A PATH TO UNDERSTANDING
Appendixed to most modern commentaries on the "Sepher Yetzirah", one will find a rendition of the "32 Paths of Wisdom". These two documents have, for several centuries, been associated with each other in both the Hebrew and the Western Hermetic Traditions.
Recent scholarship ascribes the "32 Paths of Wisdom" document to the "Circle of Contemplation", a "group" of 13th century Jewish Kabbalists centered in Castile, who produced such classics as "The Book of Contemplation", "Ten (and 13) Powers", "The Fountain of Wisdom", etc. This is confirmed by the fact that specific Kabbalistic terms coined by this "group" of writers, consistently appear throughout the "32 Paths" text. The text itself seems to represent a middle ground between the formerly disparate concepts of the Ten/Thirteen "Powers" and of the Ten "Sephiroth".
Historically then, the "32 Paths of Wisdom" document arose from the context of the Hebrew Tradition. This is an important point, because this context is very different from the Western Hermetic context in which we interpret this document today.
There are two levels of difference between the Western Hermetic and the Hebrew Traditions regarding these 32 Paths. The first level is the difference between the assignment of Sephiroth and Letters to the Paths; and the second level, is the difference in the images of the Tree of Life to which these Paths are applied.
In the Hebrew Tradition, these 32 Paths are derived from the creation story: Genesis, chapter one. Therein, the name Elohim appears thirty-two times, each time associated with a specific action. Ten of these actions are a "saying" and are assigned to the ten Sephiroth; three of them are a "making" and are assigned to the Mother Letters; seven are "seeings" and are assigned to the Double Letters; and the twelve remaining, are a variety of actions assigned to the Elemental Letters.