An email forwarded to me by one of the owners of the store where I do readings and workshops at:
I recognize Magic as a high path of knowledge, and because of my desire for what it offers, wish to follow this path.
I am writing to ask if you can offer any book recommendations for a beginner. I want to learn all the fields of Astrology, Tarot, Kabbalah, and Magic at the same time. This is because I believe more information from more than one source will draw out connections faster and lead to understanding essential principles.
And my earnest(?) reply:
Heya! Hope you’re doing well, Mr. <redacted>.
As Gwen and Bubbles mentioned, I’m one of the readers at Sticks and Stones, and my specialty is on qabbalah, geomancy, and Hermetic ceremonial magic. Learning astrology, tarot, kabbalah, and magic at the same time is quite the endeavor, and to learn all the fields would take multiple lifetimes; learning even one field of one of those arts sufficiently is quite the challenge in and of itself! Astrology encompasses the natal, horary, electional, mundane, and synastric styles, and that’s to say nothing of Vedic jyotish or Chinese traditional astrology; Kabbalah is sufficiently different in its fields that it can be considered a family of separate arts in and of themselves; magic is so broad a term that it really can encompass most of human civilization! However, I can definitely offer some resources to help introduce you to the fields generally.
A very short, very abbreviated list of books:
- Homer, “Iliad”
- Homer, “Odyssey”
- Virgil, “Aeneid”
- The Bible
- Jack Miles, “God: A Biography”
- Jack Miles, “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God”
- Plato, “Timaeus”
- Aristotle, “Metaphysics”
- Ptolemy, “Almagest”
- Ptolemy, “Tetrabiblos”
- Brian Copenhauer, “Hermetica”
- Robin Waterfield, “The Theology of Arithmetic”
- Storm Constantine, the Wraeththu series of books (the first three, at least)
- Draja Mickaharic, “Practice of Magic”
- Judy Hall, “The Art of Psychic Protection”
You may notice that the list above is primarily religious, philosophical, and mythological, mostly because that’s what magic is. One needs a very, very strong grounding in a wide variety of fields before one can even begin to approach the mysteries of magic, especially the long and ancient tradition of Hermetic magic. Works like Homer or the Bible were considered holy and magical in their own right, even back in classical times, and are still considered so today thousands of years later. Only when one is deeply intimate with the heart of Western literature and symbolism will the rich and sublime language of symbols speak to you and teach you themselves when you crack open most books on magic and the occult. Even just gazing at the Tarot (say, the Rider-Waite or Thoth decks) will teach you on their own as a kind of abbreviated textbook of the universe.
Hope this helps!
Well, technically, it’s not a lie. But you could have started him out with the Bible for Kabbalah, the Almagest for astrology, A.E. Waite for Tarot, and Iamblichus and Plato for the study of magic. Also the Corpus Hermeticum.
I do think you’re right though, that without a thorough grounding in the classics, notably mythology and spiritual literature, most magical work is difficult to do at best, and nigh-impossible at worst. If you don’t believe that you’re in a spiritually-aware universe, magic isn’t exactly going to bring you great results.
There’s a great series of essays about magic in John Michael Greer’s blog specifically about what magic is for. In this one, for example, Greer talks about the nature of practical magic as having the purpose of opening up a gap between ourselves and the popular culture of the time, and being able to do work within that gap which leads to awesomeness.
I think, were I asked a similar question to this gentleman of you, I’d begin with the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, and Timaeus… and then start him off with learning some geometry. But that’s sort of the nature of the beast, really — and it’s likely the same in any magical order. It’s often just a process for opening up that mental, physical, and psychological space in which our own personal awesomeness can begin to shine like the Sun. Kabbalah, Tarot, astrology, magic… whatever. We’re each a daily miracle, and to devote that miracle to the worship of Two and a Half Men or the Kardashians seems a dreadful waste of Gods-given intellect and beauty.
I wish him luck in his quest. May he find fulfillment and glory and service to humanity in the quest for adepthood!
I actually put the Bible, Ptolemy, and the like at the top of the list, along with the Corpus Hermeticum (under the title Hermetica).
JMG’s posts on the Archdruid Report are fantastic, but I wanted to be sure about the basics first before I even explicitly mentioned the word. After all, if the dude wants to learn everything all at once, I have a feeling that he’s probably too eager for too much too fast. Just learning the basic core of Western philosophy and thought is enough of a mouthful to chew on for a while.
Agreed. So very much agreed. But I do think that it’s not enough to provide a reading list… there does have to be some practical (or impractical, as the case may be). Anyway, I think your response to him was awesome.
Oh, of course there always needs to be some practical advice, which is why I also suggested Hall’s and Mickaharic’s books, which do have some exercises and things for him to do in the meanwhile. That said, I can rest assured that I’m not as bad as Mickaharic is (e.g. “intone the vowels of your native alphabet daily for six or more years before progressing further in your magical studies”).
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For a very practical approach to Kabbalah and the Tree of Life in general, I’ve always liked Colin Low’s “Notes on Kabbalah” found free here: http://www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/nok/
Ooh! Now that’s a nifty resource. Thanks!
Oh, I like this game! While my first instinct would be a revised version of Crowley’s A.A. reading list, particularly Course I, it doesn’t perfectly fit the criteria, though it does the intent. Following your outline, and the specific requests, I came up with something like this:
Myth: Robert Graves’ editions of The Greek Myths, and essential to have the introductory essay “Food for Centaurs”.
‘abbala: Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and William Sterling’s The Canon: An Exposition of the Pagan Mystery Perpetuated in the Cabala as the Rule of All Arts. Also Shaw’s Theurgy and the Soul
Tarot: Paul Foster Case’s The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages
Magic: Ioan Culianu’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance and possibly his Out of this World. Stephen Mace’s Stealing the Fire from Heaven, Peter Carroll’s Liber Null and a work that covers materia.
I’d hesitate on recommending the classical works until some proficiency with allegory was developed. The Bible, especially in American culture, I wouldn’t recommend until they had read and integrated something like Thomas Thompson’s Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology And The Myth Of Israel Both you and Andrew are correct that they are foundation for understanding subsequent developments in the literary cultures surrounding these practices, yet the modes of reading them throughout most of that period is hugely different than the way our culture is accustomed to reading.
William Stirling’s The Canon can be found in Issue 9 of the Grey Lodge Occult Review, the whole of which I consider essential reading.
Incorrectly stated that The Canon is in Issue 9 of GLOR, it is in the currently unavailable Issue 12.
Hermetic.org hosts a copy of the pdf here
Thank you for the pointerf to _Theology of Arithmetic_: wishlsited.
I definitely agree that knowing the classics is helpful. I read through Homer and Virgil in a whoosh in the 80’s, because it was fun and it was all stuff I should have read in school.
Something on meditation, relaxation, selfhypgnosis, etc., is called for early on, since there’s never enough time for that.I don’t know what (just not the vague hints in Mickaharich) because I picked it up from everywhere. (And from 13 years of Zen school).
You can spiral. Through the practical arts as long as the first entry point is traditional astrology.
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