Unlocking the Observatory: Actually Performing Divination

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 origins of the allocation of the lunar mansions, their angels, and the primitive numbers in ZT in Renaissance German pop-astrology texts. 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 “First Supplement”, “Second Supplement”, and “Third Supplement”.

At this point, I think we’ve covered enough ground to actually get to using the stuff we’ve been covering.  Besides talking about ZT and its history at a high level, we’ve gone over all the basic bits and pieces of ZT, and have gone through enough of its symbolism and understanding of itself so as to finally put things together and describe what a ZT reading would actually look like.  We’re definitely not done talking about ZT as a whole yet, much less what it has to say about humanity and spirituality and how those also play out in the Great Mirror, but at least we can start implementing what we’ve learned so far to start getting our hands familiar with the process.

First up: tool check.  Before we perform any divination with ZT, we need to make sure that all our tools are accounted for—which means we need to make sure we have both Principle tiles, both Spirit tiles, all nine Intelligence tiles, and all 99 Number tiles (and, if desired, the Sum tile as well).  Whether one uses the design of the tiles as given in the Urn foldout or not is up to the diviner; recall that, in the Epilogue, the Editors mentioned that the Redactor sent them tile designs “more detailed than those used by experienced Cabalists” so that “a greater number of amateurs might profit from it”, so if one wants to use a simpler design with just the number or simple glyph on it, that’s also totally fine.  If any of them are missing, warped, broken, or otherwise rendered unfit for use, then it should be replaced as soon as possible.  This is one of the reasons why ZT specifies to have extra blank tiles, which can be taken up and used immediately as replacements as well as for dummy tiles in option-whittling mirrors or other kinds of divination that require miscellaneous tiles of some sort or another.

And, as we said before, there’s nothing specifying any sort of cleansing or consecration of the tools.  After all, the tools are just tools with no inherent power or presence in them; it’s the diviner, guided by the Pure Spirit, that actually does the divination itself.

If you recall at the end of the post on the tools, I mentioned that ZT also specifies “three pieces of paper” which are to be used.  In ZT’s own version of Tarot’s “little white book”, ZT says recommends the use of reference guides in the course of one’s divination, presumably to make sure one doesn’t slip up with associating which tile goes with which planet or what house in the Great Mirror goes to which planet’s orbit.  These reference guides should the Table of Numbers and Intelligences from Plate II, the layout of the Great Mirror from Plate III, and the layout of the Great Dial from Plate IV.  In addition to those, although ZT doesn’t explicitly say so, I also think that the Drum and Border of Plate VI (the version of the Great Mirror with all the angels on it) should also be prepared as a fourth reference sheet; the “Second Supplement” goes on at length explaining every aspect of what this diagram should contain (including a good number of details that aren’t even in the engraving used for Plate VI itself).  There is another possible use of Plate VI, however, but I’ll leave that for a future discussion; suffice it here to say that, in the course of divination, it’s meant to be a guide to remembering which angel gets which houses or tiles, and to assist the diviner in remembering what dates of the year belong to which natal star.

I should note, also, that it’s the plates above that get reference guides to be consulted in the course of divination, but not the table of house meanings given in the “Seventh Step” or the table of tile meanings given in the “First Supplement”.  Recall how ZT emphasizes that those lists of meanings, interpretations, significations, and semantic boundaries are only presented as an illustrative guide to demonstrate what such meanings might be for the houses/tiles, not their sum total of menaings.  Rather, the diviner is to focus on the meanings of the tiles according to their composition of and reduction to primitive digits, what their Intelligences are, what the planetary orbits of a house indicate, and so forth, because that’s where the real meat of the system lies.  Again, ZT extrapolates from simple principles, and we’re expected to do the same in the course of divination, too.

We’ve gotten our tools prepared, but what about ourselves?  ZT doesn’t specify much in the way of preparing the diviner: given that this is ostensibly still a work done by a Christian for a Christian audience (no matter how “cabalistically” inclined they might be), there’s nothing in here about prayer, initiation, meditation, purification, or the like (although, to be sure, these things would absolutely be encouraged as being conducive to honest spirituality).  However, in the “Second Supplement”, we do have encouragements to live according to a “moral conduct and physical regimen which are equally conducive to the difficult task at hand”, namely:

  1. Refrain from eating heavy or stimulating food, especially in the evening.
  2. Protect themselves from heatedness of lust, passion, or strong emotion.

These are in addition to two other (arguably more necessary and crucial) traits required in every diviner (as stated at the end of the “First Supplement”):

  1. Faith and confidence in the presence, efficacy, and truth of the Pure Spirit
  2. Diligence and study in all the techniques, symbolism, and knowledge of the Great Cabala (i.e. the divinatory methods and means of ZT)

So long as the diviner can at least manage those latter two, the former two can be taken as best as one is able to—which, besides, is more meant for spiritual communication and communion in general rather than the specific process of divination.

And then it comes to the query, the actual question put to divination for inquiry and investigation.  Both in my blogs, chats, interviews, and ebooks, I’ve gone on about my “three Cs of good queries”, like I did back in my post on ritual astragalomancy:

  • A good divination query is clear.  There is no obscurity, duplicity, or vagueness in the query; you’re being honest about what it is you want to know, and you’re putting it bluntly, frankly, and openly for both yourself, the diviner, and the gods or spirits who answer.
  • A good divination query is concise.  You aren’t droning on for half an hour telling your life story, nor are you taking the garden path when asking your question.  Instead, you’re able to succinctly phrase your question into a single, short sentence.  This goes hand-in-hand with the clarity of the query.
  • A good divination query is concrete.  You know exactly what you’re asking about and you’re asking it clearly and concisely.  You aren’t talking about abstract concepts or hypothetical theoretical potentialities of what ifs, but something that can actually happen with tangible or viewable results.

ZT doesn’t appear to disagree with this: “before establishing a figure, it is necessary to have posed the question well and to have foreseen its interesting ramifications”.  Partially this is to allow for the diviner to consider which kind of figure is best to answer a particular kind of query (Great Mirror, Great Dial, some other sort of smaller figure for option-whittling?), but also because ZT is not interested in flights of fancy, pipe dreams, or otherwise unrealistic and unobtainable castles in the sky.  ZT gives the examples of asking about the recovery of a sick person or whether someone who is able to marry will do so at some point as being things that are totally fine to ask about, but a Jewish person becoming Pope is not due to the sheer improbability of it (even if it cannot, technically speaking, be ruled out as impossible).  To that end, ZT has a sort of spiel prepared for telling potential querents regarding their hopes and desires:

Let us first form a Great Mirror about what interests you, and let us find out if your vision would be allowed within it and by it. This will be a winnowing pan that we will load, from which we will sort out all the grain that your chaff will include. Beyond that, there is nothing to say, for the Great Cabala must not be profaned by the abuse of compulsively conjuring up chimeras and other childish things.

It doesn’t really matter whether the diviner is also the querent; although parts of the ZT instruct the reader about how to deal with people who come to the diviner for guidance, a good chunk of the text suggests that the diviner is divining for themselves.  As such, warnings like the above are for other people’s benefit as much as the diviner themselves; after all, if it is bad form for others to hope for things not to be hoped for, it should likewise be bad form for the diviner to give people such hopes with outlandish predictions that aren’t justified by a sound interpretation of the signs and symbols they interpret.

That said, the spiel above also indicates something important for us as a matter of technique: that the Great Mirror is to be used as the default, standard, and first go-to when it comes to divination with ZT.  It is the primary method and means of investigation and, while it may provide too much information at times, it also allows for the in-depth analysis and investigation (by means of not only the essential interpretation of tiles in houses but also accidental interpretations of tiles in ideal triangles) of any particular topic that might be asked about.  It might not be sufficient to answer all questions with perfect detail on its own, but it is necessary to do so, especially because if something doesn’t pass the sensibility test of the Great Mirror, then there’s no sense in using any smaller mirror to pursue a further investigation.  While some people might not need to start with a Great Mirror (especially if they’re following up on a previous divination), most people would seem to benefit from that in one way or another, so we should strive to use the Great Mirror as a first approach whenever possible.

Okay, so: we have our tools ready, we have ourselves ready, and we have the query ready (whether or not we’re the ones asking it as the diviner or it’s someone else coming to us to ask it).  At this point, we’re good to go.  We clear off some space on a table, get out our Urn full of our tiles, and, one by one, draw out each tile as necessary from the Urn and place it accordingly in the mirror we’re composing.  Once the mirror is composed—and only once it is composed in full—then we can begin the process of interpretation.  ZT cautions us explicitly to not interpret any given tile on its own as it comes out of the Urn:

…it would only be a charlatan who would dare, as the pieces come out of the Urn, to proclaim what they must signify, not even seeming to read fluently as a whole the contents of the mirror as guided by the very image that forms under the hand. If not, then the cabalistic process would merely be a mummery. There is, therefore, no Cabalist who should pride themselves on being an improviser; the wisest is one who, even when an expressive competition of numbers strikes them, doubts their meaning until the whole mirror is scrupulously analyzed and all possible interpretations are verified.

And even then, once the mirror has been composed, we should do our utmost to be as scrupulous with it as we can to make sure our judgment is as sound as possible given the evidence presented to us.  For particularly grave or serious matters, ZT even encourages us to compose several mirrors on the same query to make sure that we’re issuing as sound a judgment as possible:

There are, after all, particular—and particularly finicky—cases that can yet be highly important, and the Cabalist must beware of relying straightaway on the first projection, for it would be barbaric to issue a prediction lightly on certain events, which might perchance inspire strong fears or instill dangerous hopes. Such a Cabalist, on these serious occasions, only dares to make a judgment after having obtained, out of four projections, three completely affirmative results, which yet involves ten or twelve projections before having decided on such a necessary majority. However, when the Pure Spirit deigns, it is rare that, time after time, the interpreter of Fate does not immediately obtain indications of evidence—often even by the state of the Great Mirror alone—that are striking enough to make the proliferation of small procedures useless.

I wouldn’t uncharitably or skeptically say that this is a matter of normalizing random patterns.  I mean, consider how, in modern meteorology or economics forecasting, sensible predictions are made by generating various models using a number of methods and approaches or with minor components that change from instantiation to instantiation, then seeing what’s most likely based on all of those by comparing them, contrasting them, and investigating what seems senseless or bizarre?  If we conclude that even small shifts in our body, soul, spirit, or mind could influence the outcome of a divination, as well as those of the querent (if separate from us) as well as small shifts in what happens in the outside world where the event to be predicted actually happens, why would such an approach not benefit us here, too?  Sure, it’s a lot of work, but for those rare do-or-die moments where being absolutely correct is absolutely critical, taking the time to perform rigorous analysis is probably time worth spent.  Lesser matters, of course, would not necessarily require this sort of investigation.

Now, assume we’re composing a Great Mirror.  Such a mirror is composed as any others are: start with a tile in the middle and work your way out in an outwards counterclockwise spiral.  The only major difference in the composition of a Great Mirror versus any other is how we treat the Principle tiles: in a Great Mirror, these don’t get put into the Mirror itself, but rather to a point above it (if Sisamoro is drawn) or below it (if Senamira is drawn).  If either of these tiles are drawn, we put them into their appropriate spots as indicated by Plate III, but we should also make a note at which point they were drawn, because ZT says that that sort of information is useful for our interpretation.  For that reason, having a pen and notebook ready to record what gets composed for a mirror would be helpful for the diviner (and the querent, too, as having a record of their own to bring to later sessions if needed).

In fact, we actually have a good number of suggestions for inspecting the Great Mirror, all provided in a nice list from the “Third Supplement”.  To paraphrase and condense somewhat:

  1. On learning the system:
    1. Remember that the process of learning and grasping all the nuances of the Principles, Spirits, Intelligences, Numbers, and houses is a long and slow process, which develops progressively over time.
    2. Constantly contemplate and review the attributes and qualities of the Intelligences, and what among such attributes and qualities of any given Intelligence are compatible or incompatible with another Intelligence.
    3. Constantly contemplate and review the qualities of the primitive Numbers.
    4. Remember that any compound Number, although it has its own overall meaning, still retains some quality or indication of the primitive Numbers that composes it, no matter where it might fall in the Great Mirror.
  2. On applying the system:
    1. Investigate what it might mean when a particular Intelligence dominates a Great Mirror through its tiles, or when a particular Intelligence is notably absent or sparse in a Great Mirror.
    2. Investigate what it might mean when there is an abundance of tiles that belong to two opposing Intelligences in the Great Mirror.
    3. Investigate ideal triangles that all share the same Intelligence or the qualities thereof.
    4. Investigate when a Principle or Spirit (or the Sum tile) appears in a Great Mirror.
    5. Investigate when and where an Intelligence tile appears in a Great Mirror, both in terms of what tiles precede and succeed it, as well as what tiles might form an incidental orbit around such an Intelligence.
    6. Investigate ideal triangles that have two Intelligences, two doublets, two nilled compound Numbers, or two primitive Numbers.

As ZT itself notes regarding all the details a Great Mirror might provide:

Between all the numbers that together compose a mirror, there may be much affinity between them or much opposition, an alliance of friendly Intelligences or a battle between enemies—all of this is significant. There is not a single triangle, whether in a large or small figure, that should not be considered with the utmost care before passing judgment.

Investigating and reading a Great Mirror will take time; ZT makes it clear that it’s an elaborate process with much nuance and detail to sift through.  Because of this, ZT also notes the danger in leaving tiles just out there on a table; they might get knocked around, misplaced, or otherwise mixed up, which could significantly impede (if not abort) the process of reading.  Additionally, ZT notes the possibility of the mere presence of someone else influencing and affecting the diviner, either in how and what they draw from the Urn as well as in how they interpret the reading, and for that reason, ZT suggests that while the drawing of the tiles may be done in the presence of a querent, the interpretation is best done elsewhere.  To this end, ZT recommends the use of some sort of “enhanced reading device” beyond merely using the 112 (or 113) tiles on a flat surface:

  • A special board with tile-shaped recesses cut out of it in the shape of a Great Mirror to securely hold the individual tiles put into the Great Mirror
  • A board with small holes bored into it in the overall pattern of a Great Mirror, into which may be put slips of paper noting each hole’s respective tile or a plug marked similarly
  • A whiteboard or notebook with a hexagonal pattern to note the tiles that come out in a Great Mirror

For most people, that latter approach is probably going to be the most common and reliable; not only does it cut down on the size and number of divinatory tools required, but having a record of divinations done is good for pretty much anyone in any tradition, ZT included.

That being said, ZT is a little weird and unclear on the bit about not doing the reading in the presence of someone else.  After it mentions the contingency methods above, it says (and I’ll provide the original 1796 French here, too, for comparison):

L’un ou l’autre de ces soins étant pris, on est à même de travailler chez soi, ce qui vaut mieux que de le faire en présence de la personne qui a tiré les pieces, attendu que chaque individu par ses atomes sympathiques, ou antipathiques avec le Devin, peut le modifier étrangement, ce à quoi il est de la derniere importance de mettre ordre.

One or the other of these options being taken, one is then able to work at home, which is better than to work in the presence of the person who drew the tiles [lit. “pieces”], since each individual by their presence [lit. “atoms”] sympathetic or antipathetic to the Diviner can modify strangely what is of utmost importance to put in order.

This is an ambiguous statement and somewhat hard to make sense of.  Read literally, it sounds like the one drawing the tiles is not the one interpreting them.  Elsewhere, ZT says that the diviner is the one drawing the tiles and interpreting them, but here, it sounds like there’s a split.  Should there be two diviners involved, one to draw and one to interpret?  Or is it saying that it is the querent who should be drawing the tiles, and the diviner interprets them?  This latter may well be the case as a means for the querent to “get their energy mixed into” the tiles and situation; it’s just that, for most cases, the diviner is the one also asking the query, so they are their own querent.  It’s not wholly clear on this point, and I think that different approaches here are all valid, depending on what one’s stance is.

At any rate, that’s basically it: we have our tools ready, we have ourselves prepared, we have the query stated, we compose the mirror, we investigate the mirror, and then we issue our judgment.  At this point, once the matter is decided from the Great Mirror, if there are any follow-up questions or requests for detailed information that was not or could not be provided from the Great Mirror, then (and only then) would other or smaller mirrors be used to determine the specifics of a particular situation.  Matters of time are the obvious choice here (“oh, I’ll get married? When?”), but matters of place, or the like are also totally acceptable things to investigate.  In a footnote regarding the use of smaller mirrors to determine details from the “First Supplement”, ZT gives a useful anecdote:

In a Great Mirror overloaded with misfortunes, which concerned the unfortunate royal family of France, the Redactor of these cabalistic notions at the end of 1792 came upon an episode of war, a chance of which threatened a certain absent branch made up of three male individuals, a grandfather and a father and a son. The general threat was of bodily injury, and a small triangle made it known that this accident would be suffered by the father. This unfortunate prediction, which the Diviner shared with his friends, unfortunately came true the following year.

In this case, we might see how a Great Mirror would suggest “bodily injury” (something like tile 77), and we might investigate whom in that group.  To that end, we could use the tile 77 with two other random tiles to compose a small triangle, where one tile would represent the son, one for the father, and one for the grandfather.  Using the usual option-whittling approach, we could then determine who would get the 77 tile.  (As a personal note, I’m not familiar enough with the history of the French Revolution or the French Bourbon monarchial family to determine what such an event as described in this footnote of ZT might actually refer to.  If anyone knows, please say so in the comments!)

Unfortunately, although ZT gives small examples of “certain wholly-mechanical processes” involving option-whittling methods and similar approaches to determining matters of details, it doesn’t actually give an notion of what a reading would look like as a whole.  If the Great Mirror is so important, then shouldn’t we have some sort of guide or illustrative example to help us out?  Of course not: ZT is “only a key, not a treatise”, so that would just be too much to ask for.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any case studies out there for us to look at, either, and we’ll take a look at just such a case study next time.


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Unlocking the Observatory: A Case Study of the Great Mirror « The Digital Ambler

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

Leave a Note

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: