|History of the Alethiometer
The first alethiometer was constructed in Prague during the reign of Rudolf
II by a scholar named Pavel Khunrath. He was trying to record the influences
of the planets according to a method that combined classical astrology
with the memory - theater system of symbolic images developed by
such scholars as Giulio Camillo and Giordano Bruno. Prague, under Emperor
Rudolf II, was a hotbed of alchemy, and Khunrath himself had made experiments,
discovering in the process an alloy of two rare metals that had mysterious
quasi-magnetic properties - that is, it responded like the needle
of a compass. But whereas a compass needle points to north, this
pointed to truth.
a needle of this alloy over a celestial map, and found that he could influence
the way it moved through questions he framed in his mind. At first, his
dialogue with the needle was limited to the range of symbols in the zodiac,
but he soon adapted the memory theater (a mnemonic device used by Renaissance
philosophers) to provide himself with a much richer range of images. In
order to communicate more effectively, he invented the method of indicating
both the question and the answer by means of hands, like those of a watch,
and a needle, like that of a compass.
soon discovered that the meanings in the symbol ranges already existed,
in some mysterious way, independent of his inventing them. He seemed to
be discovering them, not making them up, as a mathematician discovers
truths about numbers that are hidden deeply in the natural number system.
He wrote down the first few dozen meanings, but got no further, for in
1612 Emperor Rudolf II died, and the new emperor, Frederick, was a fanatical
opponent of this kind of occult philosophy. In the name of the Magisterium,
Khunrath was burned at the stake.
a few of his instruments survived, together with a copy of his book of
readings. Other scholars in freer countries developed the art of interpretation
after his death. It was one of these later scholars who coined the name
alethiometer, from the Greek words for truth and measure.