Twelve years ago, Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret was in the news. The description on the home page of the book’s website says of Byrne, in part, “In The Secret, she explains with simplicity the law that is governing all lives, and offers the knowledge of how to create – intentionally and effortlessly – a joyful life.” People bought the book and sought out other books and websites that spoke of the law of attraction and how to make it work in our lives. Some people have called the book a placebo while others claim it changed their lives.
Long-time students of magic claimed that most of the information in the book had been around for a long time, but that Byrne had repackaged the information in a new way for today’s audience. In a way, she did for our time what James Allen did for his time with the publication in 1903 of his now-famous book As a Man Thinketh. (Allen’s book is available on Amazon and can also be found in various free versions.) I read As a Man Thinketh when I was in high school because my father had an early edition of the book on the living room shelf.
The purpose of this post is not to critique The Secret or even Allen’s book. Nor do I have access to any statistics that show what percentage of those who bought either book found within their pages the route to a joyful life. As I read The Secret and a related books, it seemed to me that many people were focusing on the law of attraction for health and wealth. I’m not surprised. Needless to say, if a person is physically ill and living in a slum, health and wealth sound like reasonable goals as long as one isn’t greedy and wants to become a superman or superwoman and have a billion dollars in his or her checking account.
Magic, whether it comes from the ancient crafts, hoodoo, the mystery schools, or self-help books like The Secret can, I think, change us, especially when our approach includes a reverence for the Earth and the spiritual mysteries of all life. Yet, any study of it begins with who we are and why we’re here (on Earth in this time period) before we begin our study. Some say it takes a lifetime to understand just who we are–consciously, unconsciously, and at the soul level–so before one begins to study magic, s/he must learn that “his or her lot in life” prior to magic was of his or her own making, consciously or otherwise.
As one looks inward to discover who they are, they might also learn why they’re here. That is to say, are they here to work on personal issues of long standing, impact the lives of specific people, or add their voice to those fighting against one form of injustice or another? Self-help magic books tend to ignore the fact that those who buy them have a lot of skills and/or baggage before they begin to read. Some readers will recognize ideas they have pondered already; some readers will become very enthusiastic as the words in such books “strike a chord” and their eyes are opened again; others will become lost because the self-help magic books are about as effective as handing an award winning cookbook to a person who has no idea what a kitchen is.
I’m not convinced that the first goal of magic and/or a spiritual outlook is a joyful life. Yes, joy is very nice depending on how we define it. But I think our joy is a result of of who we are and whether or not we’ve discovered why we’re here. Yes, we can be healthy. Yes, we can attract enough income (however it’s defined) to live without worrying how we’re going to pay the rent. But I do not see either of those situations as the primary goals of magic and, in fact, believe we sabotage ourselves by looking at external gratifications before looking at and understanding our inner lives.
We can change our lives in an instant if we believe we can change our lives in an instant. To fully believe this, we have a lot of, shall we say, brainwashing to get around that has given us reasons for the way the world is as it is. As a long-time fan of Erice Berne (Games People Play) and Thomas Harris (I’m OK, You’re OK), I see hundreds of ways how parents and other authority figures sent their children down roads to ruin. Some call this “negative programming,” that is, a psychological rationale for why you think you’re behind the eight ball or think that you’re not behind it.
So, I don’t think a magic recipe book is going to be a quick fix, though it can inspire us to the possibilities of self-discovery and a journey toward self-actualization (as Abraham Maslow called being fully alive). You are who you are with or without magic. I suspect you’re here right now for a reason that may or may not include magic. I’ve chosen magic because that is how I see the world. I would feel empty without it and so would my books.