Learning to draw the Tree of Life

Tree of life.

Originally uploaded by anselm23.

UPDATE: For reasons I don’t quite get, this entry gets a LOT of traffic, somewhere between two and ten visits a week since it first went live over almost two years ago.  Yet no one ever responds to it or comments.  You’re clearly looking for the stuff on the Tree of Life, because that’s the search term that comes up.  But I would like to meet you, if only online, if you’re visiting this entry.  Please consider leaving a comment, ok?

I’m more than moderately interested in magic, both from a fantasy “hey watch me throw this Fireball” point of view, and from the perspective of the historical curiosity of the Hermetic movement from the late 1500s up into the early part of the 20th century and even today.

One of the more common features of this movement is, of course, the Qabalistic Tree of Life, composed of ten Sephiroth (sing. Sephirah) and the pathways that join them. It is simultaneously a map of the cosmos, a map of the human being, and a map of the relationships between them.

So. All very high-falutin’ stuff, and there’s a copy of the Tree of Life diagram in almost every historical book on magic ever published; there’s frequently a similar diagram in almost every gaming supplement on magic ever published, too. The diagram is always the same, so frequently the same size and with the same geometrical relationships present that one has to assume that the book editors plagiarized the diagram from each other, eventually even ripping off the ur-creator of the Tree of Life, who was probably just dicking around with the 14th century equivalent of Adobe PageMaker. “Ooooh! Look at me! I drew a ‘magical’ symbol! Hey… I wonder how many other charlatans I can get to copy my drawing as legitimate magic? Hmmmm?”

So as I was reading a book on geometry and sacred forms (among other things), it came as a great surprise to me to discover that this form is in fact based on a set of precise mathematical and geometric relationships. The reason this diagram always looks like this is that it’s based on an underlying set of geometric principles, which are themselves derived from Islamic and Jewish tiling patterns (such as I’ve already drawn and posted here).

So, if you want to draw your own Tree of Life, here’s how:

1) Draw a straight line.

2) Start at one end, and draw a circle with the centerpoint at one end of the line.

3) Draw a new circle, using the intersection point of the previous circle’s circumference with the straight line as the center of the new circle.

4) Repeat step (3), three more times.

You should now have a straight line bisecting four circles, each of whose circumference touches the circumference of the next circle. the places where the circle circumferences intersect each other are the center points of the sephiroth. Only one point doesn’t have a sephirah, but if you’ve seen this image enough, you’ll be able to figure out where it should be absent.

There are other related pictures showing the drawing in progress over on Flickr.

Update: I made a short (6-second) video on Vine, showing the basic run-down of steps to lay out the Tree of Life, which is available through a link, here.

37 comments

  1. I’m a huge fan of trees in general…actually, I’m a little obsessive. The mental image I have of the Tree if Life is the usual Celtic tree, so this was a nice surprise.

  2. OK so you won’t find this weird at all judging by your interests. I found your blog, fell in love with your art then decided to learn how to draw the tree ‘properly’. I Google it and guess who came up as the first result? 🙂 I love the way Qabalah works. Feel free to email me.

  3. I came to your site looking for suggestions on drawing the Tree of Life. I enjoyed your definitions of the Tree and the process to create the drawing. I am looking for a more stylized form for the art work I am creating. The geometric representation will not blend with my work. Thanks for what you have done because now I have learned something today and I try to do so every day.

  4. Hi,
    I stumbled across your page while looking for Celtic tree of life photos. I see your diagram is not the physical tree form I was originally looking for- but leaves me curious if the Celtic drawings balance themselves in accordance to your formula?
    I tried to sketch per your directions but got confused on step three…. Wasn’t sure of I shoul measure the circumference of first circle an space it put, o of they should be touching?? For someone who’s never seen a diagram like this it is a little confusing. My curiosities are perked — I look forward to reading up on this subject. Just thought I would drop a note. Best, C.Mari

    • Hi, C mari,

      To my knowledge, the Celtic Tree of Life is actually a Yew tree, which often has branches that touch the ground and reconnect to the root system again, far from the trunk. My experiences with Michael Dunning (http://www.yewshamanism.com/home.html) have been formative in this regard. It’s also been my experience that this Tree of Life and that Tree of Life diagram are not commensurable — you can’t create one with the other, and vice versa.

      As far as the technical issue of drawing out the diagram, you may find this link to my Flickr account helpful — http://www.flickr.com/photos/anselm23/3273481614/in/set-72157616099414904

      You’ll be able to see here (inside the Sephiroth, or smaller round circles), the intersection points for three of the four circles sketched on the foundation line. These circles are ALL the same size, and each has its center point on the intersection between the previous circle and the foundation line. Hope this helps.

  5. Isis, I think the reason people don’t make a comment is because you use terms ordinary folk won’t understand.
    Blessed Be

  6. Hi there. Thanks for the information, much appreciated. Have recently gotten into Crowley, Thelema and works of Regardie with my central focus right now being learning Qabalah and reaping the fruits of the Tree of Life. I searched for your site because I am drawing my own on non-standard sized paper and was looking for the correct dimension but you imply that with a compass and ruler it should all work out. Nice visiting.

    • Dear CuriousOne,

      As maybe I didn’t make clear, it’s not that the tree of life can be constructed using a straight edge and compass, but that on paper, it MUST be. (in the body/spirit, is something else, but that’s for another post). The size of the paper doesn’t matter. Once you know the relationships and practice enough, you will be able to draw the Tree on everything from an index card to a corn field.

      And that’s one of the goals of studying geometry as one of the great arts of magic.

  7. Hi, nice article! I’m interested in learning more about kabbalah –> learn more about myself –> learn more about reality.

    Thanks!

  8. You’ve got it backwards…

    “composed of ten Sephirah (sing. Sephiroth)” — it’s ten sephiroth, with the singular being “sephirah”

    I’m leaving a comment because of your edit at the top of this post asking people to do so. My name’s Sacha, I’m a Thelemite, part of the OTO (oto-usa.org) and Outercol lineage of A.’.A.’.. Nice to meet you.

  9. […] Learning to Draw the Tree of Life has gotten a steady flow of visitors, about 30-50 a week for two years.  It doesn’t appear to be people interested in teaching that are making this visit, though… it’s people from the Western Mystery Tradition (WMT) community that are coming in from elsewhere to make use of this resource.  It’s good to blog outside your traditional areas from time to time.  This art project is apparently quite useful to them. […]

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