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.

Unlocking the Observatory: the Great Dial and Determining Times/Options

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about the myriad ideal triangles in the Great Mirror and what sort of interpretive benefit they allow in divination. 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 “Sixth Step”, “First Supplement”, and “Third Supplement”.

We’ve just finished up talking about the Great Mirror—or, at least, finished explaining and expanding slightly on what ZT has to say about it.  As ZT itself says following its own talk of the Great Mirror:

We are rather far from having said all that it would be possible to say about the astronomical regime…We cannot repeat too often that this text can and should only be a key. Profound meditations, with compass and pen in hand, must have the double success for the Candidate of permanently inculcating in them a tearing-away and breaking of the avarice of indications from the very moment of our march. Now, the Great Cabala does not include a theory of this kind. By it, the road would be made more difficult than easy; by it, the Candidate would find themselves squeezed in some way between the two flanks of a relatively open angle, while they must move freely through all the content of an immense circle, which embarrassed nothing less than all that is for as long as it shall last.

In other words, while one can certainly expand on the various cosmological and interpretive significations of the Great Mirror more than what ZT has, ZT itself declines to say more than it has in the interest of brevity.  (Or it may be that it has nothing more to say about it because it made it up and is masking that fact with claims of mysterious obfuscation, who knows.)  All the same, it is true that the Great Mirror is just one of the two main ways to use the large hexangular figure of 37 tiles.  While the Great Mirror is the so-called “astronomical regime” of the large hexagon, there is another: the “temporal regime”, which is a way to consider the large hexagon as indicating periods of time ranging from individual hours to a whole millennium.  Rather than calling this sort of temporal view of the large hexagon the Great Mirror, the temporal regime calls it instead the Great Dial (as in the dial of a clock-face):

The above is a reproduction of ZT’s own Plate IV, with one minor correction (which I’ll touch on later):

Just as we might say that the Great Mirror (the large hexagram read in the astronomical regime) has both “essential interpretations” (reading the tiles according to their houses) and “accidental interpretations” (reading the tiles according to the ideal triangles they fall into with other tiles)—even if the use of such terms “essential” and “accidental” are my own imposition on ZT here based on astrological usage—the Great Dial has two ways to read it, as well, which ZT itself calls “movements”, where one starts with greater time periods and works its way down to smaller ones:

  • Eccentric movement (movement starting at the center and working towards the edge)
    • Center house: 1000 years
    • Inner belt: 100 years per house
    • Middle belt: 7 years per house (as indicated by the number in these houses)
    • Outer belt: 1 year per house
  • Concentric movement (movement starting at the edge and working towards the center)
    • Outer belt: 5 years per house
    • Middle belt: 1 month per house (as indicated by the sign in these houses)
    • Inner belt + central house: 1 day per house (reckoned according to the weekday, as indicated by the planet in these houses)

Before we go on, let’s clarify a bit about how ZT breaks time into particular segments.  Some segments you likely already know, dear reader: 1000 years makes a millennium, 100 years make a century, 12 months make a year, 7 days make a week, and so forth.  Where does ZT’s use of 7-year segments and 5-year segments come from?

  • Climacteric period: a period of seven years, starting from the moment of one’s birth.  This actually isn’t something that ZT makes up; climacteric periods are a thing that have been recognized since ancient times in medicine and astrology.  ZT explains this as:

    The transitions from the seventh year of life to the eighth, from the fourteenth to the fifteenth, and so on are the so-called “climacteric nodes” where, ordinarily, an individual is subject to revolutions either physical or moral. It is a commonplace in medicine and physiology, and is doubtlessly not unknown to anyone.

    The word “climacteric” has its origins in Greek κλιμακτηρικὀς klimaktērikós “of a critical period”, where every seventh year of a person’s life was considered a time when they undergo particular (often critical or dangerous) changes to their body, life, and surroundings.  Even today in modern medical contexts, “climacteric” is still used in some limited contexts to refer to natural changes in life accompanied by various health consequences.  From an astrological standpoint, the origins of this are probably obvious: given that Saturn returns to its same position in the ecliptic every 27 to 29 years, this means that it crosses 90° of the ecliptic every seven years, causing a transiting Saturn to conjunct, square, or oppose one’s natal Saturn every seven years.

  • Lustral period: a period of five years, starting from the moment of one’s birth (each such period is also just called a “luster”).  We haven’t covered how ZT considers the origin and process of a human life yet—it gets kinda weird involving two angels shedding sparks of divine fire which combust into a human soul at the time of conception—but ZT breaks up a human life into 18 “lusters”, each accounting for five years (or four, or seven, depending on whether a person is a man or woman and how old they are, which we’ll leave for a later discussion as well).  To this end, ZT says that a human life only reaches its maximum of 90 years, because 5 × 18 = 90.

So, looking at the Great Dial, what do we make of the numbers and symbols there?

  • The numbers 1 through 18 in the outer belt indicate single years in eccentric movement, or the number of lusters (5-year periods) in concentric movement.
  • The numbers in the middle belt indicate climacteric years in eccentric movement, i.e. the year in which one moves from one climacteric period to the next. (There is a small error in these numbers: house 9, labeled “Taurus – 15”, should have the number 14, not 15.  I’ve corrected this in my own redrawing of the Great Dial.)
  • The signs of the Zodiac in the middle belt indicate months in concentric movement (identifying March with Aries, April with Taurus, and so forth.)
  • The numbers and planetary symbols in the inner belt and center house indicate the days of the week in weekday order.

One note before moving on: although, in concentric movement, the middle zone is used primarily to determine months, it can also be used to refer to any smaller units of time that can be broken down into a twelvefold division: hours of the day or the night, minutes of an hour (with each house referring to periods of 5 minutes), and so forth.  However, ZT says that the smallest reasonable unit of time to break down inquiries is to the level of the hour, and that while one could break inquiries down into smaller units of time to minutes or seconds:

…this mincing smacks too much of charlatanry to us, at least to seriously give ourselves over to accounting for the fussiest fractionation of time. It is a matter of divinatory nickel-and-diming which gives, at best, a knavish character to the accounts of people acting in bad faith. We indicate the possibility of extracting ever-smaller units of time only so we may establish that, if the Candidate were to find themselves deterred by some lack of teaching, then at least they should not attribute their embarrassment in this to some insufficiency of the means of the Great Cabala.

So, the obvious question arises: when do we use the Great Dial in eccentric movement vs. concentric movement?  The way I like to think about it is that concentric movement deals with the events within a human timeframe, either within a human lifetime or otherwise something that happens in the near term.  Eccentric movement, on the other hand, deals with events that occur over much grander periods of time—up to 1702 years down the line (or, I posit, in the past), beyond such a limit the Great Dial cannot be used.  As a result, when ZT gives examples of determining matters of time, it generally uses examples of concentric movement on the Grand Dial, since it generally deals with events on a human timescale instead of a civilizational one.  That said, at one point ZT does also present a fiery defense that some matters demand the inspection of not just the events of a single lifetime but even unto “the most distant future”, noting that sometimes events indicated in a Great Mirror might occur centuries from the time of the reading itself (e.g. when such a reading says that one’s descendants are destined for royalty or greatness, but such a thing only happens two or three centuries from the time of the reading).

Okay, so, we have the “what” and “why” of the Great Dial understood, so what about the “how”—how do we actually go about using the Great Dial?  Well, uh, let’s back up a bit and reconsider first that the Great Dial is a way to use the large hexangular figure in order to answer matters specifically about time in the sense of when something will happen—assuming that it will, of course, which is a matter for the Great Mirror and other divinatory processes to conclude first.  (This is much the same approach I’d take with geomantic divination: if someone wants to know when something will happen, I first confirm that it will or not, because if it won’t happen, then asking about when would yield a nonsense result.)  As opposed to the use of the Great Mirror, which never earns a proper example or case study in ZT, ZT offers lots of smaller examples throughout the “First Supplement” about various ways to predict the time of an event.

The overall method that ZT mentions for determining details of time (and other such details) generally fall under what I call “option-whittling”:

  1. For the topic under investigation, select a tile that accurately represents the thing being investigated (e.g. the 66 tile for marriage).  This will be the “speaking tile” or, in modern terms, the significator of the questited.
  2. Given a set of possible options, select a figure of the appropriate size that represents the number of those options.  Take the speaking tile and however many other tiles you need to come up with that figure, mix them up without seeing, and arrange the figure in the usual order with all tiles face-down.
  3. Starting from the last tile placed in the figure, announce what the last possible option available, and flip up that tile.  If that tile is the speaking tile, then the announced option is the one indicated.
  4. If, however, the announced option was not the speaking tile, proceed backwards through the rest of the tiles, proceeding through each option in turn in reverse, to find where the speaking tile is.

Say I know that a friend is planning a party in the coming week, but I don’t know what day of the week it’ll be on yet and, given that my friend is in the habit of giving little-to-no advance notice for such events, I want to plan ahead to see if I can make it in my otherwise busy schedule.  For this, I’ll pick the 22 tile “happy associations, friendship” to represent the party, and given that I have seven options to pick from (seven days in the coming week), I’ll pick the figure that makes use of seven tiles: a small hexangular figure.  So, to that end, I’ll take out the 22 tile and six other random tiles (it doesn’t matter what they are, even if they’re Intelligences or Principles or Spirits), put them all face down, mix them up, and arrange them in the usual small hexagon.

So, somewhere in this small hexagon is the 22 tile, but I don’t know where.  Let’s say that the current day is a Wednesday, and I know that my friend isn’t having the party today, so the party could be held as early as tomorrow (Thursday) or as late as one week away (next Wednesday).  What I’ll do is I’ll lift up the seventh tile (being the last) and say/think “is the party being held this coming Wednesday”; if the tile is the 22 tile, then yes, but if not, I’ll proceed to the sixth tile and say/think “what about Tuesday”, and so forth, ending with the first tile laid down representing tomorrow/Thursay.  Wherever the 22 tile is indicates the day of the week the party will be held on.

This “option-whittling” approach is described in many ways, and given the number of options one has to pick, different figures can be used:

  • Three options: small triangle
  • Four options: small diamond
  • Five options: small diamond + one tile held in reserve
  • Six options: hollow triangle
  • Seven options: small hexagon
  • Eight options: small hexagon + one tile held in reserve
  • Nine options: medium diamond
  • Ten options: full triangle
  • &c.

When I say “a tile held in reserve”, a good example of this is when ZT proposes how one might find out on which day of the month something might occur.  Let’s say that that we know that our friend is planning another party later on in the year in October, but again, we don’t know when and they’re not in the habit of letting us know with much warning, so we want to find out what day to plan for.  October has 31 days, but there’s no figure that comes anywhere close to that number; they’re either all too small (large triangle has only 15 tiles, large diamond only 16) or too big (large hexagon has 37), but what we can do is take the usual speaking tile and mix it together with 30 other tiles for a total of 31, then make two large triangles with one extra piece put near the second large triangle.  What we’re doing here is essentially partitioning out October into two halves: the first large triangle is for days 1 through 15, the second large triangle is for days 16 through 30, and the tile in reserve is for the 31st day itself.  We start with the first triangle and see if the speaking tile is found in that figure; if not, then the event won’t be held in the first half of the month, so we turn to the second triangle, but we start with the tile in reserve first—because it’s the actual “final” tile that represents the final option of the 31st day.  If that tile in reserve is the speaking tile, then we have ourselves a Halloween party; if not, then we have some other day in October from days 16 through 30 that the party will be on.

In this way, we can go through any number of options, though ZT says that “rarely does a a particular question require larger figures” larger than ten-ish tiles, and even then, we can always use multiple figures to determine an answer in those cases when necessary.  In this way, we can go down to three options using a small triangle, but what about a binary choice of just two options?  ZT literally says to just take the speaking tile plus one other random tile, shake them around in the hand, and pick one.  It’s that simple.

With all that understood, we now know how we can use the Great Dial in a similar way.  Let’s say that we have someone who was told that one day their family give birth to someone who will become worldwide famous, and they want to know when such a birth will occur.  For this, we’ll use the speaking tile of 1 (which indicates births), and compose a Great Dial with 36 other random pieces.  Because of the nature of this query, we don’t know if the birth will happen anytime soon or not, so let’s first use eccentric motion to determine the general timeframe in which such a birth might happen.  In eccentric motion, the outer belt is the yearly belt, the middle belt is climacteric, the inner belt is centurial, and the center house is millennial; to that end, we use the usual option-whittling approach to determine in what timeframe such a birth will occur: 18 years down the line, 17 years, 16 years, etc. down to just 1 year for tile 20.  After that, 12 climacteric periods (84 years) following these 18 years away, then 11 (77 years), 10 (70 years), etc. down to one climacteric period (7) after the first 18 years.  After that, 7 centuries (following 18 years and 12 climacteric periods), then 6, then 5, etc.  After that, we have 1000 years, after seven centuries plus twelve climacteric periods plus eighteen years—or it could just be sometime further indefinitely off than that as some upper undefined limit.

What about something closer?  Let’s say that a querent knows from a Great Mirror that they’ll be married sometime in the next few years of their life.  For this, we’ll use the 66 tile (which indicates marriages) and compose a Great Dial with 36 other pieces.  At first, we’ll read the outer belt in eccentric movement, interpreting each tile as being one year each, and so we’ll do the usual option-whittling starting with 18 years, then 17, etc.  If we don’t find the 66 tile in the outer belt, though, then (in the context of this query) it’s not that the querent will marry sometime much later, but rather, sometime much sooner, so we’ll move to the middle belt now and switch to using concentric movement instead of eccentric, which means that we now read the middle belt as being one month each, starting with 12 months away from the reading, then 11, then 10, and so forth, ending with one month away.  If we still don’t find the 66 tile, then that means that it must be in the inner belt or center, which is for weekdays; at this point, we can say that the marriage will occur sometime very soon in the present month, and the position of the 66 tile can indicate the week.

The point of this latter example is to show that a single Great Mirror can be read in either or both movements, depending on the nature of the query and what makes the most sense, but truth be told, most of the examples of ZT that indicate telling time don’t use the Great Dial at all, it’d seem.  Of all the examples ZT gives, it determines:

  • Year: by either the outer band of the Great Dial in concentric movement (to determine lustral period of a human life) or any part of the Great Dial in eccentric movement (year, climacteric period, century, or millennium)
  • Month: by the middle belt of the Great Dial in concentric movement
  • Day of the month: by either:
    • Two large triangles for a month of 30 days, or two large triangles plus one tile in reserve for a month of 31 days (for February, we could use one medium hexagon for the first 19 days plus either a medium diamond for the remaining 9 days or full triangle for the remaining 9 days in a leap year)
    • One small hexagon to determine the day of the week, then to determine the week of the month, either a small diamond (for a month of four weeks containing that weekday) or a small diamond plus one tile in reserve (for a month of five weeks containing that weekday)
  • Climacteric period: by one small hexagon to determine the first seven climacteric periods, then another small hexagon to determine the next seven (or, more properly, a hollow triangle to determine the next six, since 6 + 7 = 13, and 13 × 7 = 91, which approximates the maximum lifespan of humans according to ZT)
  • Hour: …uh…well…

So, about determining hours: ZT offers two methods on this approach, which it spends a good amount of time clarifying on the first and offers the second as an alternative, and both seem slightly confused in minor ways that aren’t impossible to reconcile, but it’s still a little weird.  It helps, however, that ZT just takes the usual system of planetary hours and planetary weekdays as a given, which we can use to our advantage here.  My issue is, however, that neither of them seem particularly robust.

Hour determination, first method: For the purposes of this method, we only care about the tiles belonging to the solar or lunar intelligences, where all the tiles of Genhelia/matter-Sun and Psykelia/spirit-Sun indicate diurnality and all the tiles of Seleno/matter-Moon and Psykomena/spirit-Moon indicate nocturnality.  We’ll give the Intelligence tiles to the midpoint of their respective periods, such that the Genhelia and Psykelia tiles represent the hour leading up to midday (thus the sixth hour of the day), and that the Seleno and Psykomena tiles represent the hour culminating in midnight (thus the sixth hour of the night).  We rotate through the tiles in the given columns according to the Table of Numbers from Plate II accordingly to obtain the rest of the tiles for the hours of the day or night, starting from the middle-point of the column to indicate the twilight, working our way up to the Intelligence tile to represent the midpoint of the day/night, then rotating back from the bottom of the same column to represent the remaining hours of the day/night.

What we get is a table of solar/lunar tiles that represent the hours of the day and night accordingly:

Hour Daytime Nighttime
Genhelia Psykelia Seleno Psykomena
1 37 45 38 44
2 28 36 29 35
3 19 27 20 26
4 10 18 11 17
5 1 9 2 8
7 91 99 92 98
8 82 90 83 89
9 73 81 74 80
10 64 72 65 71
11 55 63 56 62
12 46 54 47 53

So, to determine the hour in which something will happen, we use a large triangle of 15 tiles, with the outer rim of 12 tiles indicating the number of the hour, and the inner small triangle indicating whether it happens in the daytime (hours 1 through 12) or nighttime (hours 13 through 24).  We inspect the inner (ideal) small triangle first: best 2 of 3 of solar or lunar tiles determines the period.  Thus, if there’s any number of solar tile and no lunar tiles, or at least more solar tiles than lunar tiles, then the event will happen during the day; likewise, if there’s only lunar tiles and no solar tiles, or at least more lunar than solar tiles, then the event will happen at night.  That done, we then proceed to look at the outer rim of 12 tiles on the large triangular figure we composed.  We then proceed to find whatever solar or lunar tiles agree with the inner triangle, and use the outer rim tile(s) to indicate the hour itself of that given period.  Thus, if the inner triangle indicates a nocturnal event, then if we find both a solar and a lunar tile in the outer rim, only the lunar tile matters to indicate the hour.

Of course, there are a number of questions about this method that ZT leaves unresolved:

  • All other tiles of any other planet are irrelevant and neutral for this approach, meaning they don’t indicate either diurnality or nocturnality.  So what happens if there are neither solar nor lunar tiles in the inner ideal triangle?
  • Even if we can judge the diurnality/nocturnality of an event from the inner triangle, what if there are multiple tiles that agree in the outer rim?  Does that mean the event could happen in any one of those hours, or in the range between them?  Do we just pick which one using an option-whittling method afterward?
  • Even if we can judge the diurnality/nocturnality of an event from the inner triangle, what if there are no tiles that agree in the outer rim?  Do we just say that it can’t be decided and that it’ll happen throughout the day or at any point which cannot yet be determined in that day?

There’s also one really weird bit about this method, however.  ZT says that, regarding the hours:

Just as the solar and lunar pieces mark the exact points of noon and midnight, each hourly number marks the exact middle of the first, second, third, &c. hour, whether daytime or nighttime. Without being aware of this, one runs the risk of making a mistake of any time, sometimes by half an hour.

I can’t really make sense of this, honestly.  If the solar and lunar Intelligence tiles themselves represent the exact points of midday and midnight, then that would indicate the border between two hours, not the middle of such hours.  It also says earlier, however, that tiles 37, 47, 45, and 53 all “share the twilight hour of the morning”; usually we don’t say that an hour is split or that the twilight hour is split, but rather that a day starts at sunrise itself (which ZT agrees with).  So does ZT mean by this note that our usual reckoning of dividing up the unequal hours is to be shifted forward by half an unequal hour?  It’s unclear to me, and seems really confused or overly complicated.

Hour determination, second method: This approach of assigning the tiles to the hours is similar to the previous method, but incorporates the given Zodiac sign of a known date.  Recall in the Table of Numbers in Plate II how each of the rows of the table is assigned a sign of the Zodiac.  The first hour of the day/night is the solar/lunar tiles of the row of that sign of the Zodiac, the second hour the one beneath that, the third one beneath the second, and so forth, looping around if we’ve reached the end of the column.  Thus, while the Sun is in Gemini, tiles 10 and 18 are the first hour of the day and tiles 11 and 17 the first hour of the night, tiles 19 and 27 the second diurnal hour and tiles 20 and 26 the second nocturnal hour, and so on.  Unfortunately, no example is specifically given with this second/alternative method, so if we use the same fundamental approach as before, then the same issues remain as before.

Of course, there is a sorta-secret third method to determine the hour that was hinted at earlier: use the Great Dial in concentric movement to determine the hour number, then use option-whittling to determine if it’ll happen in the day or night.  No muss nor fuss with trying to allot tiles to unequal hours or worrying about what if you don’t get any (or if you get too many) solar or lunar tiles, whatever.  Or, if we want to take a similar approach as what we did with the first method of determining the day of a month to innovate a fourth method, we could use four hollow triangles, because each hollow triangle has six tiles and 6 × 4 = 24, and use the usual option-whittling approach that way, splitting a whole day-night cycle into four separate chunks of morning (hours 1 through 6), afternoon (7 through 12), evening (13 through 18), and night (19 through 24).  (Although we might conceivably break a set of 24 options into other figures like a large 15-tile triangle with a medium 9-tile diamond, having this broken out into equal segments pleases me more.)

I’ll be honest: while I get the underlying process that ZT shows for many of these forms of determining specific times, they feel kinda…I dunno, clunky?  And especially for determining hours, that gets into levels of specificity that seem increasingly suspect to me (a concern magnified if we were to go any lower than hours, as ZT itself warns against), and the methods it explicitly suggest seem super rough and too ill-specified for my taste, at least without exploring other options.  But then again, ZT also says this about the methods it shares:

The Candidate is warned that the means indicated in the First Supplement to find the climacteric, annual, monthly, hourly, and other periods are rather thus described as exercises rather than to assist them in quickly and surely finding a moment they might seek. Rather, they will be surprised indeed to find, at the proper time, other methods shorter, surer, and less childish than those we have offered earlier to their avid curiosity. Since there is much to learn and do before one begins to calculate months and hours, when the Candidate eventually gets to such a point, they will already know how to go about it and can dispense with the processes described as well as the Tables [of meanings of the tiles and the Great Mirror houses], by which we only wanted to offer some bait to the unreasonable impatience of most people who wish to read into the future.

It is unfortunately too true that, in a work that will someday be precious, what is less sound must serve for now as a recommendation for the rest.

Even by ZT’s own admission, it doesn’t think particularly highly of the methods it gives to determine times.  I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?  All that this “option-whittling” (as I’ve been calling it) is is just a variation on processes of elimination, which is about the most rudimentary form of sortilege you can do with little in the way of actual interpretation or intuition being called for.  While there’s nothing saying that these methods can’t work, I admit my own skepticism of them to a degree, and can think of better methods involved.  For instance, using the Great Dial in concentric movement with the middle belt indicating hours, it might be possible to conceive of a method that links up one of the 12 hourly houses in the middle belt with one of the seven daily houses of the inner belt + center house using ideal triangles to determine both the weekday, diurnality/nocturnality, and hour of the day/night.  Alternatively, if we know the given weekday, then noting that the planetary day is ruled the planet of its first hour and planetary night of its first hour, we could use more tiles than just the solar/lunar ones to determine planetary days and hours, as well.  Another option could be to give the other planets their own diurnal or nocturnal qualities in addition to the luminary ones to even things out.

As far as ZT is concerned, I think determining times along these lines is a tricky topic, in agreement with what ZT says.  At the same time, I also think that either the author of ZT was intentionally holding back on intuitive/interpretive techniques to lead to such a result, or they just threw this in as an afterthought to let others fill in the gaps without ever thinking such methods through enough themselves.  I’m sure that there are plenty of ways to determine time, and ZT has certainly given some ways, but even ZT itself doesn’t take them seriously; I don’t think we should, either.