Hidden Wizards: Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale

“I received strange orders from a strange source.”
–Napoleon Hill

Two of the most popular self-improvement books of all time are Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power Of Positive Thinking (1952) and Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich (1937). In a modern world filled with inspirational works claiming to having found The Secret and The Power of Now, outwardly claiming to provide wisdom from possible extra-dimensional entities, and so on—the works of Peale and Hill seem, to a degree, antiquated and somewhat “square.”

For one thing, they both use the word “God” a lot, and Peale, a reverend, heavily quotes the Bible. They both also express a sort of “chin up, and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and yay Capitalism” attitude that seems to fairly scream old-school Republicanism—though Peale, who was tight with Nixon, more embodied this quality than Hill (an advisor to FDR).

And so—when people ask me what self-improvement books they should check out, I hesitate to recommend The Power Of Positive Thinking and Think And Grow Rich.

That said, I’m going to recommend The Power Of Positive Thinking and Think And Grow Rich.*

And here’s why—these two books are the most unassuming esoteric texts that ever made their way into the mainstream. After a lifetime of reading mystical & religious writings from around the world and all sorts of time periods, it was obvious to me just getting through a few chapters of each.

Both Hill and Peale discuss such heady stuff as “thought energy,” creative visualization, and flat-out mental telepathy. But they do it within a Judeo-Christian context that wouldn’t freak out the mass audience of the time. Basically—they got that stuff in “under the radar.”

And they do it in the most stripped-down, simple form possible. Some critics of Peale (and they are, admittedly, legion) accuse him of essentially practicing some sort of NLP/hypnosis/voodoo on his readers by repeating the same stuff over and over again. But it also works. It works. The Power Of Positive Thinking is one of the most occult books I’ve ever read, specifically because it is presented as the exact opposite of such and thus seeps directly into your subconscious.

Both Hill and Peale kinda give instructions—rather openly—to go contact a “Presence” outside your mind that will give you advice. And they do so specifically in the context of business/corporate settings—actually telling such high-powered (and, one would assume, rational) people to get in touch with such entities for career tips, ideas for new patents, and so on.

It should be no surprise that towards the end of his life, Napoleon Hill “admitted” he was literally in touch with an extra-dimensional entity called “The Master” through whom he pretty much channeled parts of his books. This is the author of Think And Grow Rich, folks—one of the most recommended business books of all time.

In one passage from another of his works, Outwitting the Devil (which is far more blatantly esoteric), he instructs the reader to contact their “Other Self”: “…you are following orders now, rather than asking questions. Your Other Self will be in charge for the duration of this trip.” Compare this with a line from Peale’s book: “The Presence came finally to dominate his conscious and ultimately his unconscious thinking.”

So all this was way before the New Agey books that would make such a splash on the scene in the decades to come. And yet, many self-improvement books from the early 1900s through the 1950s contained similar vaguely mystical advice. How did they differ from the New Age books? Crucially, they presented themselves as not being New Age or mystical—and thus reached far more readers worldwide as a result. And yet…much of the teachings contained in these tomes are the same as those of mystery schools from thousands of years ago!

Did Peale’s education as a 33° Freemason help augment his Christian studies and create a potent spiritual blend that became one of the bestselling books of all time? Was Hill truly in communication with out-of-this-world entities which may or may not have been related to the Ascended Masters of Theosophical lore?

All I know is that you can buy The Power Of Positive Thinking and Think And Grow Rich for super-cheap. In case you’re interested.

* My caveat, as with any purely mind-based “consciousness expansion” technique, is that you understand you’re dealing with, to a degree, “heavy machinery” here. Just because you’re practicing meditation or creative visualization—as opposed to, say, tripping on acid or invoking your Holy Guardian Angel through high magick—doesn’t mean caution shouldn’t be taken. This is one of the main criticisms of Peale’s work—that he was essentially providing the keys of basic mystical practice to a mass audience who weren’t prepared for it. And that criticism might be true. But the way I look at it is: people are going to “seek” regardless, if that’s their inclination. It then becomes a question of whether you find your info from a Gandalf or a Saruman.