Over the years I have received a great deal of correspondence requesting information on how to go about studying the Qabala. So for those new to esoteric studies, and Qabalistic magic in particular, I have created the following plan of study. It covers about two years to four years of work, and is designed to require the least amount of outlay in books and material by students. Much of the material can also be found online.
Many books exist on magic and qabala, and inclusion here is an endorsement of their contents, exclusion however, in no ways means that other materials are not noteworthy. Experienced practitioners who may read this short outline will immediately recognize many of the titles and why they have been suggested.
First off, the prospective student will need to obtain a copy of each of the following:
Israel Regardie: The Middle Pillar and The One Year Manual
Gareth Knight: A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism , Experience of the Inner Worlds . Magic and the Western Mind is optional as it is a short, clean historical survey of the material.
Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero (ed): The Golden Dawn Journal Book II, Qabala: Theory and Magic
You can also consider:
John Michael Greer: Paths of Wisdom (in place of A Practical Guide .) and Circles of Power (as an adjunct to Regardie)
Franz Bardon: Initiation into Hermetics can also be acquired at this time, but will be mostly used in year two.
Perform the "Middle Pillar and Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram Exercise" as described by Regardie in The Middle Pillar (or Circles of Power) for one year, at least once a day, preferable twice, once in the morning and once in the evening.
During this year, read the Chapters on the spheres in A Practical Guide.. going at the rate of about one chapter a month. Meditate on the symbols and ideas suggested, keeping in the same framework with each sphere. If you use a geometric symbol for Kether, than use geometric symbols for each of the remaining levels. When you have meditated on the Tree of Life once this way, you can then change symbols, just stay consistent with your choices.
You may pick one additional exercise for each month from either Initiation into Hermetics, The One Year Manual, or Experience of the Inner Worlds . You are free in this area, but must also stay consistent, as some of the exercises must be done in a particular patter. The greatest liberty here is with Regardie. Knight and Bardon give exercises that must be done in sets.
For side reading pick an article, or simply read a chapter a month from The Golden Dawn Journal Book II, Qabala: Theory and Magic.
If you follow this plan for one year, spending the greatest amount of time doing the exercises and keeping a daily journal of your experiences, your magical equilibrium will be built up and noticed at the end of twelve months.
At the end of the year you should be familiar with the basic symbolism of the Tree of Life, know by heart the Names in each of the levels, and their basic symbols, colors, etc.
If you like, you can then move on to additional exercises involving the Elements and Pathworking.
Here, Bardon (Initiation) and Greer (Circles) will be the main text for exercises, and Knight (A Practical Guide) and/or Greer (Paths) will be the main text for Pathworking information.
Perform the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP), the Middle Pillar (MP), and perform a meditation on the Path of the month. Spend at least a month on each of the first nine paths. These are the most important in your early development.
As for additional exercises, continue, or start, the program of study outlined by Bardon on the Elements. This will reinforce your grounding and basic understanding of how and why magic works.
You may read volume Book III, of The Golden Dawn Journal, The Art of Hermes at the rate of one article a month.
Several short and effective books that are related can also be added:
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Highways of the Mind - The Art and History of Pathworking, and First Steps in Ritual.
W.E. Butler, Lords of Light, as well as anything else by him will do.
For a better understanding of the psychological effects of magic, A Psychology with a Soul, by Jean Hardy is recommended, as are the works of Piero Ferrucci on Psychosynthesis.
The Next Step
In general, it takes between two to four years of study to get a handle on the basics of ritual, meditation, Pathworking, and the psychology behind magic. Somewhere between years two and four, additional material regarding planetary magic is usually added to the curriculum.
For those wishing to continue their studies into the realm of planetary, and eventually zodiacal magic, there is sufficient information in Circles of Power (Greer) to lead you in that direction. Additional information can be obtained from Planetary Magick by Melita Dennings and Phillips. While designed as an extension of their previous three volumes on magic, The Magical Philosophy (I-III), it also stands alone as an adjunct to other magical practices.
As a side note, The Magical Philosophy series is an interesting curriculum in magic on its own, and worth considering. The style is similar to Golden Dawn magic in many ways, but sufficiently different to be studied on it own.
If these books are read, notes taken, ideas synthesized, and most importantly, the exercises done daily and systematically, anyone can and will notice definite positive changes in their body, mind, and soul at the end of one or two years, let alone three or four years of practice.
At the end of year two, you should have a greater sense of the various parts of your being and how they relate and interact with each other, as well as those levels in others people and the world at large. Psychological health will increase, and a sense of peace, stability, and imperturbability should begin to be formed. As stated however, depending on your personal pace, it may take between two to four years to actually internalize this material and develop familiarity and confidence in the exercises. Patience and perseverance are your true tools in this Work.
Always start each period of reflection, meditation, study, or ritual by first invoking your Highest Self by seeing your Crown, or Kether, as a brilliant sphere above your head. Ask that your Higher Self, Holy Guardian Angel, or Master Within infuse you with love, wisdom, and courage to succeed at the Great Work of redemption, the goal of all true magic. See a strand of light penetrate your brain, fill it with light, and continue to your heart, infusing it with a golden brilliance. You may even allow this golden sphere to expand to fill your aura to about four or more feet all around you. Stay there for a minute or two, and then begin the work at hand.
While this appears to be a great deal of material, it is in fact just a narrow band of the Western esoteric stream focusing on magic and qabala. In fact, several other streams exist, including mysticism, theurgy, practical alchemy, and specialized schools of magic. All of the material suggested is limited to the Golden Dawn tradition, and is the most easily available material of its kind today. Any one wishing to truly study and practice magic will find that it does work, and that the materials are only a library, bookstore, or web search away.
If you consciously and earnestly practice, study, and pray, success will be yours. You may even find that at the end of a decade or so, you will have achieved what you are looking for, and can throw your books away. Then, God, and only God, will be your teacher.