Pathworkings are a type of guided meditation based on the Major Arcana of the tarot. The idea of guided meditation for spiritual purposes goes back to St. Ignatius of Loyola in the sixteenth century, if not earlier. These exercises are based on the Tree of Life diagram, and derive from the Kabbalah, a school of Jewish mysticism dating back at least to the thirteenth century. Such meditations were performed by the Order of the Golden Dawn, and many of the versions in use today derive from Golden Dawn materials. Usually, these are located indoors in artificial settings such as formal temples, and involve angelic forms as messengers and guides.
The Tree of Life maps several symbol systems onto one representation. Tarot, numerology, and astrology are all interrelated by this system. The diagram consists of ten circles, representing the spheres, and twenty-two lines, the paths between them. The spheres correspond to the numbers one through ten, and therefore to both the tarot cards Ace through Ten and the numbers one through ten for numerology. The twenty-two paths correspond to the Major Arcana of the tarot deck, but are numbered eleven through thirty-two, because the numbers one through ten already represent the ten spheres.
To people who study Kabbalah, this is not just a diagram, but a map of the world. Only the lowest sphere represents physical reality; the rest levels of existence on non-physical planes, with the uppermost sphere representing the Godhead.
The lowest sphere is called Malkuth, "Kingdom," and corresponds to the physical world. The path from Malkuth to the next sphere, Yesod, "Foundation," is path number Thirty-Two and is represented by the World card. Yesod is the lowest astral plane, so this is the path from the physical to the astral. Almost everyone travels this path, often without realizing it: in dreams, during illness, even when daydreaming. The purpose of this pathworking is to follow it deliberately, to come to Yesod consciously.
Preparing for a Pathworking
If you wish to use a written pathworking, and you work alone, you will either have to record your own tapes or split your attention enough to read the pathworking and visualize the path at the same time. The latter may take some practice. If you work with others, people can take turns reading the pathworking, or record it in advance so that all may participate. In either case, read the material several times in advance.
First, you will want to have a quiet place where you will be undisturbed. Interruptions are seldom dangerous, contrary to what you might find in occult fiction. However, it can be difficult to relax knowing you can easily be interrupted. Unplug the phone. Put a sign on your door: "Meditating, Please Do Not Disturb."
You will need to sit or lie comfortably. An easy chair is one solution; a mat on the floor is another. Some people find they will fall asleep if they are lying down, while others find it easier to fall into trance when horizontal. If you do have a tendency to sleep but have no other place to work than your bed, try propping yourself up with extra pillows.
Get comfortable in always possible. Use the bathroom. Have water handy, especially for anyone who will be reading aloud or otherwise talking in the course of the working. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes, or magical robes. Take off your shoes. Most importantly, put aside all worries and mental distractions. Some people find it useful to have writing materials handy, both for recording their experiences and for listing things they are thinking about beforehand so they can let go of those thoughts.
It is best to do this sort of work at least an hour after a meal, because a full stomach may encourage sleep, and tends to discourage astral vision. One the other hand, being hungry can be a distraction as well. Plan to have a snack available after you are done; it will help ground you.
You will need a tarot deck, and the tree of life diagram would be useful. Put the card for the path you are working, in this case the World card, on your altar or wherever it will be visible during the working. Choose the card from your favorite deck, the one you use the most and feel most comfortable with.
What follows is an example of pathworking. The first part, the temple of Malkuth, is a clearing in the woods. I have used this image repeatedly, and it has been much the same every time. What happens after entering the cave and walking the paths varies, both because of differences in the paths, and differences in the people doing the pathworking. Your experience of the path, and of the sphere of Yesod, may vary from this description. Go with what feels right to you.
The Working of Path Thirty-Two, Malkuth to Yesod
You are in a clearing in a wooded area. To the south is a fire burning in a fire pit. To the west is a brook, gushing over rocks. To the east, the land drops off sharply, and you gaze out at clouds floating in the distance and birds flying through the blue sky. To the north, the land rises up steeply, and there is the mouth of a cave.
n the center of the clearing is a low stone altar. On the altar are a simple pottery cup or chalice and stone knife, perhaps of some pale flint. There are wax spots on the altar, where candles have burned down. The altar itself is perhaps a foot high, of stone roughly shaped. It is about three feet wide and two feet across. There is also a pentacle of bronze or other dull metal, and a porcelain incense burner, for burning resin on coals.
The fire burns high: you can see the flames leap, hear the wood crackle, smell the smoke. You can also hear the stream gurgling and splashing form time to time. The area on the other side of the stream is wooded. Sometimes when you look east you see birds or hear them call. It is always quite to the north.
The land slopes gently down at the south, and very slightly at the west. The stream flows north to south, of course, and the land slopes that way as well.
You move to the mouth of the cave. You find that it is a little taller than you are, and you can enter without ducking your head. The light is dim inside, but you can still see what is around you. There are three passages inside the cave: one to the left, one to the right, and one that goes straight ahead. You begin walking down the middle passage, the path that goes straight back from the mouth of the cave.
The rock is hard and uneven under your feet, the rough walls of grey stone curve above you. There is enough space below the ceiling not to feel cramped. It is dark, but you can see light up ahead, and you move toward it. Gradually, you notice the walls less and less, and the passage seems to widen until it feels like you are no longer walking through rock. The rock has changed into tall trees and dense underbrush. You keep walking and finally find yourself in the open.
You are standing at the edge of a large grassy field. There are many people here, or perhaps "beings" is a better word. There are also animals, and mythological beings like fauns, gargoyles, and elves. The weather is pleasant—bright and sunny. A few large trees shade the area.
The beings are dancing, though the exact pattern is unclear because you can't see the whole dance. There are only a few around the edge of the field, but as you get farther in, more and more are moving around. You may move or dance with them, staying at the edge of the group or moving toward the center. You may find yourself near enough to the center to see if there is a central figure, such as a large goddess statue, or even the Goddess herself, dancing. You may interact with the various beings that are dancing, or with the central figure. There is a clockwise motion to the group of people moving and dancing. Whether you stay at the periphery or farther in, gradually move with them, clockwise, around to the "other side" of the circle.
When you have reached the far side of the circle of people, start walking away from the group. Eventually, you will find yourself in a tunnel through rock again. Ahead is a doorway. There may be a door, or a curtain over a doorway, with a picture of a crescent moon, or the number nine. There may be other symbols on the door as well, perhaps one or all of the Nines from your tarot cards. Go through the curtain or open the door and go in.
This is the sphere of Yesod, Foundation. This is the start of the astral planes. In here, it may seem misty, hazy, and smoky. The light is dim, colored violet or purple. You may hear faint music. The place will seem very large, perhaps with dimly perceived forms; you can't tell if there are other people there or not. There is a central altar that is a nine-sided stone. If you decide to approach it, you may see it is made of amethyst. Notice whether there are any objects on the altar. When you are ready to leave, turn and exit through the door you entered. It will have the number thirty-two on or over it, or there will be a picture of the card on the door.
You will find yourself in another tunnel through rock. You walk back, and after a while find a step going up. You step up, and know you are half way back to Malkuth. Keep walking, and you soon emerge from the cave. Spend a moment or two in the clearing, then feel yourself back in the room where you started, and open your eyes.
Take a few minutes to think about what you have experienced. Write it down, if you like. Then end your circle, if you cast one, or otherwise end the ritual. Have something to eat and drink, either in the circle or immediately afterward.
Excerpted from Llewellyn's 2008 Tarot Reader. For more Llewellyn Tarot titles and decks, click here.