An approach to Franz Bardon’s Mirror System
In his work “Initiation into Hermetics”, Franz Bardon introduces us to the activity of soul introspection in the first level of the practical section. It consists of an internal examination of the qualities and flaws of the personality, handled according to a logic that we could define as ‘ruthless’, as it leaves no room for embellishments or considerations of self-indulgence. On the contrary, it requires total honesty towards errors, shortcomings, fragility of which we are all bearers, down to the most delicate nuances.
Anyone who has some experience in the practices described in this work knows that it is a process of reflection necessary to prepare the soul body for the work on the Elements. It also should be accompanied by practices relating to the physical and mental body to avoid imbalances in the general constitution of the practitioner. But the decision to undertake such a close and at times shocking and unpleasant analysis of one’s inner world – and to continue it – can only come from a personality already endowed with sufficient strength to withstand the impact of what, to all effects, is the unveiling of the false self, with its deceptions and its masks. There is to say that, in the face of ‘brave’ personalities, the exercise acquires its autonomy concerning the organic set of practices of the IIH, explicitly intended to train the practitioner in magic; it is undoubtedly one of the most potent self-analysis tools.
Let’s briefly summarise the unfolding of the practice. We start by making a detailed list of our faults without ruling out anything and taking care not to assume that what others consider our weaknesses are as such; the vital thing in this phase is to see clearly in ourselves. Bardon recommends getting this job done in a week or two at most to avoid indulging in excessive guilt – the purpose of this phase is not self-pity but self-improvement. He also suggests reaching the number of one hundred or more defects. At first glance, it may seem like an exaggeration, but to all intents and purposes, it is fine-grained work so as to avoid a surface analysis.
In the second phase, the defects are assigned to the four Elements, reserving a different category (Other) for the associations that present some doubts. This phase exhibits some difficulties in execution for a variety of reasons. When we deal with the Elements, we tend to elaborate their meaning based on our substantial experience, considering them as constituents of matter. Still, the Elements of the hermetic discipline do not correspond only to this partial view, as we will see in the next paragraph. The attribution of defects to single Elements is even more complicated because one or more character traits, especially if considered dominant, can be broken down and give rise to sub-traits. Each of these sub-traits will be later on assigned to one or more Elements. For example, tobacco addiction can arise from insecurity assigned to the Air Element, but also from a tendency to emulation associated with Water. Or its deep roots lay in self-destructive dispositions given by the Fire Element and so on ( these are just examples, each individual has their specific attributions).
Furthermore, a generalised list of defects assigned to the Elements is rarely thorough: we can have an Earth aggressiveness, triggered by the tendency to possess, and a Fire aggressiveness, given by a defective control of the vital energy. Having made these considerations, it is understandable why Bardon preferred not to go into too much detail regarding the attribution of defects, leaving the student to work patiently on them. Here, too, the time allowed for carrying out the work is one or two weeks. If this, from the point of view of the organisation of the activity carried out, may seem a difficult task, let us not forget that the job does not end here. After this classification, a long and patient meditation work begins over the months (and years), rediscovering the Elementary balance of our psychosomatic whole.
The third and last phase in attributing defects leads to the tripartition of the same based on their weight or importance relative to ourselves. This work is essential to understand which aspects of one’s being to act on, whether to start from the psychic knots that have the most significant impact on the personality or from secondary factors that are more easily resolvable and then move on to the most resistant blocks. Bardon leaves freedom of choice based on attitudes or preferences. He mentions in IIH three methods for resolving inner conflicts caused by Elementary disorder: self-suggestion, application of willpower, and transmutation of passions into opposite qualities through meditation and introspection. They are not mutually exclusive, so much so that it is advisable to use them all, with the accent placed on that method closest to one’s temperamental characteristics. Of the three, the meditative practice is probably the most suitable for effective action on one’s weaknesses. Willpower and self-suggestion are much more adequate after identifying the causes at the origin of the unresolved aspects of the personality.
We often misunderstand the philosophy of the Elements because we perceive the modality of manifestation of the Elements is exhausted in their phenomenology, in the relationship between them and their physical analogues. Unquestionably, this relationship exists, but it does not explore the vast symbolic meaning that underlies the fact. Bardon is not very helpful because in his works, the theoretical section is reduced to a minimum, always subordinated to practical work, and the treatment of the Elements is no exception. This fact is explained by the evidence that, simultaneously with the course exercises, intuition and inspiration develop a direct knowledge – without intellectual intermediation – of phenomena. But until it comes to that, the literature on the subject is a source of motivation, meditation, help in the aspects of the practice raising doubts.
In the theoretical part of IIH, Bardon takes his cue from the subdivision of the Elements based on the Hindu doctrine of tattvas. They are the fundamental inner and outer subtle elements, which constitute the essence of the subsequent material forms, the phases or categories of reality. The meaning of the term is “what is, principle, reality”. Still, in their plural essence – the tattvas, the principles – they outline the modalities of descent of the Absolute in the formal manifestation. The various Hindu schools list a varying number of tattvas, but the ones that interest us are the last ten. The first group of five refers to the Elements as tanmātṛa, ‘potential’ or ‘essence’; they are the primordial principles or causes at the origin of the physical manifestation of the Elements:
- The origin of the Ether Element is the tanmātṛa called Śábda, the unmanifest essence of sound, the space from which vibration emerges before it takes the form of sound. The associated sense organ is the ear, the organ of action is the voice (mouth).
- The origin of the Air Element is the tanmātṛa called Sparśa, the essence of touch, the tactile potential expressed in its subtlest form. The skin (through which we receive touch) is the associated sense organ, while the organ of action is the hands (which touch the world).
- The origin of the Fire Element is the tanmātṛa called Rūpa, the essence of the vision. Rūpa means ‘shape’ or ‘colour’. In its unmanifest essence, it contains the potential of light which allows the visual perception of forms. The associated sense organ is the eyes.
- The origin of the Water Element is the tanmātṛa called Rasa, the causal principle of the experience of taste, the energy that provides the potential for that experience, even though it is not the taste itself. The term has taken on a symbolic connotation in Indian poetry and dramaturgy, as savouring through aesthetics leads to transcendent experience. The associated sense organ is the tongue.
- The origin of the Earth Element is the tanmātṛa called Gandha, the primordial cause of the smell experience. It is the potential manifested in the Earth Element. It predisposes the subtle body to the experience of odour and the structures through which we can experience odour in the physical body. The gandha is not the smell, but the smell depends on it. The associated sense organ is the nose.
- Franz Bardon – Initiation into Hermetics – Wuppertal 1971