Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 3, Vol 1. Autumnal Equinox 2002
On the Names Divine
reviews by J. S. Kupperman
Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practices of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition, John Michael Greer. 394 pages. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. $16.95 (US).
At first John Michael Greer's Paths of Wisdom appears to be just one of dozens of hermetic Cabalistic primers that are already available to the public. A deeper look shows, however, that Paths is much more akin to the Dion Fortune's magnum opus The Mystical Qabalah. Indeed, additional study shows that Paths goes even farther than that seminal work.
Paths of Wisdom is divided into three sections; Principles of the Magical Cabala, Symbolism of the Magical Cabala and Practice of the Magical Cabala. Each section is effectively a separate primer for beginner, intermediate and advanced theories and practices involving the hermetic Cabala.
The introduction and the first six chapters which comprise part one of the book, discuss the history of the magical or hermetic Cabala, as well as the basic concepts surrounding the Tree of Life, the main glyph or symbol of the Cabala. First, the reader will learn about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose practices for working on the Tree of Life Greer describes in the third section of the book, along with the order's theories concerning the Tree of Life and the Cabala. Greer then describes the Tree itself, its Sefirot or ten basic manifestations of deity, and its Netivot, or the connecting paths between the Sefirot. Also discussed are the Macrocosm and Microcosm and the mystical paths Greer calls "the Way of Creation" and "the Way of Redemption".
The second part of the book which comprises the bulk of Paths of Wisdom, contains an in-depth description of the ten Sefirot and the twenty-two Netivot of the Tree of Life. These descriptions include practical information such as the Name of God ascribed to each Sefirot or Path, their magical image and associated colors, all of which would be used in hermetic Cabalistic ritual. Going further though, each chapter discusses each of these listed associations, describing what they mean in relation to the Sefirot or Netivoth in question. Each aspect of symbolism is illustrated for the reader and connected to similar symbols existing in other areas of the Tree.
The third and final section of Paths covers everything from the basic theories of ceremonial magic, such as the Watcher on the Threshold and the Tools of the Magician's Trade; to basic practices including the protective ritual known as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. In later chapters the reader is introduced to more advanced practices such as pathworking or skyring on the Tree of Life and magical prayer. Finally there is a discussion on bringing the Magical Cabala into one's everyday life.
Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practice of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition is an excellent introduction to the Magical Cabala. Its language is clear and easy to understand and its descriptions of both ritual practice and the various parts of the Tree of Life are detailed and insightful. While containing very basic information, the book is none-the-less useful for the intermediate and advanced reader on the subject. Its constructive references and diagrams make it a valuable addition to the library of any hermetic Cabalist.
While there are many books discussing Jewish Cabala today, there are only a handful of primary sources available to the English reader. Written in the 13th century, Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla's Sha'are Orah or "Gates of Light" can be added to the list of original Jewish Cabalistic texts that have been fully translated into English (a list that includes the Sepher Yetzirah and the Bahir, as well as the Zohar; though there is only one rather expensive English translation of this to-date) whereas many other cabalistic manuscripts have not been translated at all.
Gates of Light takes the reader, step by step, through each of the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Each chapter discusses in-depth many of the aspects of a particular Sefirah, but for the chapter which covers both Hod and Netzach, which are taken together as their functions are so complimentary to one another that they function often as almost a single Sefira. Primarily, the Divine Name or Names associated with each Sefira is discussed. This discussion often moves to moral concepts applicable to the Sefira in question; how one Sefira relates to another, and even how segments from Torah or the Talmud should be interpreted by the light of Cabala.
While valuable simply because it is a primary source for traditional Cabala, Gates of Light may be even more valuable and interesting for those who have only studied hermetic or magical Cabala. The descriptions of the Sefirot and Divine Names, even the very attitude that the writer takes towards his writing, are very different from those found in hermetic Cabalistic texts. Many concepts, such as the Resurrected God being integral to the makeup of the Sephira Tiferet, are not to be found. Instead one finds that Tiferet is the place of balanced Divine Justice or that visions and prophecy are directly related to Hod and Netzach while true and perfect vision comes from Tiferet. At the same time, familiar concepts are included, such as Tiferet being the focal point of the Tree of Life, balancing the Sefirot above and below it. The reader discovers both the many dissimilarities and similarities between hermetic and Jewish Cabala.
Though not always clearly written, and often digressing into sub-topics,
Gates of Light can give the reader valuable insight into the nature
of the Sefirot and the Divine unavailable in other traditional Cabalistic
texts or in books written from the hermetic point of view. A primary source
for traditional Jewish Cabala, and written even before the famous Zohar,
Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla's Gates of Light is a valuable addition to the
library of any Cabalist.