Franz Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics Revisited: Part I

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Franz Bardons Initiation Into Hermetics Is seen by many as a classic self-initiatory guide into the Western Mystery Tradition. Earlier on this week I dusted off an old copy of the book to see if it still deserves the number of fans it seems to have all over the magick and occult forums.

I’ve decided to ignore the first section of the book for now, which explains hermetic theory. Instead I jump straight in to the second half that gives techniques for developing those magickal skills.

The first practical lesson (Step 1) Bardon gives is on “Thought control, thought discipline and mastery of thoughts”. After reading through these techniques I had the urge to throw the book at a wall and never pick it up again. I can see why many students find Bardon and Initiation Into Hermetics a difficult book to work through and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people get stuck on step one.

Thought Control according to Bardon is not thought control at all. Trying to control thoughts is the most useless practice anyone can do. It is simply not possible for any meaningful length of time, even the Buddhist and Zen monks will readily admit that.  The technique he outlines is actually thought observation in the tradition of Vipassana meditation or thought defusion in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Let the thoughts rise but do not become ‘hooked’ or attached to them. Let them float by.

It’s a great technique in itself for personal and spiritual development, but it’s beyond me why he calls it ‘control’. Anyway, a good technique with the wrong title – I can forgive that.

Thought Discipline is the next step in the book and it’s at this point that I found myself scrunching up my face in confusion as to why Bardon would think this a good technique.

The next exercise deals with thoughts which obtrude within us unwanted and persistently, and with not allowing them to emerge in our minds

At first this looks like a suggestion to suppress ‘bad’ thoughts, which is in complete opposition to the previous exercise. But as the section goes on it becomes clear that the intent is what we now call ‘mindfulness‘, to develop a full engagement in any activity we are doing, however mundane or boring.

This is good. But…

Once you have achieved a certain proficiency in the practice of this exercise, you may advance to the next. This exercise is as follows: retain one single thought or idea for a longer period of time while you steadfastly suppress all other thoughts (emphasis mine) which obtrusively try to join it.

I fundamentally disagree with this. The exercises are supposed to build on each-other (I would guess), so suppression of thought isn’t required, only dispassionate observation of ‘unwanted’ thoughts and ‘fusion‘ with a thought or idea that you want to have.

I think if someone new to these type of exercises tries this then they’re going to end up disappointed and blaming themselves for not suppressing the thoughts that they’re..well…not supposed to have. I’d be surprised if this part isn’t the major stumbling block of the practical exercises and the point where most people give up, believing that they do not have the ability to continue with more advanced steps.

The step should be to encourage and fuse with a wanted thought or idea and defuse from or observe with equanimity all other thoughts.

Mastery of Thoughts is the final element in this set of mind exercises and it’s stupid.

We will now learn to produce a complete vacancy of mind.

Unless you are a Kardashian or [insert another pop culture reference] that is not going to happen. If you don’t believe me then asked the most experienced meditator that you know. They’ll say that they might have no-thought for a couple of seconds before the monkey-mind takes over again.

Nothing must be permitted to appear in your spirit or mind; only complete mental vacancy should prevail.

I invite you to make up your own Kardashian joke here. But the point is that even the Dalai llama would have problems with a complete vacancy of mind  for 10 minutes (a period Bardon suggests). Perhaps some people will comment that they can have no-thought for hours, in which case I suggest organic brain damage or semi-coma has occurred.

Thoughts will always rise and fall with impermanence. It is not about no-thought, it is developing non-reaction and equanimity towards any thought that arises; and they will keep on arising until you pass from this earth. Bardon has asked too much of his students in this first step.

The lesson is simple: Observe thoughts as they come and go, become involved in the moment whatever your activity and focus on an idea if you need to while other thoughts chatter away in the background. Let them chatter without your attention or judgement.

They’re not going anywhere.

Part 2 coming soon.