“There actually is only one unique magic, and the grade of maturity
which the magician in question has arrived at is the measurement
for his individual development. The application of a universal law
depends on the character and the intentions of the individual.”
How the elements influence our human nature was an important aspect that turn of the century magicians believe were critically important in eventually achieving a balanced magical personality. The transmutation of these elemental forces is a powerful alchemical and magical process that each prospective magician must learn to harness and use for their work both internally and externally. One of the best known teachers of this premise, who has contributed much to our understanding of this process is Franz Bardon, a 20th Century Czechoslovakian Hermetic. He is best known for his three-volume set on Hermetic magic, Initiation Into Hermetics, The Practice of Magical Evocation, and The Key to the True Quabbalah.
Bardon’s excellent and comprehensive program for understanding the self, lay in three particular areas of training; the Mental, Psychic and Physical, stressing the purification of the personality. He believed that the adept must become acquainted with the cause and effect of the four elements and how to use them correctly on all planes of magical work. This begins with a self-analysis of the individual’s character and complete analyses of how each of the four elements binds and balances a person. With the influence of the four elements upon a person, one may learn to become evolved within and spiritually mature, thereby able to gain more magical power without. With the proper training of the elements upon the mental, physical and spiritual states, great influence can be made upon the astral body.
It was Bardon’s belief that “even the idea of the Godhead as the highest comprehensible entity may be divided in aspects analogous to the elements.” The Tarot teaches the reader that the mystery of the elements are intrinsically involved, as is evident with the first card, the Magician, who indicates the four elements as the keys to all knowledge.
When one examines the principles of each of the elements, their qualities are indicative of all that we are made up of. Each has an active or positive aspect, comprised of the constructive, creative, and productive sources. And each has passive or negative aspects, comprised of destructive or dissecting sources. Fire is latent, active and expansive, considered electrical. Water is cold, and contracting, fermenting and dividing, considered magnetic. These two elements form contrasting polarities. Air becomes the mediator of both fire and water, taking on the warmth of fire and the humidity of water, establishing equilibrium. When fire, water and air interact, the solidification of earth becomes possible, which causes it to operate electro-magnetically. This “tetrapolar” effect of the four elements forms the bases of the Tetragrammaton, the Yod-he-Vau-He. Bardon also stressed the influence of a fifth and ethereal principle, the Akasha as space-less and timeless, which governs the four elements by the law of Cause and Effect.
Bardon felt that this emanative power or “electro-magnetic fluid” is dependent upon the intensity of action of the elements inside the body and that with certain exercises and attitude the “capacity, strength and influence of this fluid could be increased or diminished,” depending upon what was desired. The active transmutation of these energies should be considered the first real serious work of the magician and alchemist.
The four elements can also be aligned with the four temperaments, which Hippocrates first spoke of in his work with the humors. The absence or abundance of each of the elements, recognized by the intensity of the four temperaments is what constitutes a person’s character. The choleric or fiery principle is the act of personal volition or the “Will.” The sanguine or airy principle is the work of the intellect or the mind. The melancholic or watery principle is the influence of feelings and emotions. And the phlegmatic or earthly principle is the union of all three in the consciousness of the ego.
Having an understanding of the temperaments helps one to identify our basic personality and all its characteristics. For instance, some positive qualities of choleric are active, enthusiastic, eager, resolute, and courageous, along with its negative aspects of gluttony, jealousy, irritability and destructiveness. Samples of positive sanguine qualities are diligence, kindness, optimism, and eagerness; as well as its negative aspects of contempt, lack of endurance, dishonesty and fickleness. Samples of positive melancholic qualities are respectability, modesty, compassion, calmness and confidence, whereas its negative qualities would be indifference, depression, shyness and laziness. Samples of positive phlegmatic qualities are endurance, firmness, seriousness, punctuality and self-assuredness, with negative aspects of dullness, tardiness, and unreliability.
Thus, by the work of controlling the elements within, or the temperaments of character, will the magician come into the balance of his or her own microcosm. This magical and mystical practice then allows the magician an insight into the secrets of the universe in whole.
In order to manifest this magical balancing act, Bardon formulated a serious of exercises that work with each of the elements through the mental, physical, and spiritual spheres. The mental plane or matrix, which Bardon called the “od,” is the subtlest form of the akasha. Any thoughts generated are electric, magnetic, indifferent or neutral, according to the elemental property of the idea. Bardon reminds us that, “wisdom does not depend on mind and memory, but on the maturity, purity and perfection of the individual personality. Such is the purpose of initiation. According to the universal laws, the magician will form his own point of view about the universe, which henceforth will be his true religion. He sees his lofty ideal, his first duty and his sacred objective in the union with the Godhead, in becoming the God-man.”
Mankind generally seeks this union with Godhead through a self-denying way of life or asceticism. Bardon instructs us in the difference between intellectual or mental asceticism, psychic or astral asceticism, and physical or material asceticism. The first has to do with the discipline of thoughts, the second in ennobling the soul through control of passions and instincts, and the third by harmonizing the body through a moderate and natural way of life. All three are critically important in Bardon’s work and in our understanding of it for our selves.
Working with the practical aspect of introspection and self-knowledge takes patience, perseverance, tenacity, and at the same time sharpens the mind and strengthens the consciousness and memory. This training of the mental, psychic and physical body is indispensible in obtaining equilibrium of the elements. One learns to appropriately assign one of the four elements to all faults. Then to meditate on each aspect of character deciding whether it is a large failure, a partial failure, or little to no failure. Once this has been done, one will come to understand which elements are more influential upon us. Thus a listing of these mental and psychic faults becomes a black and white aspect of the self, and is considered a psychic or occult mirror. This list allows the magician to recognize which of the elements are prevailing and which are weak in each person.
Wilhelm Reich in his book Character Analysis also discusses this theory of character, stating that there are unconscious mechanisms that must be investigated, along with the comprehension of the dynamics and economics of the psychic processes. Ernest Jones (1919) and Karl Abraham (1924) referred to the theory of character by explaining the difference between character traits and instinctual forces.
Sigmund Freud believed that certain character traits were transmutations of instinctual impulses, but that one can learn to work with the conscious mental processes to transform or replace all those acts, ideas, purposes, and resolutions which have hampered our development, and apply their more positive aspects toward becoming a more balanced individual. However, we must be prepared for certain hindrances, which may hamper this process. Our consciousness may overshadow our truer unconscious motives. And as well, our unconscious desires, motives and ideas, may become repressed. We must learn to compare our unconscious mental processes with our external conscious perceptions, in order to grasp what is more real and relevant for us. Freud is careful to point out that our “truth” is not only what is repressed, which remains alien to our consciousness; but also that which dominates our egos, can all too often become an action that is in opposition to what is being repressed.
Aleister Crowley speaks of this struggle in controlling the mind in Book 4, where he examines the nature of physical, mental and moral conditioning. To paraphrase: There is the person seeing what he wants to see and then there is the thing seen. There is the person and what he believes he knows and the thing known. This then becomes the diversified field of understanding of what is conscious thought. He also speaks about the “rebellion of the will,” against the desire to meditate, which must be overcome. Further, Crowley’s description of the temple as being the external universe is but a counterpart to the magician’s conscious universe. The wand, cup, sword and pentacle are the outer elements of his will, understanding, reason and his body. The work and progress of these inner sources are reflected upon the work of the outward magical tools and how they manifest their results upon the outside world.
The black and white mirror represents the mental and psychic character aspects of the self. By prevailing over the more negative qualities and enhancing the more positive qualities, we establish a balance of the elements within us. With the use of autosuggestion, transmutation of the passions is attainable. And with repeated meditation there is an assurance of the continuance of those better qualities. The mental, psychic and physical bodies progressively become disciplined, controlled and trained.
Working with our subconscious can be difficult. It is all we do not wish for, with the incentives or impulses of our passions, failures, and weaknesses. Introspection causes us to look at our subconscious motivations. This difficult task will allow one to acquire self-reliance by his or her reflection and meditation. Through this process, we learn how to transmute the apposing aspects of our ego into a harmonious whole. There is also the added benefit of refining our character and developing our magical faculties.
Bardon insists that many aspects of control can be achieved. The mental state can progress from controlling one’s thoughts and senses, to controlling those of animals, and attaining the ability of clairvoyance with elevation to higher levels. Training of the psychic state using pore breathing will allow us to: sense those elements, accumulate them, use them for attaining equilibrium of the electric and magnetic fluids, separate the astral body from the material body, and communicate with deities. Training of the physical state with conscious breathing and eating will bring accumulation of vital power into the body. One will be able to eventually create and work with the elementals, create fluid condensers, load talismans, amulets and gems, and be able to treat the sick with electromagnetic fluids. By doing all this, the will becomes strengthened and the character refined.
“Mastery of the elements is the darkest chapter of magic about which very little has been said because the greatest Arcanum is hidden in it. At the same time, it is the most important magical domain, and he who does not possess the elements will scarcely get on in magic science.
Abraham, Karl. (1968) Selected papers: With an introductory memoir by Ernest Jones. Jackson, TN: Basic Books.
Bardon, Franz. (1976) Initiation into hermetics – A course of instruction of magic theory and practice. Wuppertal, W. Germany: Dieter Ruggeberg.
Bardon, Franz. (1975) The practice of magical evocation – Instructions for invoking spirits from the spheres surrounding us. Wuppertal, W. Germany: Dieter Ruggeberg.
Crowley, Aleister. (1980) Book 4. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Freud, Sigmund. (1963) General psychological theory – Papers on metapsychology. New York: Collier Books.
Reich, Wilhelm. (1976) Character analysis. New York: Pocket Books.