Although, over the past fifty years, I may have built up something of a reputation as a writer and teacher in the Western Esoteric Tradition I feel as proud of my record as a publisher and talent spotter. On this side of things a prominent jewel in my crown must, I think, go to my discovery of W.G.Gray back in the 1960’s and scrounging the money to publish his first important books The Ladder of Lights and Magical Ritual Methods. Each in their way beacons and milestones in teaching basic principles that are often taken for granted these days, not realising how much is owed to the pioneering insights of W.G.Gray.
He went on to write many more books, their hallmark being a combination of deep roots in tradition and insistence on going back to first principles. One of the most important and outstanding examples of this combination is to be found in The Talking Tree which is a detailed survey of the Tree of Life and the experience and significance of the 22 Paths that connect the 10 Sephiroth in all Four Worlds of the Qabalists, now just re-issued by Skylight Press.
He had some difficulty in getting this published at first owing to the fact that it appeared too original. Actually it is deeply traditional but what scared the commissioning editors and their accountants was the fact that he was not using ‘traditional’ allocations of Tarot Trumps or Hebrew letters to the Paths. By which they meant those favoured by the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn back in 1888.
The savants of the Golden Dawn chose to deal out the Trumps to the Paths pretty well in direct numerical sequence although as later scholarship has revealed, the original Trumps were not numbered, and when they were, sequences differed. The sequence we use today is simply that chosen by the backroom boys of a commercially successful Tarot card manufacturer in 18th century Marseilles. I have glossed all this in the first chapter of my book Tarot & Magic for those who might care to follow it up.
The Tarot happens to be an excellent mystery system in itself that is quite capable of interpretation without recourse to the Tree of Life, even though it can act as a very useful adjunct to the Tree. And this is what the Golden Dawn teachers sought to do, but they simply presented neophytes with their idea of what should go where, “take it or leave it!”, without very much, if any, attempt to say why. And most of us did take it and it never did us any harm. In fact I have used and continue to use the Golden Dawn system and found it satisfactory and illuminating in every way. But that does not mean that it is the “one and only true”.
Yet, as one serious student rather nervously put it to me, on being confronted with W.G.Gray’s correspondences in The Talking Tree – “Will it work?”. To which the confidant answer can be made “Yes, it will!” I can say that with full confidence on account of having tried it myself, and also upon the evidence of the work of R J Stewart, who like myself was a student of W.G.Gray for a time, and whose books Living Magical Arts, The Merlin Tarot, and The Dreampower Tarot and The Miracle Tree use the same allocations as Gray with impressive verve and originality. In fact this last is in my view one of the best introductions to the Qabalah ever – brief, to the point, and eminently practical.
But we would be very wrong indeed if we regarded Gray’s Tree of Life correspondences to be just some maverick version lumped upon the student, in accustomed “take it or leave it” way. Where William Gray is important in esoteric literature is that he goes back to first principles and tells you how and why he arrives at his allocations. Nor does he claim that they are the “one and only true”. As he specifically states early on: “Anyone is of course entitled to place Tarot Cards anywhere on the Tree of Life he likes - providing there are as good or better reasons than these for doing so.”
So there is a challenge my hearties! For whatever system they may come up with, anyone who undertakes training in these fundamental tenets will indeed have a good chance of coming up with “the one and only true” for themselves. Not only that, they are likely to be far better versed in the principles of the Tree of Life than any who came up through the less challenging way of consuming a pre-packaged product.
I am reminded of a recent Skylight Press title, Garden Alchemy: The Lost Art of Potato Breeding. Time was when our ancestors created their own vegetable varieties in their gardens to suit themselves and took it for granted as a completely normal thing to do. Until the supermarket age reduced all this diversity down to a handful of bland varieties convenient for retailing. Much the same applies to the Garden of the Mysteries.
Whether we are beginners or old hands, there is an immense amount to be learned from W.G.Gray’s approach, not only to the Tarot but the other elements in Tree of Life correspondences, be they angelic, alphabetical or elemental. But let him speak for himself about that:
There are two principal ways of reaching Wisdom. One is presenting it in ready-made form to the uninstructed and unprepared, then expecting them to adapt themselves to it by whatever means are available. This works, but not without considerable trouble and difficulty. The other way is not to reveal Wisdom directly, but to offer a practicable means for individuals to find it by their own efforts in their own time. Such is really the difference between Outer and Inner Schools of thought.
With Exoteric systems, prepared information is pushed at the pupils in a definite pattern rather like programming a computer. Their education consists of their individual and collective reactions to those stimuli. With Esoteric Systems, no empiric teaching is thrust upon the students at all, but their natural abilities for intuitive learning and experience are fostered by every possible means, and they are provided with self-instructional devices for arriving at the required ultimates by exercising their own Wills in those directions.
This is the Qabalistic Way. It obviously applies only to those souls willing to proceed along its Paths of their own accord. Others automatically rule themselves out.
So we have been warned. Let us not rule ourselves out. It is never too early or too late to take up the truly esoteric way!