The Secret presents the Law of Attraction in a way that easily may be summed up as: “You get the life that you deserve, your thoughts and ideas attracts the attention of the universe and you must reap what you have sown.” Or to simplify matters even more the entire philosophy may be summed up as: “Like attracts like.” The truth is, however, that this book or movie doesn’t present anything new at all – nor does it present a secret. Actually the Law of Attraction is nothing more than the reused and repackaged philosophy centred on the principle of Mentalism, being part of the movement known as the “New Though”.
New Though was an early precursor of the New Age movement that formed already in the late 19th Century but grew into a major force in the early 20th Century, with authors as Napolian Hill and William Walker Atkinson (1862 – 1932). The latter often wrote using different pennames, such as “Yoga Ramacharaka” and “Magus Incognito”. It was actually the latter author who coined the term “Law of Attraction” in his 1906 seminal work Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World. He soon used the two terms “Law of Attraction” and “Mentalism” interchangeable. Or rather, it seems that the term “Law of Attraction” was the more popularised term used in the various self-help books spread in the early 20th Century, while the “Principle of Mentalism” was used in a more occult context, attached to both Western Hermeticism and Eastern Yoga.
One such example of the latter case is the book The Kybalion, written in 1912 by “Three Initiates”. This book presents seven Hermetic laws or principles, the first and foremost being that of Mentalism, the other principles being that of Correspondence, Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender. Basically the principle of Mentalism teaches that the world is actually a thought form of God. And since man (the Microcosm) is made in the image of God (Macrocosm), it must be logical to assume that the human mind also has a similar creative ability as does God.
Incidentally, a quite similar book as that of The Kybalion was released in 1949 by Magus Incognito (who, remember, was one of the pennames used by William W. Atkinson), entitled The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, which presents seven principles very similar to those in The Kybalion. Hence one must conclude that the identity of one of these “Three Initiates” to be non other than Atkinson. It has also been proposed, at least amongst the members of the B.O.T.A., that Paul Foster Case and Michael Whitty where the other two “Initiates”.
It is historical fact that Paul F. Case knew Atkinson personally, interacting with him in his early formative years to the point of becoming heavily influenced by his thoughts. Michael Whitty was the leader of the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega (Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) in the U.S. and initiated Case into the New York based Thoth-Hermes Temple No. 9. Supposedly the three “Initiates” met together and wrote The Kybalion prior to Case’s admisson into the A∴O∴ in 1918. There are also unconfirmed (and perhaps unsubstantiated) rumours that William W. Atkinson himself was initiated in the Alpha et Omega, a fact that has been used by Robert Zink to promote the Law of Attraction in the context of his Golden Dawn franchise. And I bet we will continue to see him promoting his New Age teachings in a Golden Dawn wrapping even after him being ousted from his own Order.
Similar teachings may also be found in both Zen Buddhism and in Yoga. The English yogic guru Paul Brunton is credited with making the occident aware in the early 1940’s concerning the origins of the principle of Mentalism, the unity of Spirit and Matter, as being that of the esoteric doctrine of the Orient. However, similar thoughts may also be extracted from the works of Eliphas Levi or Alphonse Louis Constant (1810 – 1875), as early as in Dogma de la Magie from 1853 and Dogme et ritual de la haute magie from 1856 (translated into English by Arthur Edward Waite as Transcendental Magic), predating the New Thought movement by several decades and proving that there exists earlier occidental teachings with many similarities to that of the oriental esoteric doctrines.
In his books Levi expounds upon his theory regarding the “Astral Light” used in Magical workings, which takes it forms according to the intents of the Magician through his will and imagination. This idea is in fact the very raison d’être of the magical doctrine as propounded by modern Rosicrucian Orders such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. However, I personally don’t believe that Levi concocted up this theory himself but that he simply drew and expounded upon a much older tradition with its roots in Hermeticism.
Later Sigmund Freud argued in his Totem and Taboo that these beliefs are rooted in the earliest forms of animism, in the belief systems of primitive tribes, which precedes that of religion. He calls this the “all power of thoughts” and compares this phenomenon with the primitive and narcissistic mind of the child. This “magical” thinking also forms the basis for regressive tendencies in pathological compulsive neurosis, but in a much more severe and darker form; the fear of what the mind may cause to one’s surroundings and the accompanying feelings of self-reproach and guilt. Thus one may conclude that the principles of Mentalism forms the very foundation of the Hermetic magical philosophy, while we in animism may find a ancient and primitive form of a human belief system regarding the relation between man and his environment.
To problematize Freud’s assumptions, which are not factually inaccurate per se, his colleague Carl Gustav Jung furthermore holds that the ego of the child’s is in a union with the Self (The Higher and Transcendental Self), at least initially, but that the process of Individuation (maturing) creates separation between them. However, Jung also proposes the possibility of reunion between the ego and Self on a mature level, later in adult life. Making a comparison between animism and Hermeticism, the former may bee seen as a naive but intuitive understanding of real existential facts while the principle of Mentalism could bee looked upon as a more mature notion that aims at seeing beyond primitive personal omnipotence into a divine and sacred one instead.
This being said, I still believe it is wise to make a distinction between the principle of Mentalism of Ageless Wisdom (in both the occident and orient) and that of the New Age concept regarding the Law of Attraction. The main difference is that in the Law of Attraction, at least as it is presented in The Secret, we basically are presented with a extremely infantile form of narcissism, while with the principle of Mentalism we have a mature form of a concept which tries to see the innate correspondence between Spirit and Matter, but at the same time not denouncing any divine intervention or cosmic fate.
What in particular disturbs me about the New Age form of Law of Attraction, as may be seen in The Secret and the flock of New Age gurus flooding the market, is the constant focus on creating money using this technique. I feel as if the filmmakers / authors are trying to make some sort of bastard union between the American dream and the Ageless Wisdom of the Orient and Occident, which feels quite baroque for a Swedish traditionalist as me.
Something that also bothers me with The Secret is the open denunciation of the existence of God (as in transcendent or higher power than man) and of destiny (as in a Macrocosm greater than the Microcosm), or something along those lines; that man is the sole creator of his own existence, etc. This is pulling the principle of Mentalism to the extreme, which makes the whole thing quite absurd and detestable. It is also what some theologians justly have criticized The Secret for – that it makes man into the sole God. Thus, The Secret is quite stereotyped in how it confirms the prevalent phenomena of New Age perversion of old mystery traditions. It is sad to see that these perverted ideas has found its way back to teachers who purports themselves to be teachers of Hermeticism and the Holy Qabalah.
Creativity is a divine attribute which makes us all part of God’s creative impulse. To believe that the ego in itself, or man himself, could create something from his own ability and will power, separate from the Will of God or from the larger Whole, is a pure delusion when seen in the light of traditional Hermeticism and its principle of Mentalism. It is certainly the best path to failure in the application of the principles of Mentalism; it may only lead to spiritual ruin if prolonged. Only by ensuring that Man and God (or the Great Creative Power, or whatever you want to call it) are as One in this act of Will and Imagination, i.e. that the human will and creative ability are but manifestations of the divine, may these principles (such as described in The Secret) lead to any real success. It thus requires a good dose of self-distance and humility.
Thus it is a serious fallacy to believe that the ego of man alone has the ability to create something, or anything, because of their “own” or “personal” ability and willingness. No matter what any deluded individual may believe it is still God (or the One) who is the sole Creative Power and Will of the Universe or Macrocosm, where the human will and creative ability is but a Microcosmic manifestation of this divine creative impulse. Man is the instrument of Divine Will with a special purpose and divine mission in this present incarnation.
This notwithstanding, it still is possible for a human mind to create something by the sole means of the imaginative faculties and willpower resident at the level of human consciousness, as is described in The Secret, even if the individual lacks any religious sentiments or even doesn’t believe in God. Individuals may even nurture the belief (which is a delusion) that they are the sole creators of their personal universes in order to achieve some “progress” in their life with the help of the tenets of The Secret.
But this progress is purely materialistic and only concerns worldly affairs (which The Secret seems to use as the major measure stick of success). The question is whether this is characteristical of real “success”. With an atheistic, agnostic or materialistic approach one may only affect the physical existence, which is limiting indeed. There is no greater spiritual development worth mentioning in these instances – at least until the individual along the road to his material success eventually does realize that there is more to life than pure material pleasure; he may find his true mission in life and real Self in the process. There is a chance that he finally realizes, when the money starts to flow, that this doesn’t answer all his questions of the meaning of life, or even cover all his needs; somehow he may realize or sense that there has been a higher power all along that has had a hand in his success. When this happens he begins to turn his attention to the true creative power and thus takes his first steps in his search for life’s true mysteries.
Apart from this, self-help philosophies of this kind often neglect all aspects of life, especially the darker ones. It’s no surprise then that some theologians in their criticism of The Secret have pointed out the truth that life by necessity also must go through pain and suffering, as well as success and happiness. This is as simple a fact as there is a day and a night, and expresses the 4th and 5th principles of The Kybalion, that of Polarity and Rhythm; opposites are two sides of the same coin and changes into each other through regular intervals. The Secret on the other hand totally neglects the need of darkness in one’s life, and even blames the individual himself for encountering it. But it fully misses the truth of this matter that any difficult moments in our lives also provide us with valuable time for self-reflection and knowledge of our self (or Self with the capital “S”), to find our true place in life and purpose of our lives. Life is never and shouldn’t ever be a bed of roses, as portrayed in the movie The Secret, just because we choose to believe in only ourselves and that we by our own power have the ability to reshape our lives.
So in the final analysis, The Secret, which has become the new gospel of the New Age movement in its belief of the Law of Attraction, is a fairly gross over-simplification of life and the true meaning of living and leading a life as a compassionate human being. In my opinion it gives the reader or student serious blinkers which may make him miss the actual mark and create a serious stumbling block in finding his own path of return. The classical motto or axiom of Per ardua ad alta, which translates as “Through difficulties to the heights,” expresses much more truth in its four words than does The Secret through its more than 200 pages or 1½ hours of film. The true path of the initiate is best expressed through the motto Post tenebras lux or “from darkness to light.” Enough said.