The Law of Attraction is Garbage

I’ve never met Oprah Winfrey, so I cannot attest to her actual personability or character. But the negative cultural effects of her show are pretty apparent, and the fact that culturally and journalisticly she is shit takes precedent over how nice a person she may actually be.

I’m old enough to remember her blind promoting of the Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy theories. I got to watch her create the creature that is the not-really-a-doctor Dr. Phil and the damage he inflicted upon the public’s understanding of psychology. I witnessed her inflict the snake oil salesman that is Dr. Oz on the world. People are literally dying because of the boost she gave to antivaxxer nutjob Jenny McCarthy. Oh, and she introduced us to the nonsense of The Secret.

New Thought

There are few religious movements that I am openly hostile to. I have an extreme dislike of the Church of Scientology because of its manipulative and abusive tactics, and I am highly critical of New Thought and movements it has influenced, like prosperity theology and the Kybalion.

New Thought has its origins in the 19th century teachings of Phineas Quimby, who believed that opening his mind to “God’s Wisdom” and bringing himself in line with God’s Truth would cure illnesses. (One of Quimby’s patients, Mary Baker Eddy, later founded Christian Science.) New thought took a more “rational” approach, viewing God or the Divine Force as a more intellectual principle, which permeated all reality. The understanding was that aligning your thoughts with this pure intellectual principle would heal all illnesses, as illnesses were causes by resistance to that principle. In short, having the right thoughts would bring you in line with the divine, but having the wrong thoughts brought you farther away from the divine.

Since the divine reality was pure thought, the kinds of thoughts you had helped form reality. If your thoughts were divinely attuned, you would align with the divine; if they were not, you would bring about a different reality. This principle initially applied to health and illness, but was eventually applied to life in general. If the only reality is thought, then the thoughts you send out bring the manifestation of those thoughts back to you. This is the basis of the Law of Attraction.

The Law of Attraction

This principle of “you attract what you put out” had been pretty influential in metaphysical circles, probably thanks to the Secret and its popularity among the newage crowd. Young witches and magicians seems to put a lot of stock into the “everything is intention” theory of magic, probably because starting out can be scary and real magical work can be hard.

And it can be hard to tell the difference between putting out “intention” and casting a spell when you use nonspecific language. At a workshop on sigil magic I once gave, one attendee insisted that the Law of Attraction was exactly the same as what I was describing, and I have participated in discussions on online forums where people insisted that all magic worked through the Law of Attraction. But “having this thought brings this thing to you” is far to simplistic to explain magic, especially when one considers how hard it is to pull effective magic off.

Now, as a chaos magician, I can’t dismiss in the power of belief in how we perceive reality, but saying that belief can influence reality under certain conditions is not the same as saying the only reality is thought. According to the Law of Attraction, having any thought about something should bring that thing to you, without effort or action. Magic requires action and focus, not wistful thinking or amorphous things like “will” or “intention.” If just having the thought was enough, why isn’t everyone rich and healthy and happy?

Oh, because they did it wrong.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of my biggest criticisms of the Law of Attraction is that, like prosperity theology, it is victim-blaming at its core. If having the right thought manifests good things, then bad things happen to you because you have bad thoughts. “Suffering is always the effect of wrong thought in some direction. It is an indication that the individual is out of harmony with himself, with the law of his being,” according to New Thought author James Allen. If everything is thought, and reality is based on how pure thought is, then everything is intentional, nothing is random or chaotic, and bad things happen because people attract that reality to themselves.

This is not an exaggeration. New Thought writers like Wallace Wattles and Rhonda Byrne advise people to focus only on wealth and health, for even acknowledging the suffering, disease, or misfortune of others can bring it upon you. Every mishap, every disease, every hardship you endure is because you brought it upon yourself with your bad thinking. Likewise, anyone who is materially successful has to be deserving of it because their thinking is inline with Divine Truth. A little girl who dies of cancer just didn’t have the right thoughts, but Trump became president because he is synchronized with the divine intelligence.

And supposedly everything that happens is due to this principle. There are no accidents or random events, there is no happenstance, and nothing is outside of our control. Anything that happens is because of the thoughts you had, including car accidents, assaults, rape, natural disasters, etc. Forgive me for saying so, but I can’t help but think that any philosophy that holds that to be true has an ethical deficiency.

Magic Takes Effort

Pete Carroll has a wonderful series of mathematical formulas that he uses to describe magic and the Universe, and while they can seem kind of extreme, I have found them to be very useful when considering how magic influences events. Magic and thought may not create reality, but they can certainly influence probability. It’s not an easy thing, though, and depends more on the specific instructions you are trying to process and the level of focus (gnosis) you have than simple casual thought. It takes effort and action to put into play, and isn’t as effortless as simply wishing for things to happen.

The idea that reality can be shaped so effortlessly smacks of privilege, as does the idea that people who suffer any hardship do so because they brought it upon themselves. Such notions only serve to derail valid magical theory and give new students of the occult unrealistic expectations.


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