Unlocking the Observatory: The Life and Times of Humanity

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 other aspects of divinatory practice we can clean from Karl Kern’s 1933 book on ZT. 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 “Fifth Step” and “Third Supplement”.

Something I’ve mentioned a few times now, and which some of my readers have picked up on otherwise, is that ZT doesn’t just provide a divination system.  Sure, that is the focus of the text itself being an introductory manual to the core fundamental aspects of the art, but the actual scope of ZT is much broader than just a form of numerological sortilege with an astrological flair.

Consider Karl Kern’s case study of a Great Mirror composed for a middle-aged man; if you remember, around the edge of the Mirror in the outer belt, he labeled the years of life for each house, each house being one “luster”, or a period of five years.

I brought this up originally when we talked about the Great Dial and how the outer belt is also called the “lustral belt” when talking about the Great Dial in concentric movement, which also ties into how ZT uses the signs of the Zodiac to talk about different phases of life.  We even see this in the list of house significations when we talked about the houses of the Great Mirror, too, starting with house 20.  I’ve bolded the explicit phase-of-life bits in the list below, but note how the whole of the outer (zodiacal) belt of the Great Mirror kinda illustrates an ideal life, from birth to ascendance to descendance to death:

  1. Birth, candor, inaction.
  2. Infancy, playfulness or mischief.
  3. Puberty, turbulence, quarrels or squabbles.
  4. Adolescence, sympathy.
  5. Intense or violent passions and senses.
  6. Debauchery, infidelity.
  7. Tenacious passions, constancy.
  8. Celibacy, marital fidelity.
  9. Moral perfection, maturity.
  10. Prudence or caution, good philosophy.
  11. Bad faith, decline.
  12. Illicit and perilous fortunes.
  13. Travel, hectic life.
  14. Inconstancy, wasted or lost time.
  15. Ancestors, old age.
  16. Apathy, waning of fortune.
  17. Infirmity, indigence.
  18. Ruin, death.

At this point in our exploration of ZT, we have touched on almost every chapter in some way or another except for the “Fifth Step”.  This is positioned between the “Fourth Step” (which talks about the Great Mirror, i.e. the large hexangular figure read in the astronomical regime, as a whole and how to read it according to its tiles and ideal subfigures) and the “Sixth Step” (which talks about the Great Dial, i.e. the large hexangular figure read in the temporal regime).  Linking the two together is how the two consider the outer band to be effectively the same between them: in the Great Mirror, the outer band is zodiacal, while in the Great Dial, it’s lustral—but for ZT, the two are effectively the same thing.

I’ve mentioned before how ZT has lots of acrimony towards all other forms of divination, with chiromancy and geomancy and cartomancy all getting explicit mentions, but none gets more condemnation than astrology.  While astrology has its origins in the Great Cabala of ZT, it was still astrologers who corrupted and degraded it into being something that only charlatans nowadays use to ensnare people with mystical mumbo-jumbo.  All the same, the truth preserved by the Great Cabala still lives on, and can be accessed all the same by those who know what to look for and how to access it.  ZT is just one such approach, and in the “Fifth Step”, ZT focuses on correcting how we should understand the Zodiac.  ZT (and, by extension, the rest of the Great Cabala) makes use of the same twelve signs of the Zodiac as ever, and in the same order, but that’s basically where the similarities end.  Instead of being an invention of the ancient Babylonians, ZT claims that the invention of the Zodiac is to be given to Zoroaster instead, and is representative of “the essence of the wisdom of this divine Legislator that is his Cabala”.

In astrology, the signs of the Zodiac are the twelve equal divisions of the ecliptic, the path that the Sun (and, similarly though to slightly different angles, all the rest of the planets) traces in the sky against the background of the fixed stars.  As the planets move through the signs up there, they indicate different things to happen in our lives down here.  At least for Western astrology, the signs of the Zodiac start with the first degree of Aries aligned to the eastern point of the ecliptic, the intersection of the ecliptic with the celestial equator where the Sun’s path enters northern declinations.  At this point, the so-called “vernal equinox”, astrological spring (for the northern hemisphere of the Earth) is said to begin.  This is why the zodiacal system used in Western astrology is called a “tropical zodiac”, coming from the Greek word τρόπος trópos “turning”, because the signs of the Zodiac are tied to the turning-points of the ecliptic (the intersections of the ecliptic with the celestial equator making the equinoxes, or the maximum/minimum points of the ecliptic making the solstices).

To all of that, ZT says “nah”:

We make the farmer’s year (like the year of the ancient Romans) begin with Aries, which also opens our astronomical spring. In the same way the Great Cabala subordinates to Aries the beginning of the existence of humanity, but it does not place, like our calendars, Aries in the springy and vivacious orbit of Mars. See Plate III: it pushes this sign back into the wintry and funereal orbit of Saturn, to the last box in the orbit of Saturn (box 20) in the zodiacal zone, immediately following the seat of death (box 37). This emblem, as philosophical as it is true, recalls that the moment when life begins also touches nihility, and that the human creature, already breathing but enjoying no physical faculties or moral privileges, must, for some time, remain suspended between life and death—in the uncertainty of its preservation—and be held in the bonds of weakness. Saturn is still there to devour his children.

For ZT and its Great Cabala, rather than the signs of the Zodiac dictating anything about our lives, it is rather our lives that dictate what the Zodiac is and should be:

The profoundly philosophical spirit of a production that is claimed to go back to Zoroaster, and to be only an essence of the wisdom of this divine Legislator that is his Cabala, should rather subordinate the signs of the Zodiac to the different periods of human life. On this footing, according to the distribution which we will make known, the object of the Great Cabala is perfectly fulfilled.

What ZT is saying is that the Zodiac is not a means by which we can predict things recklessly with the stars as like some sortilege of random positions of planets, but rather that we can (and should) use the Zodiac as a means to understand the flow of human life in terms of human life itself.  It is this goal—the understanding of human life—that ZT claims here to be the “object of the Great Cabala”, a sort of anthroposophy of its own, where by coming to know oneself one can more effectively attune themselves to the harmony of the spiritual cosmos.

To this end, what ZT does is it breaks life out into six overall periods, as demonstrated by the houses on the Great Mirror.  Each period is represented by one of the edges of the Great Mirror, proceeding counterclockwise starting with Aries in house 20 and lasting three houses each.  Thus, each period starts with a house assigned to one of the fire or air signs of the Zodiac, and ends with a corner house on the Mirror.

In short, the six periods of life are:

  1. Childhood
    1. Houses 20, 21, 22
    2. Aries and Taurus
    3. Starts in the orbit of Saturn, ends in the orbit of Mars
  2. Youth
    1. Houses 23, 24, 25
    2. Gemini and Cancer
    3. Starts in the orbit of Mars, ends in the orbit of Venus
    4. Period most susceptible to the harm of Senamira
  3. Maturity
    1. Houses 26, 27, 28
    2. Leo and Virgo
    3. Starts in the orbit of Venus, ends in the orbit of Jupiter
  4. Adulthood
    1. Houses 29, 30, 31
    2. Libra and Scorpio
    3. Starts in the orbit of Jupiter, ends in the orbit of Mercury
  5. Old age
    1. Houses 32, 33, 34
    2. Sagittarius and Capricorn
    3. Starts in the orbit of Mercury, ends in the orbit of the Moon
    4. Period most inclined to the influence of Sisamoro
  6. Senility
    1. Houses 35, 36, 37
    2. Aquarius and Pisces
    3. Starts in the orbit of the Moon, ends in the orbit of Saturn

ZT goes on to explain what each period is like, relying on the symbolism of the signs of the Zodiac (sometimes in innovative ways unique to how they’re positioned on the Great Mirror) and on the orbits of the planets that one moves through as one goes from period to period.  What is interesting to note is how ZT explicitly calls out the second period as being especially susceptible to the damaging, harmful influence of Senamira, the Evil Principle, even quoting part of 1 Peter 5:8 to illustrate its point: “Be alert and sober of mind; for your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

This is how ZT describes the six periods of life:

First Period
We already noted the birth of the human in box 20 (Aries), next to the whirlwind of Death (box 37). We now see them emerging from the cold and gloomy orbit of Saturn passing…through Taurus into the orbit of Mars, the planet of heat and vigor. The child grows there; their moral soul develops there. By completing…box 22, they have completely reached the age of puberty, and the first period of life is finished.

Second Period
Early in the igneous orbit of Mars, the passions of existing were kindled…they enjoy an intoxicating existence that is perfumed above all by the sensuous breath of Erosia, the most magical of the Intelligences and the most lavish of true delights. But, below a road strewn with flowers, Senamira erodes and gnaws away tamquam leo rugiens, circuitu quærens quem devoret. Happy are they who can travel through candid Gemini and burning Cancer without having succumbed to the tireless efforts of their own passions. These are themselves this Protean Senamira, caressing and corroding by turns; but they manage to evade such tricks and repel such attacks if they are on their guard, and especially if they have the heavenly support of Sisamoro who does not permit themselves to be called upon in vain. Box 25 closes out one’s fiery youth and the second period of life.

Third Period
Here begins the age of energy and virtue, where one acquires all their development, so well characterized here by Leo and Virgo. They must find themselves skilled in everything that can be fulfilled into perfection. Arriving at box 28, they have become, without a doubt, everything they could aspire to be, or at least everything is well-prepared for the infallible fulfillment of reasonable wishes. They are at the apex of the mountain, they enjoy the richest period of their existence—if they have not previously abused it. This ends the third period, that of maturity.

Fourth Period
Woe to the one who has not yet contemplated their knowledge, consolidated their fortune, and confirmed their considerations to which they agreed to aspire; woe to the one who has not yet amassed enough, for they will remain poor in all that they have neglected to acquire. If one is not worthy to hold the Balance (Libra) where their experience should enable them to appreciate everything, then it is they  themselves who will be weighed, and if they are not worthy or if they are of bad character, then public blame will punish them for the bad use they have made of their best years. They will then only have the perilous means that intrigue and illicit speculation take from stupidity; for, on leaving the pure and luminous domain of Algaé, they have fallen into the mists and labyrinth of Panurgio. There easily strays whoever does not bring with faith the lantern and thread of Wisdom; therein lies the creeping restlessness, shame, and remorse, so well-figured by Scorpio, stinging and poisoning himself. There, in other words, remain ready all the punishments that the deceiver and disturber of social order deserve. Such is the insidious orbit of Panurgio, the plot of the scoundrel, while the honest person traverses it without fear of anything and continues instead to collect the fruit of their previous tiresome efforts. Such a one legitimately reaps where others can only pillage at the risk of their honor and lives. Summer has ended during the last luster of this period. Leaving box 31…gives the signal for the withering away of moral and physical forces, and now one enters the time of decrepitude.

Fifth Period
Even should the resilience of body be weakened, the sharpness of understanding blunted, and industry threaten to slowly languish, at least one has made peace with their passions, for they now cease to torment them unless they allow themselves to be overcome by avarice or intemperance. They might tire themselves out from the pursuit of material goods, like the Hunter (Sagittarius) who chases doubtful prey all day, or they might throw themselves into stupefaction under the regime of crass Seleno, whose lunar orbit opens by way of the filthy stable of Capricorn. But if one is pure and remain master of themselves, they will not participate in the contagion of these orbits; rather, they will feel the rays warmed by the beneficences of Sisamoro, who shines in full upon this road, purifies it, and spreads the foretaste of bliss which the blameless person experiences, one who is delirious about nothing they leave behind, their wish being nothing else than for a new and better order of things. At the end of this fifth period, the person, having grown old, feels a cold hand bend them and force them to pass through the narrow gate of senility. With this…ends the fifth fragment of life.

Sixth and Final Period
Like all those they have already passed through, the last door has closed on them, too. Thrown onto a dark, barren, and icy road, the person yet drags themselves along for a long time, constantly fighting against the infirmities expressed by the frosts of Aquarius. Finally, on the threshold of the funereal domain of Lethophoro, they find a small boat—their tomb—and there lies down to sleep, overwhelmed and exhausted, putting themselves at the mercy of the black waves of Lethe, designated by Pisces. Cradled by such waves, whether smoothly or stormily, they finally arrive at the all-consuming harbor where each being must come to strip themselves of their material elements. Thus ends, in box 37, the sixth and last period of life.

As a note on that last period, it’s now clear where the Intelligence of Saturn gets the name “Lethophoro”; although a bad construction of what should rightfully be Ληθηφορος Lēthēphoros, the meaning here isn’t so much “forgetting-inducer” as it is “he who bears one to Lethe“.

When we look at the overall “wheel of life” that ZT draws out for us along the outer belt of the Great Mirror, we can consider it kinda like the image of the Wheel of Fortune.  The only thing is that the “bottom” that we start at is the leftmost point in the orbit of Saturn, that liminal period between life and death, and the “top” is the opposite rightmost point in the orbit of Jupiter, the height of our joy and satisfaction in all things.  Consider, after all, how the Great Mirror doesn’t have a corner at the top or bottom of its design, but rather has flat edges; for this reason, we cannot consider the second and fifth periods of life to be “turning points”, but rather periods of increase and decrease, respectively.  This is why ZT makes a note of how the second period is most dangerous because it’s closest to the influence of Senamira: the time of development is rough, and it’s during this period that patterns are set up for the rest of one’s life, so any bad habits that get established now can threaten one’s well-being later in long-lasting ways.  Likewise, the fifth period is closest to the influence is Sisamoro; while one can always lose one’s balance, this is the period of life where one generally begins to turn more inward and clear-minded as worldly concerns begin to fall away and fade into the background (ideally, at least).

It’s a neat system, I have to admit, and it kinda reminds me of a sixfold system of reckoning seasonal changes in mid-latitude oceanic areas (like where I live), but isn’t unlike other six-season systems, either:

  1. Prevernal (early spring)
  2. Vernal (spring)
  3. Estival (high summer)
  4. Serotinal (late summer)
  5. Autumnal (fall)
  6. Hibernal (winer)

So, ZT breaks up a human life into six periods, and consider each period to last three “houses”.  It is in this light that ZT establishes the “luster” (or “lustral period”), where every luster is five years, leading to each period of life lasting 15 years long (because 3 lusters × 5 years/luster = 15 years).  Because of this, a maximum human lifespan is 6 periods × 3 lusters/period × 5 years/luster = 90 years—at least back in the days when humans were “of better stock and more economical in their facilities”, but nowadays, most people don’t live to see past their fifth period (15 lusters, 75 years).  This is all easy and straightforward enough, I suppose, but the issue is that this only really applies for men, where every luster is worth five years flat.  In ZT’s system, the amount of years a luster consists of differs for women based on their age: while a woman goes through the same six periods of life as men do, during the first four periods a luster is only four years long, while during the last two periods a luster is seven years long.  In the end, both lustral systems yield a total of 90 years, but women effectively “age” faster than men do at first: at the end of the fourth period, men are at 60 years, while women are at 48.

Period Man Woman
Lustrality Ages Lustrality Ages
1 5 0—15 4 0–12
2 5 15—30 4 12—24
3 5 30—45 4 24—36
4 5 45—60 4 36—48
5 5 60—75 7 48—69
6 5 75—90 7 69—90

ZT sets up this system to account for menopause, which roughly occurs at or a little after age 48, which is (as ZT says) “when Nature ceases to regard her as useful for her main purpose, and therefore is the true point at which her decrepitude begins”.  To rub some more salt in the womb wound, ZT laments:

How much the woman, to whom the social order has the injustice to refuse most of the consolations accorded to men in their respective advanced ages, must find the decline of her premature winter long and painful if she must endure it until decrepitude. Such is an extremity a thousand times more deadly than death for the degraded being who has not lost the memory of the altars erected to her during the magical reign of her charms.

…on the one hand, at least it’s nice for the author of ZT to notice how poorly older (or at least post-menopausal) women are treated by society at large.  On the other, well, yikes.  I’ll leave it to modern practitioners to decide whether such a model continues to be reasonable today, whether or not one buys into the physical or social aspects of what it’s like to be a woman, and whether they choose to use the standard luster for all people regardless of sex or gender, or whether they choose to use the varying luster for particular needs.

Anyway, to take a turn back to the periods of life: if a human life starts in the orbit of Saturn and ends in the orbit of Saturn, what does this mean for us as human beings, besides noting the dangerous act of childbirth itself?  Does this propose or imply a theory of reincarnation, where one sloughs off one’s flesh at death and enters into a new body at birth?  Not really; bearing in mind that this book was still written by a Christian (or Christian-adjacent) for a Christian (or Christian-cultured) audiences, such a notion would likely have gotten even more on the bad side of religious institutions than just one upset Jesuit monarchist, but there’s nothing spoken either way on what happens after death.  We do, however, get an intriguing account of how humans come to be in the “Third Supplement”, which talks about how human souls come into being (and also why some humans can become “prodigies of perfection or perversity”):

An Angel presides at the moment of birth (see the Table of Natal Stars). However, two Intelligences, for most people, combine to animate in the mother the individual who is to be born. For this, the Angels involved each unleash a spark of fire which is their own, and this explosion is made by the material vehicle of the two terrestrial individuals who cooperate in the creation ex nihilo of a third. Unlucky is the creature whose two evil Angels provided the spiritual element, and happy is the one who will have been animated by two Angels of the opposite nature; but fights, storms, and changes in fortune are in store for the being in whom good and bad spiritual influences are in conflict.

This is actually a really fascinating idea of how humans come to be ensouled.  During sexual procreation, just as the mother and father are getting busy to create the physical embryo that will one day become a child, a similar thing can be said to occur between the mother’s and father’s own presiding angels (who come to have one based on their own birthdays), who combine their essences (“unleash a spark of fire which is their own”) to form the spiritual essence of the human-to-be.  Consider what this also suggests: a person is not just under the influence of their own natal angel, but also has a lifelong influence from the two other angels that respectively belong to their parents.  This is why (in the system of ZT) two people roughly sharing the same birth period of 13-ish days can turn out so wildly different, because it’s not just a matter of their own births, but also those of their respective parents, too.  While there’s no guarantee that these three angels (mother, father, and child) would actually form an ideal triangle in the Great Mirror according to what houses they’re associated with, ZT does subtly frame such a familial relationship as one.

Further, consider some of the more puzzling significations of the tiles of Adamasto and Lethophoro.  If you take a look at the tile meanings, the Intelligence tiles often have some sort of cosmological element to them.  We’ll get to that more in another post, but note how Adamasto (being the Intelligence of Mars) has the element of Fire associated with it, while Lethophoro (being the Intelligence of Saturn) has the element of Water associated with it.  At birth, we are composed of a spark of angelic fire that catches and sets alight onto the body in the orbit of Mars; at death, the heat of our bodies become quenched in the waters of Lethe and dissolves away like ash in a stream in the orbit of Saturn.  It’s a system that ties itself together, I have to admit, but beyond death, it’s hard to say what happens; there’s no explicit mention of an afterlife, salvation, reincarnation, or anything in ZT.  Despite a potential cyclical structure implicit in the zodiacal belt of the Great Mirror, this is a matter left unspoken in this key.

Perhaps we can figure that out a bit more when we talk about the cosmology and spirituality laden throughout ZT, which we’ll get to next time.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Unlocking the Observatory: The Spiritual Cosmology of Zoroaster’s Telescope « The Digital Ambler

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

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