Fortune Teller’s Volvelle

Remember these things?


I used to make these all the time. They are silly fun. They covert words into numbers and numbers into a choice, and then you open it to reveal a pre-written fortune to the person who chose the words and numbers. I don’t remember anything about what the fortunes were now, but I do remember trying very hard to make them very gender neutral, so as not to embarrass myself if a boy asked for a fortune.


Apparently, in 11th century Maghreb, there was a similar (ok, much much more complicated) paper fortune teller, known as zā’irja. One would ask a question. The ruler and degree of the current sign were calculated for the moment of the asking of the question. Then the circular charts were consulted, converting letters into their numerical value, and then back into letters, and the finally, giving answers from a set of poetry lines. It’s very complex and mysterious.


Then, based on that above concept, a Mallorcan priest named Ramon Llull invented the dial-a-doctrine. Well, all right it wasn’t called that, but basically it was a way to discuss doctrine between Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, starting with a general principle (usually an attribute of God) that all three faiths agreed on, then dialing that on the device below, which would lead to a page in a book with the appropriate Christian doctrine on it to help Christians argue their point correctly. Many computer scientists and symbolic logicians are still puzzling over these things.

So, two more things to look into once I get done with this year’s plans.

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