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I recently received an ebullient letter from a barbershop owner in Lafayette, Georgia, who loves the work of mystic Neville Goddard. As a historian of the occult, I receive few fan letters from Lafayette — this one made me take special notice.
The metaphysical teacher Neville, who wrote and spoke under his first name, has been growing in popularity since his death, in 1972, and particularly in the past decade or so, when a wide range of metaphysical writers, including Rhonda Byrne and Wayne Dyer, named him as an influence. A historical profile of Neville that I wrote in 2005 has become one of my most widely read and reprinted pieces. Neville’s books are entering multiple editions, and his lectures, preserved digitally from recordings that he freely allowed during his lifetime, receive hits numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
This is an unlikely renaissance for a British-Barbadian metaphysical lecturer who died in near-obscurity and whose 10 books and thousands of lectures center on one theme: Your imagination is God. Everything that you see and experience, Neville wrote, are your emotionalized thoughts and mental images pushed out into the world. The God of Scripture, he taught, is simply a metaphor of your own creative faculties, and your surrounding world is self-formed in the most literal sense.
Neville promulgated ideas that one immediately wants to argue with or wave off — but this is where the writer differs from most of the mystical thinkers of the previous century. In his books, pamphlets, and lectures, Neville argued for this radical thesis with extraordinary precision, vividness, and persuasiveness. With his appealing Middle Atlantic accent, encyclopedic command of Scripture, and gentle yet epic speaking style, Neville could, in the space of a 20-minute lecture, upend your entire view of life. Humanity, he taught, does not respond to circumstances — rather, it creates them and reacts after the fact without knowing the true origin of events.
Neville’s method is simplicity itself. It can be reduced to a three-step formula:
- Form an absolutely clear sense of what you want — be starkly honest with yourself about an accomplishment, possession, or relationship that you desire with all your heart and intellect. “Feeling is the secret,” Neville wrote.
- Enter into a state of restful physical immobility, such as what you experience just before drifting off to sleep at night (this is sometimes called the hypnagogic state) — and you are free to do this step at that time. When the mind and body are blissfully relaxed, your intellect is unusually supple and suggestible.
- From this state of physical stillness, picture a short, emotionally satisfying scene that implies the fulfillment of your desire, such as someone shaking your hand in congratulations, or feeling the weight and density of an award in your hands or a wedding ring on your finger. Do not witness the scene as if you’re passively watching it on a movie screen, but feel yourself in it. Run this scene through your mind for as long as it remains vivid and satisfying. You can allow yourself to fall asleep after after doing this.
Neville grew up in an era when young people were expected to venture out into the world at an early age. Born in 1905 to an English family in the West Indies, the island-born teenager, hungry to experience more of life, migrated to New York City in the early 1920s, at age 17, to study theater. Neville’s ambition for the stage eventually faded as he encountered various mystical and occult philosophies. By the early 1930s, Neville embarked on a new and unforeseen career as a lecturer and writer of mind-power metaphysics. In his lectures, Neville often referred to an enigmatic, turbaned black man named Abdullah, whom Neville said tutored him in Scripture, number mysticism, Kabbalah, and Hebrew.
Whatever the source of Neville’s education, his outlook reflected not only the most occultic edge of positive mind, or New Thought, metaphysics, but also the philosophy’s most intellectually stimulating expression. Neville expanded on the theme of how each of us is literally the Creator clothed in human flesh, slumbering to his own divinity. We live, Neville said, within an infinite network of coexistent realities, from which we select (rather than create) experiences by the nature of our emotionalized thoughts and expectations. In that sense, the words you are now encountering are your own words — they are rooted in you, as you are ultimately rooted in God. The other men and women you see about you are also branches of the Creator: We each crisscross throughout one another’s universe of formative thought systems until we experience the ultimate realization — the crucifixion on the cross of awareness — that awakens us to our providential nature.
If this all seems rather breathless, let’s step back for a moment. Neville was not dogmatic on any count. He defended his ideas with an elegant simplicity and merely challenged the listener: Try it. “I hope you will be bold enough to test me,” he offered. Have we lost our taste for individual experimentation?
As I explore in my recent audio program, Miracle: The Ideas of Neville Goddard, some of the mystic’s outlook is surprisingly congruent with current concepts in quantum physics. His outlook is probably the closest mystical analog to quantum theory, with its suggestions of a subatomic particle world where objects actually react to the perspective and measurements of a conscious observer, and an infinite range of coexistent outcomes are possible.
In 1948, Neville observed: “Scientists will one day explain why there is a serial universe. But in practice, how you use this serial universe to change the future is more important.”
In a modern culture rife with metaphysical voices, it may be that Neville’s was not only the most radical, but also the most integral and prescient.