Five Lessons: A Master Class (1948)
Reissued with a bonus chapter by Mitch Horowitz
New York: Tarcher/Perigree, 2018
This is going to be a very practical Course. Therefore, I hope that everyone in this class has a very clear picture of what he desires, for I am convinced that you can realize your desires by the technique you will receive here this week in these five lessons.
In his illuminating essay, “Mirror Man: The Centrality of Neville Goddard,” printed here as a kind of Afterword, Mitch Horwitz compares a Neville lecture to a Grateful Dead concert. Not that you’d expect to hear “Casey Jones,” or have to endure extended guitar solos, but because Neville not only allowed, but encouraged and assisted in, the free, mass recording and subsequent distribution of tape recordings of his lectures.
It’s been almost twenty years since I sat in the auditorium of the Women’s Club in Los Angeles, California and watched a man in a gray pinstriped suit walk out on the stage and take his place behind the podium, where many tape recorders were placed in front of him. A man would walk by, press the buttons of the many machines, sit down, and the speaker would begin.
In the same spirit, episodes of Mystery Science Theater would end with the imperative “Keep Circulating the Tapes”; the boys from Bad Brains knew that although they weren’t making any money from them, the VHS tapes made by a tiny group of fans to share with friends, or even to sell by mail, were actually a free method of building a vast audience for a “cow-town puppet show” which was on a then-fledgling cable network. Audio cassettes also played a major role in preserving and growing various musical genres, from heavy metal to shoegazing, despite disinterest and even hostility from the industry and the legacy media.
Using the same tactic, Neville (he always went by his first name) left an unprecedented legacy of hundreds of lectures, available as transcripts, audio tapes, print-on-demand books, Kindle books, and YouTube “videos” and Websites – most of them still free. In this way, Neville has been an underground presence in American post-war culture, influencing everyone from Carlos Castaneda to Barry Zito, from Donald Trump (via Norman Vincent Peale) to Oprah (via Rhonda Fleming’s The Secret).
In this tsunami of mysticism, the Five Lessons of 1948 has had a special place. For reasons unknown, to me at least, this is the only transcript of a complete lecture course, sometimes including, as it does here, a question-and-answer section. It’s sort of like, to continue the metaphor, one of those box sets that provide the complete, multi-night performances of Cream or Hendrix that had earlier been edited down into reasonably-sized LPs.
Moreover, the actual content – like Cream at the Filmore – is high-level. The publisher says:
In 1948 the modern mystic Neville Goddard presented a groundbreaking series of lessons to Los Angeles students, which many consider the teacher’s clearest, most penetrating explanation of his methods of mental creativity.
These five lessons, plus a question-and-answer section, are the plainest and most direct description of the master’s techniques, now in a handsome signature edition with revealing and useful bonus material.
Now, about that content. Neville, for various reasons, chose to present his teachings by expounding the symbolic meaning of various Biblical stories.
The Bible has no reference at all to any persons who ever existed or to any event that ever occurred upon earth. The ancient story tellers were not writing history but an allegorical picture lesson of certain basic principles which they clothed in the garb of history, and they adapted these stories to the limited capacity of a most uncritical and credulous people. Throughout the centuries we have mistakenly taken personifications for persons, allegory for history, the vehicle that conveyed the instruction for the instruction, and the gross first sense for the ultimate sense intended.
Foremost among these revelations is the secret of reality, and how to change it; Neville’s method, in short. I will now reveal this method to you, free of charge:
What good is this? you say. You might recognize it as Hebrew, or even that it’s the name of the Hebrew god, and you might recall that its pronunciation was secret and now lost. What good is that?
Well, in Lesson One, Neville unpacks those four letters into what he calls “a simple method for changing the future”:
Man, by assuming the feeling of his wish fulfilled, alters his future in harmony with his assumption, for assumptions, though false, if sustained, will harden into fact.
Need a bit more than that? Here’s another hint:
The stories of the Bible concern themselves exclusively with the power of imagination. They are really dramatizations of the technique of prayer, for prayer is the secret of changing the future. The Bible reveals the key by which man enters a dimensionally larger world for the purpose of changing the conditions of the lesser world in which he lives.
But the ancient teachers discovered that sleep, or a state akin to sleep, aided man in making his assumption.
Still no good? Well, don’t forget, Neville has set aside five nights for instruction, and there’s even a Q&A session, so I’m sure it will become clearer.
Moreover – and this needs to be emphasized, since mentioning the Bible may have led you to think this is a question of forcing yourself to believe some “dogma” or creed – Neville insists over and over that this must be tested and verified in your own experience. “Go home and try before you come back next week!” is his constant refrain.
Returning to Mitch Horowitz’s essay, he’s there to give you an even clearer explanation. But again, it is not mere “explanation”; he makes clear from the start that he is very much a participant-observer, or a “believing historian,” as he calls himself. He’s used these methods in his own life, and he offers you the fruits of his experience. Here’s his summary of Neville’s method:
So to recap the formula: First, clarify a sincere and deeply felt desire. Second, enter a state of relaxed immobility, bordering on sleep. Third, enact a mental scene that contains the assumption and feeling of your wish fulfilled. Run the little drama over and over in your mind until you experience a sense of fulfillment. Then resume your life. Evidence of your achievement will unfold at the right moment in your outer experience.
No spoilers here. Without reading Horowitz’s essay, I guarantee you won’t get it. You won’t really know how to do it, and without testing it in your own experience, it’s just empty words. But when it works, you will have the evidence of things unseen; until then, it is to the Jews (who ask for evidence) a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles (who ask for explanations) foolishness. But Neville shared with William James this Copernican insight:
Signs follow, they do not precede.
If you still need more, if not proof, then encouragement to try it for yourself, you’ll find it in Horowitz’s essay as well. He establishes the centrality of Neville by tracing his roots back through the Western mystical tradition, from New Thought (Émile Coué), through Emerson and the Transcendentalists, to Hermeticism; and then forward into parapsychology:
The implications of Rhine’s experiments . . . as with placebo trials, is that positive expectancy correlates favorably with extraphysicality, at least among subjects for whom ESP exists as a potentiality.
. . . as well as the new, more mainstream field of neuroplasticity, where UCLA research psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz has found that if OCD patients are taught to visualize a compelling experience in order to replace an obsessive thought,
Biologic changes manifest in the brain, altering the neural pathways associated with compulsion. Hence, we’re seeing thoughts themselves change brain biology.
As Horowitz summarizes:
In all these experiments, we find hints of Neville’s core thesis: We radiate and interact with the world around us by the intensity of our imagination and feelings.
Although he mentions the Dead, the title “Mirror Man” does not allude to Captain Beefheart, but rather to the Human League:
The water shines, a pebble skips across the face
A dozen times, then disappears, not a trace left behind
Certainly, Neville has left more than a trace behind. He mentions mirrors here a couple of times, but just by the way. I do recall, however, at least one time he used the mirror as a metaphor for his method:
Look at yourself in the mirror and dare to see radiant health and happiness reflected back to you. Then say within yourself: “I remember when my reflection was so different.” Persist in seeing your new image reflected there and you will resurrect that state.
As Neville says, “The undisciplined mind” – Paul’s carnal mind, the Old Adam – “finds it difficult to assume a state which is denied by the senses.” The remarkable thing is that if your mind were disciplined enough to assume the evidence of things unseen, you could be or accomplish anything. As Blake – another of Neville’s key sources, also discussed here by Horowitz – says:
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
Do you see? If not, get this book, and see for yourself.
 From Lesson One.
 Mitch Horowitz is the Editor-in-Chief of Tarcher/Penguin, a PEN Award-winning historian, and the author of several books, including Occult America; One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life; and Mind as Builder: The Positive-Mind Metaphysics of Edgar Cayce.
 Margaret Ruth Broome, from her Introduction to The Miracle of Imagination (Los Angeles: Canterbury House, 1990).
 “Word of God (well, word of Joel, anyway) states that the phrase was not in reference to licensing/copyright issues but to the fact that Comedy Central was not available everywhere in the US when the show premiered, similar to other channels in the early days of cable. So, the only way they could gain a national audience was for fans to trade tapes with people who could not watch it any other way.” From TVTropes, where MST3k is the “trope namer” for this trope. For more of the Word of God, see “THE ALMOST BUT STILL NOT QUITE COMPLETE HISTORY OF MST3K.” The MST3k gang take on the Dead in a host segment during Episode 603, The Dead Talk Back: “And then the Moon came out, and it was like Jerry willed it!”
 Neville made TV appearances, but for some reason no videos of them have surfaced. Perhaps his molecules vibrated too fast to be captured on film? Anyway, that hasn’t stopped dozens of folks from uploading audio recordings accompanied by their own more or less creative visual effects; and when no audio exists, they’ll read the transcripts themselves, sometimes in fake British accents or Stephen Hawkingesque electronic voices – it seems to be a genre all to itself. Horowitz notes that, despite being compared at the time to both Rudolph Valentino and Cary Grant, “He rarely submitted to professional photographs,” which could explain why the same couple of photos seem to be endlessly recycled.
 Trump has already declared his intention to run in 2020; if Oprah does as well, this could be the first time two New Thought/Positive Thinking candidates have run against each other, suggesting the possibility of a political version of Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981).
 One might also compare it to all those endless volumes of Heidegger lecture notes and seminar reports. In Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016), Jason Reza Jorjani discusses an imaginal exercise conducted by Heidegger himself in his Zollikon Seminars, in which participants are asked to “make present” the Zurich central train station. Heidegger insists that “such ‘making present’ directs them towards the train station itself, not towards a picture or representation of it,” his conclusion being that, “We are, in a real sense, at the train station” (quoting from Zollikon Seminars: Protocols, Conversations, Letters [Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 2001], p. 70). Or as Neville says in Lesson One, “In concentrating on your objective, the secret is to bring it here. You must make elsewhere here and then now imagine that your objective is so close that you can feel it.” See my review for a discussion of the implications of Bert Cooper’s supposed Japanese saying, “A man is whatever room he is in” (Mad Men, Episode 1.13, “Nixon vs. Kennedy”).
 I discuss this in the title essay of Magick for Housewives.
 From Lesson One.
 Secret because written without the correct vowels, which is the key which must be supplied by the reader; sort of like PGP encryption. For reading purposes, the vowels of Adonai (my Lord) are supplied, leading some Christians to think the name is Jehovah.
 “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 11:24.
 Horowitz, for example, points out the central flaw in mere “positive thinking,” and how Neville avoids it.
 Hebrews, 11:1.
 1 Corinthians, 1:23.
 From Lesson Three.
 As in the subtitle of our essay, “Magick for Housewives: The Not-so New (and really quite Traditional) Thought of Neville Goddard.” Horowitz calls New Thought “very much a homegrown thought system,” while I’ve called it “America’s home-grown Hermeticism, native-born Neo-Platonism, and two-fisted Traditionalism,” in “Meme Magic is Real: Neville Goddard’s Feeling is the Secret.”
 A recurrent meme in Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986). Will Graham [watching the Leeds and Jacobi films side by side]: “Because everything with you is seeing, isn’t it? Your primary sensory intake that makes your dream live is seeing . . . reflections . . . mirrors . . . images . . . [stunned realization] You’ve seen these films! Haven’t you, my man?” And earlier, Dolarhyde and Lounds: “Look at the screen. William Blake’s ‘The Great Red Dragon’ and ‘The Woman Clothed in the Rays of the Sun.’ Do you see?” Aaron Aradillas and Matt Zoller Seitz discuss the related use of mirrors in “Zen Pulp, Pt 4: Do you see?: Michael Mann’s reflections, doubles, and doppelgängers,” July 15, 2009. At exactly one minute into the video, you can see the Dolarhyde and Lounds scene. My own reflections on Manhunter’s doubles and doppelgängers are “Thanks for Watching: Awakening Through Repetition in Groundhog Day, Point of Terror, & Manhunter, Part 1” and “Phil & Will: Awakening Through Repetition in Groundhog Day, Point of Terror, & Manhunter, Part 2.”