Unlocking the Observatory: Summary and Recap

Where were we? We’re in the middle of…or, rather, we finally finished 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.  This whole time, I’ve been reviewing the various mechanical processes and theoretical underpinnings of this unique form of numerological sortilege with an astrological flair, and although it’s historically been super obscure to the point of nearly being forgotten, it shows an insightful approach to not just divination but to spirituality as a whole.  The only thing left to do now, I suppose, is to give a summary of what we’ve discussed in these past 17(ish) posts with some 70k words (maybe like 55k or 60k if you ignore quotes) between them all (though that doesn’t count the 92-page translation I put out as well).

Although I started this whole series off by introducing my own translation of FZT (which is a good read in and of itself, I claim, especially since I don’t think anyone else has translated it into English yet), I’ve tried in these ensuing posts to go over and offer my analysis and commentary on not just the text but the system as a whole.  I could have done this as part of my translation itself or moved all of this to its own ebook, but…well, let’s be honest, all my own unanswered questions would necessarily render such a thing distastefully incomplete, and I don’t like putting out incomplete works like that.  Plus, given how rare it is to find anything about this system anywhere, I figured that just putting my analysis and commentary online for all to read was the better choice to actually explore (and get others to explore) this neat system that gives us a lot more than just what it seems.  Reading and translating FZT was just the start of such a research project, but there was so much more to say than just what could be communicated in a translation.

First, an index to all the posts in the series for ease of access.

  1. A literary overview of ZT, the few texts that touch on it, and the different versions of ZT out there
  2. How and why ZT gets attributed to the French erotica author André-Robert Andréa de Nerciat
  3. The story behind and the characters of ZT’s “Great Cabala”
  4. The symbolism of the seven Planets, the nine Planetary Intelligences, and the 99 Numbers
  5. The tiles and tools used for divination
  6. The various figures used for divination, and the Great Mirror itself
  7. Discovering and looking at the ideal triangles in the Great Mirror
  8. The Great Dial and how to use “option-whittling” to determine times or other details
  9. The 28 natal stars, their angels, and the confusion of how they fit into the system of ZT
  10. Likely origins for and methods of attributing the lunar mansions, their angels, and planetary numerological symbolism into ZT
  11. The approach, method, and concerns of divination
  12. The case study of from Karl Kern’s 1933 book on ZT
  13. More techniques and notes Kern’s 1933 book on ZT
  14. The six periods of life of humanity and how we come to be
  15. The spiritual theory, cosmology, and theology of ZT
  16. The spiritual practices and purposes of ZT

So, what did we learn from this blog project of mine?

  • The “Telescope of Zoroaster, or, Key to the Great Divinatory Cabala of the Magi” is a form of divination that can be described as sortilege performed with hexagonal tiles making use of a mix of planetary, zodiacal, and (especially) numerological symbolism.
  • The earliest version of ZT was published in French in 1796, but was only popularized several decades later in a slightly abridged (and somewhat incomplete) German version included in Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster as part of a compilation of other magical,  divinatory, and spiritual works.
  • This book, in whatever format, has never been particularly popular, and there is very little information about it out there.  The most publicity this book has likely ever gotten was with Ouroboros Press’ 2013 translation of the Das Kloster version.
  • Even then, however, its historical obscurity is only one factor leading to its overall unpopularity, the other being its seeming obfuscated nature.  Many people say that the system feels incomplete while also being super complex, which is partially a result of how ZT itself frames and teaches its own system, but also partially a result of how ZT got transmitted through several translations with some parts getting abridged and other parts getting omitted.
  • What the ZT text does, however, is provide a handful of principles that allows one to build up a system of divination. Given that each digit has a meaning, each compound number that makes use of those digits has a meaning built upon them; given that each corner of a hexagon has a planetary meaning and vibe associated with it, breaking down a larger hexagon into a smaller one allows for sub-planetary meanings and vibes.
  • By extrapolating from simple principles, ZT allows for a profoundly detailed approach of divination while relying on just a handful of basic notions.  The real work in learning ZT doesn’t lie in memorization of a large number of symbols or elaborate methods of construction, but just in putting 2 and 2 together to get 4.
  • However, although ZT presents itself primarily as an introductory manual of divination, it couches this in an overall spiritual and mystical practice of coming to commune with spirits to uncover more profound secrets in the cosmos.  For however important learning matters of the future might be, this is just the hook to get one started.
  • Although the text goes on about the “Great Cabala”, it has very little in common with the actual Jewish, Christian, or Hermetic styles of mysticism and spiritual practice normally associated with that word.  Indeed, there’s really nothing Jewish or Hermetic about ZT besides it participating in the overall genre of Western esotericism.

Of course, despite all that we’ve covered, there’s still a handful of unanswered questions I have regarding ZT, or at least things I’m still unsure of or not wholly convinced about:

  1. Obviously, the ascription of ZT to André-Robert Andréa de Nerciat is a long-standing one that has some historical backing, and while I’m inclined to accept it, it still all feels based on a lot of evidence that I can only find to be circumstantial at best and which is otherwise uncritically repeated by so many others.  Despite all her other theories, Susan Audrey Grundy’s theory that if we can connect the text to Nerciat at all, it’s likelier to my mind (given the stark difference in topics normally associated with Nerciat), that he picked up the book and polished it up, republishing it in one way or another rather than him being the one to write it.  Still, it’s something I personally have questionable feelings about either way.
  2. Even if the text was written by Nerciat, to whom might the Epistle be addressed?  Abbé Baruel in his Memoirs says that it was addressed to “one of those Princes whom the author does not name, but whose zealous pursuits in these mysteries are sufficiently known by public report”.  Is this just Barruel dramatizing something, or is this an actual reference to an actual French royal?
  3. The order of the planets in the Great Mirror (Sun in the middle, then Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Moon, Saturn counterclockwise, or alternatively Moon, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn clockwise) suggests a working knowledge of some basic astrological principles, (what the malefics and benefics are, what the planetary rulerships are of the signs that are in opposition to each other, etc.) but it only suggests it.  Is this an actual pattern or arrangement from some other system or book?
  4. Likewise, when ZT mentions “Sol in medio” is some maxim from occult sciences, exactly which is it referring to?
  5. The way the primary digits are associated with the planets (1/9 for the Sun, 2/8 for the Moon, 3 for Venus, 4 for Mercury, 5 for Saturn, 6 for Jupiter, 7 for Mars) may be based on that given in Das Große Planeten-Buch with some changes for a more balanced system, but is this really the case?  Or is there some other system of numerology that was available to the inventor of ZT that shows this more clearly?
  6. Likewise, the way the lunar mansions natal stars work in ZT seems to be indebted to the same (or similar) astrological tradition as Das Große Planeten-Buch, though of course there are some differences.  Is it really the case that ZT based its system on DGPB and adjusted it to fit with the geometry of the Great Mirror, or did it have another source/tradition in mind?
  7. Following up on the angels of the lunar mansions natal stars, what the heck is up with ZT throwing in the three archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael and replacing three of the traditional lunar mansion angels?  Similarly, why are some of the angels out of order compared to what we’d normally expect?
  8. Although we can pick up on a trend of how the compound Number tiles are assigned to the non-Intelligence houses (or angels) of the Great Mirror, I can’t say that we have an actual pattern that says specifically why certain tiles get put into certain houses, and there are even a few assignments of tiles to houses/angels that just seems outright incorrect (like a Venus tile given to Raphael in the orbit of Mars or Kiriel in the orbits of Mars and Saturn lacking a Saturn tile).  What’s the deal with those?  Surely they could be swapped with other tiles that make more sense.
  9. On top of the actual technique and content of ZT, there’s also a number of literary or historical references in ZT that I haven’t yet been able to pin down from the text itself:
    1. Sixth Step: the whole bit about Ferval seeing his mistress at midnight
    2. First Supplement:
      1. The historical event regarding the accident of grave bodily harm suffered by a member of the French royal family in 1792 (maybe, as the Alexandre de Danánn book says, is just a reference to Louis XVI?)
      2. The prophecy of the popes mentioned, which may or may not be the Prophecy of the Popes
    3. Second Supplement: the bit about Fortunatus

Maybe the answers to those questions lie in some forgotten French or German book on numerology or astrology, or maybe they could be found in some arcane French Revolutionary tome on the spirituality of its time.  Maybe they’re indicative of some system I’m not smart enough to figure out whose principles aren’t as clearly indicated as some of the others in ZT, or maybe it’s just a matter of leaving things to arbitrary choice in the mind of the designer and inventor of ZT.  Either way, they’re not things I have an answer to as yet, but maybe—despite all the other maybes—we might have an answer to them one day.

On top of all of those doubts and questions, I also have a few musings of my own that I couldn’t really fit into any of the earlier discussions, and would be good for further implementation and practice to sort out and sift through:

  1. It’s clear that the author of ZT tries to stretch its numerology out as far as it will go: consider how the number 5 is associated with Saturn/Lethophoro “the only essentially evil Intelligence”, and also that Senamira (the Evil Principle) is depicted as a five-pointed star, and Sokak (the Evil Spirit) as a five-pointed shooting star or a pentagon.  What, then, should we make of the number 3, given that Sisamoro and Sallak (the Good Principle and Good Spirit) are depicted as triangles?  Personally, I’d be inclined to think that the number 6 should be the opposite of 5, given how Jupiter is positioned directly opposite of Saturn in the Great Mirror and how all the tiles have a hexagonal shape, and how 3 is given to Venus/Erosia which…I guess?  Maybe 3 represents the Good Principle and Good Spirit as some sort of descent from the Christian Trinity, and yet, it’s spirit-Sun/Psykomena (9) that’s described explicitly as a rival and counterbalance to Lethophoro, so it’s an interesting play of numbers here.  How far should such number symbolism regarding good and evil be taken, and how else might that play 0ut in the system of ZT, both from a divinatory approach and a grander spiritual approach?  Is it reasonable to “correct” the glyphs used for Sisamoro and Sallak to use six-pointed stars (or even nine-pointed stars) instead of a triangle in this light?
  2. The notion of the Great Mirror being an instrument for scrying and spirit communication is a tantalizing one, though one only barely mentioned or hinted at in ZT.  It’s clear from the Epilogue that this is a thing, but the text doesn’t say in any way how it might be a thing.  Is it a matter of contemplation and gazing, letting the mind frazzle out on seeing a pattern of numbers to get enmeshed in the deeper connections between them?  Is it a matter of performing an invocation or plea to the angels associated with the numbers in turn and asking for their help in coming to understand the tile specifically and mirror as a whole?
  3. Likewise, what do we do with the knowledge that we have the two Spirits per person of Sallak and Sokak in addition to one’s natal angel provided by their natal star?  Is there a corresponding Sallak and Sokak per angel, leading to a total of 56 total Spirits (2 × 28)?  Or, conversely, are the directives and guidances of Sallak and Sokak delegated to one’s natal angel, who directs them accordingly?  It seems like the Spirits are on the same ontological level as the Intelligences, and given that the angels seem to be subservient to the Intelligences, this should suggest that the Spirits are above the angels, so that first option seems wrong.  So what’s the specific interplay between our individual Good and Bad Spirits and our natal angel?  Do we approach and petition Sallak and Sokak for communion as we would with our natal angel?  For that matter, do we call upon Sisamoro for assistance?  How do we factor in the Supreme Being or Pure Spirit into all of this, into a whole sort of ZT “religious practice”?
  4. Being someone generally inclined to all the corrupted, corrupting “so-called arts” that ZT loves to hate so much, it annoys me that ZT decided to double up on the Sun and Moon to make a set of nine planets instead of making use of the North and South Nodes of the Moon, which would be the more logical pair of things to pick up on to make a set of nine (and which are still used to this day heavily in jyotish astrology).  Heck, even the arrangement of the Intelligences in Plate VI (the one for all the angels on the Great Mirror) puts Genhelia and Psykomena as the odd ones out, making a natural suggestion that Genhelia/matter-Sun/digit 1 could be given to the North Node, and Psykomena/spirit-Moon/digit 8 could be given to the South Node.  Of course, the whole basis of symbolism and everything is based on these being solar and lunar entities, so could the system be amended to include these astrological entities, or could they just be slid in as-is?
  5. Given how the Epistle is written to some noble by some admirer (e.g. Nerciat), the suggestion is strong that at least this part (as well as a few clues in the ZT text itself) was written towards the end of the French Revolution, the dissolution of the monarchy, and the abolition of the nobility.  Given the strange times that we can presume that ZT was written in, how much of what we find in ZT regarding its spirituality and cosmology can we find in then-current beliefs?  Is this all stuff that comes from the ancien régime, or was there a subtle Revolutionary spirituality within it, as well?  I’m far from educated on the history generally or nuances of spirituality specifically in that troubled time, but it’d be cool to compare and contrast what we find in ZT with other texts from the same time period.
  6. I wonder about the actual process and sequence of ZT’s development, because some parts of the system seem tacked on.  Like, the whole bit about the angels feels slapped onto the system as a way to expand it without it actually being necessary for the system itself, as do the 90 compound Number tiles being associated to the houses, but I don’t think this was done at the same time.  Rather, my feeling from the text (which I can’t really substantiate) is that the angels were given (or fitted) to the houses to determine their planetary rulerships based on their orbits first, then the tiles to the angels second.  Things like this intrigue me, because if I were to develop a system based on similar principles, there are a whole bunch of ways to go about such a thing in a other manners, so why did the inventor of ZT pick this approach?  Likewise, if they were tacked on and weren’t intended to belong to the system as originally envisioned, why would they have been included: for the sake of seeming completeness by an audience they were trying to market to, or because some student reminded them to include it?

These would be great things to consider for future research, at least from the active use, consideration, and development of ZT, and if not by me then by someone else.  (Don’t forget Calyxa’s excellent ZT toolset available for purchase from The Game Crafter for your convenience!)  After all, even if ZT doesn’t give us a treatise, it does give us a key, so maybe we just have to actually start using it to unlock the answers to some of these questions.  Maybe, if this post series helps get people more familiar and comfortable with ZT as a divinatory system and a spiritual system, it might get other people in on the game of this, as well.  That’d be my hope, at any rate—maybe not one so grand as the Epistle’s “restoration of this ancient moral gold in new crucibles”, but hey, it did anticipate this to be the work of centuries, after all, and it’s already been two.

But, at least for now, I’m going to put my copy of the Ouroboros Press translation back on the shelf, nestled amongst the other Nice Books or fine or rare editions I have.  In the nine years since I bought it, this has been the longest amount of time it’s spent off the shelf and on my desk or in my hands, but with this little project of mine coming to a close, it’s time to return it to its snug spot back up with the rest of the books—albeit with a few more friends that it picked up along the way it didn’t have before.  This time, however, I’m not putting the book back with the promise to actually read it and learn the system one day; I’m putting the book back having finally fulfilled such a promise, and having done so to such an extent that I’d never have imagined when I got the book back in 2013, not only having absorbed everything such a book can give, but also to have surpassed the book, dug into its own sources, and produced other work to keep up with it.  It feels pretty good, not gonna lie.

Of course, learning about a thing is one thing, but learning from a thing is quite another.  We might have learned plenty about the book and its system, but I hope that this little blog series of mine has also helped us learn from it, as well—not just as a method of divination, but about the methods and goals of spirituality itself.

(PS: Having learned from my readers with my Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration blog project a few years back, yes, I plan on putting out a free PDF compilation of all these posts to allow for easier offline/printable reading.  I’m working on it as this post goes up, but I’m letting the posts get published and stabilize first to let the typos shake out and to give people a chance to comment on them first to incorporate any feedback.  Stay tuned for such a PDF coming out soon!)

One response

  1. Pingback: “Unlocking the Observatory” PDF ebook now ready for free download! (Also on Ko-fi!) « The Digital Ambler

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