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The Alethiometer

How to Read

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How to Read the Alethiometer

Any question can be expressed by a combination of three symbols, using either the primary or any of the subsidiary meanings. For example, Should I marry now, or wait for a year? would be expressed by means of the bird (third meaning, marriage, because birds mate for life), the hourglass (tenth meaning, a year), and the horse (fifth meaning, constancy). The inquirer moves each of the hands in turn until it points to one of the three symbols.

But that is only the physical part of the process. The other part is mental. The inquirer must endeavor to hold in his or her mind a clear picture of where each of the meanings comes in its range. Evoking the image of ladders with rungs extending downward is sometimes advised by skilled practitioners of alethiometry. Picture three ladders side by side, each rung being one meaning in the range, and mark distinctly the rungs corresponding to the meanings you intend - for example, by imagining a bright light shining on them, or ribbons tied around them, or by covering them in gold leaf. The inquirer must hold that image firmly, without losing it for a moment, while setting the hands in position.

Once the question has been asked, the needle will begin to move around the dial, and the inquirer must pay close attention to its movements. It may stop at any number of symbols: two, or three, or many more. The inquirer must note carefully not only which symbols it stops at but also how many times it stops there, because the number of times corresponds to the place of the intended meaning in the symbol's range.

For example, the question above might receive an answer in which the needle stopped at chameleon three times, walled garden seven times, baby five times, madonna nine times, sword six times, bull two times, ant ten times, and bird three times.

By noting the pauses carefully and consulting the books of readings, the inquirer would discover the following meanings: "wait", "allow", "fail", "love", "not", "strong", "sustain", and "marriage."

So much for the external process; the inward process would require the reader to put these meanings together correctly and come to the answer:

Wait and allow your love to cool and die away, because it is not strong enough to sustain marriage.

The alethiometer moves to answer immediately, and usually answers only once. It is clear that a reader must be unusually quick-witted as well as diligent and perceptive, and that only long practice and deep familiarity with the symbol ranges, acquired over many years, can bring about accurate interpretation.

In short, the alethiometer supplies the semantic content of a message, and the mind of the inquirer supplies the grammatical connections between the individual elements. Only when the two work together does the full meaning become apparent.






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