The words of spiritual teacher Neville Goddard retain their power to electrify more than thirty years following his death. In a sonorous, clipped tone that is preserved and circulated on tapes made during his lifetime, Neville asserts with complete ease what many would find fantastic:
Our thoughts create the world, and do so in the most literal sense. He wrote ten books under the solitary pen name Neville. Possessed of a self-educated and uncommonly sharp intellect, Neville captured the sheer logic of creative-mind principles as perhaps no other figure of his era.
Neville... some say influenced the ideas of Carlos Castaneda, Aldous Huxley, and others. And yet little is known about this teacher who exerted so unusual a pull on the American spiritual scene of the mid-century.
A Philosopher Born
Details of Neville’s early life are few. But this much is evident: Neville Lancelot Goddard was born in 1905 on the then British-protectorate of Barbados.
He came to New York at the age of seventeen to study theater... His ambition for the stage began to fade as he encountered a remarkable range of spiritual ideas – first with self-styled occult groups, and later with the help of a life-transforming mentor.
In his lectures, Neville describes studying with an Ethiopian-born rabbi named Abdullah. According to Neville, the two studied Hebrew, Scripture, and Cabala together for five years – planting the seeds of the philosophy of mental creativity that Neville would develop.
Feeling is the Secret
Neville grew convinced that Scripture was rife with this idea that man had to think from the end. He called it the state of “I AM”– this being a mystical translation of the name of God. Man could attain any goal, he reasoned, provided he adopted the feeling of it in the present.
In his eyes, all of Scripture was nothing other than a blueprint for man’s development. “The Bible has no reference at all to any person who ever existed, or any event that ever occurred upon earth,” Neville told his audiences. “All the stories of the Bible unfold in the minds of the individual man.”
The Metaphysics of Creativity
Neville was not content to rest his teaching upon anecdote and parable alone. In some of his most elegant and convincing writing, he defined a metaphysical justification – an internal logic – for the workings of mental science. In Prayer, Neville spoke of the “universal law of reversibility:”
Whether or not man succeeds in reversing a force, he knows, nevertheless, that all transformations of force are reversible … This law is of the highest importance, because it enables you to foresee the inverse transformation once the direct transformation is verified.
If you knew how you would feel were you to realize your objective, then, inversely, you would know what state you could realize were you to awaken in yourself such feeling.
If one follows Neville’s line of thought, what emerges seems almost too good to be true: Believe that you already possess your goal, and so you will. “Man moves in a world that is nothing more or less than his consciousness objectified,” he concluded.
If so, one might ask, why has this imperative been discovered by so relatively few?
Does it Work?
In a little-known book from 1946, the occult philosopher Israel Regardie took measure of the burgeoning creative-mind movements, including Unity, Christian Science, and Religious Science. Regardie paid special attention to the case of Neville, whose teaching, he felt, reflected both the hopes and limits of New Thought philosophy.
In The Romance of Metaphysics, Regardie wrote:
“Of all the metaphysical systems with which I am acquainted,” Regardie concluded, “Neville’s is the most magical. But being the most magical, it requires for that very reason, a systematized training on the part of those who would approach and enter its portals.” Absent this training, Regardie reasons, “His system is in reality strictly personal.” It may work for him but not others.
Living in the Material World
Is Regardie’s a fair criticism?
Certainly evidence exists to the contrary – much of it offered by Neville himself. In his 1961 book The Law and the Promise, Neville provides a plethora of vividly rendered case studies of people who achieved success using his methods. As one reads these passages, however, another impression emerges. Student after student is concerned with ardently material goals: a new house, a new car, a new suit, cash in the pocket. Is this, one wonders, the aim of spiritual practice? Do these principles come down simply to get-rich methods? In an unpublished lecture from 1967, Neville draws an intriguing counterpoint:
What would be good for you? Tell me, because in the end every conflict will resolve itself as the world is simply mirroring the being you are assuming that you are. One day you will be so saturated with wealth, so saturated with power in the world of Caesar, you will turn your back on it all and go in search of the word of God… I do believe that one must completely saturate himself with the things of Caesar before he is hungry for the word of God
This passage sounds a note that resonates through many of the spiritual traditions of the world: One cannot renounce what one has not attained. To move beyond the material world, or its wealth, one must know that wealth.
The Law – and the Legacy Neville never achieved the fame or reputation of some of his contemporaries, such as Norman Vincent Peale and Ernest Holmes.
Still, at the height of his career he reached many thousands of seekers. In New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, he addressed crowded church pews and packed auditoriums. He had a radio program and, for a short time, an inspirational television show broadcast from Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. His books and pamphlets were sold at lectures, and he freely allowed students to tape his addresses without charge – tapes that continue to informally spread his message today.
In the last twelve years of his life, he took his philosophy in a radical new direction – one that would cost him some of his popularity on the positive-thinking circuit.
Neville spoke of a jarring mystical experience he had in 1959 in which he was reborn as a child from within his skull, which opened as a womb. (In the Bible, Golgotha translates as skull).
In a complex interpretation of Scripture and personal experience, Neville told of “the Promise:” that each of us is Christ waiting to be liberated through metaphysical realization. Our imagination, literally, is the God-seed. He took Psalm 82:6, “Ye are gods,” as the literal truth of man’s condition...
Neville was one the last century’s most remarkable spiritual impresarios. He remained true to the principles on which he founded his career, yet dared to move beyond them without regard for convention or popular acceptance.