The Kabbalah Tree: A Journey of Balance and Growth by Rachel Pollack
Reviewed by Joan Cole

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

On the surface, this is a book that describes and explains a painting of the Kabbalistic (Qabalistic, Cabalistic) Tree of Life glyph done by Hermann Haindl, who painted the self-named deck documented in two volumes by Rachel Pollack nearly 20 years ago.  Of course, as with stating the premise of another of Rachel’s books, The Forest of Souls, telling you this really tells you very little of use about the book. 


Rachel’s gift, in this book as in her others, is that she works at the allegorical level, relating stories from cultures all over the world, from ancient documents to modern comic books, creating new stories where needed, and going beyond the intellectual approach that is so common, especially in books on the Qabalah.  She relates in this book how the “rabbis of the early Kabbalah (and the chariot mysticism that preceded it) used the four letters of PRDS [pardes, paradise] as a guideline for interpreting the sacred text, the Torah.”  The acrostic PRDS represents four ways of interpreting something:

In my opinion, remez would be books like 777 and other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, with its huge mass of correspondence tables, or Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah (these books were my first exposure to Qabalah).  You could also include Lon Milo Duquette’s The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, to the extent that it is a Cliff Notes version of Golden Dawn Qabalah (though it also has some brilliant and humorous original allegories).  This book is far more drash than remez, and I believe the newcomer to Qabalah is likelier to glimpse sod through reading this book first before approaching the classics. 

What does the book cover?

The Tree and the Ladder – Beginning with the image of a living tree, the book begins in a shamanic context, recounting and connecting the biblical tale of Jacob’s ladder to “those shamans who use poles, ladders, pillars, and living trees as vehicles to ascend to the heavenly world and claim humanity’s place among the divine.” She discusses the Jewish mystical movement “the work of creation” contemporary with the destruction of the Temple of Solomon (70 CE) described in the Sefer Yetsirah, and the “work of the merkavah” (chariot) with its trance journeys into the seven palaces of heaven.  She ranges through tree mythology in Africa, ancient Egypt, the American Indian Sun Dance, and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil.

The Tree Within the Tree – Some of the topics are a detailed exposition of the Garden of Eden, how the name Paradise points to the four ways of seeing needed to experience the divine (practical, intellectual, allegorical, and mystical), how the four letters of Paradise map onto the tree glyph, gender and the three pillars of the tree, serpents, fruit, and sexuality, and the problem of Da’ath without Binah and Hokhmah.

The History of an Image – Starting with the competition between the contemplative and active paths of Ma’aseh Bereshith (Work of Creation) and Ma’aseh Merkavah (Work of the Chariot), Pollack begins by discussion the 3/7/12 division of the Hebrew alphabet covered in the 1800-year-old Sefer Yetsirah, and surveys literature and which books produced which ideas that have persisted to today.  She also mentions modern authors, such as Gershom Scholem, Israel Regardie (The Garden of Pomegranates), Charles Poncé (Kabbalah), Judith Laura (Goddess Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century), and David Rosenberg (Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of Kabbalah).  This chapter also touches on the history of Tarot, as it comes into the historical picture.

Four Worlds –Exposition on the worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetsirah, and Assiyah.

Tree Overall – Including coverage of Adam Kadmon, the Lightning Flash, and gender polarity on the tree

Ten Sephiroth, Part 1 – Kether through Gevurah

Ten Sephiroth, Part II – Tiferet through Malkuth

Twenty-Two Pathways, Letters & Cards – The pathways, 11 through 32, as used in the Golden Dawn system.  This is the shortest section of the book, averaging perhaps a page per path.

Appendix: Readings on the Tree of Life:  A few pages discussing the Tree of Life spread


This is a very good book for approaching the study of Kabbalah (especially the Golden Dawn variety).  In addition to the usual coverage of four worlds, 10 sephiroth and 22 paths between them, Rachel’s masterful storytelling puts the subject into historic and mythological context and ties together sources as diverse as biblical midrash, Renaissance materials, Goddess Spirituality, and comic books as only she can.


The Kabbalah Tree: A Journey of Balance and Growth by Rachel Pollack
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN#: 0738705071


If you would like to purchase this book, click here.


Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek.   She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's.  You can see her deck collection here.

Review © 2004 Joan Cole
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes