Introduction to the Hermetic Teachings according to Franz Bardon
It is a common opinion that the most significant difficulty in approaching the so-called Hermetic doctrines consists in overcoming the linguistic barrier used in the texts and teachings. We are not referring only to the deliberately obscure alchemical formulas of some ancient works or to the rites and ceremonies practised and reported in the manuals of the various esoteric orders. The real impediment is the need to assimilate the content of the teachings symbolically, not only to distinguish true from false – because this road is paved with true deceptions and false promises – but also to weaken the bonds that discursive thinking intertwines with the sensory experience.
The symbol, a term derived from the Greek συμβάλλω, “to put together, to make it coincide”, is a model of representation of reality that unites – like the thread joins the pearls of a necklace – a sensible meaning to its abstract terms or evocative. An example is the scales, which invokes the idea of justice.
The same principle applies to esotericism, but it refers to orders of reality that belong to the subtle and spiritual plane. The difficulty in expressing these symbolic relationships as a concept consists in the lack of living experience regarding these realities, which arises from the loss of a direct filiation with teachings that retain a traditional core. Of course, there are still organisations that boast a tradition – one for all Universal Freemasonry. But how many lodges are there that we could define as “operational”, that is, capable of transposing the study of the symbol on a practical implementation level?
An alternative is to turn to Eastern doctrines, which in many cases boast an uninterrupted transmission of thousands of years – such as, for example, all traditions referring to the Vedas. The difficulty, in this case, lies in knowing how to isolate the true meaning of teaching from the necessary cultural superstructures, which cover it in a form that may appear fascinating to our eyes but which risks dragging us into a spell that satisfies us and blocks our realisation.
That is not meant to be a criticism or a judgment on the merits of the different approaches to the issue. Those genuinely interested in the meaning of their existence choose the right path for them based on their attitudes. However, to achieve this, it is necessary to deal with a conventional model of the intellect, which makes it difficult to access the heart of what lies behind the appearances of māyā, the power of illusion, reflected thinking.
Reflected thought, cerebral or lunar, exists for a specific purpose: to create a screen that hides Unity, that is, the organic reality of the universe behind multiplicity; multiplicity arises in turn from the apposition of space-time categories to everyday experience. Space is a function of time; one implies separation, the other duration, that is, the time necessary for the relative position between the objects of perception to change. Without form and dimensions, Unity opposes to itself, creating the first determination of space, distance, which in the temporal condition becomes a movement. That brings us to the concept of linear or historical time: an indefinite succession of states that unravels from a past that does not return to a future that does not yet exist. Our experiences as individualised beings are also affected by this mental construction; we live apart and have a duration along the arrow of time; since the manifold is a continuous transformation, it does not admit stasis. What ensures continuity in the existential parable is memory, the trace of past experiences. And not by chance, in astrological symbolism, memory is associated with the Moon, the reflected light; The Moon reminds us that our divided existences are only a temporary illusion held together by a recollection.
Symbolic thinking, as opposed to reflected one, is participatory thinking. The causal succession of events, which implies a temporal alternation, gives way to cyclic time: duration closes in on itself, space becomes a place where changes do not follow one another linearly but according to a periodic rhythm. Think of a spiral: two events A and A’ are on two separate arms but in the same phase interval, so much so that drawing a vertical from point A’ we meet point A on the other arm. There is no evidence of a relationship between the two points or events, but a synchronism unites them, binds them as they participate in the same quality of time; it is the principle behind some forecasting techniques, such as astrological transits. The same network of relationships is valid, as we have already observed, also in the link between sensible appearances and their subtle counterparts or the symbols that represent them. How can we grasp this relationship? Through the principle of analogy.
Analogy, from the Greek ἀναλογία, relationship of similarity, is a term that completes the symbol – for example, astrological literature hands down the symbolic link between the planet Jupiter and luxury. Therefore, we say that Jupiter is the symbol of luxury. But we cannot say the opposite because Jupiter symbolism collects various meanings: tendencies to generosity, travel, religion, philosophy, etc., including luxury. However, luxury is in a relationship of similarity with Jovian symbolism, so we can say that it is in analogy with the planet.
In Hermetic teaching, the analogy becomes a tool that converts the conceptual relationship with the symbol into a living reality. Through analogue recognition, we reach a level where differences become thinner. To stick to our example, Jupiter becomes a root entity that presents itself as one of the ideas at the origin of our composite nature. The meaning of all authentic traditions is precisely this: to pass from dense to subtle, from complex to simple, from separation to union. The ego, a construct that lives detached from its representations, recovers its vision and plunges into the self, a universal life that transcends boundaries and distinctions.
Are there practices and teachings recognised as more effective than others? Asking the question in such general terms seems legitimate, especially if you want results within a reasonable time. Unfortunately, assuming personal gain from engaging in hermetic exercise is already symptomatic of an ego attempt to control the situation. The aim is not to strengthen the egoic impulses, much less to weaken them. Instead, it is a question of broadening the individuation process to integrate the surrounding reality at least partially, allowing the loosening of the bonds that lead back the ego principle exclusively to the physical body.
The case of a conscious choice based on personal attitudes and not on the value assigned to one or the other tradition is different. It is not excluded that research generates efforts in several directions until one settles on the position most suited to one’s nature. However, it is necessary to recognise the difference between the form of teaching – given mainly by the historical and cultural framework – and its essence, wrapped in symbolic references of universal significance. Over time, the right choice will be reflected in a spontaneous practice, integrated with daily life, which will not always require particular times or conditions of execution.
The preference given to the hermetic discipline based on the teachings of Franz Bardon stems from the observation of their universal character. Many of the practices described are similar to those in use in other initiatory schools. Although there is no direct parentage, they are consistent (with some exceptions) with the teachings of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. In his reference work, Initiation into Hermetics , the improvement work is structured in ten phases or levels, divided into three sections, dedicated to physical, soul and mental training exercises. To ensure a harmonious development, Bardon stresses the need to work in a balanced way on the three components without granting unilateral preferences. The daily effort dedicated to the practice is directly proportional to spiritual progress. It shouldn’t be considered a competition; tenacity and sacrifice are part of the path, along with the inevitable setbacks; hasty attitudes will lead nowhere.
Another advantage of the Bardon system is that it starts from the beginning. It is not easy to find teachings with a similar degree of completeness and organicity, at least in Western traditions. The practical work helps the theoretical part, which in the book is reduced to a minimum so that the student can make up for the concise explanations given in the text through direct knowledge by advancing in the formative process.
A final word should be spent on the possibility of using these practices independently, without tying them to a path, but to derive a psychophysical benefit from them. That is imaginable only with the first level exercises, preparatory to subsequent practices. Bardon is clear on this point: we must carry out these activities in succession. Moving to a higher level without firmly settling on the previous one is just a waste of time.
In the following paragraphs, to avoid confusion on the order of the exercises, a labelling with the following abbreviations will be used in the titles: I, II, III… (in Roman numerals it indicates the various Levels); M, A, P (indicates the belonging of the practices to Mental, Astral and Physical training); 1, 2, 3… (it is the order number of the files). For example, IP2 is the second exercise for first level Physical training.