Unlocking the Observatory: The Spiritual Cosmology of Zoroaster’s Telescope

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 . 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!), this post does not touch on any specific chapter of the text.

Something I touched on briefly in the last post is that, nestled amidst all the interpretations and significations of the tiles as given in ZT’s “First Supplement”, there’s a weird trend specifically with the Intelligence tiles.  These tiles have meanings just like all the others, but there’s a few I want to specifically highlight:

  • Genhelia ☉: Physical soul, home country.
  • Seleno ☾: Earth.
  • Erosia ♀︎: Universal magnet (“love”).
  • Panurgio ☿: Sea.
  • Lethophoro ♄: Darkness (literally “night”), water.
  • Aglaé ♃: Air.
  • Adamasto ♂︎: Fire.
  • Psykomena ☽: Foreign country.
  • Psykelia ◎: Heavenly soul, light (perhaps metaphorically “day”).

Unlike many of the tiles, these seem to be connoting things less about omens or matters of future, and indicate more cosmological aspects.  It’s kind of a neat trend, and it emphasizes how important the nine Intelligences are to the well-ordering of the world around us.  Unlike in astrology proper (which, of course, ZT says is basically just charlatanry) where the planets themselves effect their influences in our world, ZT establishes that the things that happen in the world are effected by the Intelligences of the planets, not the planets themselves.  This reaches not just into the vagaries of emotion and action between humans (as influenced through their natal angels and natal stars which have planetary rulerships themselves), but even into the very world around us, where e.g. fire is an expression of the activity of Adamasto/Mars, the winds of Aglaé/Jupiter, and so forth.  In classical grimoiric (or at least Agrippan) terms, ZT’s Intelligences might be thought of either as grimoiric planetary intelligences or as planetary spirits, being either the tools that shape creation or the raw material that forms it, all in the hands of the Creator (or the two Principles).

What’s so fascinating about this is that this is just one small aspect of a much grander vision of the Great Cabala that ZT proclaims.  True, ZT is a divination manual, a short introductory handbook laying out the fundamental principles of a cute sort of divination, and most people would be inclined to pick it up, read it, and put it down as being nothing more than that.  But, as much as ZT talks about a divination process, ZT also talks about so much more at the same time, spending at least as many words on spirituality, cosmology, and even (dare we say it) religion as it does on divination.  It’s not that it’s hiding this, either; it’s rather up-front and blunt about it, but it doesn’t lay it out as clearly as it does its divinatory content.  By that same token, it’s something that’s more obscured in KZT/OZT because, again, KZT took the original ZT content and abridged it, cutting out a lot of the religious and spiritual flavor and content we see in FZT/GZT for the sake of presenting a more condensed divinatory manual.  If we turn to the older texts like FZT/GZT, however, we find a lot more of this sort of thing, especially in the Epistle.

Like, consider how ZT talks about itself at the start of the “Second Supplement”:

Hence, for once, the gaze of the being to whom the Pure Spirit will have given the eyes such a being needs in order to discover certain sublime objects—by these, we say, and by means of this second supplement—the gaze of the Elect will be able to soar to the highest point of the cabalistic Pyramid, of which the seven Steps earlier described are only its base and first layers. As these approved eyes look upward along the faces of this mysterious edifice, it will happen—should the Pure Spirit allow it—that the clouds, at first reaching down to the ground to hide everything from the profane eye, will rise so slowly as to barely be noticed at once. Stone is succeeded by marble, marble by crystal, crystal by diamond, and diamond finally by a heavenly brilliance—but the Elect are not like to be dazzled with damage. This brilliance, which shows that the Pure Spirit is within this whirlwind of light, retains a final shroud, the only one that the human condition is not allowed to penetrate.

What ZT teaches may well be just a divination system, but what it gives us is far more than just a means to predict the future.  The whole of ZT, both the divinatory system specifically as well as the Great Cabala more generally, is intended to access that which is superhuman by familiarizing the reader with those selfsame superhuman intelligences. The “Key” that ZT provides is not just a key to a particular practice of divination but rather “the key to the superhuman riches of which the Great Cabala is the inexhaustible store”, one that is even “a master key which will open not just the main doors but all the side doors, all the cupboards, all the drawers, and even the smallest secrets”.

To understand what ZT means by “superhuman”, let’s first talk about the word “occult”, literally meaning “hidden”.  This word can be understood in two ways: the secret or hidden virtues in things that confer surprising or powerful benefits to those who know how to tap them, or to teachings and disciplines kept secret and occluded from public dissemination for the education of and use by the few. Anything that cannot be seen or otherwise perceived by the physical senses of the body are, in one sense or another, “occult”, and have historically been bound up in the various traditions and teachings of any number of religions, mysticisms, and spiritualities. To modern sensibilities, many of the activities and interests of such systems deal with what is termed the “supernatural”, which is to say things that are not wholly within the physical and material realm of nature. However, not all such systems would agree that these things are necessarily “supernatural” if all things already belong to a more pervasive view of nature.  In that light, ZT says in its introduction that the Great Cabala has nothing “supernatural”, but rather has things in it that are “superhuman”, things that are technically beyond our reach as human beings. Rather than drawing a distinction between that which is of nature (“natural”) and that which is beyond it (“supernatural”), ZT draws a distinction between what is human and what is superhuman, seeing both as ultimately belonging to the one and same nature of Creation. Although the word “superhuman” is occasionally used throughout ZT, the bulk of the understanding and use of this word comes from the Epistle—and, for that matter, the Epistle provides much of the spiritual contextualization for ZT as a whole, being an apologia of sorts for engaging with the spirituality of ZT.  (This just compounds how much of a shame it is that this compelling essay only appears in the earlier versions of ZT and not in the more condensed versions as in KZT.) The Epistle uses the word “superhuman” a number of times to refer not only to entities as spirits or intelligences, but also to the work of divination, divine inspiration, and holy obligation. At the same time, the Epistle does not classify all spiritual or occult things as superhuman, as it denies that “black or diabolical” magic can rightly be called “superhuman”.

Rather than thinking of “superhuman” to mean “spiritual” or “occult”. it may be better to consider this word in the mind of the author of Epistle (and ZT more generally) to mean “holy”. This then suggests that the word “human” as the antonym of “superhuman” should be interpreted to mean “profane”, but this is not borne out by the Epistle. There are references to “purely human sciences” or that most humans are content with mere reason, but the Epistle also refers in equal measure to humans of genius or otherwise pious humans who admit and seek after divine things with the respect due to them. However, by definition, humans on their own cannot enter into or attain to the superhuman; to do so requires the active participation of the superhuman to grant humanity such access.  As the introduction of ZT itself says:

As to what is superhuman (which does not mean “supernatural”) in the Cabala, the mere idea contained in the word “superhuman” establishes in proof that we cannot lay hold onto what it expresses, and therefore we cannot give it away. It is a definition that can make its own existence felt.

The most common use of the word “superhuman” in the Epistle is to refer to “superhuman intelligences”, referring to immaterial entities with their own agency and capacity for communication, action, and interaction. The term “intelligence” has been used to refer to such immaterial or spiritual entities throughout much of European magical and grimoiric literature, even affecting later spiritual traditions such as Spiritism, so finding it used here should be no surprise especially as a more refined approach to other words such as “spirit”, (although GZT merely refers to them as übermenschliche/himmlischen Wesen “superhuman/heavenly beings”).

As that first passage I quoted above above says, so much is dependent upon not just the dedication and studies of the one who studies ZT, but on the permission and presence of the “Pure Spirit”, because ZT is not purely a thing of humanity and thus requires the superhuman in order to delve into it properly.  So what exactly is the “Pure Spirit”?  Basically, it’s the ZT’s equivalent of the Christian notion of the Holy Ghost, but we need to unpack this idea a bit more to get at what ZT considers this to be, along with ZT’s notions of divinity generally.

Although we can’t truly say that ZT is a Christian work in a technical sense, it is abundantly clear that its author has had a Christian education and upbringing, because the author uses a number of quotes and stories from the Old Testament and New Testament alike, and the author counts themselves as a Christian writing for an assumedly Christian audience. It is certainly true that, as OZT notes in its introduction, “the 18th century was an active time for occultism”, both across the whole of the Western world as a whole in general but especially in France in its transitionary period between the ancien régime and the République. However—even in the face of such infamous occultist circles as La Voisin and the Affair of the Poisons, even given the relative freedom of exploration for heterodox religious beliefs—there were still limits as to what was deemed acceptable or pious for public consumption. It should be no surprise, then, that at least some Christian, or otherwise broadly Judeo-Christian, influence is evident in the spirituality of ZT. Although there is little of Christ or any salvific figure involved in ZT, one would reasonably find ZT’s notions of the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit to be its analogues for God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Although there is no specific discussion of the Supreme Being (also called the “Eternal One”, “Almighty”, or “Creator”) or Pure Spirit in the ZT, they are referenced throughout it all the same, as well as in Epistle and the Epilogue. The “Second Supplement” explicitly states that it was the Supreme Being that Moses saw in the burning bush, and that Gabriel announced to Mary the birth of Jesus on behalf of the Supreme Being. However, despite the explicit identification of ZT’s Supreme Being with the God of Abraham, absent are the latter’s jealous or even judgmental aspects. Rather, ZT speaks of the Supreme Being as a pious mystic would: worthy of our reverence and devotion and connection, having in mind our best interests and loftiest aims in mind, and wanting to develop us to the point where we might reach them either through their merciful loving-kindness or through their castigating “tough love”. All things are possible for the Supreme Being, and likewise, all things are determined and allotted by the Supreme Being.

Historically, it should be noted that, while “Supreme Being” is a reasonable moniker for the Godhead in many Christian contexts, it should be noted that there was also the Culte de l’Être suprême “Cult of the Supreme Being”, a form of deism pioneered by Maximilien Robespierre and established in France as a state religion during the French Revolution in the early 1790s. This new civic religion was intended to maintain a pious theism as well as social order without descending into the anthropocentric atheism of the Cult of Reason (which appalled Robespierre) nor permit the excesses of Catholicism to continue in the newly-established Republic. In the Decree Establishing the Cult of the Supreme Being on 18 Floréal II (7 May 1794) at the National Convention, it was declared that:

  • The French people recognize the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.
  • They recognize that the worship worthy of the Supreme Being is the practice of the duties of man.
  • They place in the first rank of these duties to detest bad faith and tyranny, to punish tyrants and traitors, to rescue the unfortunate, to respect the weak, to defend the oppressed, to do to others all the good that one can and not to be unjust toward anyone.

Given the publication date of 1796 for FZT, even in spite of the Epistle’s sympathies for the then-deposed aristocracy and nobility, it is impossible to ignore the possibility of Revolutionary religious influence in ZT, at least to some small degree. In a historical and social context where much of the old established order was being upturned so as to build a new one, and considering how much animosity the author of ZT has towards a variety of traditional occult disciplines such as astrology or geomancy, it may be that the author of ZT was (in their mind) trying to recover some long-lost pristine spiritual practice, much as the French Revolution attempted to reclaim the democratic heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. This tendency may be evident in ZT’s encouragement of astronomy and discouragement of astrology, seeing the former as essentially useful and the latter as essentially corrupt, much as revolutionary tendencies in a wide array of cultural arenas elsewhere would have sought to do away with the old and fixate upon the new, or at least newly-recovered. In that light, ZT may well be avoiding an explicitly Christian spirituality and instead tapping into the revolutionary current of its time so as to develop its own revolutionary understanding of divinity.  Of course, given the blatant aristocratic and royalist leanings of the author of ZT (and especially pronounced in the Epistle), maybe this is reading too much into it, putting the cart before the horse: it may be relying on an overall French spirituality that ties as much to Catholicism as it does to revolutionary deistic cults.

Far more commonly mentioned in ZT than the Supreme Being, however, is the Pure Spirit, also occasionally called the “Pure Mind”. Mentioned only twice in Epistle but mentioned at least once (and often many times) in the majority of the chapters of ZT including the Epilogue, the Pure Spirit is a nebulously-defined numinous presence that facilitates the divinity of the Supreme Being in our world. It is the Pure Spirit that is itself the source of all truth; it was the Pure Spirit to whom the ancient Magi dedicated their temples, and it is the Pure Spirit to whom the Cabalists of ZT direct themselves for succor in their cabalistic and divinatory works. ZT is clear on this last point: it is only through the Pure Spirit’s inspiration that the reader might actually perform works of divination, guiding them to speak truth even (or especially) when the diviner runs up against the limit of the methods of ZT. However, the Pure Spirit is not some passive matrix of spiritual presence; ZT describes the Pure Spirit as having an agency and will of its own, deigning to work at some times but not at others, allowing some humans to perform certain works but not other humans or other works.

In many ways, even if one were to discount any Christian involvement in the development of ZT, it is clear that the Supreme Being and Pure Spirit would be close analogues to the Catholic notions of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, though there is no notion of salvation in the ZT, precluding the necessity for an analogue of God the Son. It may better be said that, although both the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit are God for the author of ZT, the Supreme Being is more distant than the Pure Spirit is, and it is the Pure Spirit who acts as both the presence of God as well as the gateway to God, giving primacy to the Pure Spirit only insofar as is necessary to participate in divinity. It may be said, then, that the Pure Spirit functions as an analogue both to the Catholic Holy Spirit as well as Christ, as it is the breath of the Pure Spirit in ZT that allows one to be truly and divinely inspired.

And, of course, we shouldn’t confuse the Supreme Being or Pure Spirit with the two Principles of Sisamoro and Senamira, either.  If the Supreme Being is the Creator of all Creation, then the two Principles, Sisamoro and Senamira, can roughly be considered as rival demiurges or underlying actors within the dynamic system of the cosmos. In this light, when ZT says that Sisamoro is “inifinite goodness” and Senamira is “infinite wickedness”, the descriptions of Sisamoro and Senamira come into greater clarity, especially with the footnotes noted above. Sisamoro is the encosmic principle and source of all goodness, purity, light, and bliss, while Senamira is the same but for all wickedness, depravity, darkness, and suffering. It is because of this that ZT states that Christians have interpreted the former to be “God” and the latter “Satan”, employing a sort of antagonistic dualism already known to the reader as asserted by the author.  It has to be said that the Principles form one of the few links from ZT to the actual Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism: ZT points out that, because these names are present in the divinatory system, the system must therefore come from that ancient religion.

Sure, the religion of Mazdayasna (“the worship of wisdom”) was founded on the teachings of Zarathustra in the 6th century BCE worships one universal, supreme, transcendent, all-good, and uncreated creator Ahura Mazda (“Lord of Wisdom” or “Wise Lord”) who dwells above, from which emanates asha, the spiritual force of cosmic order and the antithesis of druj, falsehood and disorder, which itself emanates from Angra Mainyu (“destructive spirit”), also known as Ahriman, who dwells below. These two forces are in constant conflict throughout all creation, especially pronounced upon humanity, although Ahura Mazda wins out in the end times, at which point a savior known as the Saoshyant will come forth to resurrect the dead, all of creation will be purified and renovated, and all humanity will be judged twice: once for their spiritual being and once for their physical being. While there are similarities between the above Zoroastrian notions and ZT’s notions of Sisamoro and Senamira, the similarities end there. While the tiles given in the Urn foldout all have a distinct flame motif on each of the Intelligence and Numeral tiles, hearkening to the notion of Zoroastrian fire worship, this is all little more than a superficial appropriation of Zoroastrian symbols and concepts to offer an exotic orientalizing flavor to a relatively modern form of divination. The whole of the rest of the system displays the usual European Christian frameworks and sensibilities which, although at times parallel with Zoroastrian ones, is less an indication of ZT’s ultimate Persian antiquity and more one of cultural resonance.

Especially intriguing on this point, however, is a note from the Epistle. Towards the end, in describing the mythic history of the Great Cabala, the author of the Epistle states that “the Good Principle and the Bad Principle, having become rivals in the opinion of these impious fools, shared equally a desecrated incense”. It is true in Zoroastrianism that Ahura Mazda is the supreme creator, and though they are at war until the end times, their conjoined conflict can be said to provide for the constant creation of the current world which will end when Ahura Mazda eventually and inevitably conquers Ahriman; in this, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman cannot be said to be rivals or equals. Yet, in the divinatory and cosmological system of ZT, Sisamoro and Senamira do appear to fulfill that role, being equal though opposite in power, with the Supreme Being beyond both of them taking on the role in ZT that Ahura Mazda himself has in Zoroastrianism. It may be that the Epistle here is referring to the religious understanding of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman in Zoroastrianism proper than the cosmological signification of Sisamoro and Senamira in ZT, maybe showing at least some awareness beyond the merely superficial of the religion itself.

While Sisamoro and Senamira work on a cosmic scale, the two spirits Sallak and Sokak act on a human scale, almost as their respective emissaries. ZT notes that these are not divinities in their own right as Sisamoro or Senamira might be, but are “only Creatures of the First Order”. Similarly, the implications of a statement like “the two Principles and the two Spirits do not overlap each other in the Great Cabala” and the similar though diminutive designs of the Sallak and Sokak tiles derived from those of Sisamoro and Senamira emphasize the different roles these pairs of entities have. This is further indicated by how their tiles are treated in a divinatory session employing the Great Mirror: the Principle tiles are not used in the Great Mirror itself but are placed beyond it in a way that affects the mirror as a whole, while the Spirit tiles are used just as any other. The suggestion is that Sisamoro and Senamira work on a grander or cosmic (or at least transpersonal) level, while Sallak and Sokak work on a smaller, individual scale.

As a symbol in the divinatory system of ZT, Sallak represents good fortune in general; Sallak is explicitly identified as the Catholic notion of a guardian angel. According to the Catholic Catechism (I.2.1.I.5.I.336):

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

On the contrary, Sokak is labeled as “the evil genius of the Ancients…the evil Angel”. Like Sallak, Sokak is a constant companion of each individual human; unlike Sallak who guides and helps each human to their most beneficial end, Sokak lays traps to afflict and waylay each individual human. To that end, in the divinatory system of ZT, Sokak represents ill fortune, but this is more of a concession to the system of divination rather than merely saying that Sallak is merely Eutychē and Sokak Distychē.  These are about our fates, where we encounter things that are good for us so long as we stick to the path of our fate, and encounter things bad for us if we fall off that path.

I’m sure there’s much more that one can extrapolate from ZT about its view of cosmology and spirituality in general, but I’m not sure how much more I could offer beyond mere conjecture; after all, I’m no expert in the history of French religion and occulture, and trying to get into the research of that is a daunting prospect far beyond my capabilities right now.  What I can offer, at least, is what ZT itself says about how it thinks about and constructs notions of divinity and the cosmos—but all this still leaves open the question of “so what?”.  I mean, okay, sure, we have all this notion of a grand cosmos filled with spirits and the Pure Spirit and everything, but where does that leave us, what is our goal, what do we do with all this information?  We’ll save the best for last, dear reader, and get to that next time.

2 responses

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

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

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