On the one hand, I should probably apologize to all my followers on Twitter for being subjected to a constant barrage of tweet threads about this topic for several weeks now. On the other hand, I can also blame someone else for starting me on this bizarre research project. Either way, those who know anything about my history regarding fixations and obsessions when it comes to niche occult topics would probably guess I’d get around to writing more formally about it at some point.
So, back in early March, Nicholas Chapel a.k.a. McCryptoFace on Discord (from the excellent Hermeticulture blog) asked in the Hermetic House of Life Discord server a fairly innocuous question in the divination channel:
Has anyone ever heard of Zoroaster‘s Telescope as a divinatory method? We used to do it every year for the year ahead back when I was in my temple. I’d never heard of it before or since, but it was always pretty cool to do.
He and one of the other mods on the server (cuchlann from the G Conley: Magic Arts blog) were talking about various cartomantic card spreads, one of which was a Fibonacci-like spiral spread. The spiraling reminded him of a similar pattern laid out with the tiles of this weird divination system, and he wanted to know if anyone else was familiar with it, since he himself wasn’t sure of the details of it.
As it so happens, I have a book on the system—rather, the book on it, I suppose. Back in summer 2013, the fine occult book publisher Ouroboros Press put out Zoroaster’s Telescope: The Key to the great divinatory Kabbala of the Magi, translated by the inestimable Dr. Jenn Zahrt (yes, the same one of Revelore Press). Sometime that year, I had seen some link to the book, probably on Facebook, and given how this was still relatively early on in my magical career, I thought that it would be a neat addition to my own collection and could be a useful thing for me to pick up. I mean, Zoroaster? Something related to the Chaldaean Oracles? Astrological sortilege? It seemed pretty cool! So, in addition to getting a few of Ouroboros Press’s limited-run prints (namely their lunar mansions print and their Emerald Tablet print), I also got a copy of their Zoroaster’s Telescope book, and the book arrived later that winter.
And then it promptly sat unused for the next nine years.
It’s not like I didn’t try to read it or anything; I did give it a few honest skims, but I admit, it was a daunting system. The method itself called for some 112 hexagonal tiles, each with a different number + planet + zodiacal symbol + angel name on them, each of which could appear in these elaborate beehive patterns it called “mirrors”, and, uh…well, the text didn’t seem to be all that well-specified. I told myself that I’d eventually get around to reading it and studying it properly, and one day I’d get a set of wooden tiles and make them myself according to the patterns in the book. Nine years later, the book has seen more action moving from shelf to shelf and residence to residence than actually being studied or consulted. However, with this weird question from Nick seemingly out of the blue, I decided to take this as a sign that maybe this is the time to actually dedicate some time to learning the system. Maybe I just wasn’t ready or learned enough before to make heads or tails of the system or something, and it’s not like I wasn’t swimming in occult research or work anyway, so I pulled the (admittedly tiny) book down off my shelf and started reading it anew
Almost immediately, I was hooked. I started putting together spreadsheets to track correspondence tables and lists of interpretations, started jotting down notes on the system, and started puzzling out how this divinatory system was put together. The more I studied the Ouroboros Press book (which was becoming something of a pain, because it’s actually really small for my hands and also too small for my bookholders to actually carry), the more questions I ended up having. There was plenty about the system that made sense, but for every thing I could puzzle out there was another that I couldn’t—and the Ouroboros Press book seemed to be, I dunno, incomplete or inscrutable at times. This led me down a long spiral of research and digging through several hundred years’ worth of really obscure occult, divinatory, and astrological texts that…well, I’ll get to that in a bit (though I’m sure you can see where this is going).
See, the 2013 Ouroboros Press book is not an original work; as I said earlier, it was Zahrt who translated it, not who wrote it. What this book is is an English translation of the German text present in Johann Scheible’s Das Kloster (1846), volume 3, part II, chapter VII. Scheible was a German antiquarian and compiler of folklore, issuing a monumental 12-volume series from 1845 through 1849 containing various magical texts, superstitions, fairy tales, and other stories or records. Although the entire series is a treasury of folklore and esoterica, volume 3 in particular is an especially useful resource for occultists and magicians, containing such texts as the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, On Ceremonial Magic by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, the Romanus-Büchlein, a German version of the Arbatel: De Magia Veterum, and others. Nestled among these well-known texts is Zoroasters Telescop, oder Schlüssel zur großen divinatorischen Kabbala der Magier, which is what the Ouroboros Press book translated into English for the first time. However, as the Ouroboros Press book itself notes, Zoroaster’s Telescope did not originate with Scheible, who was, after all, a compiler and not an author himself. Rather, the system dates back to an earlier 1796 French version, Telescope de Zoroastre, ou Clef de la Grand Cabale Divinatoire des Mages. Now, admittedly, I wasn’t about to compare the Das Kloster German book with the 1796 French one myself—my language skills are nowhere near good enough for that in either language, and the Das Kloster book is itself written in eye-gouging Fraktur—so I’m going to trust (as I have every reason to) that Zahrt’s translation of Scheible is spot on and as high quality as we should expect from her. However, even at a glance, I could tell that there was a lot in the French version that just…wasn’t in the German version: the omission of an entire lengthy introductory epistle as well as concluding epilogue, the omission of footnotes, and the rest of what remained just generally seemed abridged or abbreviated.
Seeing this snagged my attention towards this research even more (if such a thing could be possible), and…well, three weeks later, I had my own English translation of the 1796 French version of Zoroaster’s Telescope, which I have now made available through my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store for only US$10!
The Telescope of Zoroaster (inventive title, I know) is a 92 page (US Letter-sized) PDF text in English that contains, following a brief preface of my own, the first (as far as I can tell) English translation of the fascinating 1796 French text that presents both a manual to a deceptively-simple system of divination that brings along with it a grand vision of theurgy, according to how it was originally published before any other translation or abridgement occurred (or, at least, the earliest extant such text). Admittedly, I am an amateur at translating French, and even that’s a rather generous way to put it; I’ve been powering through with a combination of online translation resources plus harassing my Francophone artist friend Berenike (who also has an amazing Etsy shop of their own which y’all should check out selling Greco-Egyptian icons and art), but I like to think that I’ve put together a fairly reasonable and intelligible translation of the work, which is itself more of a challenge than even I was expecting—not just that I’m bad at French, but the text itself was pretty difficult to work with.
Now, here’s the thing. While I was putting together this PDF, I was torn about including anything more than the translation itself (and my own preface to explain and introduce what the rest of the text was that follows with a handful of other sources). There is so much about this system that is just outright delightfully bizarre, and as I mentioned above, for every question I was able to answer by the text there was another that was raised. While turning to the French original has been an amazing experience that has done wonders for my ability to grok this divinatory system (as well as placing it in a broader spiritual practice that turns it into something so much more than just a divinatory system, which the Das Kloster version of the text, and by extension the Ouroboros Press version, seems to elide out), there are still so many other questions that I simply have not been able to answer to my own satisfaction, and so I am left with either conjectures on my part or halfway-incomplete answers—and I don’t like the thought of putting those into a more-or-less permanent format as an ebook as I have with some of the other things I’ve done before. Besides, I mean, it’s not like my blog has been particularly active as of late (I’ve been enjoying a quiet time to myself besides the fun on the HHoL Discord), and this is a system that is both obscure and daunting so many people—so why not take the opportunity to actually walk through the text of Zoroaster’s Telescope (my own, no less!), the system it describes, and everything else about it that I’ve learned during the course of my research about it?
To that end, over the coming weeks and into June, I’ll be putting up a series of blogposts about Zoroaster’s Telescope, where I’ll be fleshing out whatever I can about the system (and hopefully garner some feedback and pointers from others more expert than I am in 1600s/1700s continental European occultism and literature) based on my translation. I would encourage those who can and who are interested to get a copy of my ebook to better follow along and to pick up on whatever stuff I don’t mention, but I’ll try to cover all the main points in my posts as well. Seriously, this is a really neat topic that I’m thrilled to get into, so we’ll start on that soon, and I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy the ride with me! Maybe this will help more people figure out what this system is, or at least get more attention drawn to this unfortunately (although maybe intentionally?) neglected system of spiritual perfection through knowledge.
Also, my apologies to my Twitter and Discord friends who had to put up with me not just going on endlessly and repeatedly about Zoroaster’s Telescope in general, but also for the delay in getting out the translation as well as this series of posts. I had to wait on a particularly obscure modern French book to come in the mail, which took a while to arrive, in order to finish one last bit of analysis before the whole thing went public, and I didn’t want to start the series only for it to be interrupted pending such a thing halfway through. Most of this was finished up at the start of April (not even a month had passed since that original question on Discord!), but I just wanted to make sure all was said and done before I considered myself finished, too. Still, it’s all there now, so now we can get started with the actual fun!
Anyway, in the meantime, why not get yourself a copy of my translation and get a head start on what we’ll be talking about? Head over to my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store and get yourself a copy of The Telescope of Zoroaster (or my other ebooks) today!