When a person first steps onto the path of magical training, they quickly come across the Tree of Life. Its names, paths, numbers and attributes are dutifully learned, but it is not made apparent to beginners that having a basic mystical understanding of some of the sefirot can seriously help an aspiring magician choose and work with their magical path in a more engaged and conscious way.
The Tree of Life crops up in most western magic styles and some paths approach it in different ways to others. Essentially the Tree of Life is the way that Kabbalists view the powers of creation from the first breath of Divinity to the creation of the world. It is not only relevant to Kabbalists, but to any magician practicing powerful magic. It is an elegant mystical language that has many layers and mysteries to it and some magicians will penetrate those mysteries and some will not.
The depths of the Tree of Life cannot be simply studied in a book and then you ‘have it’; it is a life journey that will potentially take decades to understand even a few of its layers. It is a language, a vocabulary for power that enables us to step towards the understanding of how power, Divinity and the universe operate.
For beginners, regardless of what magical path you are walking, it will set a person in good stead to learn the simple basic structure of the Tree of Life in their early magical path, so that the pattern is embedded within the consciousness. The rest will flow from that over time as the magician develops.
There are three sefirot which are worth understanding in the early phases of magic as they are the foundations upon which magic rests. I approach the Tree of Life from a mystical perspective, which gives an understanding of the dynamics which flow through magic. You will find that other writers approach it in different ways. By reading the various different approaches, you will eventually find one that you understand and can begin to study. All of the different approaches have their limitations and mistakes, simply because we are human and understanding the power of the universe is no mean feat!
Because it is rooted in true mystical power, any of the paths that you start upon will eventually lead you to where you need to be if you approach it properly. The path often has twists and turns, you move from one path to another until you realise that there is no ‘set’ path, there are only your own two feet that carry you – you must follow the instinctive treads as you are guided upon your own unique path.
The three sefirot that form the foundation of magic are Yesod, Hod and Netzach. These three sefirot are the ones that are most involved in the step from the mundane human existence to the path of the magician: they are the foundation stones of all magical development. They tell you about different ways of learning, how the powers of angelic guidance flow through different people, different paths and different disciplines in magic. As a beginner, simply recognising the actions of the sefirot in a specific magical path will move you a step forward and help you to understand not only the magical path but also yourself. These powers run through all human experience, not just magic, but in magic or mysticism they become pronounced and immediate.
Once you recognise these powers working through your life and your magical path, then you can choose to consciously engage these powers in your life and magical work. If you also study basic astrology, you will begin to recognise how the planetary powers exert an influence upon life and you will begin to recognise through direct experience how the planetary powers and the sefirot are octaves of each other: one is exteriorised and one is not. Learning this way, through experience and observation, the lesson becomes a living breathing learning experience that you never forget.
This is true magical learning. You can look at correspondence tables, and memorise them until the cows come home, but you will not truly understand them as it is an intellectual exercise, not a direct experience. And that direct experience takes time to unfold; in our instant society, we want it all and we want it now. Magic does not work that way, it is a true art form that takes years of unfolding for its depths to become apparent. And after decades of unfolding, you then come to the understanding of how little we truly do know.
I’m in my fifties and now realise how little I do know and how much there is to learn and experience. One of the major learning curves for me over the last few years is that a true magician will find magic regardless of the path they tread. Some paths may make it easier, and some harder, but they will get there. I used to think that it had to be followed properly, that dud paths created dud magicians. Now I know that any path will open the gates, it is up to the individual to step through that gate and then grow beyond it.
That ‘growing beyond’ is what is depicted in the tarot trump of The Hermit. After climbing the mountain of dogmas, training and paths, the hermit eventually understands that it is the single light of their own direct experience and wisdom that lights the way ahead. The only way ahead is to step off of that mountain top and trust in Divine Power. What upholds the magician in that step, is the knowledge and understanding of the three sefirot, knowing where those powers are playing through the life of the magician, knowing which one of these powers they need to engage and which ones they need to let go of. True knowledge of the nature of these three powers enables us to see the sefirot beyond.
HOD, YESOD NETZACH
These three sefirot from the Tree of Life are the trio that act as gates to magic and mysticism. Yesod is the realm of tribal magic, ancestor magic, dreams, visions and the early expressions of magic on ones life. It is the realm of potential, of imagination, of creation being dreamed into existence. A person who has natural abilities will find their way into the powers that flow through Yesod through their dreams, wishes and imagination. Many never move beyond Yesod, and most tribal magic stays within this orbit of power.
Hod and Netzach are the two feet that carry the magician deeper into the world of magic and mystical union with Divinity. These two dynamic powers present through ways of approaching magic and each of these realms have their gifts and traps. They are powers that are directly related to humanity and how humanity acts and presents itself to Divinity. To put it in simple terms, these powers express through magical systems in the two following ways (though both of these realms have elements of each other within them):
Netzach is a power that is engaged through magical paths that follow disciplines, challenges and self control: Netzach puts your nose to the grindstone. Through discipline the aspirant learns to differentiate between wants and needs, learns to rein in the ego, how to handle power wisely, and begins to understand the burdens that magic can place upon us. If the match between aspirant and path is not a good one, or the path/group etc is not properly functioning, then the power of Netzach can express as obsessive compulsive behaviour, extreme asceticism, self punishment, guilt, self harming, sectarianism and massive control issues.
Essentially the lesson of Netzach is balanced self control and self limitation and that lesson is learned by the understanding of enforced boundaries. If that lesson is learned well within a magical path that is functioning through the power of Netzach, it will produce a magician who holds a balanced view of power in, power out, of simple needs, and the knowledge of when to use magic and when not to use magic. Those lessons are learned through restriction in balance.
Hod is a power that flows through magical paths that are almost an opposite of Netzach, where the aspirant is encouraged to explore their wants, excesses, urges, egos, tempers etc. That freedom from enforced control potentially leads the aspirant to understand their own limits, their own self destruct button, and to understand how self limitation must be individually engaged in order to move forward in magic.
If the aspirant is successful in this type of path, they will emerge as a strong magician with good self imposed boundaries that come from personal direct experience, which in turn brings wisdom, compassion and focus. If the aspirant immerses themselves in the path of Hod and is not successful at learning its tough lessons, then it is likely the aspirant will unravel, become an egomaniac, over indulgent, immature and degenerate.
Each path has its strengths and weaknesses, each can become a dogma or a stage of true learning. The real key to successfully walking a magical path is to understand your own personality, learning style and to fully understand the power dynamic behind the path you are following.
The power of Hod and Netzach do not just flow through magical groups/lodges/schools, they also flow through individual paths/lives. Many magicians strike out to learn alone and often when they look back, they can see the power of Hod or Netzach flowing through their path at various times in their lives.
The best scenario is the conscious engaging of both of these powers along with Yesod: the aspirant having freedom to explore, to experience without conforming to societal norms or restrictions, to flow through the imagination while also engaging the discipline of Netzach. These two dynamics are hung together with the powers the flow through Yesod.
To any aspiring magician I would say this: in truth know your weaknesses, know your strengths, know how you learn, know what your personality lacks, know where you have come from and know that the path ahead is truly obscured. From that knowledge, understand which sefirot needs to be a presence in your life path and invite that power into your life. Choose your magical training in accordance with what sefirot power you need most in your life. Work with it, do not fight it and learn its lessons.