Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Basic Principles of True and Lasting Success - An Inquiry into the Psychical World of Napoleon Hill

by David Metcalfe

"......there is abundant evidence that in many forms of modern thought -- especially the so-called "prosperity" psychology, "will-power building" metaphysics and systems of "high-pressure" salesmanship -- black magic has merely passed through a metamorphosis, and although its name may be changed, its nature remains the same."

- Manly P. Hall, Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, 1969

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill is perhaps the most popular success book available. As an integral part of the contemporary corporate mythos, it's a primer for the 'culture of success' that runs bloody and gorged with oxygen through economically fevered executive minds of the managerial class. Published in 1937 it has remained on Business Week's best seller list for over 70 years. In the 2007 list Business Week has it placed alongside contemporary selections such as Freakonomics, The World is Flat, and The Tao of Warren Buffett.

Have you ever read this book? Am I alone in my mystification with it?

I'd heard it mentioned so many times by key note speakers at corporate conferences, referenced in business literature, heralded by executives offering me advice on my career, that it never occurred to me to actually look at the book itself. When I did I was quite surprised with what it advised.

Researching William Walker Atkinson, whose prolific pseudonymous publications popularized Mind Science, Telepathy, Hermeticism and American Yoga in the early 20th century, lead me to reconsider my preconceptions of works like Hill's. It also became impossible to ignore the strange imaginative associations that a head full of esoterica and alchemy will import to titles from other success literature I ran into like The Richest Man in Babylon, The 48 Laws of Power, and The Master Key. Further peaking my interest, even an innocuous title such as The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino, contains a frame story based in some nebulous Middle Eastern city with a main character named Hafid who discovers the 10 sacred scrolls of success.

This all seemed kind of odd to me, I can't really picture any of the executives I know being particularly taken by orientalist mystique. Some of these success books were looking remarkably similar to 18th century narrative grimoires like Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids.

And then I actually opened the 25 cent copy of Think and Grow Rich I'd picked up at a library sale while collecting New Thought material...

Chapter 11 - The Mystery of Sex Transmutation
THE meaning of the word "transmute" is, in simple language, "the changing, or transferring of one element, or form of energy, into another." The emotion of sex brings into being a state of mind. Because of ignorance on the subject, this state of mind is generally associated with the physical, and because of improper influences, to which most people have been subjected, in acquiring knowledge of sex, things essentially physical have highly biased the mind. The emotion of sex has back of it the possibility of three constructive potentialities, they are:-- 1. The perpetuation of mankind. 2. The maintenance of health, (as a therapeutic agency, it has no equal). 3. The transformation of mediocrity into genius through transmutation.
This wasn't what I was expecting from an exegesis on Hill's maxim "whatever the human mind can conceive, the human mind can achieve."

Nor was I expecting to find...

Chapter 14 - The Sixth Sense, The Door to the Temple of Wisdom the 13th Step Towards Riches
THE "thirteenth" principle is known as the SIXTH SENSE, through which Infinite Intelligence may, and will communicate voluntarily, without any effort from, or demands by, the individual. This principle is the apex of the philosophy. It can be assimilated, understood, and applied ONLY by first mastering the other twelve principles. The SIXTH SENSE is that portion of the subconscious mind which has been referred to as the Creative Imagination. It has also been referred to as the "receiving set" through which ideas, plans, and thoughts flash into the mind. The "flashes" are sometimes called "hunches" or "inspirations." The sixth sense defies description! It cannot be described to a person who has not mastered the other principles of this philosophy, because such a person has no knowledge, and no experience with which the sixth sense may be compared. Understanding of the sixth sense comes only by meditation through mind development from within. The sixth sense probably is the medium of contact between the finite mind of man and Infinite Intelligence, and for this reason, it is a mixture of both the mental and the spiritual. It is believed to be the point at which the mind of man contacts the Universal Mind.
I'd really like to know how unwitting executives who buy this book approach these final chapters. With a 70 year run, and several million copies in circulation, there are a lot of potential clairvoyant sex magicians out there.
Why would Hill put this into his work? The answer became apparent upon further research:
One day I knew the time had come to write this book. Perhaps the brief illness I had at that time, during which I outlined the book, was planned by those others to draw my mind away from day-to-day affairs. I wrote the book, enjoying it as one always enjoys a labor of love. It took a number of months, during which I felt highly alive and happy. I completed the last chapter and sat before my typewriter, musing on what I had written. Ultimately, nothing matters, I thought – yet it is good to have achieved that which the mind has conceived for so long a time. I was alone in my study and all was still. A voice spoke. I saw nobody. I cannot tell you whence the voice came. First it spoke a password known to few men, that riveted my attention. “I have come,” said the voice, “to give you one more section to include in your book. In writing this section you may cause some readers to disbelieve you, yet you will write honestly and many will believe and be benefited. The world has been given many philosophies by which men are prepared for death, but you have been chosen to give mankind a philosophy by which men are prepared for happy living.” I whispered: “Who are you?” In a softened voice, which sounded like chimes of great music, the unseen speaker replied: “I come from the Great School of the Masters. I am one of the Council of Thirty-Three who serve the Great School and its initiates on the physical plane.” This is the school of wisdom which has persisted secretly...for ten thousand years…it is the central reservoir of religious, philosophical, moral, physical, spiritual and psychical knowledge. Patiently this school strives to lift mankind from spiritual infancy and darkness to maturity of soul and final illumination. From the remotest days of antiquity, the Masters of the Great School have communicated with each other by telepathy. Eventually they met and organized themselves into the world’s oldest association.- from Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind, Napolean Hill

Seems that Manly P. Hall was right, it was black magic. The age old alchemical art, in this case with a very Rosicrucian flavor, transmutation of the black and potent prima materia into transcendent gold and silver. Reading through Hill's work the same tension found in Goetic writings appears between verbal acquiescence to material wealth and an underlying sense of gnostic allegory.

For all the apparent references to money and material gain, Hill more often uses the term "riches," or some other ambiguous phrase, to denote the end goal of his instruction. Side by side with alchemical texts from the Rosicrucian revival, works from occultists like Paschal Beverly Randolph, or the 'practical occultism' fostered by 19th century groups like the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Hill's seemingly innocent and executive Think and Grow Rich takes on much deeper mytho-poetic associations.

Hill's revelation regarding the 33 Masters didn't come until the late 60's, but Think and Grow Rich is not without it's telepathic apparitions. The 14th chapter also contains his reflections on consulting the advisory spirits of heroes through self hypnosis in order to achieve philosophic rebirth:
Long before I had ever written a line for publication, or endeavored to deliver a speech in public, I followed the habit of reshaping my own character, by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life-works had been most impressive to me. These nine men were, Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin,Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my "Invisible Counselors." The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman. I had a very DEFINITE PURPOSE in indulging my imagination through these nightly meetings. My purpose was to rebuild my own character so it would represent a composite of the characters of my imaginary counselors. Realizing, as I did, early in life, that I had to overcome the handicap of birth in an environment of ignorance and superstition, I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth through the method here described.

The Standing Army Is At Your Service

It Will Bring You Fame, Fortune, Peace of Mind or Whatever You Demand of Life!
In this picture you see the most powerful army on earth. Observe the emphasis on the word POWERFUL. This army is standing at attention, ready to do the bidding of any person who will command it. It is YOUR army if you will take charge of it.
A long, searching study of the lives of 500 great American men and women--as well as actual endorsement from nationally known leaders--proves that these are the basic principles upon which all true and lasting success is built.
POWER comes from organized effort. You see in this picture--in these "soldiers"--the forces which enter into all organized effort. Master these sixteen forces or personal qualities and you may have whatever you want in life.
The language clouds what Hill is actually getting at, as it does throughout much of the book. However, if we consider that angelic names when translated usually refer directly to a descriptive for a specific force of Divine agency...Think and Grow Rich becomes much more than a popular crutch for the corporate myth. Given that Hill alludes to the potential for immortality to those who master the secret of success, it seems Think and Grow Rich is a psychical grimoire for acheiving union with the Universal Mind.

Or perhaps I've just become a bit addled from too much Mind Science.


David Metcalfe is an independent researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth.

Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. He contributes to Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Reality Sandwich, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

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