The lure of the law of attraction
An investigation of the so-called 'law of attraction' and the misconceptions associated with it
Over the past century mountains of books have been written about the so-called "law of attraction" and how to use it by countless numbers of psychologists, personal development 'gurus' and other self-appointed 'experts'. This has increased immeasurably since the advent of the Internet and the easy availability of videos, blogs and social media pages, all devoted to unleashing the power of so-called 'creative imaging' to obtain wealth, health and happiness. Some of these guides mean well, many more do not, whilst others have built large businesses and made substantial fortunes from the promulgation of the law of attraction and the benefits claimed for it.
The aim of this investigation is to discover what truth there is in this so-called 'law' and dispel the many misconceptions associated with it. In part, it has been prompted by our readers, one of whom expressed their concerns to us in an email:
"As I understand it, there is such a natural law, even though it may not work in quite the way described in books and instructional videos. However, isn't the rigorous exercise of creating mental imagery an attunement of the mind? If these attunements are materialistic, they seem harmful to me, even if the intent is not directed at harming someone else. They may even be downright dangerous, if they are intended to obtain results that will involve hurting or manipulating others. I know many well-meaning people close to me who are involved in such practices, and often worry whether these practices may be harmful or dangerous."
We aim to answer these concerns in this investigation. But before we do so, it is important to point out that there is nothing new in the practises alluded to. They all come under the heading of Magic, and Magic as we discuss in our occult studies article on this misunderstood subject, may be used for good or evil. It is ever the intention alone, which makes any magical act good or evil in its effects. This applies to every kind of creative mental imaging, regardless of what pseudo-scientific language it is cloaked in. At its best, the law of attraction is nothing more or less than working with the Universal laws of Nature to bring about positive change for ourselves and others. At its worst, it is pure black magic that paves the road to Hell, both figuratively and literally. In between these two extremes, we find every shade and tint of human aspiration and desire. So what is the "law of attraction" and how does it work, if it works at all? Let us begin at the beginning, with a brief review of the origins of this so-called 'law'.
New wine in old bottles
Most of you will have heard the expression 'new wine in old bottles', which comes to us from the parable recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:17). But this is precisely what the proponents of this so-called 'law' have done and are doing! Let us explain. Occult Science has known and taught for thousands of years that the universe arose out of Mind, not matter, as science believes. From this it follows that all that we are and all that we experience by means of our senses is the result of the operation of mental forces. These forces and the occult Laws which govern them formed a large part of the secret teachings imparted to students of the ancient Mystery Schools as we discussed in our article on Initiates and Initiation.
Over time, parts of these secrets leaked out which, falling into the hands of the uninstructed and inexperienced, were misinterpreted and often misused for selfish purposes. As we said in our introduction, the use of creative mental imaging and concentrated thinking to bring about change is Magic. We shall come back to this point later when we discuss the moral dimension of the law of attraction. Magic is a very old bottle indeed, or series of bottles, for Magic had, and has, many different departments. By misappropriating the magical practises of visualisation and concentration and indiscriminately mixing them up with various 'New Age' concepts to concoct the so-called 'law' of attraction, its proponents have done just what Jesus advised men not to do; put old wine in new bottles.
It is this old wine, repackaged and re-labelled for popular modern mass consumption, with the occult wisdom taken OUT, that forms the body of the law of attraction which first emerged in the late 19th century. To some extent Madame Blavatsky is to blame for this, for she was the first to introduce the Occult Sciences to the West in Isis Unveiled, published in 1877. By the end of the century New Thought authors such as Ralph Waldo Trine, Prentice Mulford and William Walter Atkinson popularised the occult laws Blavatsky revealed in their self-help books. Now, many of these writers undoubtedly meant well, and we highly recommend Trine's In Tune with the Infinite, which remains a classic of its kind, as you can read in our afterword. But it did not take long before several imitators, lacking the wisdom and good intentions of Ralph Waldo Trine, and motivated more by material than spiritual aims, began to divert—though perhaps 'pervert' would be a better word—his teachings for their own, questionable ends.
This process culminated in such books as Prosperity Through Thought Force by Bruce MacLelland (1907), The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles (1910) and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, published in 1937. Hill's book sold over 60 million copies, proving that getting rich will always trump becoming wise in the minds of most people! And so we arrive at the modern age, when the film The Secret (2006) and its companion book written by Rhonda Byrne brought the 'law of attraction' to the attention of millions. This was quickly followed by Esther and Jerry Hicks' Money and the Law of Attraction (2008), which has since spawned countless similar books, all promising happiness, success, fame and fortune. Readers of part seven of our Astral Conversations will recall that Esther and Jerry Hicks are the same humbugging hucksters responsible for the 'teachings' of a group of so-called 'spirits' going by the name of 'Abraham'.
So what is this much-hyped 'secret'? According to the proponents of the law of attraction it can be summed up in one sentence: "thoughts can become things." This may be news for the millions who watched the film, or have bought the books it has spawned, but not to Occult Science. This 'secret' is contained in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, which the believers in this silly law understand no better than a monkey understands algebra. It is also found in the first of the Hermetic Laws described in The Kybalion—called 'Mentalism', which is even less understood. Nor can such Laws be understood by the average person, or the average mystic or occultist, for as we point out in so many of our articles, it takes many long years of training and instruction from a genuine teacher of Occult Science to even begin to comprehend their full meaning and how to apply them.
Bits of these Laws also found their way into many areas of psychological and behavioural science, such as Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, personal development, and the latest fad—so-called 'mindfulness' practises. Each of these systems differs in its methodology and rationale, but all aim to alter mental states. Consequently, they all employ Magic, whether consciously or not, for Magic is simply the art and science of exercising the will and using the creative power of the imagination to bring about change, whether for good or ill. If the former, it is white magic and if the latter, black magic, and no amount of pseudo-scientific labelling, re-packaging or clever marketing can disguise this self-evident fact. So much for the origins of this 'law', what of its rationale?
The law of attraction dissected
As we saw earlier, the law of attraction can be traced back to the New Thought movement that began in the 19th century, which later developed into New Age mysticism. But as we also saw, there is an occult dimension to these ideas, none of which are 'new', though the 'bottles' into which they have been decanted are. Apart from what Blavatsky revealed about the hidden powers of the mind, we must also take into account such books as The Kybalion, first published in 1908, which further influenced the development of these ideas. Therein, we find that the first of the Hermetic Laws is that of Mentalism. This tells us that All is derived from Mind and the universe is the result of the operation of mental forces. This was quickly seized upon by those with little or no knowledge of Occult Science and even less of the ways in which the human mind works which, as we explain in the first part of our occult studies course is dual, consisting of the lower and Higher minds.
Knowing little or nothing about the workings of the lower or Higher mind, those who employ the law of attraction cannot be sure which mind is directing their desires. It follows from this that whatever they are attempting to 'attract', may be blocked by whichever mind is not in harmony with such desires. Or they may obtain the very opposite of what they desired. This is the first of many serious flaws in this so-called 'law', since it is founded on the erroneous proposition that "like energy attracts like energy." In most people the two minds are in dire opposition, so the 'energy' of the one—to use the terminology of the believers in this law—is at odds with the 'energy' of the other. Attraction is only one half of the Universal Hermetic Law of POLARITY, described in Spiritus Hermeticum—our series of articles on the teachings of Hermes. The other half is REPULSION, and the two working together produce balance, a quality sadly lacking in the minds of those who foolishly imagine that positive thinking, focus, visualisation and self-belief are all that it takes to obtain their desires and fulfil their dreams. We will come back this sticking point later on.
If the law of attraction worked in the way its proponents claim it does, or would like it to, then if you ardently desire money, you will get it. If your heart is set on a new job, you will be offered it. If you affirm that you are slim the pounds will magically drop off you. Conversely, if you constantly worry about money, you will stay poor. If you moan about how awful your job is and how much you hate it, you will never get a better one. This, in a nutshell, is how the law of attraction is generally misunderstood, and what a sorry mess of lazy thinking it is. Those who are poor—to take one example—are in a state of repulsion and no amount of 'positive' thinking can alter this fact. The Bible tells us, "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath" (Matthew 25:29). This shows that the authors of the gospels knew the Law of Polarity and that the proponents of the law of attraction do not.
This is why the law of attraction does not always work as its proponents claim, or would like it to. It is also the reason why the psychological and behavioural sciences, and the various therapies arising from them, can at best give us a one-sided view of the mind and how it works, since the proponents of all these systems are largely ignorant of the fact that we all have two minds. It follows from this that the law of attraction is a colossal mix-up of parts of several different occult Laws and principles, which have been hijacked by those who neither understand them nor know how to intelligently apply them. To untangle this mass of contradictions and misunderstandings we need to carefully examine the main concepts upon which this pseudo law is based, and to what extent, if any, they correspond to the true Laws of Occult Science.
The main concepts of the law of attraction
- Positive Thinking. Modern science has now acknowledged what occult science has long known: negative thinking will bring about negative conditions, just as positive thoughts of good-will bring about happiness and content. There cannot be any doubt about this self-evident fact, which is proven by the well-known—but poorly understood—'placebo effect' familiar to us all. We may then say that this concept is a true one and that it corresponds with three of the Universal Hermetic Laws described in the series of articles mentioned earlier—Spiritus Hermeticum; namely Mentalism, Polarity and Cause and Effect.
- Focus or concentration. This too, is a true and correct concept, based on the known fact that energy focused to a point is more powerful and productive than the same amount of energy scattered over a wide area. Sufficient proof of this may be adduced from the fact that when the Sun's rays are focused through a magnifying lens they will set grass on fire, whereas no amount of diffused sunlight will ever do so. Some proponents of the law of attraction include setting goals and planning under this head, but we should say these things have more to do with the clarity of our thinking and the organisation of our thoughts. On the face of it this concept does not correspond with any particular Law in The Kybalion, though we might stretch a point by saying it does correlate with the power to restrict or limit activity in any direction, such as find in the movement of the pendulum of a clock.
- Visualisation or creative imaging. This corresponds with the Hermetic Laws of Mentalism, Correspondence, Vibration and Cause and Effect. When we clearly visualise something, we create a mental image (Mentalism), which corresponds to that which we desire and vibrates in harmony with it. This draws the corresponding conditions towards us, whether positive or negative, depending upon the strength of our will and our ability to visualise what we desire more or less clearly. But we are sorry to say that we know of very few people, occultists included, who possess sufficient will-power, concentration and mental acuity to visualise anything with any degree of success! In the genuine Occult Orders that teach visualisation techniques, such abilities take many long years of hard training to acquire, yet the believer in the law of attraction thinks he or she can acquire them after watching a few YouTube videos or idly skimming one of the books we mentioned earlier!
- Self-confidence. The one thing that all really successful people have in common is their belief in themselves and their abilities. Where does this belief come from? It comes from either the memories of the lower or Higher mind and is a direct result of the experience gained in previous lives. We can only develop self-confidence by acting in a thoroughly confident manner. In short, by working at it, not by dreaming about it. Whatever our position in life and whatever talents we possess (and we all have some), we can find opportunities to achieve certain goals. Each time we do achieve something, however small, our confidence will increase and along with it our will-power. Consequently, self-confidence corresponds mainly to the Hermetic Law of Cause and Effect, though the Laws of Mentalism and Rhythm play their part too. For there is a tide in the affairs of men. The self-confident man or woman bends to the storm, secure in the knowledge that the tide will turn in accordance with the rhythm of life in its never ending series of adjustments and compensations.
- Gratitude. Our final concept corresponds perfectly with the first Hermetic Law of Mentalism. For in the degree that we realise, or learn that ours is a Mental Universe, and acknowledge there is a Mind behind it, from which all has arisen, so do we give thanks to that Mind, however we may conceive it. This brings us into harmony with the Universe and the Laws which govern it, and our affairs will prosper in the degree that we act in accordance with them, and the reverse holds good too.
Now it works, now it doesn't
Having enumerated the main concepts which comprise the so-called law of attraction it will be clear how and why it works—when it works, which is not always, or in the manner its practitioners hoped for. The reasons for this are legion, some of which we have discussed above. A weak will or the inability to concentrate or visualise effectively prevents any results, or results will be haphazard, or even the opposite of what we intended. This too, should be obvious. An electrical analogy may make our meaning clearer, for thinking is an electrical activity, and man is an electro-magnetic being, as science is slowly discovering. If you put in too much or the wrong type of current, you blow a fuse, too little, and the machine will not function efficiently. This natural phenomenon obeys the second Universal Hermetic Law enshrined in the well-known, but little understood occult maxim: 'As Above, so below.' The wiser we become the less likelihood of blowing a fuse, and the more likely we are to obtain what we desire.
In the film we mentioned earlier—the Secret—it is claimed that all you need to do to obtain whatever things you desire is to think about them and the 'Universe' will supply them in abundance. So if you think about money you will get money; if you focus on your debts you will stay in debt. If you think about being slim you will become slim, whereas if you constantly worry about how fat you are you will stay fat. Unfortunately, for the reasons discussed earlier, the Universe does not work in this simplistic and rather childish manner. Observe the busy ant who never takes a holiday! Have you ever seen a bee trying to 'attract' nectar while idling its time away in wishful thinking? No, of course you haven't, because both ants and bees instinctively obey the Laws of Nature, the first of which is that all beings, however humble or great, should WORK! Only man, in his blindness and arrogance, thinks he can cock a snook at the Laws of the Universe and obtain something for nothing.
Now, if in addition to concentrating on what we desire—whatever it may be—and clearly visualising it, while at the same time having unwavering faith that we will get it, we also set to work to create the material conditions which foster success, the chances are we will get what we want. Do you want to be rich? Well, then visualise wealth and focus on it by all means. But put yourself in a position where you stand some chance of obtaining your desire, such as investing in something or someone, obtaining a better job, improving your skills or education through training. In short, unless you combine ACTION with thought—however 'positive'—through sheer sweat and toil, no amount of 'visualisation' or 'concentration' is going to get you very far, if anywhere at all.
This is another of the major flaws in this so-called 'law', which misleads people into believing that creative imaging and positive thinking alone will magically attract their desires to them without working for them. It is also the reason why such wishful thinking so often fails to produce any results at all. To succeed in anything in life requires talent, determination, persistence, patience, hard work and above all, faith in oneself. If you are honest, and there is no point in being less than honest with ourselves if we truly wish to succeed in anything, you will know that we write the truth, however unpalatable it may be to those who think there are short-cuts to success, either in the physical, mental, or spiritual spheres. Man must WORK, and in the degree that we do work, so shall we obtain the results our efforts entitle us to.
But there are further flaws in the law of attraction too. What if several people all want the same job and think about it furiously? How can they all get it? In our rather silly story with a serious point—'Meditation; or the way of escape'—we alluded to another flaw when we told you about the strange child prodigy who meditated on the 'whatness of the nothing'—an apt simile for the law of attraction. We quote:
"When he reached the age of eighteen he began to write letters to his relatives, who were spread all over the world, being renowned pioneers and travellers, and he endeavoured to persuade these good people to settle various sums on him, so that he could further train and develop his wonderful genius for being lazy. He thought that whilst he was doing this he might just as well have some money to take an occasional holiday and have a good time; all rest and no play, etc., was a well-known proverb even then. But, strange to say, he had no luck in obtaining the financial support to which he felt himself entitled, for even in the twelfth century there were many persons just as loth to part with cash as they seem to be today."
According to the law of attraction, our child prodigy should have got the cash he desired. After all, he not only visualised it, he also wrote reams of begging letters, so combining positive thinking with action in a thoroughly intelligent manner in a rare departure from his habitual laziness. We gave you the answers earlier when we said that attraction is only one half of the Hermetic Law of Polarity and that we all have two minds. Being short of cash, our aspiring millionaire was in state of repulsion with wealth and no amount of imagining bundles of crisp dollar bills was going to alter that fundamental fact. Added to which, his desires were violently opposed to the desires of his relatives who did not want to part with their cash! This leads on to the final part of this investigation, which is the moral dimension inherent in the law of attraction which so bothered the reader we mentioned in our introduction, and is often overlooked by it proponents.
The moral dimension
The greatest appeal of the law of attraction is to our self interest and self gratification, and this is where tragedy creeps in. What we want and what we need are two entirely different things, and often completely at odds with each other. And whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting a bigger house, a luxury car, losing weight or gaining a promotion, there is something wrong with focusing on them as our primary goals. This is especially true, or we hope it is, of those of us who are sincerely seeking enlightenment and freedom from the desires of the lower mind. Need we quote the Bible here? "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). By 'soul', of course, is meant the Higher mind. Perhaps the finest advice in the entire Bible about the right way to regard material things and desires is to be found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 29-33:
"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
By 'gentiles' is not meant those outside the Jewish faith, as a literal reading of these verses would suggest, but those who in material things find their sole delight and which they covet above all else. Nor should these verses be taken as an excuse to do nothing to help ourselves, like poor Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, who was always 'hoping' something would turn up! Were he a real individual and alive today, we have no doubt that Wilkins Micawber would have been a staunch believer in the law of attraction, for he was nothing if not positive in all this thinking! Sadly, his positivity did not extend to actually doing any work to better himself and the same may be said for those who make the same mistake today.
You will recall that the reader we mentioned in our introduction asked whether the practices involved in the law of attraction may be harmful or dangerous. From what we have learnt so far, it will be clear that they can be. Let us begin with material wealth. If we could see into the hearts and minds of the rich, how many would be pitied that now are envied? Have we not all read about lottery winners whose lives were blighted by the acquisition of sudden wealth? The Buddha renounced a fortune that many of today's multi-billionaires might envy in exchange for a life of poverty and suffering. The Bible tells us that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. None of this is to say that great wealth is an evil. But it is a great responsibility. There is much labour in amassing riches, constant care in keeping them, guilt in using them and the ever-present fear of losing them.
We are not suggesting we should all be paupers and live in damp caves on nuts and berries. Every human being is entitled to the necessaries of a decent life, such as adequate food, clothing, shelter, congenial employment and sufficient leisure to pursue his or her own spiritual path. But pause here and ask yourself: what else is truly needed? If you are honest you will say very little. Have the comforts, gadgets and luxuries that modern technology has given us in the West added one iota to our lives in the way of spiritual or moral progress, or have they perhaps made us more selfish, greedy and materialistic? "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" So we say again, what we want, and what we actually need are often two entirely different things.
Yet there are some things we all want and need, and happiness is perhaps the greatest of them. But what IS happiness? Does it consist in having an abundance of the good things of the world? If that were true, we should expect the wealthy to be happier than the poor, and that is not always the case. Does it consist in having a perfect body? We don't know about you, but we know plenty of men and women who are considered to be specimens of physical perfection and fitness who are far from happy. What about 'Liberty'—that 'inalienable right' enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America? Whilst every human being desires to be free, and no right-thinking person would deny this fundamental right, which is granted to all beings by the Creator Himself, is there not a difference between the freedom to do what we like and the freedom to do what we ought? Is it not also true, as the Oera Linda Book tells us, "him only can I recognise as free who is neither a slave to another nor to himself"? How many of us can truthfully say we have never been slaves to our lower nature, or to others? In the first of his books—What all the World's A‒Seeking—Ralph Waldo Trine wrote: "we find our own lives in losing them in the service of others, in longer form—the more of our lives we give to others, the fuller and the richer, the greater and the grander, the more beautiful and the more happy our own lives become." Trine was right. For Service, when rightly understood and practised is an expression of one of the grandest of all Truths, which we find stated in the Bible: "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).
Selfless Service, freely rendered, with no thought of reward or personal gain, is the greatest Principle of practical morality ever revealed to man. Every act of Service, comes back to us, intensified a thousand or a million-fold, and this, dear reader is the real 'secret' that the law of attraction does not teach, for it is primarily concerned with self and its desires. This is true happiness and freedom, and there is none greater. When we are about our Father's business—however we may regard that Holy Principle or Godhead—we forget the petty desires of self. In working with and for the Universal Laws—the greatest of which is Service—we attract the attention of the Higher Powers, who are all servants, ruling the Universe under God the Father and the Mother, and they will see that we receive what we need in the way of material or spiritual gifts. This is the simple 'secret' of happiness and of a successful, free and productive life. Too simple, for those who look for answers in the complexities of the so-called 'law' of attraction and its promises of self-gratification.
Which brings us back to the mind and its power to shape our lives for good or ill, success or failure, freedom or slavery, happiness or sorrow. In our article on the concealed wisdom in sublime Poetry which few readers have read, and fewer write to us about, we quoted the Poet Milton, who said: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n" (Paradise Lost). This fundamental truth was re-stated by Ralph Waldo Trine 400 years later when he wrote: "We then are making, hour by hour, our own heaven or our own hell; and in the degree that we are making the one or the other for ourselves are we helping make it for all the world beside."
Finally, let us consider health, another desire many of those lured by the claims of the law of attraction wish to improve. Is unalloyed health necessarily a good thing? We should say it was not. If you look back over your own life, and if you are no longer so very young, you will recognise that ill-health is often the catalyst that opens our minds to higher things. Is it not also true that one cannot fully appreciate the blessings of good health, if one has not experienced illness? If we examine the lives of the truly great benefactors of mankind, we invariably find that few of them enjoyed perfect health. Behold Beethoven composing Divine Music his ears would never hear, Milton writing Paradise Lost when he was almost completely blind, and Mozart labouring on his unfinished Requiem while he lay a-dying.
So, to conclude, let us be careful what we wish for, lest we receive it and live to regret it! Let us also ensure that our desires do not bring hurt or disadvantage to others who may be seeking the same things. Let us remember that what we want is often in direct conflict with what we need to grow in compassion, love, and understanding—which lead to wisdom in the end. And above all, let us remember that true happiness lies in serving others, not ourselves. And if we do all these things the law of attraction will hold no allurements for us, for we will have risen above its erroneous concepts and seductive promises to bathe in the clear Light of God's Laws, and so obtain freedom from all earthly illusions and temptations.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 27 May 2018.