J. S. Kupperman reviews Paths of Wisdom: Principles and Practices of the Magical Cabala in the Western Tradition by Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer in the archive of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition.
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.