Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shhhhh...It's A 'Secret'

The much acclaimed, run away bestseller self-help book ( later an equally successful DVD) The Secret caused a sensation in 2006. It was authored by Rhonda Byrne, a writer and producer for Australian TV,whose most significant prior claim to fame at that point was a documentary spotlighting commercials in her homeland. Byrne takes credit for  'discovering' the Law of Attraction, which she gleefully told Oprah she found in an ancient text (actually it was from "The Science of Getting Rich" written in 1910 by Wallace D. Wattles This ' little known universal law' taught you how to bring every thing you ever wanted and desired to you by simply focusing on it. Her epiphany was also influenced by Occultist and New Thought pioneer William Walker Atkinson, who also wrote under the pseudonyms Theron Q. Dumont and Yogi Ramacharaka. The fact that Atkinson wrote under so varied and assortment of pseudonyms and was  an intensely private person makes him largely forgotten in in the occult community despite his catalog of over 100 books being in print since 1900. He shared his interest in Oriental occultism with many Transcendentalists of his time, most notably the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madam Helen Blavatsky. A biography and extensive listing of his work can be found at

Byrne's  recommendation from The Secret for weight loss is to avoid looking at fat people because doing so makes you fat.

I'm not making this up-This is a direct quote from the book: "If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." Not only is this statement heavily dripping in silly New Age psychobabble, it's thinly a veiled personal prejudice against a particular segment of the population. What Byrne is implying is that it's not your fault if you're overweight from lousy eating habits, lack of exercise or medical reasons, you've become fat by second intention through mere observation. Basically she's claiming some sort of metaphysical osmosis, or that maleficus fat people cast their curse on you through a version of the evil eye. Okay, I have to stop thinking about this now because I keep spewing coffee out of my nose. Sorry.

The media sensation contains 'knowledge' from roughly two dozen New Thought/New Age wisdom keepers who are referred to in a stroke of marketing genius as "visionaries" and "philosophers". I mean, come on...admit it, who wouldn't love to see the modern day version of  St. Paul or Aristotle expounding their personal wisdom for the camera? It's the next best thing to touching the hem of their garment and being magically healed. 

I remember being riveted to the screen while watching the DVD of The Secret for the first time as I awaited the singular moment when I would be privileged to have The Secret presented to me on a sacred papyrus scroll by heavenly messengers...Not really, but I do admit that the build-up to the slickly packaged presentation impressed even me, and that's saying something. The line-up of sages eager to drop their bomb of enlightenment upon the unwashed rabble was also impressive, if only for their sheer numbers and breath of diverse theology. Yes, my finely honed bullshit detector was being continuously being tripped as the parade of snake oil  salesmen flashed by extolling the virtues of their exclusive take on The Secret, but it was like a metaphysical train wreck and I couldn't take my eyes off it. I could see immediately the appeal of this audio/visual assault of feel goodness because we humans, and Americans in particular are always searching for something to 'fix' us and make us more attractive to our fellow human beings. Exclusive knowledge and elitism always wins us over when the superficiality of physical beauty fails.

The Secret is full to the rim in a Holy Grail kind of way with physically attractive (or at least interesting-looking) people who present themselves as professional, sincere and reasonably intelligent and who only have your best interest at heart. There are enough 'experts' who are vaguely familiar to most of the media savvy public to lend an aura of authenticity and a smidgen of credibility and to the project-like Jack Canfield and Marci Shimoff of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, the Rev.Michael Beckwith of  Agape International Spiritual Center, Life coach and author of the internationally acclaimed book You Were Born Rich Bob Proctor, Neale Donald Walsh of Conversations With God fame, Psychologist John Gray who dominated Oprah's Book Club with the groundbreaking Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

The second string included meta-physician Joe Vitale, Denis Waitley, a consultant on 'high performance human achievement' for NASA and the Olympic Games and the now much more infamously notable James Arthur Ray, who's currently a defendant on Court TV for his system of human potential training employing a bastardized version of Native American sweat lodges that caused the death of several participants. And let's not forget the fabulously trendy spirit channel JZ Knight, the control of a 25,000 year old entity named Ramtha, the sum of whose teaching is " You are God ". Ramtha has his own School of Enlightenment, coincidentally called Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. ( Before Ramtha jumped on board with the other purveyors of The Secret, we basically hadn't heard from him since the 80's, when  he made headlines by spiritually guiding actresses Linda Evans- the female lead in the TV series Dallas- who was the much older live-in paramour of New Age composer and musician Yanni and the wonderfully entertaining Shirley McLaine, herself a New Age guru of sorts. ( For the record, I find the long pipe-smoking, hoarse-voiced Ramtha a bit creepy, myself.)

All was not positive and harmonious during the making of The Secret, when psychic medium Ester Hick's and her channel entity Abraham bailed from the project due to a snag in marketing philosophies with  Byrne and some of the other members of the cast. It seemed Hicks and Abraham does well enough on her/ his own, and has a rather large following of their own, much to the chagrin of the elite Secret-mongering cabal, which prompted rumors of  plagiarism and jealousy. I have seen both versions of the Secret-the one without Hicks is the most common, but the more rare and nearly obsolete version containing a session with Abraham is far superior and leads me to believe the rumors leading to the split are true

Being Wiccan, I was well acquainted with the Law of Attraction. Marion Weinstein wrote extensively about it in her classic book Positive Magic; specifically in the chapter entitled "Words of Power, The Work of Self Transformation." This is a book about witchcraft that says to ask the Universe for what you want and need, but don't be demanding and unreasonable...and be prepared to work at whatever it takes to get it.

In other words, be prepared to work hard to fulfill your needs and desire.

The Secret nowhere mentions  working toward your goal. Instead, it has a lot of goofy advice from Byrne in the same vein as what she believes about fat people. It says to tell the Universe what you want and sit back for the expected results.  It basically encourages you to ride in on a flurry of expectation, dump off your list of demands , and visualize your hand out waiting for the All Knowing to fill your palm with goodies. That's all there is to it-think it and it will be so, and while you're at it, dream big!

For a reason I'm still trying to fathom, The Secret managed to take hold in the counseling and Mental Health community with the furor of a tornado. Friends and colleagues who are well- known in their respective niches of therapeutic and spiritual practice began recommending The Secret  as a type of panacea. Many were dazzled by the marketing but were genuinely sold on the premise of positive thinking and wanted unabashedly for their clients to reap the benefits of the success it promised. These weren't bad things for someone in the helping profession to want for the people who came to them for help and trusted them to assist them in getting well, but in retrospect, it was reckless and foolhardy. For many clients and their well-meaning counselors, it was delusion and disappointment on a grand scale. Few professionals took a step back and questioned the validity of The Secret and even fewer sought to verify the effectiveness of the methods being touted by a smattering of largely unknown New Age gurus.  I was among the handful of counselors to whom this  was professionally and ethically inconceivable. Not tooting my own horn here about being exceptionally wise or anything else- it just didn't click with my training, experience or what formed my philosophy and theology. 

Initially there were reports of success from the counseling community and The Secret seemed to be the  psychological version of the magic bullet and philosopher's egg rolled into one.  Therapists treating those with clinical depression who enthusiastically recommended The Secret at first noted a positive upturn in their clients' condition, but then  many of those same clients were literally 'crashing and burning', becoming more deeply depressed then before when Byrne & Company's  version of the  Law of Attraction turned into Epic Fail . It seemed too good to be true...and it was.. The wishful thinking of those who were so desperate to find something- anything- to help them get better watched their resolve crumble into dust when the results failed to materialize... no matter how hard they projected their desires into the Universe.

Then the same therapeutics community that had so enthusiastically embraced The Secret earlier were now not only throwing down cautions, they were warning that the advise it gave was damaging. Even some of The Secret's own experts were having second thoughts or back pedaling. "I love 'The Secret' but I also think it's missing a couple things," said Joe Vitale. "If I were producing it, I would have added something more about serving others." Which goes along the same lines as Marion Weinstein's Words of Power in  asking for "just enough" with the intention of not causing hardship for others by your personal gain. " Do you really want a million dollars?" she asks, " Or do you want the happiness you think it will bring you?"

The main problem with the Secret, as I see it, is the very human tendency for self-blame when things don't  work. And frankly, how ever strongly you and I believe in something, and no matter what we ask the Universe or project into it, or crawl on our knees to God, or how many anointed candles we burn or spells we cast...sometimes things simply don't happen like we want them to...and sometimes they don't happen at all. That's a devastating blow to the already fragile self esteem of someone who has bought into the idea of simple wishful thinking to change their situation...sometimes so much so that it ends up being fatal.

So, you're probably wondering why I've put so much energy into flogging the secret behind The Secret: it's because there's a new spawn that's sprung forth from it called The Power. In The Power, Rhonda Byrne shares all the metaphysical knowledge she's learned in the last five years since the release of The Secret. Which she happily asserts, will make The Secret work better for all of us. Not that The Secret no longer works, it just works better combined with The Power... And guess what? You don't have to know about The Secret before using The Power, because it is completely new system unto its self.

I say, watch your step and don't slip and fall in the snake oil.


  1. Her comment on those over weight might not be a thinly veiled predjudice. She could simply being thinking that to be over weight is unhealthy, and for many, it is. So advising someone to use the technique she suggested could be her way of trying to help the person. And her technique simply goes back to the Law of Attraction.

    If my understanding is correct, if one focuses on the weight the person is carrying, it postpones a different reality that could come through. That reality being that the person could lose the weight. I'm thinking that's why she's suggesting to view the person in such a way. Since energy flows where attention goes, as is the saying, it's almost as if she's suggesting to give energy of a different reality to the person that that the new reality can become manifest.

    Obviously, the new reality will not instantly appear without work. But the energy of the possible new reality is like a beacon that goes out to the universe. The universe then responds by bringing forth people and places that can help the person lose the weight. But the person will only lose weight if they take advantage of what has been given by the universe, that is, they have to work. What I question is whether it's possible for the Law to work in such a way.

    Beyond that, I would have to say that it's unfortunate that many think that all you have to do is think positively and you get what you want. In this regard, I think they made a mistake in how the movie was made. But looking beyond that mistake, yes, the Law does work and yeah, you gotta work. And sometimes you gotta bust that ass. To me, I think using the Law can make the process of acquiring what you want more efficient and faster. I have personally experienced that.

    I also don't agree with the notion that whatever happens to you is your fault. Another unfortunate consequence of the movie. I think there are far too many factors involved with reality for it to be that cut and dry. Also it's like saying if a child gets raped, they asked for it because they were thinking negative thoughts. Seriously ludicrous. At the same time, the phrase, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it," has some truth to it and I think that depends on the situation. And no, I'm not saying that would apply to the above scenario.

    Additionally, I can't say anything about the drama surrounding the movie, Rhonda or those in the movie. If some of the stuff went down, well all I can say about that is shit happens. It doesn't negate the core message of the film. Besides that, I can say that one of the positives that came from learning about the Law is responisibility. While others may view it as a quick fix, and that's probably part of the reason the movie is so popular, I see the Law as an way to empower oneself.

    By taking responsibility for my screw ups, actions and inactions, I'm in a place of power because I'm in control. I don't have to stay a victim forever and I like that. I also like the fact that the Law affords me more opportunities to learn about how the universe and the Creator works. I find it all fascinating.

  2. Thanks for responding. I cherish the responses I get to my blog and this one was especially difficult to write because the subject is complicated.

    The bottom line in all of this is that Rhonda Byrne DID NOT "find" some ancient secret- she plagiarized something already in existence, packaged it, and claimed it was hers. She gathered together a group of people with a vague commonality, renamed them "visionary" and "philosopher" and manipulated the facts until she created her own reality.

    The statement that looking at fat people makes you fat makes about as much sense as telling someone not to look at a mentally challenged person because it will make you mentally challenged...the Law of Attraction doesn't work that way.

    Esther Hicks finally took legal action against Byrne and won her case.

    Vitale,Gray, Beckwith, Candfield,the two quantum physcists I didn't mention, and even Proctor have now come forward to say what they actually believe about the Law of Attraction was heavily edited into a message they had no intention of sending.

    Ray, who was her closest ally and guided her in editing the film is on trial for murder for his lack of knowledge and arrogance.

    I do believe the Law of Attraction works because I've used it, but it's not some miraculous end unto its self.Many of us in the occult community have been aware of it from the beginning of our days of practice and none of us have been ballsy enough to claim we discovered or invented it.

    While I agree with the basic premise of the Law of Attraction, the The Secret did a lot of damage to both the Occult community and to the Mental Health community because of the way it was skewed; practitioners in both are now keeping The Power at arms length.

    You either love or hate The Secret and The Power: I'm trying to find a middle ground but frankly, because I have clients as a counselor and spiritual director who have been shattered by the mass appeal and false promises of the project, I'm still very jaded about it because if I hadn't dissected it and saw what it was, I could have easily been sucked in by the slick marketing.

    Thanks again for commenting.

  3. I agree with much of what you said, the way the movie presented the Law really screwed things up for people. It also made the New Age community look really bad. I know plenty in that community who think along the same lines as yourself. As for the weight issue, I get what you're saying, I was just trying to describe what Rhonda may have been trying to do.

    As for finding the Law, she probably meant it in the way that it was new to her. And I heard about Ray and the murder trial. I was never a fan of his but interested in his work. Then the sweat lodge thing happened and I was seriously surprised.

    Back to the issue of the Law, I think the movie actually dumbed it down some. It would've been nice to see a discussion of other Laws of the universe such as those mentioned in the Kybalion. Law of Attraction is a great place to start, but I'm of the opinion that the universe is much more complex than we realize, and there is a lot going when trying to manifest something.

    Perhaps mentioning of this would've helped people realize that it's not simply about having happy thoughts. At first I was little sucked in by it, but as usual and thankfully, I started asking questions and analyzing the claims. The whole situation reminds of stuff I read as a teenager on New Age sites.

    Many claim that all you need is the right attitude and some affirmations. For a long time I didn't get it. Then I realized that those two steps are just a start. One must back it up with action but I can see how affirmations and positive thinking can help.

    As for the Power, I have the book and haven't read it all. But I did read enough to learn that the Power is love. If I'm understanding it correctly, Rhonda is saying that love is the Law. I'm not sure about this but if one believes that all is love, I guess it's not impossible.

    Btw, please vote for the pagan mom blogs at


  4. I definitely thought the trailer looked flashy and awesome, even intriguing. I also couldn't stop my BS detector from going off constantly while I watched it. Some of that is because I'm a well practiced scientist and skepticism is part of my daily life. In fact, The Secret featured in Science Education class as an exercise in scientific skepticism and how to explain it to others.

    It's extremely sad that Byrne took something which could really be positive and turned it into a huge marketing project. The PR team did such a great job that The Secret definitely caused some high hopes to be dashed.

    Also, it's too bad her project shed a bad light on others.


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