By Frater S.C.F.V.
Qabalistic and non-Qabalistic Pathworking
When most contemporary occultists here the term “Pathworking,” their first thought is of an approach of astrally travelling through visionary journeys on the 32 Paths of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, that is, along the 22 Paths of the Hebrew Letters and the 10 Sephirot themselves, which represent Paths in their own right. The Qabalistic Pathworking system, particularly as practiced by the Adepti of the Golden Dawn, is a very powerful system and I have had some amazing and transformatively initiatory experiences by working it.
However, the Qabalistic system is by no means the only Pathworking or system of visionary journeying out there. In this article, I will briefly introduce some non-Qabalistic Pathworking systems. For the purposes of this discussion, I will define a Pathworking system as a collection of methods for skrying-based or astral travel-based visionary journeys through a set of associated specific realms, regions, symbols, or inner planes.
Tarot, Tattwa, and Enochian Tablet Pyramid Pathworking
Naturally, as the Golden Dawn pointed out, each of the 78 cards of the Tarot can be astrally projected into and each yields its own unique experiences to the magician.
This Tarot Pathworking system is often integrated with the Qabalistic Tree of Life Pathworking system, but it need not be. Indeed, the cards reveal distinct and unique meanings when worked alone without the astral influence of the Qabalistic symbols and energies shaping the vision. For example, the Trumps can be Pathworked in sequence from 0 to 21, a method called the astral Fool’s Journey.
Other Golden Dawn Pathworking systems include projecting through the Tattwas or each of the Pyramids of the Enochian Tablets. In this case, one enters an altered state and projects one’s consciousness ‘through’ a square/pyramid on one of the Enochian Tablets then examines the visions that follow.
For a great source on G.D.-style Pathworking approaches, see my friend Nick Farrell’s excellent Magical Pathworking: Techniques of Active Imagination. His Osiris Scroll lays out his own neo-Egyptiana version of an initiatory Pathworking system designed to lead through the reader through a series of visionary ordeals culminating in the realization of the Higher Self.
Ancient Roots of Scrying-Based Work
Certainly, the use of pools of water, crystals, and so on as scrying aids to visionary work is ancient indeed, so I do not credit the 19th century occult revival or Golden Dawn with inventing the notion of ‘pathworking’ or visionary journeying; the practice often mediated by scrying tools, seems to have ancient roots. We’ve already mentioned some of them above. To add onto the above discussion, in a well-known passage in the Old Testament, which would have been as familiar to the Grimoiric priestly-clerical magicians as the stories of Enoch, and Jacob’s ladder, the silver chalice that is placed in Benjamin’s sack when he leaves Egypt is described as being used by Joseph for divination.
In ancient Egypt, scrying and spirit communication seem to have been practiced with the aid of ink or water and there are myths about Hathor that present her as bearing a reflective shield in which visions could be seen, a kind of proto-scrying mirror. Aztec tlatoani read the reflections in obsidian. For the Egyptians, Babylonians and Greeks water and bodies of water were from the earliest times associated with conduits to the realm of the gods and of the dead; indeed, the Papyri Graecae Magicae (PGM) have detailed instructions on communicating with spirits via bowls filled with water and an offering of oil (see PGM IV, 154-285). And, indeed, as we know, and as Dr. Stephen Skinner showed in his own work, many of the PGM practices and much of its theory were integrated into the Solomonic Grimoires.
Indeed, compare “…name of Typhon, at whom the ground, the depths of the sea, Hades, heaven, the sun, the moon, the visible chorus of stars, the whole universe all tremble…” (PGM IV. 223- 243) to “…this ineffable name Tetragrammaton Jehovah , which being heard, the elements are overthrown; the air is shaken, the sea runneth back, the fire is quenched, the earth trembles and all hosts of Celestials, Terrestrials & Infernals do tremble…” (Heptameron and Key of Solomon). And this is a passage directly taken from the same Papyrus that explains how to work with spirits through a bowl filled with water, or lecanomancy.
The earliest written evidence of lecanomancy or bowl-based scrying and divination are from the Babylonian Ritual Tablets dating to the 7th Century BCE, so these roots run way back into our magical history. To me, it is not inconceivable that these ancient scryers may have used their scrying media not just for divination, but also to generate immersive visions of the type generated in what we today call ‘pathworking’ in its various systems and manifestations.
In Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, Aaaron Leitch notes that “a form of Jewish shamanic magick known as Mahaseh Merkavah, or the “Work of the Chariot,” which he describes as a “practice of astral travel through the seven palaces of heaven (i.e., the planetary spheres), where the ultimate goal was the vision of the throne of God.”
It’s worth noting, however, that some authors contend that while the Seven Heavens may be equivalent with the Seven Planetary Spheres, other authors suggest that the Seven Palaces of the Merkavah system are distinct from the Heavens exist either in or beyond the Seventh Heaven. Regardless, however, as a visionary travel system, the Merkavah system is a Pathworking system, which greatly influenced and indeed, served as a precursor to, the historically later Qabalistic Tree of Life-based Pathworking system which followed it.
For anyone interested in the Merkavah system, my friend David Benton wrote a fantastic book on it entitled The Work of the Chariot. His book contains detailed instructions for performing merkavah mysticism, adapted from Medieval Hekhalot sources, along with the names and functions of the entities you will encounter, all in an easy to use and clearly-written format.
The Shahnameh System and Islamic Pathworking
The Shahnameh, a 10th-century epic work narrating historical and mythological past of Persia, gives a description of what was called the Cup of Jamshid (Jaam-e Jam), which was used by the ancient mythological Persian kings for observing all of the seven layers of the universe. As mentioned by Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda, it was believed that all seven heavens of the universe could be observed by looking into it (از هفت فلک در او مشاهده و معاینه کردی), a view that suggests the Merkavah tradition described above.
It was believed to have been discovered in Persepolis in ancient times. Most notably to our beloved Solomonic tradition, in the Islamic world, the name and legend of Jamshid was often linked to legends and lore about Sulayman (Solomon) himself. Indeed, it’s well worth diving into the Sufi traditions around Sulayman, which draw on the same source as the Western Grimoires, namely, the Testament of Solomon as filtered through the interpretations in the Qur’an and Hadith!
Indeed, astral or visionary journeying is built into the Orthodox framework of Islam, so it certainly long-predates the Victorians. Sufi magical traditions have ways of working with it. Indeed, according to standard Islamic theology, the Prophet Muhammad took a “Night Journey” in which he traveled from Mecca, now in Saudia Arabia, to a location in Jerusalem now identified as the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. He was said to have ridden a white, winged Pegasus-like being called ‘Buraq’ on this very distant journey.
According to the legend, Muhammad alighted, tethered Buraq to the Temple Mount and performed prayer, where on God’s command he was tested by Gabriel. According to a hadith or oral tradition narrated by Anas ibn Malik, Muhammad said: “Jibra’il (Gabriel) brought me a vessel of wine, a vessel of water and a vessel of milk as a test, and I chose the milk. Jibra’il said: ‘You have chosen the Fitrah (natural instinct).'”
In the second part of the journey, the Mi’raj (an Arabic word that literally means “ladder”)–an intentional allusion to the Jacob’s Ladder tradition–Jibra’il took him to the heavens, where he toured the Seven Heavens, and spoke with the earlier prophets such as Abraham (ʾIbrāhīm), Moses (Musa), John the Baptist (Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā), and Jesus (Isa). Muhammad was then taken to Sidrat al-Muntaha – a holy tree in the seventh heaven that Gabriel was not allowed to pass.
Ibn ‘Abbas’ Primitive Version narrates all that Muhammad encounters throughout his journey through heaven. This includes seeing other angels, and seas of light, darkness, and fire. With Gabriel as his companion, Muhammad meets four key angels as he travels through the heavens. These angels are the Rooster angel (whose call influences all earthly roosters), Half-Fire Half-Snow angel (who provides an example of God’s power to bring fire and ice in harmony), the Angel of Death (who describes the process of death and the sorting of souls), and the Guardian of Hellfire (who shows Muhammad what hell looks like).
These four angels are met in the beginning of Ibn ‘Abbas’ narrative. They are mentioned in other accounts of Muhammad’s ascension, but they are not talked about with as much detail as Ibn ‘Abbas provides. As the narrative continues, Ibn Abbas focuses mostly on the angels that Muhammad meets rather than the prophets. There are rows of angels that Muhammad encounters throughout heaven, and he even meets certain deeply devoted angels called cherubim. The idea of traveling through subtle planes while ascending spiritually and communing with entities there is the essence of what we now call ‘pathworking,’ and here we find the Prophet Muhammad doing it 621 CE
This tradition speaks to the point of visionary journeying far predating the Victorian and methodologies of the Golden Dawn’s tradition of occultism–certainly the shamanic traditions in many Indigenous traditions of visionary journeying date all the way back into prehistory. It also shows how the Merkavah material seems to have influenced the development of early Islamic mysticism and mythology along parallel lines to the influences of the same material on the Grimoires around one thousand years later.
Tibetan and Ancient Egyptian Pathworking Systems
The Tibetan Bardo Thodol or Book of the Dead and Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day both lay out something akin to pathworking systems, but these texts and their attendant systems were mainly intended for guiding the soul after its passing from this mortal coil. Thus, they may be seen in a sense, post-embodiment or post-death Pathworking systems. Both systems are generally understood as presenting maps of the geography of the underworld, deities encountered there, trials undertaken, although there are advanced esoteric ways of doing this work while still alive. Indeed, Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death records the “vivid personal account of a journey through the “bardos” and “pure realms” was recorded by 16-year-old Dawa Drolma of Eastern Tibet, a renowned female lama” who became a “delog”-one who crosses the threshold of death and returns to tell about it.”
Moreover, some authors, such as Jeremy Naydler in Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: the Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt, argue that The Book of Going Forth By Day was used by Egyptian priest-magicians to train them in what some call “practical eschatology,” that is, the afterlife experience while still alive. Indeed, Chapters 125, 17 and 151 can be worked in an initiatory framework. David Nez has suggested to me that the Orphic golden tablets may have been used in similar fashion by Hellenistic Initiates. I have little experience with these systems, however, and so I must defer to my more-knowledgeable peers.
In this connection, in his in his fantastic Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, my esteemed friend Aaron Leitch writes that “the Chaldean or Babylonian priests of later times made this after-death journey while still alive-creating a kind of controlled near-death experience.” This Chaldean system represented their own version of this kind of post-death-stage Pathworking system.
Although this is not a traditional method of Norse spirituality, I have also found that the Runic systems can be Pathworked, whether one is using the 24 Runes of the Elder Futhark, the 29 or 33 Runes of the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, or the 16 Runes of the Younger Futhark. In this system, one simply applies the G.D. “Travel in the Spirit Vision” method and projects through the Rune symbol in an altered / trance state (e.g. theta-gamma synchronized state) and then notes the visions that ensue. For more on the Golden Dawn’s method, see Flying Roll XXXVI – Of Skrying & Traveling in the Spirit Vision and Flying Roll XXV – On Clairvoyance & Travelling in the Spirit.
John Dee’s Enochian Aethyric Pathworking System
John Dee’s Enochian system lays out a Pathworking system through the 30 Aethyrs, which are conceived as forming a map of the entire subtle universe in the form of concentric rings that expand outward from the innermost to the outermost Aethyr. These Aethyrs are entered using Enochian Calls, which function as Keys for entering the Aethyrs in visionary journeys. Dee’s Enochian map of the universe consisted of the Great Table of Four Watchtowers and the Tablet of Union surrounded by 30 concentric circles, the Aethyrs. These 30 Aethyrs are numbered from 30, namely TEX, the lowest and consequently the closest to the Watchtowers to 1 LIL, the highest, representing the Supreme Attainment.
In Aethyric Pathworking, Magicians working the Enochian system record their impressions and visions within each of the successive Enochian Aethyrs from TEX to LIL. Each of the 30 Aethyrs is populated by “Governors” — 3 for each Aethyr, except TEX which has four, for a total of 91 Governors. Each of the governors has a Sigil which can be traced onto the Great Tablet of Earth. In practical work with the Aethyrs, the Nineteenth Key of the 30 Aethyrs is the only call necessary for working with the Aethyrs.
It is only necessary to vary appropriately the name of the Aethyr itself near the beginning of the call. Once the Call is recited, the names of the Governors are vibrated one at a time and a record of the visions is kept. In this system, one can gaze into the Crystal Ball / Skrying Crystal after doing the Call and see what images form there or do a full-blown astral projection into the Aethyr after entering it with the appropriate Key. Aaron Leitch’s The Essential Enochian Grimoire: An Introduction to Angel Magick from Dr. John Dee to the Golden Dawn is a great help for working with this system.
Astrally Working the Stations of the Cross as a Pathworking System
Among Christian mystics, particularly Catholic mystics, there was a kind of experiential, initiatory tradition of working through the Stations of the Cross in a systematic, progressive initiatory framework that is reminiscent, in some of its more visionary workings, of a Pathworking tradition.
That particular visionary legacy lies in the background of many of the Renaissance Grimoires; indeed, some of the Catholic clerical grimoiric writers may have learned the working of the 12 stations during their standard clerical training. It began to be widespread in Europe in the 15th-16th centuries and was well-established as a common practice by the 17th century. Indeed, the Stations of the Cross system of ‘contemplative pilgrimage working’ was well-established by the time Johann Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum in his De praestigiis daemonum (1577) was written. The system was even more in vogue by the time of the Lesser Key of Solomon’s composition in the mid-17th century.
To quote one author on the subject, the “Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which is believed to be the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The object of the stations is to help the Christians faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion of Christ. It has become one of the most popular devotions and the stations can be found in many Western Christian churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic ones.
Commonly, a series of 14 or 15 images will be arranged in numbered order along a path and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This will be done individually or in a procession most commonly during Lent, especially on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his passion.”
I have read Medieval and Renaissance accounts of Christian mystics from the 15th and 16th centuries, contemporaneous with some of our late-Medieval, early-Modern grimoires, in which they describe meditating on each image at each Station while reciting the associated prayers until they enter a kind of trance-state where they describe feeling like they are seeing the picture come to life or feel like they are transported within it and are experiencing the scene as if they were there with Christ in that moment. Worked astrally and systematically, this exoteric system could be adapted into an esoteric Pathworking system in the magical sense.
The Armadel of Magic
The the Armadel of Magic (not to be confused with the Arbatel or Almadel) could also be regarded as presenting a kind of evocational pathworking system. It has unfortunately taken a lot of criticism from some Grimoiric scholars, but in essence it is highly shamanic system, which works with the perennially shamanic Terrestrial/Infernal/Celestial world division. As Aaron points out in Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, “the focus of the work seems to be upon visionary quests or spiritual encounters facilitated by the magickal characters, as well as gaining some magickal powers such as healing, alchemy, agriculture, etc.” The emphasis on shamanic visionary quests seems very reminiscent of other Pathworking systems although the framework is here one of a simple evocational system centered around Spirit sigils.
Within the Zoroastrian tradition, there is a shamanic tradition around visionary ascensions recorded in the Book of Arda Viraf. In this system, the Magician performs some preparation rituals such as a ritual bath, suffumigations, prayers, and so on, and then drinks wine and comes a psychoactive brew. Thereafter, he or she travels through a system of hells and heavens. Of the method of the Magician’s travels, the text says:
21. And then Viraf joined his hands on his breast before the Mazdayasnians, and said to them (22) thus: ‘It is the custom that I should pray to the departed souls, and eat food, and make a will; afterward, you will give me the wine and narcotic.’ (23) The Dasturs directed thus: ‘Act accordingly.’
24. And afterward, those Dasturs of the religion selected, in the dwelling of the spirit, a place which was thirty footsteps from the good. (25) And Viraf washed his head and body, and put on new clothes; (26) he fumigated himself with sweet scent and spread a carpet, new and clean, on a prepared couch. (27) He sat down on the clean carpet of the couch, (28) and consecrated the Dron, and remembered the departed souls, and ate food. (29) And then those Dasturs of the religion filled three golden cups with wine and narcotic of Vishtasp; (30) and they gave one cup over to Viraf with the word ‘well-thought,’ and the second cup with the word ‘well-said,’ and the third cup with the word ‘well-done’; (31) and he swallowed the wine and narcotic, and said grace whilst conscious, and slept upon the carpet.
The “narcotic” is labeled here as Vishtasp; this was a hemp or marijuana extract or, according to some sources, a variant of hashish. In this text, some of the Pathworking locations are described as “the Star Track,” “the Moon track,” “the Sun track,” in addition to various other locations in the “Heavens” and “Hells,” in which the Magician undergoes visionary experiences and discourses with spirits and deities. Chris Bennett describes this system and other similar shamanic systems extensively in his Cannabis and the Soma Solution.
The Arda Viraf has been argued as an influence on the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey and on the much later Purgatorio, Inferno, and Paradiso of Dante Alighieri, in which Dante the Pilgrim undertakes his own journeys through purgary, hell realms, and heavenly realms respectively.
It’s worth noting that in this text, as in many others, a “magic carpet” is used to facilitate astral travel in the spirit vision. My friend A. Wretch wrote a very fascinating compilation of texts that use carpets as aids to Pathworking and visionary travel entitled Magic Carpets, Sensory Deprivation, and Entheogenic Ceremonial Magick, which I would highly recommend.
In our discussion of the Arda Viraf, he pointed out that “the Book of Arda Viraf is extremely important! While there seems to be some question as to its original dating, it could well be the origin of magick carpets. It also seems like Merkabah precursor. Keep in mind that in the book of Kings it describes Solomon’s chariot, which is also called a bed, but this is in reality a palanquin.
This likely comes from the Zoroastrian influences in Judaism as with Arda Viraf, which puts the magick carpet over the “couch” which is a term that is also sometimes used for a palanquin. You mentioned the cup of Jamshid, but the Shahnameh also explains palanquin Merkabah like experiences among the kings like Kay Kavus and Nimrod… you will find a reference to a great article in the start of my Magick carpets anthology.”
While the Qabalistic Pathworking system is remarkably rich and can be very powerful and transformative, it is not the only Pathworking system. My hope is that in this article, you have found some interesting pathways–no pun intended–for further research and experimentation. See you down the astral Rabbit hole…
- Have you had any notable experiences with any of these systems that you’d like to share in the comments?
- Are there any other key non-Qabalistic pathworking systems that this article has left out? What can you tell us about them?