the following essay was submitted to Gnosis magazine, in late December of 1997, for their issue on Witchcraft and Paganism, and they chose not to publish it.
the third magi
Franz Bardon, hermeticist,
and teacher of magicians
by Joel A. Wendt
In considering the practice of magic at this time in the history of mankind, that is at the time when science is considered the most powerful path to the truth, it would very appropriate to proceed carefully, and to keep matters of world view, context, history, and human nature ready at hand. It would, in fact, be a dishonor both toward the practitioners of science, and to Franz Bardon's remarkable contribution to the practice of magic, to not face the central problem, implied by the apparent disparity between science and magic, head on. In the scientific age, can there be true knowledge of magic?
On the other hand, we also should not downplay the meaning inherent in humanity's quest for spiritual understanding, nor presume that the practice of magic does not have something very significant to contribute to this search.
These then will be the bookends of our examination of Franz Bardon's works. We will start with the problem of meaning, and end with the problem of knowledge.
In 1956 and 1957, three books, written by Franz Bardon, were published in Germany. Der Weg zum Wahren Adepten (published later in English under the title: Initiation into Hermetics); Die Praxis der magischen Evokation (published later in English under the title: The Practice of Magical Evocation); and Der Schlussel zur wahren Quabbalah (published later in English under the title: The Key to the True Quabbalah). (1)
It would take a whole book to make an argument about the significance and the place of these works in the spiritual history of humanity, and since that cannot be done in this essay, I will, at this point, briefly state my own views. Be advised that this view, while personal, is not being made in any superficial way. It is based on a wide range of experience, both practical and theoretical, after more the 20 years study; and, which has involved a much wider spiritual inquiry then just the obvious matters contained in the above books.
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem..." Matthew 2:1
It is my view, and it certainly was the view of Franz Bardon, that the Gospels tell a true story in their tale of the God, who becomes a human being, and then suffers the experiences of the Death, leading to the Resurrection. However, the point of this is not to either assert or argue such a view, but rather to ask the question: Who, and or what, were the Magi? What did such a concept mean in the time of those events 2000 years ago. What possibly could the gospel writers have in mind in including the Magi in this story?
What the modern world calls paganism, was in those days understood as the Mysteries. The Magi were initiates (2) in the Mysteries. Perhaps their clairvoyant faculties (following the Star) enabled them to understand that certain unusual spiritual events were taking place, and they traveled to Bethlehem, not just as curiosity seekers, but to acknowledge that a great change was taking place in the life of the Mysteries with the advent of the Incarnation; and, most importantly, to place themselves in the service of that Event, that Person and the whole of its meaning for the future. (3)
Those who know something of outer history, since the events in Palestine, realize that paganism - the Mysteries - passed away into the shadows (4), largely due to the influence of those who practiced the early Christian religion (although it would be fair to say, that science, arising in the 14th and 15th centuries, played a significant role near the end). Yet, today, paganism, witchcraft and other once lost arts and crafts, seem to have returned. Somehow science does not answer all our questions and the Mysteries are yearned for again.
This question should be asked: Where are the modern Magi? Where are the initiates in the age of science and materialism?
The prophecies of the Hopi Indians, of America's southwest, expect in this time the appearance of the True White Brother, or the Elder Brother, who is to come from the East. Not the East as we understand it geopolitically, but from the direction of the rising sun, from Europe. (5)
Magi, Elder Brother, modern initiates. Our time has seen many gurus, many supposed spiritual teachers. Everywhere the old paths are being resurrected. Name a language group and somewhere will be found teachers trying to refound the old spiritual wisdom belonging to those peoples. But true Magi are rare. True initiates are not found selling their wisdom from give-away new age publications.
I will be so bold as to nominate three modern Magi (6), but sketch only briefly the work of the first two.
First, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, or Spiritual Science. Genuine students of his work realize that he has built a bridge out of the scientific impulse in the soul to the truths of the spirit. The central philosophical problems have been solved (7), and there already exists much new scientific work (called Goethean science) which redirects the scientific impulse away from its abstract materialism toward a renewed understanding of the need to combine the capacity of reason, with the capacities of imagination and devotion, in order to have a science which is both human and whole.(8) This, of course, hardly scratches the surface of his contributions.
Second, Valentin Tomberg, the author the anonymous Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism. This book has been placed as a seed within the religious of the Catholic Church (and elsewhere), where it brings initiation wisdom in line with the catholic mysteries and the three vows. Again, this brief touch upon the work of this individual barely opens the door to all that has been given. (9)
The point of mentioning the two above is to suggest that just in this time, the twentieth century, true initiates - the Magi (the Elder Brother of the Hopi Prophecy) - have returned and are at work within the fundamental roots of our civilization.
Where then does Franz Bardon fit in, and in what way?
Let us first make a couple of needed distinctions. Spiritual practices, in a very general sense, could be divided into two kinds: those where the individual rises up into the world of the invisibles (depth meditation, contemplative prayer or enlightenment practices) and those where the invisibles are brought down into the physical world (shamanism, witchcraft or any other form of ceremonial magic). This is, of course, an oversimplification, but does suggest a certain typical kind of trend in the way human beings approach the spiritual.
There is also another distinction, by which we could separate holy magic, from magic proper, and then the latter from sorcery. In holy magic the effect is generated from higher beings, a grace filled response to human petition. In magic proper, the operator brings about the effect through his or her own forces, having either some natural psychic abilities (to generalize) or having undergone some kind of disciplined course of development. In sorcery, the effect is generated (usually) by a being of the hierarchies of the left, who steals it from the life forces of the operator - this possibility having been created by the lack of consciousness (of the operator) of the real meaning of the symbolism and practices employed.
This does not mean that everything called sorcery fits the above, or that anything called magic cannot be essentially sorcery, but rather that there are three general means through which effects are created and within the higher traditions these are the distinctions made.
These distinctions allow us to place in proper relationship to each other various spiritual practices. The Catholic Mass, for example, follows certain forms of ritual magic, but in reality is holy magic because the effects are produced through petition and grace. Likewise is a healing brought about either by an incarnated Saint, or through a petition to a transcended Saint or to Mary. In Wicca, a "drawing down" can be any of the three, depending upon the operator's understanding, and the relationship the spiritual world takes to the ceremony. Shaministic practices take the same course, being all three possibilities depending upon the operators understanding, and the spiritual beings involved. Channeling tends to sorcery, that is an effect produced by a being of the hierarchies of the left, largely because so many channelers lacks real psychic gifts, and often give away consciousness in order to produce the supposed "link" (that is, they accept possession).
Again, it is not the name that is given to the practice (Mass, ritual etc.), but the actual nature of the relationship between the spiritual world and the practitioner (magician, sorcerer, witch, and so forth).
Everybody is familiar with the idea from the spiritual East, that the physical world is Maya, or Illusion. Not as many are aware that at the gates of the spiritual world, the first spheres penetrated can be even more "illusory" than the physical world. Depending on the type of practice one may well find one's self awakening, not across the threshold, but trapped within the individual astral body, facing not true spiritual beings and events, but merely self created larva and phantoms (10). Further, an evocation, whether directed at the Goddess, or any other being, will not necessarily produce a contact with that being.
With these problems in mind, let us now consider some general facts. In central Europe, the practice of ceremonial magic has always been present, but in modern times it is becoming more and more widespread and public. Many Lodges exist, and many forms of practice are carried out (11). In England, goddess worship has returned with considerable variety and some deep arguments concerning whether or not one or the other method is most appropriate. In America, the initial imitation of Native ritual shamanism, begun in the 1960's by many non-Indians, has began to be rejected by Native spiritual leaders; and varieties of witchcraft and magic are practiced in many places.
It would be fair to say that many good hearted people engage in a variety of pagan practices pursuing uncertain goals. The reason for the uncertainty and the chaos (enormous variety of ways) is that, while the old Mysteries have passed away, they cannot be resurrected by the mere copying of those small aspects that remain of these deep spiritual understandings . Too much has been lost to these traditions over the years of their eclipse, and what is done today in their name is a pale imitation of their once true and magnificent stature. In not a few instances, today's practices constitute great sacrilege, defiling the true impulses of the original participants (and often the very places they once worshipped).
The problem is even more complicated by changes that have occurred in the nature of human consciousness. The pagan Mysteries arose at a time when human inner life had certain qualities it no longer possesses (12). To attempt to reproduce those practices and rituals in modern times is to try to reverse Time itself. It cannot be done.
But what then of the impulse to pursue these practices, which at their core represents a desire to return ritual and spirituality to daily life, not only for the individual but to the community as well. This desire manifests in the new covens, circles, and lodges, as well as the desire for a new tribalism.
Thus, just as the magi (initiate - I recognize that the singular of magi is magus, nevertheless I have continued to use the term magi, because I want in each instance to remind us of those priest-kings of the ancient mysteries, who bowed down before the Incarnation of Love) Rudolf Steiner redeems the impulses at the heart of science, and the magi Valentin Tomberg redeems the impulses at the heart of the Christian (catholic) Mysteries, so the magi Franz Bardon lays the groundwork for the redemption and resurrection of all that lies at the heart of ritual community life.
Now this is not easy, because today's human being is so individualistic that he and she usually lacks the capacity to truly form communities. The self is too central in modern forms of consciousness (particularly in the cultural West, but this phenomenon is advancing elsewhere as well), and lacks the capacity (in general) to sufficiently restrain itself in order to maintain the social and psychological balance needed to form and maintain real community. It is this overwhelming of community forces that paralyzes tradition in modern life. In a number of ways, for many generations, the traditional structures of community life have been eroding. We are, in this moment then, caught in-between one social order (civilization) and the next. This is true everywhere in the world, in complicated ways and for complicated reasons (13).
The main cause of modern social chaos is that events in human history have purpose and are woven from streams of ancient and future karmic need. This gives shape to these events, as these events have the role of educating human beings.
At our particular moment of time it is necessary for individual human beings to experience powerfully their inner freedom. But this is only truly done through the encountering of crises that must be resolved alone. In a sense, the passage across the boundaries into the third millennium is a great Work of Art, a Drama which brings as many individuals as possible to an inner experience of the Abyss; that is to find themselves alone, faced with unavoidable and intense moral choices, leading to the crisis of "to be or not to be". This rite of passage arises whether a person is spiritually inclined or not. The only difference in the quality of the experience is in the degree of self consciousness.
This becoming of the human spirit is being forged in an alchemical furnace of unavoidable real life events. Experiencing this aloneness we yearn for community, but yet lack the skill to create it. Many individuals seek for spiritual community in response to this crisis.
Given these facts, it is then possible to understand that Franz Bardon's work begins with the individual. So that, even though it is ultimately aimed at a renewal of community ritual life, in the moment (our time) in which it is planted as a seed, it can only be taken up by individuals. In the ancient Mysteries, ritual life was ordered from the top down, hierarchically. Recall the ancient cultures, such as Old Egypt. These were theocracies, with priest kings. In our time, the time of the new Mysteries, ritual life has to be born in the individual, to be resurrected there first.
From this we can come to understand that a kind of conflict has arisen. On the one hand people want to resurrect the old Mysteries, and to bring their remembered Gods down into the physical world through ceremony and ritual; and on the other hand this is an impossibility. The desire, given the temper of the times discussed above, is understandable, but we cannot turn back the clock, ever.
The problem is not that the remembered Gods don't exist, but that the prior relationship no longer exists. To refound the relationship of human beings to the world of the spirit is the necessary true course, but this cannot be done in the old ways. Knowledge of the spirit, in the time of science, needs to arise in disciplined ways, and in accord with the modern form of consciousness
This is where Franz Bardon's gift to us can be of service. But to receive that gift a certain attitude has to be cultivated: namely, to recognize our own limits. One of the errors which flows from our excessive individuality is to presume that the meager and romantic views we hold, of the few remnants of the ancient pagan Mysteries we possess, are adequate. Our desire for spiritual knowledge of the kind needed to return ritual life to the ways of our communities can lead us on paths of illusion, if we do not proceed carefully.
The age of science has developed a particular path to the truth. This path is not inherently anti-spiritual; on the contrary, it is based on a special moral foundation. This foundation can be expressed as follows: Anyone who asserts the truth of a thing, must, as well, show how that result was obtained; and, this in such a way that another may find this same truth for themselves following the indicated methodology. If a result can't be replicated, the asserted truth fails this moral test.
Leaving aside whether science always follows this rule, its existence brings us full force against the problems of truth, knowledge, belief, faith, facts, fantasy, and imagination. All of those elements just mentioned can be found in science, history, sociology, paganism, magic, religion, in any human discipline. The question then becomes, in its simplest form, are reason and faith incompatible?
This is not a simple problem. That paganism, witchcraft and magic practices tend to ignore it, only turns these world views into "belief" systems. As such, one can legitimately question whether there is any real knowledge there (in the sense that a scientific approach would offer repeatable experiments). Practitioners of these arts are of course free to proceed in any fashion they wish. However, the question being put forward in this essay is whether, should they wish to place their work out of the realm of belief (and anecdotal assertions) and into the realm of reproducible knowledge, what could be done?
I know of no other work in the realm of ritual spiritual life which is as profound and deep and fundamentally compatible with the scientific spirit as is Franz Bardon's three books (14). In the following and final paragraphs I will outline (very briefly) this approach to ritual spiritual life. Those who practice other arts, should be aware that Bardon's work is not being offered instead of other disciplines, but as the foundation on which to truly bring the new mysteries into community practice. Bardon's is an impulse which cures and purifies and ennobles the science of ritual practice; and, along with the two other magi mentioned above (15), provides a surety of approach which is equal to the demands of the scientific age for reproducible practices (experiments) and methodologies, yet, at the same time, never violates the realm of the heart, the realm of faith, hope and charity.
Bardon begins, in Initiation into Hermetics, by laying out the theoretical structure of this science. There is no expectation that this material should be immediately understood. What is to follow will lead to the meaning of the terms used. For example, he writes: "Simultaneously, the mental sphere is the sphere of thoughts which have their origin in the world of ideas, consequently in the spiritual akasha. Each thought is preceded by a basic idea which, according to its property, accepts a definite form, and arrives to the consciousness of the ego through the etheric principle, consequently the mental matrix, as expression of the thought in the shape of a plastic picture." (page 41, emphasis in the original).
This statement is not easy to comprehend. The theoretical part of the book takes up forty-eight pages, and covers, in a very efficient manner, a great deal of material. The next two hundred and forty pages consists of practice, arranged in ten Steps, each of which itself consists of three sub-categories of exercises (magic mental training; magic psychic training; and magic physical training). These experiments, the practices, then allow the student to slowly learn about both the microcosm and the macrocosm, carefully, one Step at a time. Over time the whole, previously theoretical, structure is proven through direct reproducible experiences.
In the second book, The Practice of Magical Evocation, ceremonial magic proper is taught. Again, in the first one hundred and thirty-seven pages, the theoretical structure is laid out, explaining in great detail all the elements of ritual practice (such as the significance of the circle, the triangle, the censer and so forth). In the next one hundred and ninety-three pages, several hundred Beings of the spiritual hierarchies are identified by name, located in their proper relation to the zodiac, and their skills and spheres of activity defined. In the last one hundred and forty-five pages, the seals (the sign or drawing that must be used to call the particular being into the material world) of these Beings have been given. I know of no other book on ceremonial magic that even begins to provide this wealth of detail.
It is also in the second book that the practitioner is confronted with a particular choice. This choice is not laid out in an obvious manner, but the careful student will nevertheless encounter it, and since it is a matter of some moment, I will outline it briefly here.
The magic path, as taught by Bardon, does not necessarily require of the practitioner that they engage in physical ritual magic. The whole work can be carried out meditatively, through what is called: mental traveling (rising up into the spiritual world, rather then bringing spiritual beings into the physical through evocation). Already the student has been asked to not carry out ceremonial magic until they have mastered the Steps of the first book, up to and including Step VIII. If they have followed this advice, and thus avoided great possibilities for falling into error and illusion, then they are capable of contacting spiritual beings through "severing the mental body from the physical".
The third book is called: The Key to the True Quabbalah. It is unlike any other Cabalistic work ever published. Such books usually deal with the Ten Sephiroth, as a matter of philosophy and Hebrew mysticism. Here the approach is the theory and the practice of the Knowledge of the Word, or true Theurgy (16).
The first fifty-eight pages look at the theoretical issues. The next ninety-seven, going from Step I to Step VII, cover the exercises necessary to understand how to pronounce letters quabbalistically. This is no easy matter, for each letter has a color oscillation, a tone, and a specific feeling connected to it. Thus, the letter A, has the color blue, the tone G, and the feeling ease. To pronounce it quabbalistically means to be able to hold these qualities with the whole consciousness, either in the mental (spiritual) world, the psychic (astral) world, or the physical (material) world, individually or simultaneously. This is a difficult matter to describe, a matter which is really only understood in practice (experimentally).
The next one hundred and eleven pages concern the final three Steps, which involve learning to pronounce letters according to the twofold, threefold or fourfold keys. These last are formulas, which when pronounced, produce profound effects in the various planes of existence, and without the aid of Beings.
Taken as a whole, the three books offer a path to the understanding of the universe, both macro and microcosmically, that cannot be found in any other way.
Many in the so-called new age, following the dreams of their heart (which should seldom, if ever, be faulted), are playing with practices they really do not understand. The old Mysteries were sacred rites protected from the profane and not open to just anyone. Candidates for these Mysteries were subjected to trials of discipline and purification, usually lasting years, before they were permitted to engage and practice the deep rituals and ceremonies.
In our time, this protection remains, but it remains through the difficulty of the way true initiation (in its modern form) must be won. Since it is the individual who must achieve something here, those who would truly find the new Mysteries ought not to expect to devote themselves to anything less than a life dedicated selflessly to discipline and work.
Not only that, but the reader should recall that the ancient Mysteries existed for the benefit of the People, not for the benefit of the Priesthood. Look at the heart of the old ways, the last survivor of which is the now destroyed theocracy of Tibet, and you will see that the Priest and Priestess were Servants of the connection between the world of the spirit and the world of the People. True magic, or witchcraft, or shamanism does not exist for the purpose of attaining individual "honor and glory, riches and power and aim at the annihilation of [sic] enemies".(17)
True magic is service.
Joel A. Wendt, apprentice to magi, in the Season of Christmas, 1997.
(1) All three books are currently published by Dieter Ruggeburg, Wuppertal Western Germany.
(2) True initiation in the cultural West, is the equivilant, in terms of depth of practice and understanding, to what in the cultural East is called enlightenment.
(3) See in this regard: Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centers, by Rudolf Steiner.
(4) Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel: The Mists of Avalon, seems to have captured, in part, the spiritual essence of this change.
(5) For more on the Hopi Prophecy, see the essay: "The Mystery of the True White Brother: an interpretation of the meaning of the Hopi Prophecy by a member of the Elder Brother People",. Also see: The Voice of the Great Spirit: prophecies of the Hopi Indians, Rudolf Kaiser, Shambhala, 1991; and, The Return of Pahana: a Hopi Myth, Robert Boissiere, Bear & Company, 1990.
(6) In this I am not suggesting these three men are in anyway the reincarnations of the original three magi of the Gospels, only that they (the three modern magi) possess the necessary depth of spiritual initiation.
(7) This philosophical matter is outlined in Steiner's: The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity; and his, A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception.
(8) See the essay: "The Quiet Suffering of Nature".
(9) See also Tomberg's Covenent of the Heart, which makes a bridge from initiation wisdom to the Catholic laity, and others who have some connection to the Christian Mysteries.
(10) See page 130 et seq. Initiation into Hermetics.
(11) http://www.sonic.net/fenwick/chaos/letter2.html, and http://ftp.funet.fi/pub.../chaos/misc/letter1.txt
(12) See in this regard Rudolf Steiner's, Evolution of Consciousness. Also the works of Owen Barfield, especially: Speaker's Meaning; and, Saving the Appearences.
(13) For a more elaborate examination of this thesis, see on my website: "Strange Fire: the Death, and the Resurrection, of Modern Civilization"
(14) There are literally thousands of books in these fields, as well as, many more thousands of believers and practitioners. No one could read all this material to even begin to do a "comparative" study. The author of this essay is not a "scholar", but a "practitioner" and the views expressed are based on practice and experience, not theoretical mental gymnastics.
(15) Many people take sides, have favorite Ways and choose to see different Paths as in error or otherwise incompatible with their chosen point of view. I find such an approach unnecessarily limited, agreeing with the view offered by Jesus Christ, Master of the Magicians, that: "In my Father's House are many mansions." (John 14:2).
(16) Webster's defines "theurgy" as: "the art or science of compelling or persuading a god or beneficent or supernatural power to do or or refrain from doing something." True theurgy, in Bardon's sense, that is to be able to speak quabbalahistically, means to be able to do the same as god.
(17) Initiation into Hermetics, page 9.
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