Interview with British Occultist: Phillip Harris-Smith

I’m a British occultist and have been practicing magic of one sort or another since I was 19 years old(currently 58), before that my interest in magic was blocked by parents, then when I was in lodgings the Landlady also objected, once I lived on my own I was free to fully pursue the Art

A wonderful in-depth interview from Phillip Harris-Smith. We would like to thank him for allowing us to share this interview on Perseus Arcane Academy as our very first interview on the new blog.


I’m a British occultist and have been practicing magic of one sort or another since I was 19 years old(currently 58), before that my interest in magic was blocked by parents, then when I was in lodgings the Landlady also objected, once I lived on my own I was free to fully pursue the Art. My first successful magical works were with chaos magic, I was startled by how effective this was but didn’t like the classic chaoist position that nothing is true and everything is permissible, it felt kind of lacking in spirituality. What got me into Franz Bardon’s material was an occult reading course offered by an occult supplier here in the UK called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They offered a price reduction on a varied collection of occult books including all 3 of Franz Bardon’s Hermetic training texts. I had little money and to get all 3 of Bardon’s texts and also the Frabato Novel well……it was toast and peanut butter for a month. It was worth it, Bardon’s stuff completely surpassed all the other books I was reading.

PAA: Many have problems with the early steps like VOM in step 1 and the visualisation exercises in step 2. What advice would you give to help students pass these steps.

Vacancy of Mind

Often students can incorrectly define objectives based on material outside of Bardon’s training. Vacancy of mind is sometimes considered to be something like the Indian yoga pratyahara. The problem arises in identifying what comprises this. For example in Aleister Crowley’s Magick (book 4) it is simply controlling thoughts. Wikipedia however describes pratyahara as withdrawal of the senses. This Description from Wikipedia cannot be what Bardon means when he specifies vacancy of mind in step 1 of Initiation into Hermetics. We know this because visualisation exercises follow on in Bardon’s training and exercises that involve withdrawal of the senses are outlined in step 5. The vacancy of mind is a much more basic exercise, step 1 is the only section of Initiation into Hermetics were Bardon gives a timeframe. This is because as Bardon indicates; previous experience with meditation will allow the student to quickly progress. Aleister Crowley in his poem AHA gives a useful metaphor though as usual with him it is an unpleasant one. ‘Birth strangled babes’ is the phrase employed; so the thought is on the verge of being…you can feel it but by effort of will it does not express, the thought is strangled before it can cry out in your mind. So this is not a deep or sublime meditative state that is being aimed for. Another analogy is that there is a membrane and the thought is starting to push up to split the membrane, like ‘whackamole’ the Will hammers it back, Will is not thought. Both these analogies are themselves thought/pictures so they are well…analogues so as to explain. This is the problem, an explanation of the method involves thought so it must not be taken literally. You feel the mind is still, it is not a deep trance or anything like that. You can feel the thought coming because you are intensely vigilant due to success with preceding exercises. Then by effort of Will, a kind of push, the thought is suppressed. Initially the effort is tiring and the required length of time will not be reached. However, using Will to stop the thought just once is enough to galvanise the student, having got the way of it they can complete this vacancy of mind exercise in weeks or even days thereafter. So it is as I suggest, often students are misinterpreting what is required due to general reading about meditation and perhaps having confusing discussion with peers. They may mistake the vacancy of mind objective with far more profound and intense meditative states. In discussions on-line and in person with folks struggling with the vacancy of mind objective, fellow Franz Bardon students have described to me a mental state that they are aiming for that is well….the description varies a little but overall; more like step 5 magic schooling of the spirit (from paragraph 5 onwards). If this is the kind of thing a Franz Bardon student thinks they need to achieve for vacancy of mind in step 1 of the training, it is no surprise they have difficulties.

Problems with visualisation exercises of step 2 IIH

Any Franz Bardon student who has rigorously performed the training of step 1 IIH will progress steadily with step 2 training including the visualisation work. The question then is why do many diligent students experience difficulties. I think in some instances it is for a similar reason to the those I have outlined for step 1 for vacancy of mind; an incorrect description of the training objective. I personally had tremendous difficulties with this step partly due to my own foolish trust in the advice of a fellow magician whom at the time I held in very high esteem. It was suggested to me that these visualisations and other sense concentration exercises needed to be continuously maintained for over an hour as they said had been achieved by them. This is fundamentally wrong and the person who urged me towards this either had absolutely no idea or was being rather mean, for whatever reason they mislead me and caused over 6 months of delay and distress. Dharana an eastern term which means concentrating solely on an object I think is the same as what Bardon is identifying as the training objective in step 2. I’m going to employ Crowley’s Magic-book 4 again here which is relevant because before WW2 Bardon had this published as an instruction text for students. As most will know Bardon’s three books representing the first 3 leaves of the book of Thoth were first published post WW2 in the 1950’s. From the chapter in Crowley’s book 4 on Dhyana: “It will have been understood that Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi form a continuous process, and exactly when the climax comes does not matter. It is of this climax that we must speak, for this is a matter of “experience,” and a very striking one.” -pp80 2nd para Aleister Crowley’s Four Books Of Magick edited by Stephen Skinner Liber ABA. Watkins Media Limited ISBN 978-1-78678-519-0. Published 2021. What Crowley describes in this chapter is how concentration on an object (Dharana) will imperceptibly change to Union with that object (Dhyana) and indeed this would eventually lead to Union with everything (Samadhi). This gradual, imperceptible Dharana/Dhyana transition Crowley writes will take between 15 minutes and half an hour. This is exactly what I found before I eventually read this in book 4, I then realised I had misinterpreted this transition as a massive break in concentration. I thought I was doing badly due to the flawed and profoundly wrong advice I received from a fellow magician that I should be able to maintain concentration (Dharana) for over an hour. It is simply not possible, concentration on an object (Dharana) will imperceptibly shift to Union with object (Dhyana) over time and this cannot be prevented unless you pause the exercise. Also in my personal experience I would say even with brief normal breaks and losses in concentration as the student gradually progresses, this Dharana/Dhyana transition can still occur. What I mean by this is that the student may be concentrating imperfectly but may still transition to Dhyana. The solution then is to set an alarm timer for 5 minutes as part of the practice. If you wish to continue the exercise after the alarm (a gentle chime would probably be best) reset the timer for another 5 minutes. In this way you will achieve Bardon’s specified objectives for step 2 and also the multi sensorium exercises of step 3, rather than achieving something else ….Dhyana. The after effects of Dhyana are rather unpleasant; again Crowley correctly describes this as a ‘dryness’ as the experience is not balanced like Samadhi. It was a dark time for me not realising Dhyana is not a ‘break’ but a different form of progress. Repeatedly entering Dhyana but not realising so was crushing due the psychological dryness I was feeling. I had thoughts that I would never progress in Bardon’s training.

PAA: What in your opinion are the crucial steps that ensure success and did you follow IIH by the book or did you go your own way with it?

If all aspects of Bardon’s training are adhered to success is assured so from this viewpoint all is crucial. The problem arises if for some reason one or more parts of Bardon’s training schedule are omitted. To give a personal example; I used to suffer dry skin and eczema, daily showers hot and cold accompanied with using a brush on the skin would cause the eczema to flare up. Loss of skin oils and in effect scratching the areas of skin rash starting to emerge was unpleasant and impeded progress.

So I was forced to reduce this aspect of training down to twice a week. When I lived and worked in Kuwait because it is a hot country I found it was possible to shower and brush the skin daily without any skin dryness or eczema. Be pragmatic is what I suggest here.

The thing that is truly crucial about Bardon’s training and what differentiates it from all other contemporary western occult material is the theory and methodology Bardon gives for the electric and magnetic fluids. I have not encountered any theory or practice on this in any available western magical texts except Cornelius Agrippa who provides theory only. Bardon states that the electric and magnetic fluids are the cause of all existence. Use of the magnetic and electric fluids is initially very dangerous. As Bardon points out if magical equilibrium has not been achieved with work on previous steps of the IIH training: the intensity of passions will increase through activation of the electric and magnetic fluids. Bardon observes this could well seal the fate of the hermeticist. Once the hermeticist is able to load these two fluids(the cause of all existence) and can produce electromagnetic volts to effect required changes in the world. All other western magical systems become secondary. It is at this point that Bardon’s first universal key codified in the training given in IIH starts to be properly realised by the student. Any other western magical system; runes, enochian, luciferianism, anglicised vodoun etc etc all of these can have Bardon’s first universal key employed with them. The only one I would suggest that is not fully accessible to the Bardon practitioner is Shamanism. True shamanism involves massive use of very powerful naturally occurring drugs, the mortality rate amongst trainee shaman in hunter gatherer tribes is rather high, possibly due to the massive amounts of these substances they ingest. Legal issues aside, Bardon points out in his 2nd book Practice of Magical Evocation that regular drug use causes elemental imbalance which will impede the hermeticist’s progress. With regard to my progress with IIH I gave up on it because I moved across to Crowley’s system of magick. After reading Liber Al vel Legis I accepted that it is now the aeon of Horus and that Crowley was the prophet of the new aeon. Having become a Thelemite it was I suppose logical that my magickal development and training was mainly progressed through the theories and exercises of Crowley’s Magick; Book 4 (Liber ABA) along with Enochian magick, also some of the less complex and less ‘wordy’ Golden Dawn materials. It was over 2 decades later whilst living in Egypt on an extended honeymoon with my wife who is my magickal partner, that I decided to restart Bardon’s training from the beginning. The enochian Angel that was evoked to visible appearance (via Heptarchia Mystica) indicated it would be greatly appreciated by them (the Angel’s) if I worked fully with Franz Bardon’s entire training. The enochian Angel’s it would seem appreciate the rigour, contents and quality of all 3 of Bardon’s books. These Angel’s are clearly aware of several sets of practical instructions given by Bardon in his books that are not generally available in other western occult systems. The electromagnetic fluids material that I have briefly mentioned is just one example of hermetic theory and practice found only in Bardon’s stuff. No real mention of the electric and magnetic fluids and the fact that they are the basis of existence is made in the occult ‘anglosphere’, outside of Bardon’s books that I know of.

PAA: What influence has the practice of Franz Bardon’s Hermetics had upon your life?

The practice of Magick has been the most important pursuit throughout my adult life. Since April 2007 when I restarted Bardon’s training, Franz Bardon’s works have been a very important part of my Magickal work. The two essential changes this focus on Franz Bardon’s Hermetic Instructions have brought about for me are: Firstly a return to a more stripped down and less complex performance of ritual magick. Secondly Bardon’s emphasis on the great moment of now, not dwelling on the past or trying to micromanage possible futures. This seems to have brought about a complete withdrawal from contact or continued friendship with local occultists I used to know well. A recognition that they had nothing for me and they did not want what I could offer them.

PAA: What challenges did you face during your training in IIH/PME/KTQ? Was there any specific step that took longer for you than others?

Each stage of training in any of Bardon’s books presents a challenge. Also once the Bardon student progresses past step 8 of IIH it is not just effort and diligence that is a factor. As Bardon points out in KTQ to paraphrase: Achieving success with KTQ can be the work of many lifetimes and karma has an impact on development. Bearing this in mind I can say my greatest struggle with Bardon’s training was the IIH step 2 visualisation work. Hopefully the difficulties I have described relating to control of the senses will be of help to students who are struggling with the concentration work. Additionally I hope that more clarity about VOM will assist students with that initial training as well. Because I changed to the Thelemic magickal system developed by Aleister Crowley and then returned to Bardon’s training decades later I suspect the difficulties I have faced with Bardon’s system are untypical compared to most Bardon students who have progressed solely with Bardon’s 3 universal keys.

PAA: Are you able to share from your work in the second and third book? Such as experience of specific spheres via mental wandering or your first evocation?

My first ever evocation to visible manifestation was not employing Bardon’s PME training. I employed a grimoire approach that I adapted, similar to that outlined in Rudd’s Goetia. It was only later on when I had progressed with Bardon’s 2nd book PME that I changed my method of evocation to the way Bardon gives. I would not go back to this other grimoire method because Bardon’s methodology for evocation is far superior.

Re: Journeying to the spheres I wrote a short piece on this for Nenad’s Facebook group, Franz Bardon The Practice of Magical Evocation which I now put here—- In 1927 H P Lovecraft wrote the colour out of space. A meteor falls to earth, it contains a colour outside the visible spectrum which in Lovecraft’s story, can only be described by analogy to other colours. In Franz Bardon’s Practice of Magical Evocation the extrasolar sphere’s have what Bardon calls a ‘transcendental’ colour. “ There exist oscillations the colour of which cannot be compared with any of the colours known to us and which therefore cannot be described. Nevertheless, the transcendental eye sees them and can cause the appropriate light oscillation to be evoked in the mental body, making the contact with that sphere and the beings living there. Practice of Magical Evocation. Franz Bardon, Chapter 12 – intercourse with Beings, Genii and Intelligences of all spheres by mental travelling :- in my copy paragraph 17. Soldiers who survive an explosion nearby eg protected by a strong wall can experience a wave of force travelling through them from the proximity blast. In some instances it jangles up their central nervous system. They suffer from kinaesthesia; seeing with nose, hearing with eyes, smelling with skin, that kind of thing. A cross circuiting effect of the nervous system. I have found there is a relationship between what Bardon describes as transcendental vision and kinaesthesia. I saw the colour of the extrasolar sphere with the visual facility and heard the genii’s encouragement, felt the energetic nature of the sphere etc ….as with any planetary sphere. The addition, the kinaesthesia type experience was that I also saw the colour of the extrasolar sphere with my skin. I suppose that would be the skin of the mental body. Additionally when I’m back in the physical I can load this transcendental colour but I have to see the colour and feel the energy whilst also ‘seeing’ the colour with my skin. Can’t think of any other way to explain it. The essential difference is my normal perceptions remained unchanged and I also see with (in this instance) my skin. The wires are not crossed like the unfortunate soldiers, rather another channel had been put in. The initial experience, the early attempts at contact, before I achieved this new perception were very unpleasant, distinctly Lovecraftian. I obtained a sigil and evoked a genii from an extrasolar sphere. Without the assistance and moderation of this genii I would have been broken by this work. So with respect to Kabbalah the new colour would have various attributions but would a new letter need to be spoken with some kind of additional modality? What I’m thinking is if you see this colour out of space with an extra channel do you also need an extra channel when employing the creative word? Would this relate to other creative word systems Bardon mentions? Even though I have seen ‘the colour out of space’ I find the work laid out by Bardon in KTQ to be a mammoth undertaking. So the idea of some kind of creative word with a transcendental component is for me just theory.

PAA: I remember reading some of your posts where you mentioned other forms of magic that you have experience with. Can you comment further on what you have discovered with different approaches to magic and how they have influenced your work with Bardon’s material.

One thing is clear to me, Bardon’s 3 books are universal keys. The theories and praxis Bardon provides can be directly applied to virtually all magical systems I have investigated. The only magical system that can bring something more to a ritual is enochian magic. The language itself causes an effect even if a person with no interest in the occult uses it. If a person with no interest in magic reads a passage of enochian text they will feel out of sorts and disturbed. There are instances of poltergeist activity and ‘hauntings’ when folks have played around with enochian. Some magical organisations have banned the use enochian entirely. Enochian is reported to have caused acute psychiatric disorders in some individuals who were in these magical groups. Enochian magic is an important area of research for me and as I mentioned earlier it was the enochian Angels that encouraged me to restart Bardon’s training from the beginning exercises onwards. With Bardon’s material I suppose you could say in practice it is top down. A lot of effort and spiritual unfoldment is required before practical results. With enochian magick it is more bottom up. Stuff will happen if you use it irrespective of any training, the effort and spiritual unfoldment is required so that you decide the outcome rather than effects being random and often unpleasant.

PAA: If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice on how to best approach the journey of these books, what would it be.

I would say to the to Phil in his early 20’s: “You don’t have to do Crowley’s stuff because you have become a Thelemite, Crowley’s material is good but Bardon’s is better. Stick with the enochian though…its very important.” In a podcast about Franz Bardon’s books by Poke Runyon (the hermetic Hour). Poke makes the incisive observation that Crowley’s training synthesises Yoga type work and Ritual magic, they are worked with in tandem. The ritual magic is developed then a period of Yogic meditative work, then more ritual and so on. As Poke Runyon identifies; in Bardon’s hermetic training The yogic/ meditative type work and the magic/ritual oriented work occur together (I paraphrase). Back then in the first half of the 1980’s there was no such thing as podcasts and I had no knowledge or information about Poke’s views on Franz Bardon. I’m sure I would have greatly benefited early on in my Magickal career if I had learned about Poke Runyon’s black mirror facial distortion technique. Had I read or listened to Poke Runyon’s incisive observation on the the difference between Crowley’s training and Bardon’s this may well have influenced the path I was choosing to tread as I learnt the Art. I would have probably stuck with Bardon’s training, in my personal opinion it is superior to Crowley’s.

PAA: Closing thoughts – anything you wish to discuss. This could be advice for practice, information on your own projects like books, podcasts, websites etc.

To return to the beginning. I am a Thelemic Magician who through well established and widely published magickal methods realised and experienced various important magickal attainments. These include Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Evocation to Visible appearance in the triangle of art of various spirits and intelligences. Drawing Angels to appear visibly in a shewstone. Attaining Samadhi at Will. Also lesser attainments like entering all 30 Enochian Aethyrs, effecting complete Deity assumption by which I do not mean simple channeling. Despite all these wonderful experiences I felt I was missing out in some way, that I was limited but could not see how. The Enochian Angels suggested the answer to this issue would be found in Franz Bardon’s training materials, this has proven to be true. I am reminded of a Science Fantasy Novel called Magician by Raymond E Feist. In this Novel you have magicians of the lesser path who use lots of regalia and props, then in the story other Magicians who have a much greater understanding of the nature of Magick turn up. These other more capable Magicians don’t need a lot of regalia and are described as being of the greater path. To use Raymond E. Feist’s terminology from his novel, Bardon’s training is the greater path. My main work over the past few years has been Bardon, Enochian and lab Alchemy. Me and my wife Janet wrote a book called Enochian Spagyrics. What I really need to achieve is a good synthesis of these three hermetic strands such that I can complete a book called something like: A fully Hermetic Approach to Enochian Magic, this Applied to Laboratory Alchemy (working title).

PPA: Thank you to Phillip for his generous sharing. If you have enjoyed this interview please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments below or even sharing it to your social media.

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