Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rethinking My Soul Mirrors

In the first chapter of Initiation into Hermetics, Franz Bardon offers a method for identifying and categorizing one's negative and positive qualities. As detailed by Bardon, the student is instructed to construct two “soul mirrors”: a black mirror forged from one's negative qualities and a white mirror forged from one's positive qualities. By engaging in this method, the student lays the foundation for techniques of self-transformation that are discussed latter in the book.

Several years ago I worked this method with, what I now perceive to be, limited success. Looking back upon my initial dealings with my soul mirrors I realize that I was too eager to get past this portion of my schooling to get to the more “magical” aspects of my training. Recently, I have been preparing to reconstruct my mirrors in the hopes that they will be more useful (note that I say “useful” and not “detailed”).

Why have I not yet begun the work? Unlike my first undertaking, I now perceive a problem that has delayed my progress. Initially, I just thought about all the negative and positive qualities that have manifested in my life. It was not too difficult and the lists became rather lengthy (though my black soul mirror was easier to build than my white). Today, however, I find myself perplexed over the very nature of “positive” and “negative” soul qualities or characteristics. What does it mean to be a “positive” or “negative” quality and who decides which qualities are positive and which are negative?

Now, two sources can be identified for the knowledge of positive/good and negative/bad. The first is a source external to the individual, whether it is one's particular culture, parents or religion. The other, is some innate sense of the positive or negative (because I do not ascribe to an innate sense of good and bad, I will have nothing more to say on this issue). From my experience, the transmission of the understanding of positive/good and negative/bad from an external source to an individual can (and often does) occur in such a way as to present the various qualities as either inherently positive/good or negative/bad. In this world, such qualities as anger, hatred, and jealousy, for example, are always identified as negative while qualities such as kindness, loyalty, and truthfulness are always identified as positive. Upon reflection, I now see that this is exactly how I understood the positive and negative qualities of my fist soul mirrors. In other words, I have for the most part, merely accepted the dictates of some external source as to what constitutes good and bad personal characteristics. Holding a given quality as inherently positive or negative clearly has its advantages when it comes to constructing one's soul mirrors. It makes identification of positive or negative qualities rather effortless. In my case, I simply brought to mind all the positive and negative qualities I could think of and then determined if I had experienced them in my life. If I had, they were included within their respective mirrors. I now, however, find this method to be uncritical, superficial, and in need of revision.

Recently, after some reflection, I find myself taking the view that a particular quality is situationally positive or negative rather than inherently so. Thus, for me, a quality becomes negative if it causes adverse, undesirable, or unpleasant consequences in one’s life and positive if it causes favorable, desirable, or pleasant consequences in one’s life. This view is very much akin to the prevailing Buddhist view of negative and positive qualities. Here, however, certain qualities are negative because they always lead to adverse consequences while certain other qualities are positive because they always lead to favorable consequences. In opposition to this view, I can see instances where a quality or characteristic can be experienced as either negative (adverse) or positive (favorable). Consider the quality/characteristic of someone who is jealous. Clearly jealous individuals can behave in ways that bring adversity upon them. For example, they may retaliate against the object of their jealousy and find themselves in legal trouble. However, when a person expresses jealousy towards someone who perceives such a response as a display of love and caring, then it becomes more difficult to see how this characteristic can, in this situation, can be classified as negative. Indeed, by not expressing jealousy in this case a whole host of adverse consequences may arise. Again, consider the quality of being angry. Anger can lead one who is in its grip to speak and behave rashly, thereby causing all manner of adversity. However, reflect upon a parent that displays a sudden burst of anger towards an uncooperative child playing in a dangerous street that, when confronted with the angry parent, removes him or herself from danger. Here I see the child's transition to safety as a favorable consequence of the anger. Therefore, anger should be considered positive here.

Unlike inherently positive/negative qualities, situationally determined qualities make the construction of soul mirrors a more difficult task. First of all, any quality may appear in either mirror depending on the situation. This would require the aspiring mirror-maker to determine if a given quality is positive or negative on a case-by-case basis. Secondly, qualities would be identified as positive or negative in a rather indirect fashion. One would first need to seek out instances of adversity or favorability in one’s life and then identify the qualities that engendered them. Moreover, situationally determined characteristics or qualities would make the process of removing or promoting a given characteristic/quality a more complicated task. How might one simultaneously promote and remove a quality that finds a home in both mirrors? For instance, I am well aware that much of my behavior is governed by the characteristic of insecurity or self-doubt. It is clear to me that my insecurity has created many adverse circumstances in my life and should thus be minimized, if not eradicated. Yet it is also clear to me that my insecurity or self-doubt has at times functioned favorably in my life. My insecurity has at times kept me out of harm’s way and perhaps has even saved my life on a few occasions. In such a case how might I eradicate my negative insecurity and preserve my positive insecurity simultaneously? Clearly a comprehensive banishment or preservation of any one quality will not suffice.

While there remain questions yet to be answered, my soul mirrors await to be rebuilt. This time around, however, I will be exploring those moments of adversity and favorability in my life in order to discover those qualities that precipitated those moments. Once identified, these qualities will be used to forge my new mirrors.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for you insights, it´s always important, even essential I would say, to reflect more and more into the soul mirror topic.
Just a few thoughts about it:

- I agree that blindly accepting an external source is one of the origin´s for the knowledge of positive and negative traits. But the other alternative, to me, does not seem to be an innate sense of the positive and negative (innate in the sense of being born with it, and of it working without the necessity of your analisys).
The other alternative seems to be reflecting upon the information received (doesn´t matter it´s origin) and determine, through your own logical analysis, if you agree with it. You would use your observations about the effects of each trait in different situations to get to your conclusions.

- Bardon provides a list of positive and negative traits on IIH. Since the book was written for everyone, and not to the most gifted ones, this list allows for those who never thought about introspection to dedicate to it, and to begin their work with something.
But, as you are already mentioned/noticed, Bardon didn´t entered in deep discussions about why he considered each trait to be positive or negative and why he placed each one of them analagous to a certain Element. He left that work for the student.
Even the list he provided doesn´t seem complete, in my opinion; there are traits which are not there or which *you* would prefer to break in a different traits to better understand it. He also left that work for the student.

Anonymous said...

- On my opinion, the traits on human personality are not situationally positive or negative. By analysing each one of the traits provided by Bardon, you would end up agreeing that they are *always* positive or *always* negative. And this is so because of the nature of their root/cause (an abundance or a lack of one of the main 4 personality factors: will, intellect, sensibility/feeling and consciousness).

Let´s work with the examples you gave so I can better explain my point:

1) Jealousy. You mentioned that another person could see *some expressions* of jealousy as a way of expressing caring/loving. True. But occasionally getting an external positive effect doesn´t change the fact that the person expressed jealousy due, probably, to fear (not accepting to live with the risk of losing/ending a relationship; a necessary risk in a healthy relationship) or to an incorrect understanding of reality (after analysing a certain action of your partner, you would realize it was not the intention of your partner not to be loyal..).
In both cases, those causes are, *always*, negative traits. The fear, in this case, would be a Fire one (related to Will-power..or a lack of it), and the incorrect understanding of reality, an Air one (related to Intellect/rational analysis, or a lack of it).
There are other, more positive/constructive ways, of expressing your caring/love.

2) Anger. The demonstration of anger may save a child playing in the middle of the street. True. But that doesn´t change the fact that the person displaying anger lost control of himself (for some reason). And losing control on a situation like this shows a negative trait.
He could have achieved the same effect (removing the child from danger) by, without losing control, seriously, asking the child to move. He could even shout, or grab the child by force. But he would do so without losing control.

3) Insecurity. "My insecurity has at times kept me out of harm’s way and perhaps has even saved my life on a few occasions."
Let´s imagine, for one second, that you didn´t possess insecurity. That, in fact, you fully trusted yourself to do whatever task happened in your life.
What would (I am trying to imagine it here.. you didn´t specified occasions) have caused a positive/negative result would depend on you being or not a cautious person (one that considers all relevant aspects of something, before/while taking a decision/action; Earth element positive trait).
You didn´t described specific occasions, but I imagine that what protect´s you, what makes you avoid certain dangerous (truly dangerous) situations, is your caution, not your insecurity.
I am pretty sure that by going deeper on what you mean by insecurity you will find a cause and realize it is a negative trait.

*** Observation: Another thing Bardon left for the student, concerning the soul mirror work, is that although you should analyse each trait one by one, they work in the real world as an integrated whole. This insecurity/confident and cautious situation can probably serve as an example.

Just some thoughts, =)

Susanne said...

This was a fascinating post. I too revisited my soul mirrors and was surprised to discover that my perception of the traits, both negative and positive, had changed. Whereas I originally dashed through the process, I found that re-visiting the mirrors made me more reflective about how I viewed myself and the world. I think the mirrors are not necessarily a beginner's exercise to complete, but a true mage's ever evolving mirror of the self....great post!