Franz Bardon—true guide or deceiver?

A critical review of the teachings and books of the Czech occultist


Due to the number of questions we receive about Franz Bardon we have taken the unusual step of writing about a specific occultist—something we have deliberately avoided until now. One reason for this is our cordial dislike of argument which invariably convinces no one and leads nowhere. Another is that we never tell people what they should or should not read, think or do, as this would be an unwarrantable interference with their personal freedom—including the freedom to make mistakes! Finally, it is far better to learn to distinguish the difference between truth, half-truths and downright lies through our own efforts rather than by having it explained to us by others, however well-meaning or knowledgeable.

It is for this reason that we have divided this article into two parts: a foreword about the author and his books in the sidebar and a review of them below. We suggest that you read the foreword first so as to familiarise yourself with the author and his teachings.

Franz Bardon and his books

Franz Bardon wrote three occult books during his lifetime, which in order of publication are: Der Weg zum Wahren Adepten (1956); Die Praxis der Magischen Evokation (1956); and Der Schlüssel zur wahren Quabbalah (1957). All three books were translated into English during the 1960's and 70's under the following titles: Initiation into Hermetics (1962); The Practice of Magical Evocation (1967); and The Key to the True Qabbalah (1971). In addition an occult novel was published after his death in English entitled Frabato the Magician (1971). It was subsequently published in German in 1979 under the German title Frabato: Ein Okkulter Roman. We would add that the reviewer is fluent in German and has studied all Bardon's books in the original German editions published by Dieter Rüggeberg, so is in a position to compare both sets of books. Having done so, we can assure our readers that the English translations are pretty faithful to the German books.

Many readers will be under the impression that the tarot is a means of telling fortunes. Others—as the author declares—a book of initiation in which are concealed the greatest occult secrets in a symbolical and allegorical manner. Both assumptions are false as we explain in the tenth of our 'Astral Conversations' articles on divination. Should you doubt us, let us consider the three tarot cards Bardon chose as the foundation of his teachings. The first of these (reproduced at left), is the 'Magician', though you will note that it differs markedly from Bardon's own version which forms the frontispiece to his first book—Initiation into Hermetics. The images of tarot cards (other than Franz Bardon's) that accompany this article have all been taken from the Rider-Waite tarot deck first published in 1910, as this remains the most popular and widely-used.

tarot magician

Bardon tells us that this card "represents the mastery of the elements and offers the key to the first Arcanum, the secret of the ineffable name Tetragrammaton, the qabbalistic Yod-He-Vau-He. This so-called 'secret' was revealed and thoroughly explained by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. As Blavatsky explains, there are actually two Tetragrammatons: The first is symbolised by the perfect Square, the Tetractys of Pythagoras which expresses the evolution of all things from the great First Cause, called by the Kabbalists Ain—or Non-being, i.e., illimitable or absolute Be-ness. The second is Microprosopus, represented by the Tetrad or lower square of the material world, and this is the 'Tetragrammaton' about which Bardon makes such a fuss, which as he says "...was a subterfuge to avoid the sin of uttering the sacred name YHVH. . ."

Yet nowhere does the Czech occultist explain that Jehovah or YHVH was merely the god of the earth, and decidedly 'earthy' who—as the Bible tells us—was a 'jealous and angry god' By no stretch of the philosophical imagination can this tribal deity be confused or conflated with the Word, or Logos, never mind the Supreme Deity. This alone tells us that Bardon possessed a very limited and distorted understanding of the Jewish Qabbalah, in which the double and triple nature of the Tetragrammaton is discussed.

Well, well, well...If the angry and jealous God of the Old Testament who punishes his children represents Bardon's 'gate of initiation' we would rather not enter it, and suspect that if the followers of this Czech 'magician' were aware of what we have just explained to you, they would not wish to do so either. If we now look at the Waite-Rider tarot card of the 'Magician' shown above, we will see that Jehovah is conspicuously absent from it. Probably because this deck was designed by A. E. Waite, based largely on the writings of the French occultist, Eliphas Lévi, who most certainly did know the difference between the Tetragrammaton and the Jehovah of the Jews and what each stood for! We would add that in this card, the symbol above the head of the magician is that of eternity and of the Alpha and Omega—the Beginning and the End of all things—material or spiritual, whereas in Bardon's version it is absent...

In his introduction to Initiation into Hermetics the author says that: "I am not going to deny the fact of fragments being able to be found in many an author's publications, but not in a single book will the reader find so exact a description of the first Tarot card." This is one of the very few assertions in the book that we can agree with since Bardon's so-called 'first tarot card' is a complete fabrication from beginning to end! Much the same applies to his 'interpretations' of the other two tarot cards he has invented which adorn his second and third books, as we shall see later. We have no quarrel with Bardon's statement that: "I would never dare to say that my book (Initiation into Hermetics) describes or deals with all the magic or mystic problems." Unfortunately, he contradicts himself further on when he boasts that "no incarnate adept, however high his rank may be, can give the disciple more for his start than the present book does." Similar contradictions abound throughout his books and are one of the reasons we consider them so very misleading for the inexperienced and unwary seeker. But there are other reasons too, which we shall come to later. So, without further preamble, let us examine the teachings and claims in Bardon's first book, Initiation into Hermetics.

Initiation into Hermetics

Initiation into Hermetics

It may not be without significance that the German title of this book is substantially different to the English translation of it. Der Weg zum Wahren Adepten means the 'Path to true Adeptship' which is somewhat different to Initiation into Hermetics. Nor does the book tell the reader anything about the metaphysical teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, such as we may discover in The Divine Pymander, The Virgin of the World and The Kybalion—to name but three books that comprise the body of HERMETIC occult knowledge and wisdom teachings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.

What the book actually provides is a course of practical instruction in magic which is firmly based on the Western Mystery Tradition invented by the Order of the Golden Dawn and others rather than the metaphysical wisdom of ancient Egypt. Moreover, we are of the firm opinion that the magical path described in the book is grey at best and that, if the exercises Bardon gives are completely mastered, the student stands every chance of becoming an Adept—but not of white magic! Should you doubt us, which, as we said in our foreword, would be an eminent attitude to adopt, for we never ask our readers to take anything we say on trust, please look carefully at the illustration of Bardon's 'first tarot card' reproduced as the frontispiece.

first tarot card

Superficially it looks very appealing, does it not? Here at last it seems is an authentic picture of the path to Adeptship so fervently sought by many seekers after occult knowledge. Such is the first impression this image arouses in the viewer, for it contains all the elements many believe form the true Arcanum of Magic. But let us look a little deeper. Leaving aside the fact that the author has chosen to represent himself in the image of the 'magician'—in itself a telling clue to his true intentions—we see that the lotus chakra, or sacred centre—depicted at the top of the picture—contains a man and woman locked in physical, sexual union. This can only represent the Muladhara chakram located at the base of the spine, the seat of Kundalini, or the 'serpent fire'.

Those of you who have some knowledge of the chakras will know that this centre is closely associated with the generative organs, to which it supplies the energy necessary for procreation. Those of you who do not must take our word for this for we know what we are talking about. Frankly, meditation on this centre and the arousal of the sex-force which it controls is one of the principle teachings of the worst kind of black magic. And yet, Bardon has made it the centrepiece—nay the very crown and apex—of his 'first tarot card'!!

What are we to make of this? Let us put it another way and ask whether YOU can imagine Jesus, Gautama Buddha, or any other genuine spiritual Master making the generative organs the centre of their secret teachings to their disciples? Let us look at the rest of the picture. At the bottom we see three naked, human figures. The one on the right is clearly male, the one on the left, female, whilst the central figure is a hermaphrodite. What does this tell us? That sex is the key to enlightenment? Bardon's own explanation is no help, for he merely tells us what we have already deduced, namely that the whole of his so-called 'first tarot card' is simply one gigantic sexual emblem, firmly rooted in the material, physical realm. Saying that "above the lotus flower, creation is symbolized by a sphere, which in its interior represents the symbol of the procreative plus and minus powers...the act of procreation of the universe," simply reinforces the inescapable conclusion that his teachings are a thinly disguised treatise on Tibetan Tantricism.

Please do not misunderstand us. We are not prudes, nor do we denigrate the importance of a healthy, normal sex life. But the desires and rights of the body are one thing, the aspirations of the spirit quite another. Moreover, as Hermes tells us, "Sex is a thing of bodies, not of souls." Frankly, the employment of sexual practises for spiritual ends, no matter how much they may be disguised in mystical language, is black magic, and rightly condemned by every genuine spiritual teacher. It must be clear to all thinking seekers after Truth that liberation from the bonds of the flesh cannot be obtained by indulging the desires and appetites of the flesh; this is simply common sense. But then sense is not so common after all, which is why very few readers of Bardon's Initiation into Hermetics ever stop to think exactly what it is they are being initiated into.

Let us now turn to the main chapters in the book so that you may decide for yourself whether it is what it purports to be or something quite different. As we have seen the author claims to reveal the 'secrets' of the so-called 'first tarot card' and provide a complete system of magical training in less than 400 pages (this applies to the German edition). This training consists of a theoretical section devoted to the five occult elements, the nature of the soul—which Bardon confuses with the astral body—the astral planes, the nature of the spirit or mental body, the mental planes, religion and God. Nothing in this list is new. It has been covered in countless books on magic without any of them revealing the true principles of man and the universe, and Bardon's book is no exception.

Let us pass on to the practical side of the book to see whether this is any more enlightening. What do we find? Chapters on Auto-suggestion, concentration exercises, diet, magical equilibrium, breath control and bio-magnetism. Most of this is quite sound so far as it goes, but again it is neither new nor 'secret', for similar advice and exercises are given in all the major occult orders, many of which have either leaked out, or been deliberately published by ex-members of such fraternities over the years. The danger in publishing teachings of this nature is two-fold. Firstly because without the personal guidance of a genuine teacher the pupil is left largely to his own devices and may make any number of blunders, some of which might undermine his physical or mental well-being. Secondly, because few pupils have either the self-discipline or patience to work at such exercises with regularity and consistency. They will inevitably jump from one half-completed exercise to another, indiscriminately mix up methods and get into a hopeless muddle. This is the principal reason we have not, nor ever will publish any articles that deal with the practical occult sciences.

Among the more ambiguous and therefore dangerous suggestions to be found in the book is the following. "That the main condition for the novice is to concentrate himself absolutely on his body." Nothing could be more wrong or pernicious. The whole aim of the training of a genuine Initiate is to control the body and its senses, which cannot be accomplished by concentrating on the body, but only by rising above it and bringing the powers of the Higher Self into conscious activity. Similar misstatements—whether deliberate or accidental—occur throughout the book. In discussing the 'spirit', whatever he may mean by this (which is by no means clear) Bardon says: "It is not easy to define something divine, immortal, imperishable, and to put it into the correct terms. But here, as well as with any other problems, the key of the four-pole magnet will be a great help for us." Let us see whether this claim is justified in the following passage from the book.

"From the supreme prototype (Akasha), the original source of all beings, has proceeded the spirit, the spiritual EGO with the four specific elemental qualities, proper to the immortal spirit, which was created in God's image. The fiery principle, the impulsive part, means the will (volition). The airy principle shows up in the intellect (mind), the watery principle respectively in the life and the feeling, and the earthy principle is representing the union of all the three elements in the consciousness of the ego." The whole of this explanation contains a number of half-truths. Firstly, 'Akasha' is not the 'original source of all beings', which is God, however we may conceive of that Divine Principle. Secondly, there are SEVEN elements, not five, as we have pointed out in several of our articles. Thirdly, although it is true to say, as Bardon does, that each element is associated with a particular aspect of consciousness, this does not explain what the 'spiritual EGO' actually is.

Later on Bardon tells us that "Only he who knows and masters the absolute laws of the microcosm and the macrocosm is entitled to speak of an absolute truth." This sounds well does it not? This is another half-truth which encourages the dangerous notion that man can apprehend absolute truth. Absolute Truth by its very nature must be God, as there can be no higher truth than the Source of all. This is self-evident. And he who presumes to know the mind of God is either a fool or a charlatan. We leave you to decide which, or both, apply to the author of this priceless piece of nonsense. The problem, dear reader, is that statements like this sound so very reasonable until we begin to dissect them. For all these reasons Initiation into Hermetics is not a book we would recommend to anyone who seriously wishes to learn the practical occult sciences. If you wish to read it in a general way, to enlarge your knowledge of magic, that is a different matter and we have no quarrel with those who do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Bardon's second book—The Practice of Magical Evocation.

The Practice of Magical Evocation

The Practice of Magical Evocation

As the title suggests, this book is concerned with the evocation of spirits of all kinds and grades. Like Bardon's first book, it is also divided into two parts, the first entitled 'Magic' and the second 'Hierarchy', which gives the names, symbols and descriptions of more than 500 'spirits'.

Why stop at 500? Why not 5,000, or 5,000,000? The author does not tell us! The author has chosen another tarot card upon which to hang the teachings in this book, that of the High Priestess. The Rider-Waite card is shown below, Bardon's version further down the page, so that we may compare the two and see what the differences are between them.

tarot priestess

The first thing that strikes the viewer is that the High Priestess in the Rider-Waite tarot card has changed into a 'High Priest', or perhaps necromancer would be a better description, for in Bardon's version the figure before the altar is wearing a black robe and carries a sword in his left hand. The Priestess herself is relegated to the left-hand side of the altar, where she sits meekly, much like a secretary awaiting dictation! Readers familiar with Hermeticism will note that despite the superficial 'Egyptian' theme in Bardon's picture, the symbolism of the original is absent. Is this deliberate? Very probably. In the Rider-Waite card, the figure of the High Priestess is clearly intended to symbolise Wisdom in the form of the Goddess Isis enthroned between the two pillars of positive and negative polarity. Moreover, the moon is at her feet, showing that she presides over generation as the symbol of Divine, not human, motherhood. Upon her breast is a cross, emblematic of the Love of God lighting up the heart of Spiritual Man—the Christ within.

second tarot card

This elevated symbolism is entirely absent from Bardon's 'second tarot card' shown at left. It purports to represent 'the temple of initiation', but does nothing of the kind. But we will let that pass and consider the book itself to see whether it lives up to the author's claims. Among the subjects covered in part one are magical aids, the magic circle (a zone of protection not the well-known 'magic society' for stage conjurers!), the magical triangle, magical incense, mirrors, lamps, daggers, swords, crowns, wands, belt, etc. In short the whole colourful wardrobe of would-be 'adepts' the world over. Bardon also discusses rituals, rites, magical formulae, summoning, familiar spirits and serving demons.

In short he covers the same ground as the classical magical grimoires, leaving no imp unmentioned and no 'magic' lamps unrubbed. Aladdin would be green with envy! Frankly, if only a fraction of this Harry Potter wizardry were true and the wizards who claim to practise it genuine, we would long ago have ditched our Hoovers and dishwashers in favour of our own personal elemental helpers. Who needs modern conveniences when an army of obliging spirits are only a wand away from fulfilling the magician's every whim?

We are sorry for introducing a note of uncharacteristic levity at this point in our review, but the subject is so very distasteful to us that humour is the only way we know to deal with the nonsensical rigmarole contained in this book. That is not to say that it is impossible to summon spirits of all kinds, or that doing so is just a bit of fun. On the contrary, the process is fraught with danger and not to be undertaken by anyone who values either their sanity or their hope of liberation from continual rebirth on earth. For it is abundantly clear from even a casual perusal of this book that it is nothing more nor less than a manual for sorcerers, however much the author might wish to disguise it as something more refined and 'spiritual.'

Part two deals with the evocation of various orders and classes of spirits, among which are the inhabitants of the four elements, the 'original intelligences of the Zone girdling the Earth', the 360 'heads' of the same zone, and the intelligences of all the planetary spheres from the Moon to Pluto. An impressive curriculum, you will agree! Fortunately we can dismiss these teachings as a farrago of utter nonsense. The plain fact of the matter is that Bardon has simply re-hashed the contents of previous grimoires such as the Clavicula Salomonis, added a few new ingredients of his own drawn from Tibetan demonolatry, given the whole unsavoury potion a good stir and sugared it with the prospect of dining on forbidden fruit and the promise of supernatural powers.

We do not dispute in the slightest that there is a hierarchy of 'spirits' which govern the Universe under God. This is the ABC of occultism. Nor do we dispute that they can be contacted, though it is our personal conviction that this requires far greater abilities, discipline, and purity of body, heart and mind than the average reader of this book is likely to possess. Contacting the 'intelligences' of the lower astral light is another matter entirely, for they, being material beings like ourselves, albeit of a different density, are not difficult to get in touch with. Moreover, many of them will be only too glad to 'serve' the magician who has succeeded in summoning them by following the methods Bardon gives. But...there is a snag dear reader and we're afraid it's not a small one. You see, the Universe does not operate on the 'free lunch' principle. There is a price to be paid for everything and everything, including the service of your personal 'demon', has its price...

One critic has pointed out that some of the spirits named and described by Bardon are the same as those found in mediaeval grimoires, yet some names are oddly changed. For instance, Bardon's "Osrail" is clearly the same as "Azrael," whilst his "Opollogon" appears to correspond to "Apollyon." Both these spirits are described in Francis Barrett's The Magus, among other books. However, most of his spirits do not appear in any other books. Why is this? Bardon's apologists will claim that he discovered them himself. But there is another, more plausible explanation and that is that he simply made them up! Why do we say this? Because every living thing has its real name by which it is known to its creator and which defines its nature. Nor does this name ever change, for if it did the being it defined would cease to be. This is a genuine occult 'secret' which we now reveal that Bardon either did not know, or concealed for his own purposes.

But there is more to such real names than this. Do YOU know your real name? The chances are you do not. For if you did and chose to reveal it to all and sundry as Bardon does with the so-called 'spirits' he names in this book it would give anyone who knew it complete power of life and death over you! So we may dismiss the whole of the practical side of this book as so much fantasy and nonsense, for this is just what it is. You may object that if what we have just told you is true, how is it possible that some magicians claim to have summoned the 'intelligences' Bardon describes? The answer is that if they have summoned anything other than their own fantasies, the beings they contacted were elementaries. For as we discuss in several of our articles, such entities can take on any form and masquerade as any being—yes, even the 'angel' guides of channelers and spiritualists—though to the discerning inner sight of the Initiate their true colours are only too apparent. But let us move on to the third of his books or we will never be finished.

The Key to the True Qabbalah

The Key to the True Qabbalah

The title of the last of Bardon's books is highly misleading for it has nothing whatsoever to do with the system of Jewish mysticism of the same name. Instead, it is series of 'magical' formulae based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. What is worse, the 'Qabbalistic' formulae that Bardon gives are all composed of German letter-sounds which have little or nothing in common with Hebrew. The idea behind the book seems to be that once the 'magician' has successfully summoned the 'spirits' described in Bardon's second book reviewed above, he can make contact with these beings whenever he likes by uttering the sounds associated with them, rather like picking up the telephone and dialling for a takeaway pizza. Words fail us!

tarot empress

As we point out in our article on the dangers of Shamanism, sound is one of the most potent forces in the Universe, and its misuse can prove disastrous. In encouraging anyone who may pick up this book to experiment with the very dangerous sound exercises he gives, Bardon displays his true colours and intentions. Why he did this remains a mystery for he cannot have been unaware of the terrible perils he exposes his readers to. For this reason alone we consider this book one of the most misleading and dangerous ever to have had the misfortune to be published and strongly advise anyone tempted to follow the instructions in it not to do so under any circumstances. Before we conclude this review, let us briefly compare the 'third tarot card' which this book purports to elucidate with the same card in the traditional tarot deck: number three, 'The Empress'.

third tarot card

It is immediately obvious that Bardon's card bears not the slightest resemblance to the Rider-Waite card which depicts the mother-principle which fructifies, nurtures and protects all living things.
Bardon's card is a pseudo astro-qabbalistic emblem consisting of a four-pointed star inside two nested squares set within four circles. Like his 'second tarot card' which we discussed earlier, the repetition of the number four emphasises the material at the expense of the spiritual world.

We may say in passing that his association of the Zodiacal Signs with the planets is completely wrong, as any astrologers among our readers will have noted. Yet none of Bardon's enthusiastic followers seem to have noticed this elementary mistake. We wonder why that is? Perhaps one of our kind readers will enlighten us? No? Then we will pass on to Bardon's final book—Frabato the Magician—which at least has the merit of being fiction so should not be taken seriously!

Frabato the Magician

Frabato the Magician

It has been claimed that this occult novel was not written by Franz Bardon, but by his student and secretary, Otti Votavova. We can well believe it as the sensationalist style in which it is written make Dennis Wheatley's occult potboilers seem literary classics in comparison! Despite these deficiencies the book has some value in providing an insight, albeit quite possibly at second-hand, into the author's motivation, occult training and sources. Many of the occult ideas in this book (as well as his non-fiction works) can be traced to authors such as Eliphas Lévi, Francis Barrett, Bulwer-Lytton and even Lobsang Rampa! As we mentioned earlier, Bardon was familiar with Tibetan demonolatry, and this is reflected in the novel when he engages in 'astral' battles with rival magicians, reminding us of some of the occult novels of Dion Fortune.

By far the most silly incident in the book is when he is attacked by a lodge of black magicians who employ an electrical apparatus Bardon calls a 'tepaphone' (not 'telephone'!) to fry him to death. He overcomes this magical assault by immersing his feet in a bowl of cold water, which he changes frequently as it boils, so effectively nullifying the effect of the 'death rays' sent to him via the tepaphone. One is left wondering why his enemies went to such trouble, when, given the powerful friends Bardon tells us they possessed in industry and government they could so easily have paid a hit man to do the job for them. But that wouldn't be nearly so 'magically thrilling', would it?


Franz Bardon's avowed aim was to present a system of practical training leading to initiation that anyone could follow on his own without a personal teacher or guide. On the face of it this sounds a laudable aim, but is it? Would you take up the study and practise of chemistry or medicine without a qualified teacher and all the necessary safeguards and expert guidance he could provide? Of course you wouldn't. Ten to one you would either injure yourself or others! Yet, as we point out in so many of our articles, the study and practise of the occult sciences is infinitely more difficult and much more complex than any branch of the material sciences. Moreover, the harm it can do in the wrong hands or with the wrong motivation makes the nuclear bombs and biological weapons of science look like children's firecrackers in comparison.

Bardon's followers and apologists attempt to get over this difficulty by pointing out that he included numerous warnings in his books, and so he does. The sheer number of such warnings (hardly a page is free of them) should be sufficient warning in itself to any intelligent reader that much of what he teaches is highly dangerous. Sadly, the vagaries of human nature and the hunger for mystery and magical 'thrills' that motivates so many seekers mean that few will heed that warning. It is because we wish to alert the inexperienced and unwary seeker to these dangers that we have written this article. We do not expect more than a handful to read our words and even fewer to agree with them. But if we can prevent just one seeker from being deceived by Bardon's teachings, the considerable labour entailed in researching and writing this article will not have been expended in vain.

Reader's comments about this article:
"I myself walked this path for around ten years. It never 'sat' well with me, and my dream time became a maze of numbers and words to dazzle." (Reader from the UK)

"I came across Initiation into Hermetics as a young kid. I always wanted to get started but something always held me back. Recently, I convinced myself to get started but doubts regarding his credibility and authority built up. Thank you for disallowing, through your work, any ill fate that I could have encountered had I pursued his work." (Reader from the USA)

"When I first encountered Bardon's Der Weg zum Wahren Adepten in the late 70's after wasting years on teachers like Steiner, Dion Fortune and others I was bowled over. But I quickly became disillusioned as I worked my way through his other two books and realized he was peddling pure black magic thinly disguised with pious platitudes." (Reader from Germany)

Read more comments


© Copyright Article added 22 November 2016. Updated 29 March 2017.

horizontal rule