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!