I have over 20 Hermetic Qabalah books in my library. Some of these books led me to a much deeper appreciation for Hermetic Qabalah and the Tree of Life. They allowed me to discover the tree within myself and provided the external knowledge to safely go deep within to discover this internal knowledge. Keep in mind, the Hermetic Qabalah Tree of Life is not something external to you, it’s something that is in you and part of who and what you are.
In this article I will cover my top favorite 3 Hermetic Qabalah books and why they are my favorites.
First, I would just like to say that there are many great Hermetic Qabalah books and although these are my favorite picks, you may have a book(s) that are not on this list that helped you to understand and go deep with your Hermetic Qabalah and Tree of Life studies and skills. Please leave a comment on the Hermetic Qabalah book(s) that you were most influenced by and why? We would love to see and share your thoughts on this subject.
Also, if you are interested in writing an Article for The Phoenix Esoteric Society and this website please contact us.
These books are not in any order because they are all great and offer something different. I’m not including a review or talking about Tarot card decks for the paths of the Tree (I will do that in another article).
For more information and reviews on these books please click on the book or its title
This one is a no-brainer and the book that started myself and many others on our Hermetic Qabalah journey. In fact, the Hermetic Qabalah section of the Phoenix Esoteric Society started as a study group around this one book.
Why is This Book Great?
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to Hermetic Qabalah or someone who has been studying and practicing it for many years, this book has a lot of great symbolic information. It’s as if Dion Fortune downloaded her inner journeys into each Sephiroth into this book.
The one thing we loved out about this book, is that each time you read it and meditate on the Tree of Life, the book seems to reveal more and more. It’s as if it grows with you and your practice. The knowledge in it also takes on a new light and you start getting a lot of those intuitive aha moments. It was amazing to watch people in our Hermetic Qabalah Group expand in knowledge by studying this book and practicing meditating on the Tree of Life. We discovered together some of the most intense and profound experiences in working with each Sephiroth and the Sephiroth’s together.
It’s obvious that Dion Fortune didn’t write this book to show off her intellectual skills, as many Authors do. The Mystical Qabalah is a very simple and easy to read book but like I stated before, over time and with your Tree of Life meditations, the simplicity in this book becomes very eye opening intense. It really brings patterns and symbols to life. It’s as if this book is some key that works with your practice to light up the symbols in the Sephiroth’s. What is really great is that the members of our Hermetic Qabalah Group used Dion Fortunes symbolic reverences but experienced something completely different than what she described. This is what is supposed to happen…if your just illuminating the symbols someone else gave you then your only acting as an intellectual projector (like making a movie) but when your own symbols start to light and come to life, your then interjecting your own personal experience.
This is an amazing book and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re new to Hermetic Qabalah. You will find some racist statements in this book but you should keep in mind the time it was written in.
This is not a contemporary book, the same with the writing style. The only things is that it doesn’t cover is the Tree of Light Paths and the Tarot cards. Although, there is a very short Chapter called, The Paths Upon the Tree.
“Each Path is said to represent the equilibrium of the two Sephiroth it connects, and we have to study it in the light of our knowledge of these Sephiroth if we are to appreciate its significance. Certain symbols are also assigned to the Paths themselves. These are, as already noted, the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet; the signs of the Zodiac, the planets, and the elements. Now there are twelve signs in the Zodiac, seven planets, and four elements, making in all twenty-three symbols. How are these to be arranged on Twenty-two Paths? Here is another Qabalistic blind to puzzle the uninitiated. The answer is quite simple when it is known. Our consciousness being in the element of Earth, we do not need the symbol of earth in our calculations when we make contact with the Unseen, so we leave it out and then find ourselves with the correct set of correspondences. Malkuth is all the earth we need for practical purposes.” ~ Dion Fortune – Mystical Qabalah
Dion Fortune believes that the paths are the gateways between the Sephiroth’s and the symbolic correspondences in the paths are blinds and that the Sephiroth’s themselves illuminate these paths, not the other way around. This is a magical style we will also find in our next book…
Not a lot of Occultists and Magicians today know of the Old Sod, Adept, ceremonial magician, Hermetic Qabalist William G. Gray. A great teacher of mine, who was an old school ceremonial magician and Hermetic Qabalist turned me on to William G. Gray when I was a rookie, looking for Occult and Magick knowledge. He said; “start with William G. Grays, Western Inner Workings and The Ladder of Lights. It’s safe and powerful for what you’re looking for and you can play with it and not get burned.” I took his advice and found myself at one point, attempting to create a Sangreal Sodality Group, which unfortunately never really took off.
After studying, learning and growing with Dion Fortunes Mystical Qabalah, Ladder of Lights seems like it should be called Mystical Qabalah Part 2. Both of these books compliment each other so well it’s astounding.
Why is This Book Great?
Gray’s writing style is easy to read and it’s like your sitting there with him and he’s explaining Hermetic Qabalah. This book feels in some of the pieces that Dion Fortunes Mystical Qabalah leaves out. This is why these books go so well together. It really doesn’t matter which book you start with, The Ladder of Lights or Mystical Qabalah, both will enhance the other.
The Ladder of Lights deals with the Sephiroth’s and the Four Worlds on the Tree of Life. William G. Gray starts up the Tree of Life from the traditional route Malkuth to Kether.
Like Dion Fortune, William G. Gray doesn’t get into the paths, he says;
“The only reason that 22 Paths were allotted to the Tree was that the Hebrew Alphabet had that number of letters. Differing Schools attribute the letters in various ways, and all claim to get results. Any letter-association will bring some kind of results, but only to those accepting it. A serious snag to the Hebrew attributions for Western occultists is that it only communicates in Hebrew. To non-Hebrew speaking scholars this a major drawback.” ~ William G. Gray – The Ladder of Lights
Keep in mind, that both The Ladder of Lights and Mystical Qabalah are not traditional Kabbalah or Hermetic Qabalah books. They are both books on Hermetic Qabalist Magick and using Hermetic Qabalah and the Tree of Life for magickal practices. I had the honor of spending a weekend with a great intellectual Masonic Kabbalist and it was very clear that much of the subject matter in these books and even the term Hermetic Qabalah was not something he understood or could comprehend.
An example is, he recommended a book called, Kabbalistic Universe by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi. I not only read this book but attended a study group on it for a short time. This is a very good book and full of intellectual and mystical Kabbalistic ideas but it is not a Hermetic Qabalah book. This group had no interest in Hermetic Qabalah or Magick.
After Mystical Qabalah and The Ladder of Lights, I did want a book that discussed the paths, Hebrew letters, and the Tarot correspondences. Perhaps, Dion Fortune and William G. Gray were right and you don’t need to worry about the paths, their symbols and the tarot correspondences to learn Hermetic Qabalah and put a practice together (they were) but I still wanted to learn about these because without them, I knew something was missing in my training. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight was a recommendation from one of my great teachers.
This is an old school Hermetic Qabalah book from an old school ceremonial magician and Hermetic Qabalist, Dr. Basil Wilby, aka Gareth Knight. Gareth Knight was a member of the Fraternity of the Inner Light, founded by Dion Fortune so we have a link.
Why is This Book Great?
You have heard this before but A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism seems like Mystical Qabalah Part 3, now with the paths and tarot cards added. It’s obvious that Gareth Knight was deeply influenced by Dion Fortunes, Fraternity of the Inner Light but as a practical Magician, he wanted to write his own books and have his own Occult group.
A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism has two volumes; Volume 1. On the Spheres of the Tree of Life and Volume 2. On the Paths and the Tarot. Both volumes are in one book.
This book like Mystical Qabalah and The Ladder of Lights is a practical Hermetic Qabalah Magick book. Gareth Knight says; “I would like to thank the Society of the Inner Light for permission to incorporate extracts from various unpublished papers in the Society’s archives, particularly in Volume I. However, the work represents my own views only, as they were at the time of writing, and does not necessarily represent those of the Society, past or present. My own views have changed in some respects over subsequent years, but the book remains what it always was, an example of meditative work upon the ground plan of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, and insofar as this reveals the all-important structure of the Tree it should serve its purpose, individual quirks of interpretation notwithstanding. My later direction of thought has since been recorded in EXPERIENCE OF THE INNER WORLDS, which serious students are recommended to read in conjunction with the present work; and THE CHRIST, PSYCHOTHERAPY AND MAGIC by Anthony Duncan has also much relevance.”
Like William G. Gray, Gareth Knight starts to go more in a Hermetic Christianity direction in his later works. You can get that he’s going in this direction in this book. Although, Dion Fortune didn’t want anything to do with this, it’s not a bad thing because Hermetic Qabalah came out of the Renaissance and the Hermetic Christianity movement by people like Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Athanasius Kircher.
What Gareth Knight is doing is taking the Dion Fortune Golden Dawn stuff she didn’t want or felt she needed to add and infusing it with old school Renaissance Hermetic Qabalah and Hermetic Christianity. Keep in mind that the addition of tarot cards and some of the symbols came from the Golden Dawn group. He actually does a great job doing this.
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If you feel a Hermetic Christian influence in your practice want to follow Mr. Knight into Experience of Inner Worlds and The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic by Anthony Duncan, it’s a great path and both books are really good if that is something you’re interested in. Personally I wasn’t but if I were, I would go right to another book I will be reviewing that had a study group around it called “Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism” that will get you right into the thick of Occultism Hermetic Christianity and Esoteric Catholicism.
I think A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism is a great book and will add a prospective that Mystical Qabalah and The Ladder of Lights didn’t get into. All three of these books together would be more than enough to start your own Hermetic Qabalah Magick practice. These with a large poster of the tree of life and your all set.
Okay so here are my runner ups…but keep in mind about what I said earlier about too much intellectual knowledge can be damaging on the mystical magickal path.
The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: Dilettante’s Guide to What You Do and Do Not Need to Know to Become a Qabalist by Lon Milo Duquette
Funny and a very simple explanation of Hermetic Qabalah. Like reading a cartoon that teaches you Hermetic Qabalah. If you need training wheels then get this.
The Tree of Life: An Illustrated Study in Magic by Israel Regardie (Author), Chic Cicero (Editor), Sandra Tabatha Cicero (Editor)
Old school foundational book and Golden Dawn approach. A classic.
If you have been practicing for a while and looking for the left hand path of the Qabalah then this is the book. Warning, this one can burn you hard if you’re not careful and have a lot of experience. I would never recommend this if you haven’t gone through your hellish Dark Knight of the Soul first because your demons will devour you.