It’s 34cm wide and 29cm high, made of copper and brass. It was built in 13th century Damascus and signed by Muhammad ibn Khutlukh al-Mawsili. The inscription on the front reads: “I am the revealer of secrets; in me are marvels of wisdom, and strange and hidden things.” It currently resides in Room 34 of the British Museum in London, part of the “Islamic World” collection.
Could this intricate mechanical device be considered a radionics machine, built before the idea of radionics even had a name?
The symbols on the dials are the figures of Geomancy, an ancient form of divination. As the Museum catalog describes it:
This unique instrument ‘calculates’ patterns of dots with different ascribed meanings, related to the planets, four elements, the signs of the zodiac and parts of the body. Many scholars have written about geomantic divination, but there are no references to an instrument such as this. [...] The rectangular tablet features a series of sixteen dials, each turning to display a domino-like pattern in the small window above.
No instruction manual exists for this device, but the scholars at the BM speculate that it was used for “fortune telling”, describing how a “customer or the geomancer turns the first series of four dials, creating four dot patterns for interpretation. From these four, the geomancer then derives a further twelve patterns, using the following dials to record each stage. The semi-circular panel at the bottom provides ‘meanings’ for the final derived pattern, and the customer receives an answer to his question.”
I think there’s a lot of assumptions built into that description. First of all, Geomancy is much like reading Tarot cards, or even more like using the I Ching. The patterns are arrived at by some kind of sortilege, like the shuffling of cards or the casting of coins. Just “turning the dials” wouldn’t make any sense as a system of divination. There has to be some kind of “random element” involved. Unless the idea was to spin the dials like roulette wheels, there must have been another purpose.
It could simply be a “geomancy calculator”, something a geomancer would use to make calculations of the patterns from a reading, instead of drawing or writing notes.
Or, it could be a device to perform geomancy in reverse. In other words, instead of predicting the future, it is a device to influence the future. The dials are set according to what events, outcomes or influences the operator wants to manifest. It could have quite logically been meant to be used for all these tasks.
And if this is the case, is that not an exact description of what a radionics device is?
Nothing is known of Khutlukh, his name appears in no records or on other works of art. The brass work is like that seen in Arabic astrolabes, so that may have been his regular trade. We can’t even be sure if he used the device himself or made it to the order of someone else. But I like to think of this device as the first example of using the techniques of “aetheric art” that evolved into what we call radionics today.
So hail and salaam to Muhammad ibn Khutlukh al-Mawsili ( رضي الله عنه -”May God be pleased with him”) and his kin – quite possibly the inventor of radionics!
Update: New hi-def photographs of the device at Wikimedia: