Zoroaster's Telescope is a wonderfully strange book of oracle magic. Written in 1796 by André-Robert Andrea de Nerciat, a French author of Libertine genre, the text later appeared in a collection of German folk literature compiled by Johann Scheible from which this English translation was made. The 18th century was an active time for occultism; magicians and fortune tellers of note were spread throughout Europe, often playing significant roles in historical or political events. This was the era of the Count of St. Germain, Cagliostro, Antoine Court de Gebelin, Etteilla, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Emanuel Swedenborg and Adam Weishaupt whom were known for their visionary and magical prowess or accuracy at divining the future. It is a curious fact that the two genres of eroticism and the occult often overlap as is the case of the author of the present text, but this did not prevent him from giving advice on bodily desires of food and love as well as moralizing on the disadvantages of non-restraint.
While ancient divination systems such as geomancy and hepatoscopy have been around for centuries the 18th century was giving way to new forms of occult sciences such as the Odic Light and Magnetism of Baron Carl von Reichenbach and Franz Mesmer. Tarocco, the Tarot game from Italy, was also just coming into its own as a system of fortune telling with the publication of Le Monde Primitif Analyse et Compare avec le Monde Moderne by Antoine Court de Gebelin in 1781, and the publication of Maniere de se recreer avec le jeu de cartes nomees Tarots by Jean Francois Alliette in 1783. Etteilla produced his own Tarot cards not long after after this publication. Even though the present author André-Robert Andrea de Nerciat seemed to hold a rather dim view of activities such as Tarot and Palmistry as revealed twice in his text, he appears to have high regard for his particular amalgamation of divinatory of kabbala and spiritual astrology. Some of his statements appear as though they might be in direct contrast to actual Jewish thought such as the day starting with the first ray of light, making one ponder what the sources for some of his ideas might be.
This unusual fusion of religious and mystical ideas presented within a divination system are illustrated in the text by various woodcuts and instructive Tables. These woodcuts have their own charm, with their visual "beehive" theme but are necessary for understanding how the oracle works. These woodcuts have names like The Great Mirror, The Great Guide, and The Urn which call to mind a romantic notion of Kabbala and magic.
The Zoroaster's Telescope claims to be The Key to the Great Divinatory Kabbala of the Magi, and indeed within the text we find an eclectic mix of Angel Magic, Astrology, Divination, twenty-eight Mansions of the Moon, Kabbala, Zoroastrianism, Sacred Geometry, Numerology, reminiscent of the syncretism MacGregor Mathers employed in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at the close of the 19th century.
Zoroaster's Telescope was rarely cited in the English speaking countries which probably slowed its inclusion into the mainstream esoteric resources in those countries. Ernst Lehner mistitled the plates in his book Symbols Signs & Signets calling them Zoroaster's Oracle and the similarity of that name with William Wynn Westcott’s book often issued under the name Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster, caused some confusion. And while the book is an oracle and does have the name Zoroaster in the title the similarity ends there.
It has been been noted by Stuart Kaplan and others of the similarity of such diverse games as cards, chess, draughts, dice and dominoes, a sort of thick card if you will, and their possible common origins. It is here we can see a cross over to the draught like pieces in Zoroaster's Telescope which are laid out in specific patterns, each hexagonal piece showing its notation of rank, degrees and astrological correspondences.
With these compositions, referred to in the text as mirrors, the Kabbalist reads and interprets through their placement in astrological houses and lunar mansions in order to see into the future. As we peer into Zoroaster's Telescope and the Great Mirror we indeed find ourselves gazing directly into a looking glass and the ancient concept of 'know thyself'. There is little doubt that the author saw these activities as a spiritual practice.
The book opens with an explanation of how the oracle is composed and how the operator is to be inspired comparing its composition to music. Then text reminds one of the type of instructions one might find in a grimoire when mentioning the names of the principal pieces, how they are to be constructed, and what they are to be made of. The similarities continue with the designation of spirits, intelligences, geniuses, hours of the day and night, mansions of the moon and their angelic correspondences as well as the meanings of various numbers, spheres, and planetary forces.
All this makes it apparent that Zoroaster's Telescope is an oracle, and divinatory tool, for bringing the operator closer to the Divine. A medium or agency if you will, for receiving messages and revelation directly from God, i.e., Special Providence. This is an unusual but precise method to obtain answers to inquiries, to access occult knowledge and insight of a practical nature. Here is an attempt at divine communication, to see into future circumstances using the divine or simply as a guide to making the navigation of life's obstacles a little easier.
fromIntroduction to "Zoroaster's Telescope" by John Leary
The first English translation of ZOROASTER'S TELESCOPE
here rendered from the German by Dr. Jennifer Zahrt, Ph.D.
Small octavo, full cloth over boards with gilt title and device. In a letterpress printed dust jacket. Illustrated with woodcuts, tables and a fold-out plate of THE URN. Limited to 777 copies.