March 14th, 2016


This stuff has been kicking around a lot longer than you think ...

I frequently have mentioned the little book marks (real little, they typically are about 1/8”x1/2” – torn from a register receipt that I'd “prepped” by folding to the needed length) that I put in my books while reading. Most of these are to highlight pages where interesting stuff is happening to regurgitate in these reviews, but others are for my own reference, often to other books. When “the system is working as it should”, I'll note the book being referenced, look it up on Amazon, and either pick up a copy if I'm feeling so inclined, or drop it into a wishlist until I can get a used copy for cheap. Well, this is one of those “other books”. At this point I'm not sure what book I read about this book in (it's been a while since I've read this sort of woo-woo stuff), but it was evidently in one of those “Law of Attraction” things, which referred back to some foundational predecessors of The Secret, etc. This was a bit of a “pig in a poke”, as a 1¢ used copy … and I ended up with a 1969-vintage mass-market paperback edition (there are evidently far more recent ones out there) of Claude M. Bristol's 1948 The Magic of Believing.

I suppose it's easy to think that the whole “attraction” racket is new, but as Mitch Horowitz outlined in his One Simple Idea, and to a certain extent in Occult America, there have been variations of this stuff floating around for ages … so it shouldn't be particularly surprising to have this sort of material dating back to the end of WW2 (when this was composed).

Of course, because it dates from that long ago, there's a LOT of stuff in here which is “different planet” oriented (a world before cell phones, before computers, heck, before TV). It also is yet another reminder of how fleeting fame can be (as anciently noted by Marcus Aurelius), as many of the “celebrities” the author name-checks in here have not maintained name recognition down the decades, leaving the modern reader at a loss for the context that the author, 70-some years ago, assumes these names carry with them.

One of the stark “different world” aspects here is how the author, a “hard-headed journalist” who started his writing career as a correspondent for the Army's Stars and Stripes in World War One (and ended up as an investment banker), was a very public advocate for this “believing” stuff. One of the sub-themes here is how the author was expecting the whole spiritual aspect to life becoming a major scientific area. When he was writing this was back when J.B. Rhine was running a Parapsychology lab at Duke university, and many other major institutions had similar programs. It's interesting that advances made in physics in the wake of the WW2 nuclear program seems to have totally shifted the balance to the physical/easily-measurable sciences and away from the “mystical”, pretty much burying the sort of thing that The Magic of Believing is dealing with for many decades. An example of this is here:
      However, great investigators and thinkers of the world, including many famous scientists, are in the open today, freely discussing the subject and giving the results of their experiments. The late Charles P. Steinmetz, famous engineer of the General Electric Company, shortly before his death declared: “The most important advance in the next fifty years will be in the realm of the spiritual – dealing with the spirit – thought.” Dr. Robert Gault, while professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, was credited with the statement: “We are at the threshold of our knowledge of the latent psychic powers of man.”
Again, the author does not seem to be any sort of “flake”, just a standard hard-boiled businessman of his time, yet he's totally into this “newage” type of approach … using it as a tool the way that his current corporate-world descendants might implement TQM, Agile, or Six Sigma. This doesn't make the “sound” of his pronouncements any less odd in that context, as, while what he says in the book could have been penned yesterday by some totally off-the-deep-end “believer”, this is an established investment banker/journalist coming up with passages like:
      However, most of the sustained and continuing manifestations come as result of belief. It is through this belief with its strange power that miracles happen and that peculiar phenomena occur for which there appears to be no known explanation. I refer now to deep-seated belief – a firm and positive conviction that goes through every fiber of your being – when you believe it “heart and soul,” as the saying goes. Call it a phase of emotion, a spiritual force, a type of electrical vibration – anything you please, but that's the force that brings outstanding results, sets the law of attraction ino operation, and enables sustained thought to correlate with its object. This belief changes the tempo of the mind or thought-frequency, and, like a huge magnet, draws the subconscious forces into play, changing your whole aura and affecting everything about you – and often people and objects at great distances. It brings into your individual sphere of life results that are sometimes startling – often results you never dreamed possible.
One of the interesting features here is that this isn't just “philosophy” - the author charts out specific exercises as well. One of which is “the mirror technique” … which I wish Bristol had written out as a side-bar or something (did they even do “sidebars” back in 1948? I'd think they'd have been challenging to typeset before computers), as he sort of rolls through various examples of using it. In short, it's looking at yourself in the mirror, and:
... look into the very depths of your eyes, tell yourself that you are going to get what you want – name it aloud so you can see your lips move and you can hear the words uttered. … You can augment this by writing with soap on the face of the mirror any slogans or key words you wish, so long as they are the key to what you have previously visualized and want to see in reality.
He recommends that if you're an executive or sales manager, and want to “put more push into your entire organization”, you should teach your employees this technique and “see that they use it”. He goes on from this to discuss “the power of the eyes”, and “that if you act the part you will become that part”, with using the mirror to “rehearse” that act.

I would typically do this earlier in a review, but I think a chapter listing could be useful to get the gist of what's in here:
  1. How I came to Tap the Power of Belief

  2. Mind-Stuff Experiments

  3. What the Subconscious Is

  4. Suggestion Is Power

  5. The Art of Mental Pictures

  6. The Mirror Technique for Releasing the Subconscious

  7. How to Project Your Thoughts

  8. Woman and the Science of Belief

  9. Belief Makes Things Happen
In the “project your thoughts” chapter, he goes into detail on telepathy, including several pages reproducing an article by Dr. Rhine in full. Needless to say, from the perspective of a “physics dominated” culture – where (even in business) “if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist” – it sounds very strange having this sort of material coming from the likes of Mr. Bristol. Somewhat similarly, the chapter on how women can use these techniques (!) sounds bizarre from a modern perspective … although the author is writing from a post- “Rosie the Riveter” renaissance of women in the workforce, the tenor here is that most women wouldn't consider that they could use these mental exercises, and need to be told that they can! Like the old Virginia Slims cigarette tag line put it … things have “come a long way”.

Anyway, The Magic of Believing is an interesting read, and I'm guessing that some of the exercises that Bristol recommends are likely to be reasonably effective. While I picked this up used, you can also find on-line versions for free download … and a more recent pressing of the mass-market paperback I got appears to still be in print – so you could even get it new. If you're interested in “The Secret” and related “law of attraction” stuff, you should probably pick this up, as it's no doubt among the “source documents” for those things.

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