Various “Theisms” in the Perennial Wisdom

The principle characteristic of the Eternal Religion (Sanātana Dharma, or, as it is known in the West, Perennial Philosophy) is that each Revelation represents a metaphysic quite true within its position in the greater metaphysical context, and that each also provides access — through its esoteric essence — to  that Truth which lies behind all of them. It is not true, as many today claim, that “all religions are equally true”, as each primarily addresses different problems. It is also not the case that “all religions are one”, at least not at the varying levels to which each one belongs. Ultimately, all valid paths do lead to the Summit, but — as Frithjof Schuon makes clear in his magnum opusThe Transcendent Unity of Religions — the unity of religion is quite real only relatively close to that Summit, below which they are as distinct as the cultures and individual souls who require them. This is not a question of superiority and inferiority, but of relative value in approaching the Absolute and, it must be said, of the Absolute approaching us.

It would take a great deal of space to conduct this analysis for every one of the revelatory traditions, so I will limit myself here to generalities, mentioning specific faiths insofar as they present important illustrations or exceptions. Useful categories can be built according to the respective “theisms” discussed in modern academia. Let it be first understood, though, that these are not absolute categories; they are only meaningful insofar as they helpfully permit us to discuss metaphysical positions. The “theisms” under discussion we will call: monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, and nontheism.

We in the West largely assume — based in academic hypothesizing, rather than any actual facts — that monotheism is somehow a natural evolution of all “prior” religious thought, somehow bringing humanity out of an intellectual dark age and toward the light of reason. This line of reasoning — not to mention the dubious and murky “light” attributed to it! — is bankrupt insofar as it prefers imperialism over reality. It is true that, historically, monotheism is a later development in human thought, but it is hardly more advanced for it. This sort of thinking opens the door for three things, all of which are realized and entrenched today: the deprecation and attempted destruction of other metaphysics (often in the guise of “scientific” anthropology); atheism leading to reductionism (as in the clever-without-content quip that monotheism is an improvement over polytheism, while atheism goes “one step better”); the loss of contact with the truly metaphysical current underlying Western religion and, thus, the occultation of esoterism. It ought to be mentioned in passing that the assumptions which have brought this situation about have also given birth to an increasingly shallow “neopaganism” (used broadly, here, to include everything from Wicca to Punk-Zen to “yoga for sexy abs”) intended to rectify the situation by way of an invented or “reconstructed” pseudo-esoterism, and also to an absolute reductionism which feels completely justified in arrogantly telling men, women, and children of all backgrounds that “consciousness” is nothing but “user-illusion” thrown-off as an unnecessary byproduct of physical-chemical processes. The aforementioned neopaganism leads otherwise sincere seekers of the Spirit so far off of the rails with promises of worldly powers-seldom-delivered and freeze-dried enlightenment-never-delivered that God only knows how long it will take them to return to course, while materialist-reductionism is grounded so deeply in its circular and self-defeating logic that it is shocking when anybody succeeds in digging themselves even partly back out again (such as the former-atheist philosopher Antony Flew managed to do, to the consternation of the Dawkinses and Dennets of the world).

Thus, it is quite possible to view monotheism’s fall into excess and say, with Alain Daniélou, that

Monotheism is therefore a metaphysical error, since the world principle, which is outside the world, is beyond number, impersonal,  indescribable, and unknowable. Above all, monotheism is dangerous because of its consequences, since it is a projection of the human “self” into the divine sphere, replacing love and respect for the divine work as a whole with a fictitious character […] Intolerant, the so-called “only god” is, in fact, only the god of one tribe. Monotheistic religions have served as an excuse for persecutions, massacres, and genocides; they fight each other to impose the dominion of their heavenly tyrant on others. (Shiva and the Primordial Tradition, 2007, Inner Traditions, pg 4)

We must recognize this, however, as only part of the story. What we call monotheism did, indeed, begin as a “tribal religion” belonging principally to whom we now call Jews — a worldwide faith and culture who began their history as heterodox Middle Eastern polytheists led out of a polytheism in decay by the supreme grace of Revelation. The newly-formed monotheism has remained a “tribal” religion, though it carries a universal mission. Judaism has never been a proselytizing faith, but it has always accepted converts, which have included other Middle Eastern peoples, Germans, Celts, Slavs, and even Greek and Roman citizens who were drawn by Judaism’s focus on the Divine’s insistence on moral responsibility (something rather alien to the main stream of Greek and Roman polytheism). Though tribal, it was this universality of message that allowed for Christianity and Islam to spread monotheism much further afield and more deeply into other tribal matrices.

It remains to say, though, that in none of the three Abrahamic monotheisms is “monotheism” absolute. It can’t be. As Daniélou points out (ibid. pg 4 – 5), humans do not worship an impersonal Absolute directly; we do so through symbols. Even in Islam and Judaism, wherein the making of divine images is expressly prohibited, diagrams, geometric figures, and even the written text of revealed Scripture are all used to refer to God and, more to the point, to God’s saints and angels. This is all without having to go deeply into the practices of Catholic and Orthodox Christians (let alone Gnostics) involving the veneration of saints and certain Archangels. The only notable attempts, then, of “pure monotheism” among the Abrahamic faiths are the failures of Protestantism which, to once again use Daniélou’s language, are little more than “political fictions” without religious content, except insofar as they are forced to turn attention to the person of Jesus — an act which immediately transforms a neat-but-inconsistent monotheism into a violently unacknowledged duotheism. Christianity requires the Trinity, in one form or another, for the very core of its metaphysic to remain intact and for its spiritual method to be efficacious.

It is true that Jews and Muslims do not worship their saints and angels — least of all the djinni and demons! — but the acknowledgement of their presence is enough to give the lie to “pure monotheism” as anything but metaphysical ideal. And it is an ideal to which Muslims, especially, try to adhere; that, too, is a requisite of their metaphysic. If a Muslim ceases to proclaim that “God is greater” and that “There is no divinity but the Divinity” (which may be metaphysically transposed to “There is no divinity outside of the Divinity”), he is no longer a Muslim at all. But this brings us to the so-called “polytheisms” of Hinduism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Shinto, the aboriginal traditions, and so forth. Are these truly any more “polytheistic” than Christianity? Are they less “monotheistic” than Islam?

Hinduism — composed as it is of four principle sects, each sect containing a panoply of traditions, lineages, and sub-faiths — is what has been termed a “henotheism”. In fact, the term was coined specifically for Hinduism. Being something of an academic abstraction, though, henotheism carries only so much explanatory value. It essentially refers to any “theism” which acknowledges the existence of multiple divine beings, but which places supreme importance upon only one of them (either one at a time, or one over all). While a useful “middle ground” between monotheism and polytheism, we quickly find that the definition is not accurate. As such, for our use, we will have to redefine it thus: for the span of this article, henotheism refers to a religion in which the Divine is beyond name and number, but which reveals Itself within the Creation in a myriad of ways. To the Śaiva, God reveals Himself all throughout Nature, and in all of those regions and layers which we refer to as “supernatural”. That is to say, there is nowhere and nothing which does not reveal something of God and which, with the correct knowledge, cannot be used as a springboard back to Him. Each person will have her Īṣṭa Devatā (“chosen deity”), a deva (celestial or angelic being), Mahādeva (Great Deva, something like an Archangel), or rarely a devatā (minor deity such as a local, tribal, or nature spirit). (A Mahādeva is more easily referred to as a God, while the other two categories might be designated as “gods” generally, in order to provide an easy English translation as established in the English works of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami.) This God or god becomes the principle focus of one’s devotional life and daily worship, but is not therefore held to be the “only” deity. It is as if one were to claim Saint Michael as the one, true god, forgetting for Whom Saint Michael works; this is a mistake a Hindu simply would not make! Of course, there have been (since British colonial involvement) decadent “liberal Hindus” who fall into this error under the Western academic mistake of believing gods and spirits to be “mere symbols” of purely sub-personal, subconscious psychic elements within the individual, but they are an aberration rather than representatives of Hinduism properly so-called.

God manifests for each person as, in, and through their Īṣṭa Devatā; at the same time, the Īṣṭa Devatā is an entity unto itself. There is no contradiction, here, for each entity’s reality is its very foundation in God. It is as meaningless to say that one’s Īṣṭa Devatā is “merely a symbol” as it is to say that one’s mother is “merely a symbol”; in fact, it is the greater of the two errors, for one’s mother is (without getting into the divine archetypes to which any human role attaches) a mortal woman, while the Īṣṭa Devatā is a more direct conduit of God’s grace. It is therefore not idolatry to pray at the feet of a statue of Ganeśa, because the Hindu understands that Ganeśa is not limited to this little statue. Ganeśa is the manifest AUM, and the statue is the Word of God given visible form. We extend this concept by saying that Ganeśa is Śiva’s first-born son, which is to say that He is Śiva’s emanation-as-Word given purposeful autonomy in what medieval Scholastics called the Great Chain of Being.

The metaphysic of our henotheism, then, is the very root and trunk of Perennial Philosophy. It is the metaphysical matrix in which other metaphysics exist, and from which they subsist. This is the reason why Schuon and Guénon made Hinduism and Islam the bookends of religion in their writings: because God has done so already. It is not going too far to say that Hinduism and Islam are the most universal of all revealed traditions or, to be more precise, the most universal upwellings of the Eternal Religion. To return to tree imagery, the henotheism of Hinduism is the root and trunk, while the as-pure-as-possible monotheism of Islam is the widest extent of the canopy.

This is the true polytheism. The religion of classical Egypt (discounting the aberrant cult of the Aten) was a henotheism in our sense, with the unmanifest Godhead behind the numerous other deities and spirits. The higher forms of Greek philosophy were pure metaphysics, with Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and the post-classical Hermetists (all influenced to some degree by Egypt and, to lesser extent, India) establishing thoroughly henotheistic approaches. Most of the so-called “aboriginal” people of the world, whether in the Americas, Australia, Siberia, or anywhere else they are still to be found, have a well-developed metaphysic along these lines. The Dreamtime of Australian aborigines is extraordinarily similar to the Paradise of esoteric Judaism and Islam, the Kingdom of Heaven of Christianity, and the realm of ancestors in both Shinto and Confucian-Taoist perception; that is to say, it is a return to Primordiality wherein the individual moves as one with the Consciousness beyond ordinary space-time, merging into the “stream of ancestors” stretching all the way back to the First Ancestor — God. Black Elk Speaks — one of the most important expressions of any form of genuine Native American spirituality — is the recounting of a lifetime lived according to this experience; so-called “shamanism” is, in its purest expression, oneself becoming the walking embodiment of Primordiality.

Buddhism and Jainism are accused — or, depending on one’s audience, praised — in the West for being “atheistic”, but we have to be cautious. Of the Buddhist doctrine, Frithjof Schuon has to say:

The not infrequent employment, by the Buddha, of terms proper to Brahmanical theism clearly shows that the Buddhist perspective has nothing in common with atheism properly so called. “Extinction” or the “Void” is “God” subjectivized; “God” is the objective “Void.” If Buddhism — except in their perspectives of Mercy — do not objectivize the Void or the Self, this is because they have nothing to ask of it, given their own anti-individualist point of view; if nevertheless there are certain “dimensions” where things appear otherwise, this is because the “objective aspect” of Reality is too much in the nature of things to pass unperceived and without being turned to account on occasion. (Treasures of Buddhism, 1993, World Wisdom Books, pg 19 note)

This applies equally to all forms of Buddhism, but is most especially clear with Theravada and Zen. When we examine Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism), Amidhism (Pure Land), and the cults of the Bodhisattvas, we find ourselves back in the realm of henotheism, wherein the gods, spirits, and Bodhisattvas provide avenues to Nirvana. The Tirthankaras of Jainism serve an identical function; as “ford-crossers”, they provide not only examples to be followed, but also subjects of veneration as vessels of grace.

Each of these traditions — and each of these perspectives which we have called by various “theisms” — presents an avenue for grace by devotion and work.

It is the Grace of God which carries you from the lowest point to the highest point. You are automatically carried after you cross the boundary of māyā; however, His Grace has been with you throughout the whole of your journey. His Grace is always there in the background for if it were not there you could not do anything. (Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme by Swami Lakshmanjoo, 2007, Universal Shaiva Fellowship, pg 60 note)

Vitally, each of these revelations, and their attendant religious superstructures, first and foremost represent methodological approaches appropriate each to a different “world”, and not mere sets of beliefs to be accepted or rejected at whim or out of either fear or fanaticism. Such is Grace that the Way which is both straight and narrow is not so straight as to be without scenery of tear-drenched beauty, and not so narrow as to exclude any soul — in principle and, in the fullness of time, in fact — from Divine Embrace.

Buddhism & Christianity in Light of Their Parent Faiths

Much can be learned, by metaphysical intellection, from the comparison of Buddhism and Christianity. In a way, that is the axis of Schuon’s Treasures of Buddhism (formerly In the Tracks of Buddhism) as well as Osborne’s Buddhism and Christianity in the Light of Hinduism. It is at least as instructive to see how they arose from their parents.

As Schuon points out, both Christianity and Buddhism arose not through “reformation” (a charge often made by modern scholars far from the essence of tradition), but through “invasion”; the mission of both the Buddha and the Christ was — as logoic emanations into the phenomenal — to jailbreak the inward methodological functions of primordial traditions held captive in their own pharisaical formalism, and make them available, through proper initiatic processes, to people outside of their original contexts. Contrary to popular belief (backed up, in many cases, by poor academic scholarship), it is entirely possible to fully join — through varying processes — both Hinduism and Judaism. In fact, it always has been possible, or else the Greek devotees could not have joined Jewish worshipers, and Alexander’s men could not have become Hindus. Nevertheless, at the times of their earthly ministries, both Jesus and Siddhartha ran head-long into the rock-hard crystallizations of legalistic formalisms strangling the life out of influential segments of their parent faiths — faiths which, even today, are largely associated with particular national, cultural, and/or racial membership. In order to universalize those methods of liberation, it was necessary to remove them from seeming dependence upon their birth-races.

Both Christianity and Buddhism are initiatory in nature. That is, one is not a Christian or a Buddhist until the proper steps are taken and commitments made, and the inward essences of each tradition remain unavailable — in principle and in practice, whatever Protestants may say — until the aspirant has demonstrated appropriate commitment and internalized certain graces comparable to yogic śaktis. By comparison, there are many degrees of participation in both Judaism and Hinduism in which one remains definitely Jewish or Hindu, and not a mere “nominalist”. It is sufficient, in both cases, to be born in; one cannot be born a Christian or a Buddhist, no matter how many generations of believers led to one’s birth. In Hinduism, it is even sufficient, according to Swami Vivekananda, simply to call oneself a Hindu and inwardly accept the essential doctrines of karma, dharma, and reincarnation. Further initiations are available to qualifying adherents of both faiths, but are not necessarily required to participate in the “life of faith”. True, a lot of study and community involvement is a requirement to join Judaism, however no more than exoteric involvement is demanded in either case.

The initiations of Buddhism and Christianity do differ considerably, but contain similar metaphysical elements. The Christian is baptized first by water, then by fire and Spirit, and only then is brought into the Body of Christ. During this process, she is (ideally) expected to study the Gospel closely, trying to find faith in it and putting it into action in her life. The process is definitely progressive, with one “stage” of initiation occurring only after the previous one has been completed. The full flowering of this process is in awakening the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, with Love containing and, as it were, animating the other two. The Buddhist, on the other hand, “takes refuge” simultaneously in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, corresponding approximately to saving faith in Jesus the Christ, in God’s Word (more the metaphysical Logos than biblical Scripture), and the mystical Body of Christ. As the Buddhist takes the triple-refuge all at once (though the inner blooming of the refuges may be quite gradual), the Christian must move from one to the next in the stated order. We can say that for the Christian, the first awakens Faith, the second Hope, and the third Love, going from the specific to the general; the corresponding virtues of Buddhism, if I may speak informally, we might call Intelligence, Knowledge, and Compassion.

Judaism most certainly possesses something of the baptismal mystery within it, as does Hinduism, both requiring some degree of ritual purity (depending upon one’s responsibilities). Judaism’s earliest known initiatory esoterism, corresponding to the baptism by the Spirit, was the “prophetic school” of Mount Carmel (which, incidentally, possesses close mystical ties to the Catholic Carmelite Order of genuine esoteric reformers). And, of course, all Jews are considered to be of “one body” in the sense of representing a single, world-influencing compact in service to God. The latter prophets of Judaism, representing the Mount Carmel school and its successors, as seen in the Hebrew Bible, represent the outpouring of Love to those both within and without the Jewish community. This was precisely the kernel which Jesus represented, first to Jews themselves — especially those of His inner circle of disciples, as seen in the esoteric shape of the Sermon on the Mount (presented only to His immediate inner circle, and not, as commonly misread, to the vast crowds from which they retreated for the Sermon) and, after His resurrection and appearance to Saul-cum-Paul and others, to the whole Roman world.

The esoterisms of ancient Hinduism are — as they still are today, given the all-around diversity of Hinduism — much more diverse than those of early Judaism. (Kabbalah is a relatively recent development, though still fully “orthodox” and traditional.) Still, the most well-known of Hindu esoterisms of the days leading up to the life of the Buddha were yogic in nature and, thus, at least mostly “gnostic”, compared to Judaism’s “bhaktic” or “loving-devotional” bent. (Again, this is pre-Kabbalah, as Kabbalah is decidedly gnostic in nature.) As these yogic schools of Hindu esoterism are known to be the ones which the Buddha encountered during his wanderings, it is this sort of approach which serves as the launching-point of Buddhism. Even Christian Gnosticism depends upon a pre-existing base of Faith, Hope, and Love — as the Jewish esoteric base. Primitive Buddhism — leading into Theravada Buddhism and, eventually, most forms of the Mahayana — has intellective meditation developing into unitive contemplation as its pattern. For the Christian, unitive contemplation sprouts from love, while for the Buddhist, universal compassion unfolds from unitive contemplation for, as Ramana Maharshi quipped, how can one mistreat who he knows to be himself?

It should go without saying that these general observations do not dismiss notable exceptions. That all four “poles” of sādhana — “spiritual discipline”, the four poles being karma or charyā (selfless action), bhakti or kriyā (ego-transcending devotion), dhyāna or yoga (“cessation of movements in the consciousness”), and jnāna (gnosis, or pure intellection) — must arise within any complete tradition. As such, Christianity certainly has evidence of a purely contemplative tradition in the form of the rediscovered Gospel of Thomas, and the likes of Meister Eckhart. Buddhism carried the seed of devotional love from the first, which eventually took root and flowered as the various forms of “Amidhism” or so-called “Pure Land” Buddhism. Just as nama-japa is performed by Hindu bhaktas, the Saving Name of Jesus is invoked by hesychasts and their heirs, and some schools of Sufis practice remembrance (dhikr) of the Name of the Prophet, so do Amidhists practice nembutsu or buddhanusmṛti (“rememberance of the Buddha”) in which the name of Amitābha-Buddha (the Buddha of Compassion) is chanted — either alone, or as part of a traditional mantric formula. And, just like the bhaktas and Christian devotees, the purpose of this chanting is achievement of a Paradise from which Nirvāna may be reached much more easily; in other words, it is a vehicle of extra-cosmic Mercy, a horizontal, inclusive, heavenly circle of communion extending outward from the shaft of a vertical ray of Grace; it is a similar “heavenly geometry” to that of the “side effect” or angelic outpouring of the Eucharistic Mass, in which Heaven’s Grace is extended outward from the sacrificial altar of the Church to those open to the influence up to several miles around, though occurring in subtler fields of activity than the material and lower astral.

A distinction between Christianity and Buddhism which is often made — as could, in the same spirit, also be made between Judaism and Hinduism — is that the salvation to which they aspire (or the Absolute which they preach) differs considerably. This is to forget, however, the apophatic essence of Christian theology. It is unfortunately true, due largely to the influence of both sentimentalists and rationalists, that Christians have not given this esoteric center much credit in several centuries and, at least in many forms of Protestantism, sometimes even brand this most orthodox of doctrines as “heresy”, but the degeneracy of intellection in no way degrades Truth. It is true that popular understandings of “heaven” are more like the Paradise of Amidhism than the Nirvāna of contemplative Buddhism (and, of course, Amidhism’s ultimate aim), but God the Father and Nirvāna could just as easily be synonyms. One need look no further than Dionysius the Areopagite to see how Christian mystical theology meets the same formlessness found in Buddhism and the height of Advaita Vedanta and non-dual Saivism (as well as Kabbalah).

Another question ought to be addressed, here: that of exoterism and esoterism. Christianity and Buddhism are, strictly speaking, esoteric religions. By contrast, Judaism is an exoteric tree which produces esoteric fruits; Hinduism is quite a bit different, in that it is a flowering exoteric bush with deep esoteric roots. In Judaism, one begins religious life with exoterism, and could very well pass through life in this mode exclusively, while every Hindu has immediate access to some degree of esoteric teaching and practice. Buddhism, given the cultural environment in which it spent most of its lifetime, has largely been able to retain its obviously esoteric character. Even so, it has built upon itself an exoteric edifice for the benefit of the great mass of followers. Christianity, however, has become almost entirely obscured by its exoterism. It is as if the village outside a fortress wall, extending horizontally around to the edge of the wilderness, entered a growth boom in which it could only grow upward to hide the castle from view. Despite appearances, the castle still stands, and is quite more than a mere tourist destination, but the loud and ugly city outside must be traversed without getting lost in the crowd, and then the wall crossed with the help of a guide possessing appropriate experiential authority. In brief, Christianity most certainly still exists in its original, esoteric “DNA”, but its exoteric outer shell has become a mutated limb with a malignant growth. The grace of the outward Sacraments is still efficacious within those institutions with authentic spiritual succession.

An entire book could be written on these relationships and, indeed, several have been. The preceding have been little more than some metaphysical notes compared to what could be said in this connection. The details stack up as we realize more and more that Christianity and Buddhism present important universalized systems of vital religious doctrines and practices, represented in a form assimilable by peoples well outside of their birth-cultures. The decadent Germanic, Greco-Roman and Celtic religions were not the vehicles of grace the men and women of Europe required, and the traditional doctrines of the far East were very much “this-worldly” and so, while mostly fairly healthy, incomplete. Of course, much could be made of this analysis, and I am necessarily leaving out exceptions and details for the sake of brevity. That, however, is not my present purpose. The present purpose, in sum, is this: salvation comes to the world in the shape and time most necessary. Christianity and Buddhism are still today what they were at their inception: extensions of Heaven’s Grace in a messianic form custom-suited to the Iron Age in which we still live. Those who seek Life in this world have already had a rope — appropriate to their precise needs — thrown to them from shore and need only open their eyes and take hold.

Franz Bardon’s Hermetic Yoga — Part 3: The Key to the True Quabbalah

In traditional Hindu Yoga, much of the work of the āsanas and prānāyāmas is for the “cleaning out” of the nādīs — the nerve-channels of the subtle, transphysical nervous system. These anatomical exercises not only tone and condition the body, but also the mind and that which yokes the mind and body together as a unit during one’s lifetime. In some forms of Tantra, this process is augmented by the occult magical practice of intoning phonemes (the sounds individual letters make, or syllables which encapsulate them or make them pronounceable singularly) within individual regions of the body (and, thus, intersections or plexuses of nādīs). This practice is accompanied by visualizations which invoke particular devas or Mahādevas, setting into motion a very particular flow of śakti (power, energy) within the corresponding channels. The goal of this approach is, in part, to clear out those channels very rapidly, and to get the śaktis moving through them sooner rather than later. Those who teach these methods acknowledge that they are potentially quite dangerous, and will only release the operative details to those who have been well and thoroughly prepared through the baptisms of Water and of Fire (often in the form of consistent ceremonial worship in the Tantric fashion) and the more usual Yoga practices.

A great deal of a student’s work in Initiation Into Hermetics (IIH) serves as the necessary preparation to a very similar process contained in The Key to the True Quabbalah (KTQ). As I said before, one must have mastered at least through step 8 of IIH to engage in the work of KTQ, and not all students of Bardon will even find themselves ready for, or requiring, KTQ’s particulars. It is also recommended that, prior to moving beyond the first few steps of KTQ, the Hermetist has practiced The Practice of Magical Evocation (PME) at least through the “zone girdling the Earth” — Bardon’s idiosyncratic title for the astral region corresponding to the forces and beings of the lunar zodiacal mansions.

As an interesting aside, this earth-girdling zone and its devas are of great historical importance in the practical work of Hermetic talismanic magic. Manuals of this art, such as the famous Picatrix of Islamic-Hermetic derivation, involve the invocation of these devonic powers by way of appropriate astrological timing as well as the inscription and/or intonation of relevant letters and words of power. Relevant to this discussion is the fact that these talismans are noted not only for their effectiveness in achieving so-called “practical”, or material, ends, but also for their visionary-mantic and even therapeutic efficacy. In other words, a thorough course of this lunar-zodiacal talismanry could form a gentle sort of Hermetic-Tantric practice! [Practical information on the practice thereof may be found in Nigel Jackson’s Celestial Magic: Principles and Practises of Talismanic Theurgy, 2003, Capall Bann Publishing, or compiled by the sufficiently advanced student of Bardon’s PME.]

Once one has established the elemental equilibrium, mastered mental travel, and become well-acquainted with the “fifth element” of ākāśa (variously translated as “space” or “ether”, referring to the subtle plasmic mind-stuff back of both the physical and astral worlds), one is considered to be prepared not only for theurgic-spheric evocation a la PME, but also for the tonal-ākāśic magic of KTQ.

This “tonal-ākāśic magic” takes multiple steps of inner training above and beyond the work of IIH steps 1 through 8, and carries one into the practices of steps 9 and 10 serving as aids to the techniques of astral travel and unitive bhakti yoga. The first few steps mostly involve, as in similar tantric practices aforementioned, intoning specific sounds mentally-astrally within corresponding bodily organs, glands, and nerve plexuses. Color visualizations, kinesthetic sensations, and musical notes are gradually built on to each in sequence until, eventually, one’s entire subtle nervous system is buzzing with with śaktis of varying intensities. Again, as with the tantric practices, this both cleans out the subtle plumbing, and begins to move force of appropriate intensities through all of the pipes and streams of the system. Though Bardon only hints at this point, all of this is ultimately in service to drawing one’s awareness every higher and further inward to the divine processes running behind creation, preservation, and dissolution. Just as in Yoga, the Hermetist’s consciousness — and all of his śaktis — merge into the Mahāśakti. This temporary samādhi, which coincides perfectly with the goal of IIH step 10’s devotional concentration discipline, also unlocks numerous magical powers. The remainder of KTQ’s work deals with discovering which of these powers the Hermetist needs for this life’s mission, and then setting about to master those specific abilities in turn. This is done by entering deeply into oneself and, while in this meditative state, activating the appropriate sequence of “letters” (the energy channels developed up to this point), thus routing a great deal of divine power through a very specific course which results in the desired manifestation.

Bardon’s “quabbalistic magic” is the very real speaking-into-existence of a miracle — of the sort promised and not delivered by so many throw-away evangelical prosperity gospel paperbacks. A great deal of discipline is required to master these literally biblical methods of prayer, discipline by which the magician truly becomes an agent of the demiurgic Logos.

[Note to the Reader: If you are at all interested in actually practicing Bardon’s system — and literally any Hermetist ought to at least be tempted! — I highly recommend that you follow Bardon’s teachings step-by-step with rigor and discipline. Skipping through “the basic stuff” will only come back to haunt you later, and any rushing will cause you to have to double back and redo a lot of things until full mastery is reached. I also suggest that one pick up a copy of Rawn Clark’s collection of commentaries, A Bardon Companion, available at his website of the same title. Clark’s commentaries are especially valuable on KTQ, as the published versions of KTQ are evidently based on an unpolished manuscript which contains a very few notable typos (though no major mistakes, as at least one publisher of the book in English translation says) and omits some points which make practice of the material much more straightforward. As such, Clark’s supplement can significantly smooth the road ahead.]

Franz Bardon’s Hermetic Yoga — Part 2: The Practice of Magical Evocation

Bardon’s second and third volumes do not pick up where Initiation Into Hermetics (IIH) leaves off, but instead present two additional options for exploring the work of Hermetic initiation. Thus, it is not strictly necessary for the practitioner of Bardon’s system to make practical use of either The Practice of Magical Evocation (PME) or The Key to the True Quabbalah (KTQ). Not every magician will utilize evocation; likewise, not every Hermetist will need to activate the various major and minor channels within the subtle body. These are the primary tasks of these two books, as we shall see.

Corpus Hermeticum, the most complete and important of ancient Hermetic scriptures to have come down to us, presents a path of ascent from Earth to Heaven. Other books make it know that this path passes through the planetary spheres, in each of which the Hermetist leaves behind an enveloping sheath identified with a negative moral quality or sin. It is implicit that, for each sin shed, a corresponding virtue will unfold as a natural consequence. The idea, basically, is that a sin is only a warped version of a virtue, and that said virtues are inherent to the divine Intellect (Nους) within a person. Take, as an illustration, a blinder being removed from a lantern; the light is already shining brightly inside, but cannot be seen through the slat of metal covering it over.

Bardon’s PME more or less follows on from this scheme. Once, in the practice of IIH, the magician is capable of safe and consistent mental and astral travel (steps 8 and 9 of IIH), he or she is prepared to conduct this “rising on the planes” (to use a common phrase in modern-day Western occultism). It is not as simple, however, as just traveling from one sphere to the next in sequence. Contact must be made with intelligences of any given sphere, at which point those intelligences are individually evoked. That is, one has not “mastered” a given sphere until one has drawn one or more of the planar intelligences to manifestation on Earth.

A few points need to be made clear. Those familiar with other, popular forms of “evocation” only may think that evocation is usually done of demonic forces, and that these forces are constrained or bound to the magician’s service. Bardon would be the first to say that this is nothing but rank sorcery. A Hermetic magician is less concerned with binding demons to find hidden treasures, and the like, than he is with making friends with intelligences of higher order. Some of the beings he will meet in the spheres will be individual souls at various points within their own development, while others will be angelic in nature. Either way, they are to be tested (to see whether benevolent or malevolent), and then either befriended or rejected. Once befriended, a planar being may then be asked for permission to evoke. The practitioner of Hermetic evocation need never evoke a being against its will! To do so is not only criminal, it is also counterproductive.

In Hindu Tantra, it is known that each chakra is “ruled” by a specific Devatā. As one raises one’s awareness from chakra to chakra (viewed as microcosmic anchors of the corresponding planes), the relevant deva is invoked and then made the subject-object of identification. Thus, one sees oneself as the deva and the deva as oneself, never denying that the deva is independent of the individual psyche (jīvā) but exists within the Immanent-Transcendent Self (Ātmā). The same concept obtains for the evoked beings of Hermetic evocation. In order to befriend an entity, the magician must first empathize with it; he must then be able to fully identify with that entity and with the forces of its home-sphere in order to be able to make a temporary home for it on the physical plane and then gently welcome it to that home. Thus, Bardon’s evocation is first a process of invocation (drawing-inward and identification) followed by evocation (projecting outward). Even the better-known demonic evocation of popular occultism (such as that taught in Crowley’s Thelema, etc.) uses the method of first invoking and then evoking the being in question, though the sorcerer usually does not realize it. Just as the Hermetic or Tantric evocation of a devonic intelligence begins to awaken the seven upper chakras (or the planetary sephiroth, depending upon model) the sorcerer’s evocation of a demonic or asuric intelligence draws consciousness down into the cthonic and infernal lower chakras (qlippoth); that which is evoked is always invoked first, whether we realize it or not, and so activated within the soul of the individual.

One of Franz Bardon’s fondest hopes was to present to the seekers of the world a system of initiation and practice which could be begun and applied safely on one’s own. As a guru or master is generally necessary for guidance, this was quite a difficult task he set for himself. To safeguard the budding Hermetist from going too far astray, he included numerous warnings in his writing, but went one better: he built safeguards into his books to ensure that those working from his teachings would not fall off the ledge. Among these safeguards includes the fact that each and ever spheric intelligence included in The Practice of Magical Evocation was personally vetted by Bardon himself, and each one gave its word to him that any student of Bardon’s work who contacted it would come to no harm by its actions. In other words, the student of Bardon already has a few friends in each sphere along the way. Though personal exploration is encouraged, even necessary, there is always a place to start, a contact to make which has already been established beforehand. This is a point of practical importance for the magician-to-be!

The scheme which Bardon presents is impeccably complete, starting from the start and working on only once each level has been fully integrated. Rather than jumping straight into the planetary spheres, the student of Bardon begins with the four elemental regions. As elemental equilibrium has already been established in the first five steps of IIH, the magician is in good stead to explore the elements intimately. Next, the sublunary sphere — composed of the lunar-zodiacal mansions — is integrated. Only then does the Hermetist move on to the lunar sphere, then the sphere of Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, in turn. If one makes it this far, the spheres beyond Saturn may be explored, but by this point, evocation has become outmoded, because, as the spheres become more and more rarified, the experience of “traveling to” each one becomes more and more a unitive experience.

Though of relatively minor import, so-called “magical powers” (siddhis) are developed throughout this process. It is generally not necessary to evoke a being to perform a specific task; once the virtues of a given sphere are integrated, the magician need only draw from the bottomless well of that sphere’s power (or śakti, with which he has become identified) to manifest his will. Once again, Bardon is clear that such abilities are only to be used to aid the ailing, and never to fulfill petty desires (which should have been well and truly stripped-out, by this point). The importance of the magical powers is primarily in the unification with the Śakti, or divine power, Herself, as she manifests in and through any particular universal force.

Just as Tantra provides a Hindu with a specific set of tools leading toward the Unitive Realization, so too does evocation for the Hermetist. The Yogi need never practice Tantra, though the Tantrika is, by definition, a Yogi; likewise, the Hermetist need never practice spheric magic, though the spheric magician is inherently a Hermetist. Tantra and spheric evocation are not by any means “lesser” methods, but instead kits for those who are called to use them for their spiritual growth and the liberation of others. Ultimately, in Realization, all magical powers become instantly available when they are needed.