My first serious foray into spiritual practice was Initiation Into Hermetics (IIH) by Franz Bardon. I had studied and practiced magic and meditation before then, but the fire of devotion was first kindled by the German-Czech magus of Troppau-Opava. For those unfamiliar with his written works, Bardon’s system of training requires rigor, discipline, and constant self-appraisal; in short, it is very hard work, almost a full-time job unto itself. And, yet, it is also very accessible, structured in a step-by-step self study pattern which means that anybody with the necessary dedication can make it through.
When I discuss Bardon, people often ask me — given that I am now a Saivite Hindu and practitioner of Yoga, and no longer identify as a Hermetist — “How far did you get? Did you get to step 10?” My answer: I got to step 10, and am still there. I have met a few who have claimed to have “completed” the tenth and final step, but was never convinced. The tenth step is focused on realizing final Unitive Realization, and that is not the work of a few years, not does it leave one’s personality as egocentric and obsessed with “magical powers” as when one began. If anything, Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics — when practiced with patience, diligence, and sincerity — will prepare you for and lead you toward wherever your true spiritual home may be.
Along with IIH, Bardon has two other (completed) books, as well as some supplementary material (which I will briefly describe later). Altogether, Bardon presents the closest thing we moderns have to a full and well-graduated Hermetic Yoga. No so-called Hermetic magical lodge system I have encountered comes close, and all would do well to incorporate at least the first three or four steps of IIH to their own programs.
The three primary techniques at the core of IIH are concentration, detailed self-analysis, and “pore-breathing”; and its three principle stages of advancement are (in ascending order) “elementary equilibrium”, magical powers (siddhis), and final Union (nirvikalpa samadhi). To any student of Yoga, all of this should sound quite familiar!
Bardon’s pore breathing technique is really a simple pranayama in which natural, diaphragmatic breathing is paired with active imagination (visualization of colors, kinesthetic sense-control) for straightforward energy work. This, intense concentration, and radical self-knowledge form the basis of elemental equilibrium. This equilibrium is akin to the ethical foundations of Yoga (yamas and niyamas) in that it is not expected to produce a perfected personality on its own, but rather to act as a solid foundation for deeper exploration and improvement. The goal of elemental equilibrium is not to erase all negative tendencies, but rather to balance one’s inner resources such that no one of the four gross elements (and the behavioral tendencies which they produce) are able to get out of control. When properly established, equilibrium allows for real self-discipline, clear thinking, healthy emotions, and the beginning of authentic intuition.
From here, training begins in earnest toward deep process control within one’s own psychic system and, by extension, one’s environment. This is the beginning of magic. Just as in Yoga, though, Bardon makes explicit that magical powers are not to be abused for personal gain, but used as milestones for measuring progress and then let go; if deliberately retained at all, they are only to be deployed for “aid to ailing humanity”.
At step 8, once elemental equilibrium is firm and several siddhis have been unfolded and transcended, one may begin to practice Bardon’s other two books — The Practice of Magical Evocation (PME) and The Key to the True Quabbalah (KTQ). It is also here that the focus of effort shifts entirely from magic to theurgy and mysticism, and the attainment of Union. The technique in question, at this point, combines intense concentration with visualization into contemplative prayer. One has moved far beyond the lower yogas of occultism and into the true Yoga of internalized worship where God alone Is.