Ever since I found out about the alethiometer used by the character Lyra in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I’ve been intrigued with its possibilities as a divination tool. A compass-like device with thirty-six distinct symbols set around its perimeter, the alethiometer allowed its users to communicate with ‘Dust’ an intelligent, sub-atomic particle for want of a better description.
The word ‘alethiometer’ comes from the Greek words for truth, alethia, and measure, meter, so it’s literally a truth-meter. Appearing at first glance to be a pocket-watch (See next page for image), it has a ring of thirty-six tiny symbols set in its outer-perimeter and four tiny, compass-needle-like hands anchored in its center, suspended over an engraved inner-circle. Three of the hands are manipulated by the user to pose the question, and it is the fourth hand that swings on its own to generate the answer. It is designed so that its user/operator can accurately pose a question to which Dust can answer. Alethiometrists (those who work with alethiometers) must actively study and train for quite a while in order to effectively use them. It’s also made known that the alethiometer’s responses can be read on different levels. There can be a surface level, apparent reply, and a deeper, less-apparent meaning.