J S Kupperman reviews Kabbalah, Magic and the Great Work of Self-Transformation: A Complete Course [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Lyam Thomas Christopher, in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive at A Post-Modern Golden Dawn?.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is perhaps the most famous, or maybe infamous, magical order of the last two centuries. Today’s occult book market is filled with “magical primers” based on the Golden Dawn’s particular form of astro-Qabalistic magic. Here is one more book for the list.
Kabbalah is a mixed bag of history, philosophy and practical esotericism. In the first chapter of this ten-chapter work Christopher provides the most important caveat of the piece; that there is nothing new in this book. This is not actually a mark against Kabbalah, quite the contrary in fact as it lets the would-be purchaser know what they are getting; not new information but another approach to the information that is being presented. As an educator I am aware that different students learn in different ways so another approach to the Golden Dawn system of magic may provide the student a way that works for them.
Christopher’s purpose in writing this book appears to have been to present the Golden Dawn material, as well as a method for initiation into the Golden Dawn current, in a way that fits the ideologies of post-Modernism. Thus, while there are elements in Kabbalah that will be familiar to any Golden Dawn magician his approach may be quite foreign. In some ways this is to be expected but the text does present some internal inconsistencies. For instance Christopher stresses the importance of focusing on the Outer Order material while in the Outer Order, and indeed this makes up the bulk of the book. However in his Outer Order material he includes practices such as the hexagram rituals and the LVX signs, which are taught in the grade of Adeptus Minor. He says that both of these can be useful to the Outer Order magician in their work, and while this may very well be true it is inconsistent with his previous message of focusing on Outer Order information.
Christopher’s methodology is not entirely original and appears to be a combination of Regardie, whose Golden Dawn you will also need to purchase to use Kabbalah, Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley and a bit of Pat Zalewski, through Christopher’s own training by Peter and Laura Yorke. The focus of the work is on the practice of variation of the Middle Pillar exercise, pentagram and hexagram rituals and the study of the Z material, which is the underlying formula of the Golden Dawn’s initiation ceremonies. There is more to it than this, but these three rituals and the Golden Dawn’s Z formulae are what are primarily employed for the process of self-initiation and self-transformation. This methodology, which Christopher claims to be superior to the Golden Dawn’s initiation rituals, is to bring the magician into alignment with the elemental forces of the Golden Dawn’s outer order and Portal grade.
Unfortunately there is a great deal more to the Golden Dawn’s initiation ceremonies than elemental energies and Christopher does not sufficiently explain how these missing elements are incorporated into his magical praxis. This is not to say that Kabbalah presents a non-functioning esoteric and spiritual practice; its methodology will subject the magician to the elemental energies associated with the Golden Dawn. However it remains to be seen whether or not it will provide access to the other aspects of the Golden Dawn current.
The first three chapters of Kabbalah, rather then focusing on practice, present the author’s ideology and raison d’ être. Here the author discusses his understanding of history, religion, philosophy, magic and learning. These chapters are important for understanding the author yet they tended to leave me as though I should feel that by disagreeing with his conclusions, philosophy or history I was somehow just not enlightened enough to understand him. It is here that Christopher’s revisionist history and spiritual biases are the most obvious.
These chapters are not all bad however. Beyond tendencies towards revisionist history Christopher stresses the difficulty of the work and the importance of actually doing the work and not just reading about it. There is an important emphasis on the need for discipline and perseverance. The message that the work is in fact work is hammered home and this is something often missing from other magical primers. The philosophy and history, some of which is both interesting and useful, also continue throughout the whole of the book, breaking up the magical instructions.
All this being said, again, there is still nothing new in Kabbalah, Magic and the Great Work of Self-Transformation. For the beginning magician who is interested in the Golden Dawn or one who has tried other magical primers and found them to not work Kabbalah may be the book that works, and it will provide such a reader with an unique interpretation of the Golden Dawn material that should not necessarily be ignored. However if you are already accomplished in the Golden Dawn system, while you may find some of the variations on the Middle Pillar or Hexagram rituals interesting, you can still safely pass this one by.