Unlocking the Observatory: Figures, Mirrors, and the Great Mirror

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 112 (or 113) tiles used for divination, what each needs to have on it, and what each means 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 “Second Step”, “Fourth Step”, “Seventh Step”, and “Third Supplement”.

Alright!  As of the last post, we now have the toolset required for divination; in Tarot terms, we’ve taken a good look at all the cards (so to speak) and know what they are, what they represent, and the like.  What comes next is how to make use of such tools, and just as Tarot cards get drawn and arranged into spreads, so too are the tiles of ZT drawn and arranged into…well, there’s a bit of terminology we have to go through and sort out first, I suppose, because ZT was trying to innovate its own terms in a time when such terms were still in the process of taking shape and becoming standardized.

  • Figure: A geometric shape composed of tiles, named after the shape that it forms.
  • Mirror: A whole figure that is used for divination.
  • Tablature: “The reasoned and just enunciation of what a Great Mirror gives to read”, i.e. the interpretation and reasoning of a divinatory session (especially, but not necessarily, making use of the “Great Mirror”—more on that term later).

In order to form a figure from tiles, one composes a figure by arranging successive tiles in an outward spiral, starting from one tile then proceeding counterclockwise, with the second tile always to the lower left of the first then proceeding outwards from there.  Tiles within figures are always densely-packed, meaning that there is no space between them and tiles are pushed together against their own edges and corners.  In this way, given the hexagonal geometry of the tiles, figures can be formed in shapes that are overall triangular, quadrangular, or hexangular.

There are four kinds of triangular figures that ZT allows:

  1. The 3-tile triangular figure, also called the “small triangle”.
  2. The 6-tile triangular figure, also called the “simple triangle” or “hollow triangle” (because its center is a meeting of three tiles at a vertex instead of a whole tile itself).
  3. The 10-tile triangular figure, also called the “full triangle” (because its center is a whole tile).
  4. The 15-tile triangular figure, also called the “large triangle” or “double triangle” (because its center is another whole triangular figure).

There are three kinds of quadrangular figures that ZT allows (which it calls “lozenges” or “diamonds”):

  1. The 4-tile quadrangular figure, also called the “small diamond” or the “hollow diamond”.
  2. The 9-tile quadrangular figure, also called the “medium diamond” or the “full diamond”.
  3. The 16-tile quadrangular figure, also called the “large diamond” or the “double diamond”.

There are three kinds of hexangular figures that ZT allows (which it also just calls “hexagons”):

  1. The 7-tile hexangular figure, also called the “small hexagon” or the “orbital hexagon” (because the outer six tiles form an orbit around the center tile).
  2. The 19-tile hexangular figure, also called the “medium hexagon” or the “double hexagon”.
  3. The 37-tile hexangular figure, also called the “large hexagon”, the “triple hexagon”, or “the totality” (because it includes all other possible figures that are permissible according to ZT).

ZT gives a lot of precedence and eminence to the large hexagon, because it forms the basis of many of the divinatory processes and cosmological models used in its “Great Cabala”.  Although that is one of the reasons the large hexagon is called “the totality”, the other is more in the sense of a limitation.  One might wonder why we might not make larger triangles or diamonds by adding in more tiles and continuing the spiral; ZT disallows this by saying that only the figures that can be contained within the large hexagon are permissible for use in divination.  Thus, one cannot make a triangular figure out of 21 tiles or a quadrangular figure out of 25 tiles because they wouldn’t be able to “fit” inside the large hexagon.

This leads to a distinction that ZT makes between what it calls “real figures” versus “ideal figures”:

Any isolated figure is called “real”; it therefore forms a picture, a mirror. Any included or contained figure is called “ideal”.

In other words, a whole figure that is composed from tiles and seen as a whole is considered “real”, while any subset of tiles within such a figure that could also be composed as a separate figure on its own is called “ideal”.  Let’s say that we draw three tiles and form a small triangle; this would be a real figure.  If we draw another 16 tiles and, with all the tiles put together, make a medium hexagon, then this is another real figure.  However, if we look at the bottom “pie slice” of that medium hexagon (tiles 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, and 11), and note how those tiles form a sort of sub-figure in the shape of a hollow triangle, then this sub-figure is an ideal figure, because it is not a figure on its own but is part of a larger figure that it is found within.  In that light, a real large hexagon contains all other possible figures as ideal figures within it; thus, although one might consider the large hexagon to be the goal of being built-up from smaller figures, ZT takes the opposite approach and says that the large hexagon is what “came first” in a sense, from which the smaller figures could be broken out.  Although this seems like an odd distinction to make, it forms the basis of a powerful interpretive technique later on, so it’s good to start paying attention to the possible ideal figures that might occur within a larger real figure.

When it comes to the structure of the large hexagon, it helps to consider it in terms of its general structure as having one center and three “belts” or “zones:

  1. Center: house 1 (also called the “focus”)
  2. Inner belt: houses 2 through 7
  3. Middle belt: houses 8 through 19
  4. Outer belt: houses 20 through 37 (also called the “frontier”)

With all that out of the way, we’re finally able to talk about ZT’s main approach to divination: the Great Mirror.  This is a large hexagon formed in the usual way, but each tile-position (what I’ll call “house”) in the Great Mirror has particular cosmological signification.  As a result, ZT also talks about the large hexagon as using the “astronomical aspect” or “sidereal aspect” (in contrast to the “temporal aspect” or “chronic aspect” which is another use of the large hexagon we’ll get to later).  In many ways, the Great Mirror is the ZT equivalent of the Celtic Cross spread in Tarot or the Grand Tableau in Lenormand.

The above diagram is a reproduction of ZT’s own Plate III, which includes a bit more information than what’s shown above but which we’ll get to in a bit:

The Great Mirror is generated the same way as with any large mirror: counting in an outwards counterclockwise spiral starting from the center and proceeding to the lower left.  The Great Mirror is broken down into four regions based on its overall structure:

  1. The center, which is the single house 1 in the middle of the Great Mirror.
  2. The solar belt, which consists of houses 2 through 7 (i.e. the Great Mirror use of the inner belt), immediately around the center.  This belt is also called the “central belt”.
  3. The planetary belt, which consists of houses 8 through 19 (i.e. the Great Mirror use of the middle belt), immediately around the solar belt.  This belt is also called the “sidereal belt”.
  4. The zodiacal belt, which consists of houses 20 through 37 (i.e. the Great Mirror use of the outer belt), immediately around the planetary belt.

Of special significance in the Great Mirror are houses 1, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 19, because these are the houses given (respectively) to the Sun, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, the Moon, and Saturn.  All the other houses are said to be “in the orbit” of one or two planets; thus, when we look at Mars (the “inner corner” of the Great Mirror on the lower left), then we can say that house 9 is Mars itself; houses 21, 22, and 23 are houses exclusively in the orbit of Mars; house 10 is in the shared orbit of Mars and Venus, house 2 is in the shared orbit of Mars and the Sun, and house 8 is in the shared orbit of Mars and Saturn.  Note how, while all the non-solar planets have three houses that are in their own orbit exclusively, every house in the Sun’s orbit is shared with another planet.  Thus, if we consider a planet together with that planet’s orbit, then what we’re doing is effectively considering an “ideal small hexagon” within the larger Great Mirror.  This is why the other term for a “small hexagon” is “orbital hexagon”, because it represents a single planet in one of the focal points of the Great Mirror and the six houses that surround it.

And yes, we’re being bumped back down to seven planets here, not to nine planetary intelligences.  As opposed to a 9-fold system of numerology, we’re using a 7-fold system of geometry here, which necessitates that we talk about seven places of interest and not nine.  To that end, it would be inaccurate to say “house of Adamasto” or “orbit of Seleno” (rather “house of Mars” or “orbit of Moon” respectively), because the Great Mirror focuses on planets and not planetary intelligences, even if the intelligences have their seats in their own planets.  Thus, both Genhelia and Psykelia share the same orbit of the Sun, just as Seleno and Psykomena share the same orbit of the Moon.  (It gets a little more complicated later, but that’s later, not now.)

So, as you might have predicted, each house in the Great Mirror has its own set of meanings, its own contextual or semantic field, just as the twelve houses do in an astrological horoscope or each of the card positions in a Tarot spread.  When a tile is placed in one of these houses, the meaning of that tile is to be interpreted in the scope of the house it’s found in.  Thus, there are 37 such houses, each with their own meaning—but again, there’s a system behind this.  Recall how when we were talking about the Intelligences and Numbers how, although each Number has its own signification, the significations didn’t have to be memorized but rather “generated” based on their smaller digits?  A similar approach is used for the meanings of the individual houses of the Great Mirror.

Take a look at the layout of planets on the Great Mirror: we have the Sun in the Middle, Mars to the lower left, Venus to the lower right, Jupiter to the right, Mercury to the upper right, the Moon to the upper left, and Saturn to the left.  Each planet has its own orbit of six houses, but if you consider things at a grander scale, the large hexagram is a collection of seven orbital hexagrams in the same geometric arrangement as an orbital hexagram has seven houses, kinda like a fractal.  If we consider a smaller “fractal” of the Great Mirror…

…then we can overlay this on each orbit of the Great Mirror as a whole to get a sort of “main planet vs. sub-planet” arrangement.

Consider house 24.  This is a house in the orbit of Venus, but it’s to the lower-left of this planet, which is the “fractal direction” of Mars.  In this light, we might say that house 24 is the house of “Mars of Venus”, so even though this house fundamentally has something to do with Venus, it’s about the Martian aspects of Venus’ domain.  Thus, this house has the meaning of “intense or violent passions and senses”.  By taking the overall planetary layout of the Great Mirror and applying it on a smaller scale to an individual planet’s orbit, we can arrive at a specific context through pairwise planetary interactions—not unlike the how we paired together the tens-digit vs. ones-digit of the compound Numbers to arrive at a specific indication through pairwise interactions of the primitive Numbers.

What about the planetary houses themselves?  Well, they have the “fractal direction” of being in the center, which is the house of the Sun: thus, the “Sun of whatever-planet” house is just that planet itself; just as the font of all power in the solar system is the Sun, the font of all power within a given planet’s own orbit is that planet itself.  Thus, house 9 (the house of Mars itself) is given to “military status, valor or bravery”, and house 13 (the house of Jupiter) is given to “high wisdom, science”.  The system checks out pretty well in this case.

What about houses that are in two orbits at once?  Consider house 7: this is a house in the orbit of the Sun, but it’s to the left of the Sun, the “fractal direction” of Saturn.  Thus, house 7 is the house of “Saturn of the Sun”, so this house is about the Saturnine aspects of the Sun’s domain.  Thus, this house has the meanings of “advanced age, health”.   At the same time, house 2 is also in the orbit of Saturn, to the right of the planet and thus the “fractal direction” of Jupiter.  The indications of “advanced age and health” can be thought of as much as the Saturnine aspects of Saturn’s domain as it is the Jovian aspects of Saturn’s domain, in this regard.  Likewise, if we consider house 10, the house between the positions of Mars and Venus, this house has the meaning of “romantic adventures” (again, “romantic” in the sense of being chivalrous and novel-worthy events).  From the perspective of Mars, house 10 is to Mars’ right in the “fractal direction” of Jupiter (so “Jupiter of Mars”), but at the same time, it’s also to Venus’ left in the “fractal direction” of Saturn (so “Saturn of Venus”).  Sure, it might be about “romantic adventures”, but the different perspectives here can shine a different light on that same topic.

So, in that light, here’s what ZT gives as meanings for the 37 houses of the Great Mirror, along with what the planetary considerations are of each house.

  1. Grandeur, power. (Sun of Sun)
  2. Strength, triumph, glory. (Mars of Sun, Mercury of Mars)
  3. Beauty, happy love. (Venus of Sun, Moon of Venus)
  4. Genius, great reputation. (Jupiter of Sun, Saturn of Jupiter)
  5. Treasures, gains of all kinds. (Mercury of Sun, Mars of Mercury)
  6. Domestic prosperity, inheritance. (Moon of Sun, Venus of Moon)
  7. Advanced age, health. (Saturn of Sun, Jupiter of Saturn)
  8. Severe bodily injury. (Moon of Mars, Venus of Saturn)
  9. Military status, valor or bravery. (Sun of Mars)
  10. Romantic adventures. (Jupiter of Mars, Saturn of Venus)
  11. Good fortune. (Sun of Venus)
  12. Marriage, pure feelings. (Mercury of Venus, Mars of Jupiter)
  13. High wisdom, science. (Sun of Jupiter)
  14. Magistracies or judiciaries, equity and fairness. (Moon of Jupiter, Venus of Mercury)
  15. Finance, trading or business. (Sun of Mercury)
  16. Maladministration or bad management. (Saturn of Mercury, Jupiter of Moon)
  17. Family, sedentary or domestic life. (Sun of Moon)
  18. Melancholy, weak health. (Mars of Moon, Mercury of Saturn)
  19. Envy, sorrows, setbacks or reversals of fortune. (Sun of Saturn)
  20. Birth, candor, inaction. (Mars of Saturn)
  21. Infancy, playfulness or mischief. (Saturn of Mars)
  22. Puberty, turbulence, quarrels or squabbles. (Mars of Mars)
  23. Adolescence, sympathy. (Venus of Mars)
  24. Intense or violent passions and senses. (Mars of Venus)
  25. Debauchery, infidelity. (Venus of Venus)
  26. Tenacious passions, constancy. (Jupiter of Venus)
  27. Celibacy, marital fidelity. (Venus of Jupiter)
  28. Moral perfection, maturity. (Jupiter of Jupiter)
  29. Prudence or caution, good philosophy. (Mercury of Jupiter)
  30. Bad faith, decline. (Jupiter of Mercury)
  31. Illicit and perilous fortunes. (Mercury of Mercury)
  32. Travel, hectic life. (Moon of Mercury)
  33. Inconstancy, wasted or lost time. (Mercury of Moon)
  34. Ancestors, old age. (Moon of Moon)
  35. Apathy, waning of fortune. (Saturn of Moon)
  36. Infirmity, indigence. (Moon of Saturn)
  37. Ruin, death. (Saturn of Saturn)

The list of meanings above makes sense, given the structure of the Great Mirror and these “fractal directions” that allow for different planets to overlap their meanings.  According to ZT’s own admission, however, the table given above is intentionally limited and limiting:

Be extremely careful to not take the Table that follows for a fixed indication of the significations of each of the 37 boxes from which the Great Mirror is composed. This Table is only a vehicle by which the Candidate should orient themselves, especially in the approaches which have as their goal only the ordinary career of human life.* However, if the Candidate has retained well all that we have established as precepts up until this point, then they will soon regard this Table as of little use, since there is not a single piece of the Great Mirror which does not modify, either for weal or for woe, the box assigned to it—and here we say “modify”, not “distort”.

* It will be seen, for example, that this table would furnish nothing to whoever would occupy themselves with the future destinies of empires, nations, &c.

What ZT is saying is that, even though it gives this table of contextual and semantic meanings for each of the 37 houses, it’s meant for illustrative purposes only as regards an individual human’s life, and as such, the indications above aren’t really valid for whole groups of people, the governments of nations and state, companies or industries, and the like—because the indications of table above were generated using that “sub-planet of main-planet” approach only for the scope of an individual human.  ZT, given that it is “only a key and not a treatise”, does not give tables for other scopes, but it gives us the means to come up with such tables using the same underlying method as this one.

For instance, say we’re in a battle with some army, and I want to know something about the tactics and strategy I should engage with in order to emerge victorious.  Understanding the difference of “strategy” (overall battle plan) and “tactics” (individual steps + logistics), I would want to turn to houses 2 and 5.  If we consider the table above, these two houses have the respective meanings of “strength/triumph/glory” and “treasures/gains of all kinds”, which…yeah, kinda work, I guess?  But if we look at the planetary considerations, house 2 is both “Mars of the Sun” as well as “Mercury of Mars” (the planning and direction of battle, i.e. strategy), and house 5 is both “Mercury of the Sun” as well as “Mars of Mercury” (the attacks and drives of planning and plotting, i.e. tactics).  By doing this, we can expand the indications of each house in the Great Mirror from the scant description given in ZT by understanding the overall method and then extrapolating from it as necessary and as befits a given situation we might be faced with.

Personally?  I think this is a really ingenious and elegant system of dividing up a situation into its many different aspects based on particular considerations.  Just like with the compound Numbers, a few basic principles are used on general ideas to produce a wide variety of specific ones.  Of course, just like with the compound Numbers, this is a lot to take in all at once, or so it’d seem—but the trick behind it is that we don’t need to take it in all at once, but rather just need to understand the method behind the madness.  While the table as given above is great for readings at the level of the individual human being, we yet have a method to expand on that to any level or field or context.  That said, we’re not done talking about the Great Mirror yet, because there are a few more considerations we have to work through, first.

First, when it comes to drawing tiles to compose the Great Mirror, the process works much as we would expect with Tarot cards or runes: individual tiles are drawn from the Urn without replacement (i.e. a tile can only be drawn a maximum of once), and it is placed in the first available house in the Great Mirror, not skipping to any later house nor replacing the tile in any earlier house.  While this makes obvious sense to us modern folk (you don’t take the first Tarot card you draw for a Celtic Cross spread and put it anywhere else but the first position, nor do you take any later card and swap it out with a card in an earlier position), I assume that ZT makes this point explicit because of how new the idea might have been and to reduce any chances of people “making their own fate” by fiddling with the order tiles come out of the Urn and thus how the Great Mirror ought to be composed.

As one reads through ZT, it establishes the rule that, even though there are 112 (or 113) tiles in the whole set used for divination, no more than 37 tiles are to be used in any given reading, because the large hexagram (i.e. the Great Mirror) has only 37 houses.  However, that is not technically entirely true, because ZT also has the rule that the two Principles are never used in a Great Mirror.  It’s not that they’re separated out from the Urn and can’t be drawn, but if one or both are drawn in the course of composing a Great Mirror, then they’re placed outside it entirely:

Sisamoro (the Good Principle) is placed at the zenith of the Great Mirror, at the top vertex of an equilateral triangle with the leftmost and rightmost corners of the Great Mirror.  Senamira, likewise, is placed at the nadir of the Great Mirror, below it in the same sort of arrangement.  ZT is, perhaps unsurprisingly, unclear on the exact signification of the Principles if they should appear in a Great Mirror, just that it makes such a divination super notable:

The presence of a Principle, whether one or both, imparts to the Great Mirror superlative properties, the development of which is not the responsibility of a Key. The Pure Spirit then must speak, or the student remains more embarrassed than enlightened by the intervention of these extreme influences; it is even worse when there is conflict [i.e. when both Principles appear]. On the contrary, the true Cabalist is never better served than by those effective extractions where Fate majestically reveals its most admirable decrees.

The only concrete advice that ZT gives us is this, along with what to note when considering when an Intelligence is drawn and put into the Great Mirror as well:

  1. Let us observe at which junction in the laying out of pieces for a Great Mirror where a Principle or Spirit appears.
  2. Let us pay great attention to the quality of two numbers by which an Intelligence, drawn from the Urn, follows and precedes, and also how, in the Great Mirror, such an Intelligence is surrounded, and whether it forms a full orbit in its placement or a truncated one.

That latter point is especially interesting when it comes to the Intellligences.  If an Intelligence is drawn, then it has a meaning just like any Number tile, but it also forms a sort of incidental planetary house of its own, and thus the houses that surround it form a sort of accidental orbit—but if such an Intelligence appears in the outer belt of the Great Mirror, such an orbit will necessarily be “truncated” and, thus, incomplete.  If such an accidental orbit is a full/complete one, then that might give an extra planetary consideration to each of the houses according to its “fractal directions”; if such an orbit is a truncated/incomplete one, then not all planets would get to be represented in such a way.  It’s a really neat idea to play with.

Astute readers will note that I’ve avoided talking about the inclusion of the signs of the Zodiac in the Great Mirror.  For the most part, the signs of the Zodiac don’t matter all that much for the overall indications of the houses.  However—and we’ll get to this more in a later post—the signs of the Zodiac are used by ZT to relate to the various stages of life that one undergoes, starting with Aries as birth and ending with Pisces as death.  Each of the sides of the zodiacal belt relate to one of the “six divisions of life” according to ZT (childhood, youth, adulthood, middle age, old age, senility), and so the signs of the Zodiac within them correspond to particular aspects of that growth (which is why house 20, given to Aries, also has “birth” in its indications, 21 “infancy”, 22 “puberty”, and so forth).  Beyond that, however, ZT doesn’t really do a whole lot with the Zodiac here, although that doesn’t say that one couldn’t feasibly find some way to work it into the system (even if ZT might discourage doing so, given its anti-astrology bias).

One last topic to round out this discussion on the Great Mirror.  Although ZT says that the planets are all equal and aren’t ranked among themselves in the planetary belt of the Great Mirror (the only planet with primacy being the Sun in the center), ZT also notes that it doesn’t have an account for why the planets are positioned on the Great Mirror the way they are: it notes that it does not appear to have anything necessarily astronomical about it nor anything that is particular astrological, either, just that it’s something that (it claims) is “of such antiquity sunk deepest into the darkness of the past; sub judice lis est [the case is still before the judge]”.  Admittedly, I’m not sure where ZT might have gotten this planetary arrangement from, either.  When it comes to hexagonal arrangements of the planets, one might be more inclined to recall the planetary hexagram…

…which is, of course, a development from the qabbalistic Tree of Life, like that of Athanasius Kircher in his Œdipus Ægyptiacus from 1652, and later used for any number of Hermetic or Western occultists who make use of the so-called “Kircher Tree”:

Of course, given how distant ZT’s own “Great Cabala” is from anything properly seen in kabbala of any sort, to say nothing of how much it would caustically say about established traditions anyway, I somehow doubt that this would have been an influence here along these lines.  However, if we compare the qabbalistic planetary hexagram with the hexagram formed by the Great Mirror, we see the same planetary triangles (Saturn-Mercury-Venus, Mars-Jupiter-Moon), just with a different rotation/reflection applied.

That being said, wherever the pattern of planets here came from, there is a logic and order in it.  If we proceed through pairs of the planets counterclockwise around the Great Mirror, we see two kinds of patterns arising of similar pairs and dissimilar pairs:

  1. Similar pairs arise between Venus-Jupiter (the benefics), Mercury-Moon (the neutrals), and Saturn-Mars (the malefics).  This has the result of making the horizontal rows of the Great Mirror form pairs as well: the middle row (Saturn-Jupiter) represents the greater planets (the greater malefic and benefic), the lower row (Mars-Venus) the lesser planets (the lesser malefic and benefic), and the upper row (Moon-Mercury) the neutral small planets.
  2. Dissimilar pairs arise between Mars-Venus (male/female), Jupiter-Mercury (king/servant or philosopher/sophist), and Moon-Saturn (creator/destroyer or youth/elder).  This suggests an awareness of the opposition of particular zodiac signs and extending that to the planets, e.g. how Mars rules Aries and Scorpio, which are in opposition to Venus-ruled Libra and Taurus.

As of this writing, I’m not familiar with any source that arranges the planets in the way ZT does; while ZT definitely has a logic that suggests a good awareness of basic astrological principles and zodiacal correspondences, I’m not sure if that’s enough to trace it to any particular origin, especially when such arrangements have usually been more magical than astrological.  This is another of those unanswered questions I have, and it may be that this arrangement is unique to ZT.  If you have any notion of where such an arrangement might have an antecedent or any similar leads for further research, dear reader, or if you spy any other insights or patterns in this arrangement, do let me know in the comments!

Unlocking the Observatory: Tiles as Tools

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 symbolism of the nine Intelligences and the 99 Numbers. 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 “First Step”, “Third Step”, “Fourth Step”, and “Epilogue”.

In a sense, it might be a bit odd that I would start the discussion of the actual technique and trade of ZT with the notions that are symbolically used for divination first rather than the tools that employ the symbols and which are themselves physically used for divination.  I mean, most discussions about Tarot start with the actual cards themselves; why don’t I start with the tiles that ZT uses?  The way ZT teaches its method is that it starts with a brief description of the actual tools themselves, and then progressively builds upon that in an iterative way to ultimately teach the whole divinatory method of ZT.  The book is surprisingly well-written in that regard, especially at a time when divinatory literature  along these lines (as we modern folk might recognize it) was still in its relative infancy; we have to remember that, by the time of FZT’s publication in 1796, the divinatory use of Tarot cards were only two or three decades old at this point, and the common approach of using non-Tarot poker cards was only a few decades older than that.  For such a text as ZT to deal with sortilege in such a clear manner (for some definition of “clear”, I suppose) is actually really admirable and insightful as to good manual writing techniques.

As just mentioned, ZT is what I consider to be a form of sortilege, i.e. the casting of lots, the mantic word for which is “cleromancy”; this is a form of divination where outcomes are determined through the random selection of one or more particular symbol from a set of possible symbols, where the symbol(s) itself and the order in which the symbol(s) have significance.  With that sort of definition, if it sounds like a lot of forms of divination we think about as such are sortilege, you’d be correct: everything from astragalomancy to cartomancy, from the Urim and Thummim to the Magic 8-Ball would all be variations on sortilege.  Many of these -mancy words, after all, indicate something about the kind of divination one does, but generally tend to focus on the tool or medium by which such divination is done: thus, astragalomancy is “divination with knucklebones”, cartomancy is “divination with cards”, and so forth.  Still, the underlying mechanism by which Tarot, runes, geomancy, and even ZT all work is fundamentally the same: generate a random answer from a set of possible answers and interpret accordingly.

With the exception of what one might call “abstract cleromantic methods” like geomancy that focus less on the tools one use and more on the mathematical processes one uses, most forms of sortilege rely on, well, sortes, the Latin word for “lot”, from which we get the words “lottery” and “allotment”.  In general, this refers to the little tokens, counters, or tablets that are used by being randomly drawn from some pile, collection, or vessel, and which may be interpreted both according to what was drawn as well as to how it was drawn (e.g. orientation and order).  For astragalomancy, it’s the four bones/dice (which represents an abstract “collection”) which are thrown to see which of their sides they show (which represent the answer drawn); for runes, it’s generally a bunch of stone or bone tiles with a rune carved on them drawn from a bag; for Tarot, it’s the individual cards with their respective symbols printed on them that are drawn from the stack.  ZT is another kind of sortilege, so we have our own set of tokens to draw from a collection, closer to runes or Tarot.  This puts ZT in the same overall divinatory category as cartomancy—ironic, given the vitriol ZT has against “card-shooters” and other such forms of divination:

We have said just enough for the curious, before briefly giving some time to the study of the Great Cabala, to suspect that seeing clearly—and especially seeing far—is not a matter of study over a few weeks, as if it were a question of telling fortunes by hands, points, or cards. One can soon become a doctor-sorcerer through chiromancy,* geomancy, and through so many similar lies—for what else can one call any of these so-called “methods of divination”, which brazenly qualify themselves as science but which none of them have the source of all truth, the Pure Mind, as a patron? Even a child utterly lacking in genius can become a chiromancer, a geomancer, a methodical cartomancer in a short time, as skillful as their master or as the books that indoctrinate them. But it is neither so quick nor so amusing to become an enlightened Cabalist; the latter, moreover, lacks (or willingly pretends to lack) the money of such people, as if, as regards capital, the cabalist alone is rich.

* This usage of “chiromancy”, “geomancy”, &c. gives no more than names to certain childish things, astonishingly proliferated by means of printing, and which alone are addressed here. The true divinatory art disdains to claim its usurped privilege over them.

Oh well! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At any rate, let’s talk tools: what is it that we need to use for ZT?  The book provides an exceptionally clear set of guidelines and prescriptions regarding the nature, size, shape, and material of the tools to be used (which are all given for practical reasons more than anything else), but at a high level, what we use for ZT are a set of 112 (or 113) small tiles in the shape of regular hexagons, six-sided shapes where every side is the same length and every vertex has the same angle (120°).  Why do we use these?  Because hexagons are the bestagons.

More seriously, I do have a notion of why hexagon tiles are called for as opposed to circular tiles which becomes more important for particularly-advanced spiritual adepts working the ZT system, but for the most part, I don’t think it particularly matters for the actual method of divination itself, given variant forms of recording readings described later, but we’ll get to that later on.

As for what ZT prescribes regarding the nature of such hexagonal tiles, they should be:

  • Made of wood that is firm and not brittle (though they may be made of any relatively sturdy material like cardboard or cardstock if necessary)
  • Be sized such that the long diagonal (one corner to its opposite) of each tile is 20.304mm, with each side being 10.152mm
  • Be sized such that each tile is no thinner than 1.692mm and no thicker than 3.384mm
  • Be engraved so as to hold a circular inlay, most preferably of white wood or some other surface that is not so slick as to have ink or pain wiped off easily, which is half the thickness of a tile and which is placed in the center of each tile
  • Each tile should be made identical to all the others in size, color, and (if possible) grain and texture

The reason for the weirdly specific sizes given in millimeters above is a conversion from the text; the text gives measurements in the French ligne “line”, which is 1/12 the French pouce “inch”, specifying that a tile’s long diagonal should be 9 lines long, no thicker than 1.5 lines and no thinner than 0.75 lines.  While sticking to these precise measurements is always encouraged, the point here is that the tiles should be convenient to draw and manipulate, so aim for something the size of a medium coin, like a US 25¢ or $1 coin, a Japanese ¥10/¥100/¥500 coin, a 1€ or 2€ coin, a 1£ or 2£ coin, or the like—at least as I would find them with my gigantic man-hands, so those with smaller hands and shorter fingers may find slightly smaller dimensions more convenient and comfortable.  As for the inlay (literally “incrustation”), well…my understanding is that some wood can sometimes soak up ink, pigment, or paint really easily, so it helps to write something on a separate piece of wood and then embed that in a larger piece so that there’s no risk of bleed-through.  For similar reasons, we don’t want whatever we put on to easily smudge or wipe off, which is why we want something absorbent to hold whatever we write or draw on there, hence why ivory (plastic would be a modern equivalent for its similar surface properties) is explicitly discouraged in the text.  Of course, an inlay is not strictly required if one is able to suitably write the design needed on the tiles without bleed-through or staining, even if it is preferred.

All these considerations here are given for their practical causes, not any spiritual significations.  Likewise, although this is often a concern for many modern divinatory practitioners, there is nothing in ZT regarding consecration, blessing, or purification of the tools used for divination.  We need to remember, after all, that the social and historical context of ZT was France at the end of the Revolution: between a longstanding Catholic influence and the newly-surging confluence of atheism and deism that combined to form the Cult of the Supreme Being, there’s not a great chance that the enchantment of tools along these lines would be considered anything more than superstition by some or an insidious debasement of the “Great Cabala” by others.  Of course, there’s nothing saying one can’t do such things to their tools, but the overall method, cosmology, and spirituality of ZT (which we’ll cover eventually) kinda renders it a moot point.

Okay, enough about the construction of the tiles; what about what goes on them?  As might be expected, each tile gets one symbol written, printed, or painted on one side, with the other side remaining blank.  The tiles should be oriented such that they are written on with a corner above and below the design and sides to either side; in other words, there should be a long diagonal oriented north-south.  ZT says that there should be 112 (or 113) tiles, and in the last post, we covered 108 different symbols (nine Intelligences and 99 Numbers), so each of those gets its own tile: either we put on a one- or two-digit Number on a tile, or we put on the glyph of a planetary Intelligence on a tile.  Easy enough; that’s 108 of the 112 (or 113) tiles.  What about the other another 4 (or 5) tiles that we haven’t covered yet?

This is where we start to touch on the cosmology of ZT, because these tiles get into much broader notions than particular indications or significations in a reading.  ZT describes two Principles and two Spirits:

Of the two Principles, Sisamoro is infinitely good, while Senamira is infinitely wicked. These names prove that our Cabala comes to us from the Persians: “Sisamoro” is the reverse of “Oromasis” and “Senamira” of “Arimanes”, both so powerful against each other according to the religion of this ancient race. All doubts about the origin and antiquity of our divinatory masterpiece are dispelled by this respectful tradition which transmits to us, under a fine veil, names so authentically indicative of its origin, although so many sects have since applied themselves to the same notions, which we Christians call “God” and “Satan”.

Sisamoro is represented in his lodge by a radiant upwards-pointing equilateral triangle. Senamira is represented in his lodge by a flaming upwards-pointing five-pointed star, accompanied by lightning and hail.

Of the two Spirits, one is favorable, akin to the good genius of the ancients, by whom they supposed that each human was constantly accompanied, or at least watched over. This is the “guardian angel” of the Catholics, the spirit Sallak; this spirit is feminine, and represented by a small upwards-pointing equilateral triangle with three wings.

The other Spirit is harmful, akin to the evil genius of the ancients and also a companion of each human, amusing itself by laying down traps. This is the malevolent Angel, a masculine spirit called Sokak, represented by an upwards-pointing five-pointed star with a tail, sometimes by a simple black pentagon, a figure which (without turning to the quality of the number it recalls) represents the cross-section of a coffin.*

* “Sallak” and “Sokak” are also “Kallas” and “Kakos” read backwards, two words almost correctly borrowed from Greek, the first of which signifies “beautiful”, the second “bad”. Without a doubt, from time immemorial, this reverence that these virtuous beings have for the Divinity did not allow any given Inventor of the Great Cabala to split by one simple genius such an attribute that characterizes par excellence the Almighty, the Creator, the Eternal; Sisamoro (Oromasis) seemed to them a sufficient source of good. This idea is not the least moral or least wise among those of our oriental Author.

What we have here is a notion of Ultimate Goodness and Creation (Sisamoro) and Ultimate Evil and Destruction (Senamira), which function as cosmic principles that affect things on a grand scale—and (emphatically) not necessarily on an individual scale.  Rather, when it comes to the individual, that’s where Sallak and Sokak come into play, who are respectively the representatives and emissaries of Sisamoro and Senamira for each individual human being, in much the same way that a planetary Intelligence is represented by its own primitive Number.  When it comes to divinatory indications (like we discussed in the last post with the Intelligences and Numbers), Sallak represents good fortune and Sokak ill fortune; that’s eays.  Sisamoro and Senamira are…more complicated, shall we say, and we’ll get to that later when we talk about the Great Mirror.  And yes, the text of ZT makes it explicit that the names “Sisamoro”, “Senamira”, “Sallak”, and “Sokak” are just reverses of other words, especially Oromasis (Ahura Mazda) and Arimanes (Ahriman, aka Angra Mainyu, sometimes syncretized in the classical world as Arimanius).  Like with the overall notion of ZT descending from Zoroaster and the Magi, this is another instance of orientalizing without anything particularly meaningful, a superficial borrowing of another religion’s theological concepts for our much more limited purposes here.

Unlike the Intelligence and Number tiles, ZT is clear about what goes on for the Principle and Spirit tiles.  While you could use the full description as above, one might also simplify things slightly (especially for those without exceptional artistic skills):

  • Sisamoro: A large white/unfilled upwards-pointing equilateral triangle, additionally with small rays coming off it if desired
  • Senamira: A large black/filled-in upwards-pointing five-pointed star, additionally with lightning bolts coming off it if desired
  • Sallak: A small white/unfilled upwards-pointing equilateral triangle with one wing coming off each side
  • Sokak: A small black/filled-in upwards-pointing five pointed star with a pointed trail coming off it, or a small black/filled-in upwards-pointing pentagon

Congrats, you now have all the information needed to make the tiles!  While you could certainly carve out and inlay a whole set for yourself according to the exact specifications above, you can also get sets of premade wooden hexagonal tiles for relatively cheap from craft stores or game supply stores and just write on them in permanent marker like I did.  Like, here’s one such set of tiles I got for myself and wrote on, spending like US$25 for the whole set:

Of course, you could do something much fancier, or turn to The Game Crafter where Calyxa’s Curios has produced a ready-made ZT divination set, which I myself also got and am thrilled about it (especially the quality for such a good price):

And with that, it’s finally time to address the elephant that’s been hanging out in a corner of the room with us. I’ve been saying “112 (or 113)” tiles at a number of points recently: why the variation, and what is this mysterious 113th tile?  In all versions of ZT extant (FZT, GZT, KZT/OZT), there is an elaborate foldout called “The Urn” which gives an elaborate example of all the tiles used in ZT:

From left to right, you’ll see the tiles of the Intelligences, followed by the tiles of the Numbers, followed by a few spare/blank tiles, and then those of the two Principles, the two Spirits, and…a small tile with the image of a cherub on it with the word “Sum”.  There is a helpful annotation on the foldout that briefly describes the purpose of this tile.  OZT translates it as:

Sum.  I am.  This figure indicates the person or thing in question.

Bizarrely, however, there is no mention of this tile anywhere in ZT—or, at least, that’s if you’re reading GZT, KZT, or OZT.  FZT is the only text that preserves the Epilogue, which describes (amongst other things) the full purpose and use of this tile:

The figure Sum represents, either in the passive or in the active, the being in question; this figure rarely appears in a Great Mirror without adding much to the meaning, either in its own particular part of an orbit or the orbit as a whole by which it is surrounded. Sometimes it suffices to announce a vision, if it happens to form a triangle (equilateral, of course) with two other figures or two simple numbers, but this rule is subject to many exceptions. The figure Sum is sometimes affirmative, sometimes negative, sometimes auspicious, sometimes menacing; we often see it shorten the detailed calculation of epochs and the operations described in the section on the temporal regime, but take care to determine either too lightly or too heavily the meaning of this superlatively influential figure. Moreover, the Pure Spirit does not allow the truly Called to go astray; that being said, miracles never happen to keep the inattentive operator or one lacking instruction to fall into error.

According to the Epilogue, after the original text was already headed towards (or was in?) production, the Redactor of ZT sent the Editors an updated and more helpful set of tiles, which the Editors reproduced as the Urn foldout above:

While this work was being printed, the Redactor, apparently desiring that a greater number of amateurs might profit from it, was kind enough to send us models of hexagons more detailed than those used by experienced Cabalists, and which are those as shown after the epistolary dissertation. Given the difficulty of inlaying the surface of the wood, as well as all that we found on the new hexagons added to either the Figure or the Number that each of them expresses, we decided to effect this design as being more suitable for the utensils, with an imprint from the plate similar to the one shown: we thus have united, on each piece, a Figure or a Number, its planetary glyph, and its sign of the Zodiac that each of these pieces comprises, in addition to the name of its Intelligence or Angel.

But the Redactor, by making such an accommodation favorable to our particular interest, asked us in turn to announce that he did so with some regret, as such details are likely to make the Candidate negligent. Rather, one should strive beyond all else, by dint of practice, to become imperturbably familiar with each Figure, each number together with the Planet, the Sign of the Zodiac, and the intelligence or angel which relates to it, as well as the department of these celestial beings and the kind of influence invested in them.

This explains the elaborate design of the tiles given in the foldout present in all versions of ZT: it’s not that each tile must have the spirit name and number/glyph and zodiac sign and whatnot, but having all those are like having Tarot cards with the Hebrew letter, planetary/elemental/zodiacal glyph, keywords, and the like: they’re interpretive aids for the sake of those who need to reference them without pulling out their “little white book”, but not mandatory parts of the cards themselves.  Likewise, when it comes to the tiles of ZT, you don’t need to have the spirit name of each tile, what a given Number’s planet and Zodiac sign are, and the like; they may be helpful for those who are still learning, but are not required for the purposes of divination.  Thus, if you want to use the more elaborate tiles with all their decorative and correspondence elements, feel free to; otherwise, especially if you’re crafting your own, you can just keep it simple.  For me, keeping things aniconic and unnamed was a nicer aesthetic choice, which is why I went with a Seal Script variant of the Chinese character 自 meaning “self” for the Sum tile in my own simple prototype set of tools.

But, to return to the Sum tile for a moment longer, it’s frustrating to me that the Sum tile is present in all versions of ZT, but is only described in FZT, with none of the other versions preserving the Epilogue as a clearly-necessary part of the ZT text that explains its use.  This leads to an interesting problem: given the smaller spread of FZT and the wider spread of GZT/KZT/OZT, do we use it or not?  The core text of ZT doesn’t say anything about it, after all, although the Epilogue does and, more importantly, every single version of ZT includes it with the rest of the tiles.  I would personally say that we should use it, even if it was an omission at first by the original Redactor but later included almost as a correction.  However, if one were to stick to the GZT/KZT/OZT versions of the text that don’t describe the use of the Sum tile except in that brief statement on the Urn foldout, either out of caution to not use what isn’t specified clearly or as a means to go with the Redactor’s “original vision”, I’d think that’d be understandable, as well.  I’ll leave it to the diviner in question as a matter for them to decide.

Taking another look at that Urn foldout, you might notice a slight difference in how the Sisamoro and Senamira tiles are depicted.  On the Urn, the Sisamoro tile has an extra Latin letter O on it, while the Senamira tile has an A on it.  These are not described in the text of ZT itself; I personally think that they’re referencing the “proper” reverse names of the principles, Oromasis and Arimanes, respectively.  I don’t think this all that significant beyond an indulgence on the part of the illustrator more than anything, perhaps as an extra interpretive aid; note how all the other tiles have some name on them, including the Spirit tiles, suspended on a banner of some sort, but the Principle tiles have no such name on them explicitly.  Rather than besmirching or condensing the otherwise elaborately-drawn Principle sigils on them, it may be that the illustrator tacked on a mnemonic cue to help those still learning to remember which is which.

The foldout I keep referencing above is called “the Urn”, which ZT itself also uses as the general name for the vessel that contains all the tiles.  Recall that sortilege in the sense of Tarot or runes requires the random drawing of tokens from some collection, like a pouch for all of one’s runes or a stack of cards for Tarot.  In the case of ZT, the text says that the tiles are put together and drawn from “the Urn”, which it notes could be “an urn, bag, box, purse, or even a simple handkerchief”.  What one draws the tiles from doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s some sort of container that is conveniently-sized to mix up, reach into, and pull individual tiles out of without being able to see what they are until they are drawn.  For us modern folk, one of those large cheap felt bags that come with a lot of divination kits or rock/crystal sets would totally work fine.

Alright, one last note for today: although ZT focuses on the tiles as being the primary tools of divination, it doesn’t just specify the tiles.  ZT also mentions the use of three (or four) pieces of paper, each of which has something written upon it.  Rather than making anything too big out of this, all these papers are are basically for reference; for instance, Plate II (the Table of Numbers from the last post) is one such piece of paper.  ZT fully expects people to require a “little white book” to reference in the course of divination, and the ZT text provides everything one might need to come up with their own for quick-and-easy lookup for the major points of the divination system.  These pieces of paper are a super minor “nice to have” thing rather than a “must have”, so it’s not a big deal whether or not you actually have one or not.