“A Supreme Power and Wisdom governs the Universe. The Supreme Mind is measureless and pervades endless space. The Supreme Wisdom, Power, and Intelligence is in everything that exists from the atom to the planet. The Supreme Power and Wisdom is more than in everything. The Supreme Mind is everything. The Supreme Mind is every atom of the mountain, the sea, the tree, the bird, the animal, the man, the woman. The Supreme Power can not be understood by man [sic] or by beings superior to man. But man will gladly receive The Supreme thought and wisdom, and let it work for happiness through him, caring not to fathom its mystery.”
—Prentice Mulford, Your Forces and How To Use Them, vol. 1
In this piece, the second in a series exploring the New Thought tradition, we’re going to look more directly at the practices and processes of New Thought. The last piece—which you can read here—surveyed the historical and spiritual context of the New Thought tradition. In particular that piece looked at the deeply Neoplatonic (as well as Hermetic) roots of New Thought.
I will principally (though not exclusively) draw on the work of one of the OG New Thought writers—an oft forgotten figure but a subtle thinker, with a poet’s tongue, and a mystic’s heart—Prentice Mulford. While New Thought has received much negative press, particularly due to its bastardization in The Secret (and other texts), Mulford does not succumb to such easy critique. He drinks from deep wells.
In the initial quotation that begins this piece notice the deeply Neoplatonic vision of Mulford. There is a Supreme Wisdom that is measureless and pervades endless space. It is in everything but even more so it is everything. In Neoplatonism this Supreme Mind is known as Nous. In the Bible She is known as Lady Wisdom (or Sophia), as well as The Logos.
Since I mentioned The Secret (and I don’t want to spend too much time on it for all its obvious problems, let Dave Chappelle take it down, NSFW) I’ll just point this out: The Secret argues the Universe is like a genie and the human being who knows “The Secret” is like one who has the lamp, makes wishes and the Universe must respond (“Your wish is my command Master”).
Now a genie is in reality a jinn, which is to say a psychic state and high strange entity—detailed on the site elsewhere. The genie is in actuality a trapped jinn whom has been cursed by a magician/sorcerer and forced into energetic enslavement (hell, even Disney's Aladdin got that part right). The magician has conjured a binding spell on the jinn and forced it to do magical labor on the magician’s behalf.* The Secret’s description of the Universe as like a genie is a tell by the author (Rhonda Byrne). The genie metaphor is pointing out that The Secret’s methodology is a kind of black magic, even if unconsciously so, replete with imagery of binding and enslavement.
It’s not surprising therefore that The Secret and its process was taken up by heavily narcissistic materialistic and sociopathic ends. It’s also worth remembering (which Bryne does not) that the original stories of genies almost always end very badly for those who find the lamp and make wishes. The wishes typically backfire on the wisher in some painful, even horrifying way, because jinn (genies) are after all, trickster beings.
In contrast, notice that for Mulford the process of conscious manifestation involves connecting to the Supreme Wisdom of the Universe which is beyond fathoming and certainly beyond any kind of control. One does not connect to any specific entity or group of entities but rather to the Wisdom (Logos) and Power (Holy Spirit) pervading and organizing all life.
Following that passage just quoted, Mulford goes on to state:
“The Supreme Power has us in its charge, as it has the suns and the endless systems of worlds in space. As we grow more to recognize this sublime and exhaustless wisdom, we shall learn more and more to demand that wisdom draw it to ourselves, make it a part of ourselves, and thereby be ever making ourselves newer and newer. This means ever perfecting health, greater and greater power to enjoy all that exists, transition into a higher state of being, and the development of powers we do not yet know belong to us.”
In this passage Mulford states that the primary allurement is to the Logos or Supreme Wisdom of The Universe. This deepening conscious connection to the Logos leads to “ever making ourselves newer and newer.”
So far this is classic Neoplatonic mysticism which held that the vision of and union with the Nous/Logos occurs through fundamental ecstatic Love and Wonder. Such union for The Neoplatontist was transformative, growing the human being into its own divine expression. Or again to the use the language of the Bible such ecstatic love-used union lead one to realize their status as made in the “image and likeness of God.”
Only at the end of this quotation do we finally see a turn towards the more specifically New Thought tradition, when Mulford states that such mystical union with the Supreme Wisdom leads to “ever perfecting health, greater and greater power to enjoy all that exists.” Note also the Theosophical-like and evolutionary reference to “development of powers we do not yet know belong to us.” Mulford there means psi or occult phenomenon (siddhis), something very much in the line of what Colin Wilson called Faculty X. Essentially Mulford means latent psi and psychic and “supernatural” possibilities or capacities.
This point is an extremely important one as it directly brings New Thought into the realm of magic—which in the prior article I defined as the power of consciousness (especially conscious intent) to effect material change. This side is the more directly Hermetic (magical) side working in tandem with the more mystical union Neoplatonic side, a combination that has its roots going all the way to back to the writings of Hermes Trismegistus as well as the Renaissance tradition.
So to review, for Mulford:
—The deep aim is to unite with the Supreme Wisdom (Logos).
—In that union one is transformed.
—In that transformation there are possible latent human powers that may develop or emerge, as well as the possibility of a deeper appreciation of and conscious co-creative relationship with Life.
In other words, such a mystical connection can lead to practical, pragmatic, and positive changed conditions in life, including but not limited to, health, prosperity, and relational fulfillment.
I would argue consequently that Mulford’s outlook puts (his version of) New Thought into a very different zone of depth than other articulations that also go under the label New Thought. I’m going to come back to this point and compare it to similar type techniques and methods in other spiritual systems. But first we need to get a better handle on how exactly this is all to take place.
Mulford states that there are two minds in human beings—one sense-based and one more spiritual in nature. Mulford is not alone within the New Thought tradition in this articulation; Wallace Wattles and Warren Felt Evans, for example, both make the same essential argument though using slightly different terminology.
Mulford points out that it is this more spiritual or subtle mind that is the one that can effect these kinds of changes. The source of the power of this subtler mind comes from everything and everyone being a reflection or manifestation of The Logos/Supreme Wisdom. This subtler human faculty is the Supreme Wisdom inherent in the soul of a person. It is this aspect alone that can then effect the kind of change offered in New Thought.
In other words, it is the Supreme Wisdom/Power that does the work of magical co-creation. Aspirants must realize, connect, and ultimately identify with that Supreme Wisdom within themselves and it is the one (not the human ego) who does the work.
As Wallace Wattles has it, the deep desires within one’s heart are the desires for creativity and expansion and growth in The Logos itself. This perspective is interestingly very similar to that of St. Ignatius of Loyola the founder of the Jesuits, who argued that the deepest desires in one’s being towards goodness, love, and beauty were the will of God coming through the soul of that person.
The path then for Ignatius was to discern and clarify between the false desires of the egoic separate self-contracted entity versus the true authentic, deepest, most aligned desires of the soul. Those latter ones were, for Ignatius, the Holy Spirit working within one’s being.
In a similar (though not identical way), all the major practices of New Thought then must be done by this subtler mind, not the sense based-physical mind. When New Thought writers say “thought is a substance” or “thought is causative”, it is only thought routed in this subtle faculty (so argues Mulford) that can be such.
This one distinction is radical. If a person picks up a New Thought (or New Thought-derived) text and reads that they must imagine their intended outcome and then visualize it clearly and powerfully and feel the emotion of it already having been achieved and then giving thanks it’s already done, the problem is they will likely undertake that practice through the sense-based egoic mind, rendering it a pointless exercise.
The process is meant to take place through the senses of this higher mind/intelligence. To return to Ignatius of Loyoal for a second, he would call these the spiritual senses. In more metaphysical or New Age lingo these would include things like clairvoyance (subtle sight), clairaudience (subtle sound), clairsentience (subtle feeling/sensation), and claircognizance (subtle knowing).
Recall this line from Mulford:
"This means ever perfecting health, greater and greater power to enjoy all that exists, transition into a higher state of being, and the development of powers we do not yet know belong to us.”
In that quotation Mulford is directly linking mystical transformation though communion with the Logos (“transition into a higher state of being”), intuitive capacities (“development of powers we do not yet know belong to us”), and the more commonly understood New Thought themes of well being (“perfecting health, greater and greater power to enjoy all that exists”).
Here is where we see the more Hermetic side coming into focus. The famous line from the Hermetic corpus of “as above, so below” is relevant at this point. The “above” in this case would refer to the “higher” mind (consciousness) that Prentice Mulford argued is the core of the whole process.
I mentioned in the previous piece Hermeticist Giordano Bruno’s memory palaces technique and how he promoted it publicly as a form of developing incredible memory capacities, but esoterically the concentration that it cultivates in a person was used in magical practice. Bruno argued in his magical texts to hold a vision of a wheel with various astrological, animal, and alchemical symbols. One then moved various placements or images around the wheel. And if you’re wondering if there’s an interesting connection between any similar type divinatory practices involving the imagery of a wheel in Buddhism (and even pre-Buddhist shamanic traditions of Asia), then you would be right. (Wheels of Life also of course are profoundly influential in indigenous spiritualities of The Americas).
The wheel, in other words, in these visualization practices represents the cosmological order en toto. In imaginal space—through the power of the subtler mind—one is changing conditions in the subtle realm. One is essentially looking to create change at the subtle-archetypal level of reality and have that change “flow down” in the circuit of manifestation from the subtle dreamworld to the gross, material manifest realm. (For more on the subtle dream realm see here.)
Or: “as above, so below.” The “above” is not literally physically above but rather “higher” in consciousness with the below being the manifest form coming down from the subtle, like a precipitate in a centrifuge. As Joseph Farrell has pointed out rotating the wheel (in addition to visualizing movement of various species or elements along the wheel) would also link up this form of hermetic magical practice with alternative physics that emphasizes torsion—that is the folding and pleating of space-time through rotation and its connections to possible "free energy". Magic, could then be simply a form of consciously accessing "free" or "hyperdimensional" conscious energy which would help clarify the feelings of synchronicity or wonder-working that come through conscious co-creation/manifestation–a point explored in more detail in this piece on universal basic income schemes.
When we conceive of New Thought practices like creative visualization and affirmative prayer we should see them in this light. They are Hermetic processes shorn of a great deal of abstruse metaphysical (and alchemical) speculation and terminology.
What one is doing through these processes is generating a space of attractive energy in one’s field, seeking through such attraction to “draw in” (or “magnetize”) the necessary resources to manifest one’s stated intention.
In this sense, once more, New Thought has intriguing connections with other spiritual traditions, though it’s not often thought of in this manner.
Consider The Bon and the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist traditions of sutra, tantra, and Dzogchen (or Mahamudra in the other Tibetan Buddhist schools). These three paths follow in a sequence in those traditions with Dzogchen being the highest.
In the sutra traditions one learns to cultivate positive states of being and purify negative states of being. In tantra one learns to transmute (alchemically) whatever arises into a more pristine state of being and in Dzogchen one simply is with Life, in its natural perfection, without seeking to change it in any way.
Using that as a grid to look at New Thought, it would mostly be on the sutra side, along with some aspects of tantra. For example, Napoleon Hill—author of probably the most famous New Thought text ever, Think and Grow Rich—has a controversial and lesser known chapter in that book on sexual transmutation as an aspect of the larger art of manifestation. That chapter and its process is clearly tantric in nature. Ida Craddock, another New Thought (or New Thought adjacent) adept was a forerunner of sexual tantra in the West.
Arguably the entire tradition around New Thought of “richness”—particularly monetary wealth—could be considered a kind of tantric & alchemical transmutation of what is seemingly a corrupt, sinful, material expression (“wealth”) which is typically shunned in more monastic traditions (both East and West), just as monastics typically are celibate and see sex as karmic and sinful.
I bring all that up because it helps to clarify the strong emphasis in New Thought on thinking positive thoughts. There are problems with this (over)emphasis to be sure. In a sutra-like way however, "thinking positive thoughts" is more about generating positive intent and momentum in one’s being.
These other related systems and processes also shed light on how best to understand the strong emphasis in New Thought on a “science of getting rich” or “Spiritual Laws” (e.g. Law of Attraction).
The science spoken here is an alchemical science. It’s an occult science. Even though some of the New Thought writers do not appreciate being labeled as such (though others seem to embrace the characterization) it’s ultimately a correct one. As I’ve argued elsewhere, mainstream scientific materialism is a smokescreen meant to obscure the ultimately alchemical and magical nature of science.
New Thought then is really a process to generate positive life conditions for laypeople seeking to live a spiritual life in a non-monastic or householder path. It seeks to do so through magical processes of manifestation/co-creation.
In its best moments there is something very homely and earthy when, for example, Wallace Wattles uses as his example of a manifestation goal that of acquiring a sewing machine. It’s very reminiscent of much “folk magical” traditions with a very pragmatic, concrete, existential focus—love matches, weather/crop rituals, getting a promotion/better paying job, selling a house, etc. At its worst that earthiness and material quality shades over into faux materialism, hyper-materialism, and consumptive materialism of the worst kind.
This piece has sought to argue that there is a greater subtlety involved in at least the more genuine and insightful New Thought writers, based out of processes that a number of interesting forms of cross-pollination and connection with other spiritual (and particularly magical) systems.
In the next piece I want to look more deeply at how we might think of the possibility of manifestation in light of weird naturalism. How exactly might all of this work cosmologically?
* The lore concerning the jinn matches point for point the lore concerning the fiery folk of the Celts (and by the way the modern UFO experiencer, including the abductee phenomenon.