicate diurnality and all the tiles of Seleno/matter-Moon and Psykomena/spirit-Moon indicate nocturnality.  We’ll give the Intelligence tiles to the midpoint of their respective periods, such that the Genhelia and Psykelia tiles represent the hour leading up to midday (thus the sixth hour of the day), and that the Seleno and Psykomena tiles represent the hour culminating in midnight (thus the sixth hour of the night).  We rotate through the tiles in the given columns according to the Table of Numbers from Plate II accordingly to obtain the rest of the tiles for the hours of the day or night, starting from the middle-point of the column to indicate the twilight, working our way up to the Intelligence tile to represent the midpoint of the day/night, then rotating back from the bottom of the same column to represent the remaining hours of the day/night.

What we get is a table of solar/lunar tiles that represent the hours of the day and night accordingly:

Hour Daytime Nighttime
Genhelia Psykelia Seleno Psykomena
1 37 45 38 44
2 28 36 29 35
3 19 27 20 26
4 10 18 11 17
5 1 9 2 8
6
7 91 99 92 98
8 82 90 83 89
9 73 81 74 80
10 64 72 65 71
11 55 63 56 62
12 46 54 47 53

So, to determine the hour in which something will happen, we use a large triangle of 15 tiles, with the outer rim of 12 tiles indicating the number of the hour, and the inner small triangle indicating whether it happens in the daytime (hours 1 through 12) or nighttime (hours 13 through 24).  We inspect the inner (ideal) small triangle first: best 2 of 3 of solar or lunar tiles determines the period.  Thus, if there’s any number of solar tile and no lunar tiles, or at least more solar tiles than lunar tiles, then the event will happen during the day; likewise, if there’s only lunar tiles and no solar tiles, or at least more lunar than solar tiles, then the event will happen at night.  That done, we then proceed to look at the outer rim of 12 tiles on the large triangular figure we composed.  We then proceed to find whatever solar or lunar tiles agree with the inner triangle, and use the outer rim tile(s) to indicate the hour itself of that given period.  Thus, if the inner triangle indicates a nocturnal event, then if we find both a solar and a lunar tile in the outer rim, only the lunar tile matters to indicate the hour.

Of course, there are a number of questions about this method that ZT leaves unresolved:

  • All other tiles of any other planet are irrelevant and neutral for this approach, meaning they don’t indicate either diurnality or nocturnality.  So what happens if there are neither solar nor lunar tiles in the inner ideal triangle?
  • Even if we can judge the diurnality/nocturnality of an event from the inner triangle, what if there are multiple tiles that agree in the outer rim?  Does that mean the event could happen in any one of those hours, or in the range between them?  Do we just pick which one using an option-whittling method afterward?
  • Even if we can judge the diurnality/nocturnality of an event from the inner triangle, what if there are no tiles that agree in the outer rim?  Do we just say that it can’t be decided and that it’ll happen throughout the day or at any point which cannot yet be determined in that day?

There’s also one really weird bit about this method, however.  ZT says that, regarding the hours:

Just as the solar and lunar pieces mark the exact points of noon and midnight, each hourly number marks the exact middle of the first, second, third, &c. hour, whether daytime or nighttime. Without being aware of this, one runs the risk of making a mistake of any time, sometimes by half an hour.

I can’t really make sense of this, honestly.  If the solar and lunar Intelligence tiles themselves represent the exact points of midday and midnight, then that would indicate the border between two hours, not the middle of such hours.  It also says earlier, however, that tiles 37, 47, 45, and 53 all “share the twilight hour of the morning”; usually we don’t say that an hour is split or that the twilight hour is split, but rather that a day starts at sunrise itself (which ZT agrees with).  So does ZT mean by this note that our usual reckoning of dividing up the unequal hours is to be shifted forward by half an unequal hour?  It’s unclear to me, and seems really confused or overly complicated.

Hour determination, second method: This approach of assigning the tiles to the hours is similar to the previous method, but incorporates the given Zodiac sign of a known date.  Recall in the Table of Numbers in Plate II how each of the rows of the table is assigned a sign of the Zodiac.  The first hour of the day/night is the solar/lunar tiles of the row of that sign of the Zodiac, the second hour the one beneath that, the third one beneath the second, and so forth, looping around if we’ve reached the end of the column.  Thus, while the Sun is in Gemini, tiles 10 and 18 are the first hour of the day and tiles 11 and 17 the first hour of the night, tiles 19 and 27 the second diurnal hour and tiles 20 and 26 the second nocturnal hour, and so on.  Unfortunately, no example is specifically given with this second/alternative method, so if we use the same fundamental approach as before, then the same issues remain as before.

Of course, there is a sorta-secret third method to determine the hour that was hinted at earlier: use the Great Dial in concentric movement to determine the hour number, then use option-whittling to determine if it’ll happen in the day or night.  No muss nor fuss with trying to allot tiles to unequal hours or worrying about what if you don’t get any (or if you get too many) solar or lunar tiles, whatever.  Or, if we want to take a similar approach as what we did with the first method of determining the day of a month to innovate a fourth method, we could use four hollow triangles, because each hollow triangle has six tiles and 6 × 4 = 24, and use the usual option-whittling approach that way, splitting a whole day-night cycle into four separate chunks of morning (hours 1 through 6), afternoon (7 through 12), evening (13 through 18), and night (19 through 24).  (Although we might conceivably break a set of 24 options into other figures like a large 15-tile triangle with a medium 9-tile diamond, having this broken out into equal segments pleases me more.)

I’ll be honest: while I get the underlying process that ZT shows for many of these forms of determining specific times, they feel kinda…I dunno, clunky?  And especially for determining hours, that gets into levels of specificity that seem increasingly suspect to me (a concern magnified if we were to go any lower than hours, as ZT itself warns against), and the methods it explicitly suggest seem super rough and too ill-specified for my taste, at least without exploring other options.  But then again, ZT also says this about the methods it shares:

The Candidate is warned that the means indicated in the First Supplement to find the climacteric, annual, monthly, hourly, and other periods are rather thus described as exercises rather than to assist them in quickly and surely finding a moment they might seek. Rather, they will be surprised indeed to find, at the proper time, other methods shorter, surer, and less childish than those we have offered earlier to their avid curiosity. Since there is much to learn and do before one begins to calculate months and hours, when the Candidate eventually gets to such a point, they will already know how to go about it and can dispense with the processes described as well as the Tables [of meanings of the tiles and the Great Mirror houses], by which we only wanted to offer some bait to the unreasonable impatience of most people who wish to read into the future.

It is unfortunately too true that, in a work that will someday be precious, what is less sound must serve for now as a recommendation for the rest.

Even by ZT’s own admission, it doesn’t think particularly highly of the methods it gives to determine times.  I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?  All that this “option-whittling” (as I’ve been calling it) is is just a variation on processes of elimination, which is about the most rudimentary form of sortilege you can do with little in the way of actual interpretation or intuition being called for.  While there’s nothing saying that these methods can’t work, I admit my own skepticism of them to a degree, and can think of better methods involved.  For instance, using the Great Dial in concentric movement with the middle belt indicating hours, it might be possible to conceive of a method that links up one of the 12 hourly houses in the middle belt with one of the seven daily houses of the inner belt + center house using ideal triangles to determine both the weekday, diurnality/nocturnality, and hour of the day/night.  Alternatively, if we know the given weekday, then noting that the planetary day is ruled the planet of its first hour and planetary night of its first hour, we could use more tiles than just the solar/lunar ones to determine planetary days and hours, as well.  Another option could be to give the other planets their own diurnal or nocturnal qualities in addition to the luminary ones to even things out.

As far as ZT is concerned, I think determining times along these lines is a tricky topic, in agreement with what ZT says.  At the same time, I also think that either the author of ZT was intentionally holding back on intuitive/interpretive techniques to lead to such a result, or they just threw this in as an afterthought to let others fill in the gaps without ever thinking such methods through enough themselves.  I’m sure that there are plenty of ways to determine time, and ZT has certainly given some ways, but even ZT itself doesn’t take them seriously; I don’t think we should, either.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Unlocking the Observatory: Natal Stars, Stellar Angels, Lunar Mansions, and Questions « The Digital Ambler

  2. Pingback: Unlocking the Observatory: Summary and Recap « The Digital Ambler

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