Magic: 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.

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40 comments

  1. Sheeshus ya had to go and make it all “math-y” and now I’m confused.

    Yes the symbol is one of many seemingly timeless perfect and universally aesthetically pleasing items. Check out Fibonacci spirals and nautilus symbols for more perfectly beautiful art that gets ruined by making it all “math-y”. Good little tutorial tho. 😉

  2. Well, it is almost 2017 and people are still finding your post useful! I stumbled upon your site after 5 frustrating attempts of drawing the Tree of Life from various instructions on the web. I successfully drew my own on a piece of plywood thanks to your instructions and video. I was completing the drawing as part of my studies. I found several interesting articles on your site and the secret book you made for your nieces. I love the idea, wish I had received one as an adult 🙂 THANK YOU

    • They are still finding it. And I’m glad that some people are still commenting on it. I get far more “likes” than comments, as always. Thank you for taking the time to write.

  3. Hi there! I normally don’t comment on posts, but since you asked so nicely I couldn’t help obliging 🙂 I’m completing the Golden Dawn work for the Portal grade, and part of that is to draw a full diagram of the Tree of Life with paths, names of the Sephiroth, astrological correspondences, deity and angelic names, etc. I’ve seen this method of construction before, but I needed to refresh my memory on the exact steps. This was very helpful–thank you!

  4. By the wizened beard of Hermes T! I know I must’ve read this post before, but seeing it again this morning, in combination with the other stuff I’m reading and doing, cracked my head open like an egg. Great post!

  5. Hello, recently diagnosed with brain cancer. I use art therapy to help me deal with the pain and uncertainty that comes with the diagnosis. I have always been “obsessed” with the tree of life. As I look deeper into my healing, the heritage and the prayers associated with the tree, I am seeking, searching and working on total healing, from the roots up. I will be including the Jewish Prayer, Misherbach to go around the tree once I get it drawn. Blessings to you and your family for good health, peace and abundance.

  6. 23 comments so far, I saw your post and interest for people to leave a tiny reply. Well if you are interested in more info on the occult I´ve got some articles on my blog catharsiopa.com.

    Thanks so much for this article though, it was exactly what I needed. 🙂

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