Franz Bardon and the Elemental Aspect of Character

By Lita-Luise Chappell

“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.”

-Franz Bardon

How the elements influence human nature was an important aspect with turn of the century magicians, who believed it was critically important in eventually achieving a balanced magical personality. The transmutation of these elemental forces is a powerful alchemical and magical practice that each prospective magician must learn to harness and use for their work both internally and externally. One of the best known teachers who has contributed much to the understanding of this process is Franz Bardon, a twentieth century Czechoslovakian Hermetic. Bardon 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 takes place in three particular areas of training; the mental, psychic, and physical, with stressing the purification of the personality. He states that the adept must become acquainted with the cause and effect of the four elements and use them correctly on all planes of magical work. This begins with a self-analysis of the individual’s character and a complete analysis of how each of the four elements binds and balances a person. With the influence of the four elements within, one may learn to become evolved and spiritually mature and thereby become able to gain 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 designates the four elements as the keys to all knowledge.

When one examines the principles of each of the elements, those qualities are indicative of all that a person is made up of. Each element has an active or positive aspect, comprised of constructive, creative, and productive sources. And each has passive or negative aspects, comprised of destructive or dissecting sources. Fire is latent, active, expansive, and considered electrical. Water is cold, contracting, fermenting, dividing, and 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 between the two. When fire, water, and air interact, the solidification of earth becomes possible, which causes earth 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, timeless, and that 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 the proper 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 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.

Understanding the temperaments helps one to identify the basic personality and 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. The positive sanguine qualities are diligence, kindness, optimism, and eagerness, as well as its negative aspects of contempt, lack of endurance, dishonesty, and fickleness. Positive melancholic qualities are respectability, modesty, compassion, calmness, and confidence, whereas its negative qualities would be indifference, depression, shyness, and laziness. 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, which are the temperaments of character, will the magician come into balance. 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 the elements on the planes of the mental, physical, and spiritual. 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 wrote, “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. There is a 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 the understanding of it.

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 indispensable in obtaining equilibrium of the elements. One learns to meditate on each character trait and then appropriately assign one of the four elements to it. Then to decide whether it is an asset or liability. Once this has been decided, a further examination to determine to what degree, positive or negative, it may have. Does the trait affect the behavior slightly, greatly, or have little to no effect? Once this has been ascertained, one will come to understand which elements are more influential to the personality. Thus, a listing of these mental and psychic degrees of positive to negative, becomes a negative and positive aspect of the self, which Bardon called a psychic or black and white mirror. This mirror allows the magician to discover which of the elements within are strong and which are weak.

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, and the reader may find these helpful in understanding each.

Sigmund Freud believed that certain character traits were transmutations of instinctual impulses, but that one can learn to work with the conscious mental processes in order to transform or replace all those acts, ideas, purposes, and resolutions, which have hampered a person’s development, and apply positive aspects toward becoming a more balanced individual. However, one must be prepared for certain hindrances, which may impede this process. The consciousness may overshadow truer unconscious motives. And as well, unconscious desires, motives and ideas, may become repressed. One must learn to compare the unconscious mental processes with the external conscious perceptions, in order to grasp what is more real and relevant. Freud is careful to point out that one’s “truth” is not only what is repressed and which remains alien to consciousness, but also which dominates the ego and can all too often become an action 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. Crowley also speaks about the “rebellion of the will,” against the desire to meditate, which must be overcome. Further, his 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 one’s will, understanding, reason, and the physical body. The work and progress of these inner sources are reflected upon the work of the outward magical tools and how they manifest 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 character trait qualities and enhancing the more positive qualities, a developing magician can establish a balance of the elements within. With the use of autosuggestion, transmutation of the passions is attainable. With repeated meditation on the positive qualities, there is an assurance of their continuance. The mental, psychic, and physical bodies progressively become disciplined, controlled, and trained.

Working with the subconscious can be difficult. It can be all that one does not wish for, with the incentives or impulses of passions, failures, and weaknesses. Introspection causes one to look at subconscious motivations. This difficult task will allow each person to acquire self-reliance by reflection and meditation. Through this process, one learns how to transmute opposing aspects of ego into a harmonious whole. There is also the added benefit of refining the character and developing 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 one to sense those elements, accumulate them, and use them for attaining equilibrium of the electric and magnetic fluids. This training will also aid the magician to separate the astral body from the material body, and to communicate with deities. Bardon stresses that the 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.”

-Franz Bardon

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.