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!)

Unlocking the Observatory: The Spiritual Practice 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 how ZT constructs its notions of divinity and the cosmos, leading to a spiritual theory of sorts replete throughout 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 “Epistle”, “Second Supplement”, “Third Supplement”, and “Epilogue”.

It’s far from uncommon for authors to puff themselves up and make their works seem more groundbreaking and significant than they generally have any reasonable right to be (and I should know).  This can be explained any number of ways ranging from it being a marketing technique to merely getting people hooked on this Cool New Thing you’re excited about, or it may just be that the author has bought into their own hype and think that they’ve come across the Only Thing that Matters.  This is especially common in the world of occult book publishing, and to an extent, I think it’s always been that way to one degree or another; after all, the whole bit about mystical or magical historiolae explaining the discovery of some long-lost text is as much part of the occult genre as is lists of demons or elaborate instructions on tool-making.  It’s something of a cliché unto itself, really, and—at least for me—it can be almost disappointing when a text lacks such a bit of good entertainment.

Sure enough, we see a this puffing-up of itself happening in ZT, too.  This is most evident right in its very title (“The Telescope of Zoroaster, or, the Key to the Grand Divinatory Cabala of the Magi”) that calls on a whole number of occultural tropes, which are only expanded upon in the text itself, but there’s more to it than that, and I don’t think ZT is just trying to puff itself up for the sake of selling itself out.  ZT makes frequent reference to how it’s “only a key, not a treatise”, which immediately suggests that the author of ZT is holding stuff back from the reader.  While some people might be inclined to read this as a sure sign that the author is putting a blind on us, this isn’t the case here; rather, ZT does present what is necessary to learn, but only that which is necessary and not anything more, leaving what does not strictly need to be said as an exercise for the reader.  In that light, we need to consider everything that ZT does give us.  While the main purpose of ZT is ostensibly to teach about a particular form of numerological sortilege with an astrological flair, there is so much in ZT that isn’t directly about that that it leaves us to wonder: what else is it teaching us?

There’s a tantalizing statement in the Epilogue:

…willing to put ourselves in such a position, we have advocated for indicating how the operator will be able to recognize certain cases where (by a complicated contest of triangular relationships) an intimate communication and sometimes a Vision would be promised—in vain. The author of The Telescope of Zoroaster did not change course in the reply he divulged:

The Candidate must wait to be surprised by this superhuman opportunity, sooner or later infallible for them, if they are truly Called. This opportunity will fully compensate them for his work when, sooner or later, they will have reached the point of aptitude where the Pure Spirit desires them to be.

Consider the implications of this admission.  Despite the divinatory method that ZT teaches of analyzing the various tiles that might appear in any given pattern or arrangement within the Great Mirror, it suggests that this is not the ultimate (or at least the underlying) goal of the divinatory system of ZT.  Sure, the system as presented will work to predict the future, treating it fundamentally as a tile-based variation on cartomancy making use of a densely-packed spread, and the vast majority of the content of ZT discusses this very method and its variations in order to explain such a divinatory system. However, the implication of this line in the Epilogue, as well as the several mystical sections of the “Second Supplement” and “Third Supplement” that discuss more than mere angels and natal stars, suggest that this is just part of the use of such a Mirror.  Rather than merely arriving at interpretations, the real purpose is to obtain visions.

I mean, consider this line from the “First Step”, when the notion of mirrors are introduced:

These combinations are called “mirrors” when, instead of speaking only to the eye as paintings do, they offer the Cabalist a meaning which can only exist for them alone. Such combinations deserve the name “mirror” because they reflect the truth that saturates combinations. Thus, by combining the hexagons—whether we call them pieces or parts—into the triangles, diamonds, or hexagons that are composed from such hexagons, we obtain paintings, or “mirrors”. Now, the mirror being the final object of the cabalistic process, it is the quality of the mirror that prevails, and this word is principally in use.

Remember how I mentioned before that reflecting telescopes were still relatively new at the time of FZT’s publication?  Dating only to the 1660s, reflecting telescopes provided technical advantages over the older lens-based refracting telescopes.  In this light, especially when combined with how ZT says that modern astronomy has such “fruitful and no less indispensable utility”, it would suggest that the metaphor of these tile-spreads being “mirrors” was taken from astronomical tools: using mirrors in a metaphorical telescope (the divinatory system of ZT itself) to gaze into the spiritual Heavens much as an astronomer’s telescope makes use of mirrors to gaze into the physical skies. Thus, when a figure is composed for the purpose of performing divination, it takes on the name of a “mirror” as something that one gazes at as if it were a picture to contemplate.  We can certainly inspect parts of the telescope to determine how the different parts come together, but we’re not supposed to be looking at the telescope or at the mirror, but rather in the telescope or in the mirror to see what it reveals.  I mean, heck, ZT even brings up Nostradamus in the “First Supplement”, whom ZT claims also relied on the Great Cabala to determine matters of great spiritual importance and world-changing significance.  In this, by looking at the Great Mirror, we learn its parts and see individual things coming to pass, but by looking in the Great Mirror, we come to actually See things as a whole coming together—something far greater than the sum of its parts.

I mean, consider what we said last time about the spiritual cosmos as construed by ZT.  Yes, there is the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit and the Principles and Spirits and Intelligences, but ZT says that there’s still so much more than all of this.  While the “Second Supplement” is primarily important for students of ZT to teach about the 28 angels and their natal stars (i.e. lunar mansions), that’s really only half the chapter; the other half talks about all these various means by which humans come to know things by means of spiritual intervention through visions, messages, and communion with spirits.  The author of ZT brings up Moses and the burning bush, Saul seeing the ghost of Samuel, Brutus seeing the ghost of Julius Caesar, Belshazzar seeing the hand writing on the wall and it being clarified by the divine inspiration of Daniel, the Three Wise Men being given a vision about where to go find the Infant God, the Pharaoh having his dreams interpreted through the divine inspiration of Joseph, the daimōn of Socrates, Numa Pompilius and the nymph Egeria, and so forth and so on.  ZT emphasizes the point that all true knowledge that matters for us doesn’t come from mere human inventions of cardgames or whatnot, but from our interactions with the spiritual world which guides us and leads us to live our lives properly in accordance with the will of the Supreme Being.

It is to that end that the author of ZT presents the Great Mirror (and, by extension, all the rest of the mirrors in ZT) as a means of not just predicting the future but as a means of communing with spirits.  This is why ZT gives us Plate VI (the diagram of the Great Mirror with the angels and lunar mansions), which only makes sense by bringing up the angels first, which only makes sense by bringing up the role of spirits generally: to guide and instruct humanity in the well-ordering and proper-functioning of the cosmos.  And, heck, given the extreme detail ZT gives in the “Second Supplement” regarding all the parts and bits of Plate VI (some of which don’t even actually appear in Plate VI as given), it leads me to wonder whether Plate VI is really just a reference sheet to be used like the Table of Numbers from Plate II, or if it was meant as a meditative focus not unlike a mandala expressly for coming into communion with those very angels themselves.

In that light, the Great Mirror serves three purposes simultaneously:

  1. A means of sortilege by which we can predict the future
  2. A means of coming into visions of things that are meaningful, i.e. a scrying surface
  3. A means of communicating with spirits who speak through the tiles, i.e. a conjuration locus

Incidentally, it’s the use of the Great Mirror as a medium for scrying that I think the use of hexagonal tiles is important, not because of any mystical symbolism inherent in the shape but because they completely tile a plane without gaps.  While circular tiles would also work for the purposes of divination, since they pack in a hexagonal manner, they leave gaps between them, which hexagonal tiles don’t leave behind.  Having a smooth, complete surface would work much better in this regard to afford the diviner something cohesive and coherent to gaze at for the purposes of scrying rather than mere sortilege.

This is, in a sense, what the Epistle told us about almost right from the get-go:

To read into the future is a much higher faculty still, and is less willingly granted from above. It is nevertheless obtained by means of one who knows that most ancient Pact—by means of an Advocate (but no one else) who finds in the signs and numbers of various tables the truth dictated by the intelligences concerning all that is the reasonable object of anticipation that one proposes to make in a more or less remote future. These signs, these numbers, these tables—this is what the Telescope of Zoroaster is about. […]

By means of the booklet through which I dare to pay you respectful homage, my Lord, we shall know how one might establish for oneself, so to speak, a place of rendezvous, where the Advocate enjoys the favor of being in the presence with superhuman beings and can there receive their benefit.

Recall the whole pyramid metaphor from last time that ZT gives about itself at the beginning of the “Second Supplement”:

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.

To lay it out bare: that the pyramid is revealed at all through the foggy mists is the work of the text of ZT, while the divinatory system of astrologically-flavored numerology provides just the rough-hewn stone base of the pyramid, but this is just the foundation of what comes next, which is heavily suggested in ZT to be obtaining visions and communing with spirits.  But even these, after all, would just be the next layers of the pyramid, upon which even higher and even more precious levels are built.  All ZT does is show us to the door of this pyramid-temple, and beyond that, so long as we have a light provided to us by the Pure Spirit, how far we ascend is up to us and our own determination and dedication.  All of this is nothing less than reclaiming the ancient spiritual heritage that the Epistle ascribes to the ancient Magi:

A similar order of things once existed wherever the Magi breathed, those revered priests, the most enlightened, the best of mortals. In their religious palaces consecrated to the Pure Spirit, these sacred servants, inaccessible to the curiosity of the vulgar, gave themselves up without distraction to the sublime intercourse which was their mission to maintain with the agents of Heaven. These dictated to their favored caste all that celestial and terrestrial nature has of secrets that can be brought within reach of human understanding, always infinitely limited to whatever degree of penetration one supposes those most perfectly organized priests, endowed with the greatest genius, were to have.

What are these secrets, exactly?  ZT doesn’t say; either the author of ZT was not privy to them, or the author found it improper to state such secrets to those whom they neither knew nor trusted, and for my part, I’d be charitable enough to accept the latter.  All the great questions we have about humanity’s origins and destinations, our questions about salvation and damnation, our questions about afterlives or reincarnation—ZT simply doesn’t say, and in many cases, doesn’t even hint at them.  All we have is this method by which we can begin to refine ourselves and build up a practice that will, so long as we keep to it, reach into the heavens themselves where all the secrets of Creation and the Creator might be revealed to us in time.

This is why, in the “Second Supplement”, the author tells us to keep ourselves in “a moral conduct and physical regimen” that keeps us relatively pure.  This isn’t about divination—well, not just about divination—but rather about us being able to accurately and consciously come into contact with spirits:

  • By avoiding heavy food, we free up our body and its senses to more easily allow the subtle perception of and communication with spirits.
  • By avoiding stimulating food, we keep our mind clear from the fog of perturbation so that we can accurately understand spirits without the message becoming biased or unclear.
  • By avoiding heatedness of sexual or emotional passion, we keep ourselves noble and worthy of entering into relationships with spirits and receiving their guidance and messages.

In the midst of the dietary restrictions ZT suggests, it brings up how so much spiritual communication occurs to us in dreams, and why ensuring that we dream well (especially in that liminal state of us rising from dream in the morning at dawn) is so important for spiritual communication:

The Elect, whom no embarrassment of the head or stomach has afflicted at the moment when sleep overtakes them, has consumed their digestion in a few hours, and then their whole being is fully at rest; this is the proper moment to catch the Spirit who deigns to communicate to this privileged mortal, and it is up to such a mortal to know how to take advantage of this sign of favor granted to them, and to not confuse with phantasy that which can be revelation, inspiration, and even sometimes apparition. Science, which is indeed the Great Cabala, is the touchstone par excellence where any accident of dream or vision can be tried and appraised at fair value. It is, we say, for the ordinary person, in the morning at the coming of the dawn, that the heavenly Agents descend and manifest themselves to the Elect.

This follows up on what the author said at the beginning of the “Second Supplement” regarding sleep and dreams:

What do we know? Nothing, perhaps, of what happens to the soul during this leisurely likeness of death called “sleep”; it is nothing but a superhuman apperception, whether helpful or harmful, sometimes pretending at ordinary facts, sometimes something disguised in supernatural forms—dreams, we say, are perhaps just favors granted by benevolent Intelligences or vexations and ambushes prepared by malevolent Intelligences, but are all too often too-fleeting impressions that vanish nearly in an instant, or symbols that are too oblique and so remain silent for ordinary mortals because they do not know the language necessary to understand them well. What one wants, what one is advised to avoid or do, even superstitious notions that have been adopted to generalize for all people the meaning that each material object can have in a dream all oppose a stupid, extravagant prejudice against natural inspiration itself, which therefore has failed in its effects.

In this light, especially considering the angelic focus of the “Second Supplement”, we build upon the divinatory practice to become introduced to communing with spirits, but we actually do the work of engaging with them primarily (it’d seem here) through the function of dreams—and not just any spirits, but primarily the angel of our own natal star.  This is best done at the coming of the dawn since, as the light of the Sun begins to enter into the world, so too do “the heavenly Agents [who] descend and manifest themselves to the Elect”.  We come into contact with the spirits, and especially our own angel, in order to better know ourselves and our natures, and thereby come to know more about the world around us, and by extension the whole Creation and the one Creator.  All of this comes about through the honest and earnest communion we might have with spirits, those celestial intelligences and heavenly agents, with whom such communion and communication is “the most beautiful privilege that humanity might enjoy”, because it is by our thoughts led on by things higher than us (the “super” to the “human”) what we might reach “to spaces that can and must be populated by a hierarchy of sublime beings”.

But, like…isn’t this a bit much?  In a book about sortilege, it’s super weird to have such an extended discussion about the virtues of a restrained diet to facilitate spiritual communication in dreams and how the greatest things we might aspire to is such spiritual communication and direction, right?  But then, that’s because ZT isn’t just a book about sortilege.  Among all the various lessons of the mechanics and components of its divinatory system and how to approach matters of querent and query, it’s clear that ZT gives us a much broader spiritual approach to understanding matters of truth on scales that go far beyond the mere individual human. Even though only the barest outlines of such a spiritual discipline is sketched out by ZT, it’s clear that it aspires to be the gateway through which one can eventually access the highest secrets of divinity and to live a holy life in continuous communion with heavenly beings.  We should remember, after all, that what ZT gives us is “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”.

Of course, such access to divinity and divine secrets isn’t given to everyone, nor is it even promised to everyone.  Success in this sort of spiritual work depends on many factors, not least of which is one’s own spiritual education (which ZT is meant to facilitate at an introductory level), but also one’s faith: faith in the Supreme Being (“Without this faith, there is no connection between the Supreme Being and humanity, and without such a connection, there can be no Great Cabala”) and confidence in the Pure Spirit (” confidence in the Pure Spirit—which is the indispensable trait of vocation which the Candidate must find themselves to possess”).  As the Epistle repeatedly emphasizes in its hypothetical rebuttals to imagined detractors of spirituality generally and ZT specifically, there is nothing in the Great Cabala for those who would dismiss it or its claims out of hand, or who would stringently favor human reason over superhuman gnōsis.  In this light, I’m reminded of part of the dialogue between Hermēs Trismegistos and Asklēpios from book IX, section 10 of the Corpus Hermeticum:

If you are mindful, Asklēpios, these things should seem true to you, but they will be beyond belief if you have no knowledge. To understand is to believe, and not to believe is not to understand. Reasoned discourse does not get to the truth, but mind is powerful, and, when it has been guided by reason up to a point, it has the means to get as far as the truth. After mind had considered all this carefully and had discovered that all of it is in harmony with the discoveries of reason, it came to believe, and in this beautiful belief it found rest. By an act of god, then, those who have understood find what I have been saying believable, but those who have not understood do not find it believable.

Returning one last time to the Epistle, we were not only introduced to the subject matter of ZT but also to a defense and explanation for its development and dissemination.  The “Baron de N…..” notes that such a discipline as this is only in its infancy, given how much work we have to do to salvage and reclaim the grand spiritual inheritance of the Magi, but reminds us even the grandest temple starts with but a simple hut to serve as an erstwhile tabernacle for the humblest of altars.  Those who dedicate themselves to such a spiritual endeavor would find themselves to be planting a sacred grove, keeping out those who would only disturb them—and, indeed, the author of ZT fully expects that this work would remain unpopular, maligned, and chastised by the many, and even many people today still scratch their heads at the incomplete, obtuse, or seemingly needlessly complicated system of ZT.  But, for those who would strive to make use of such a system, the author simultaneously hopes that, even should it take centuries, the “moral gold” that is produced from the crucibles of the dedicated would be used to reforge the bonds of true wisdom once broken long ago.

It’s my hope that all of this exploration over the past several weeks has helped attain at least some measure of that, instead of letting this fascinating system languish forgotten on old shelves.  At this point, I’ve basically said everything I have to say on it, so we’ll wrap up this series in the next and final post to summarize everything and bring it all together.

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.

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.