A few years ago, former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green had a memorable postgame press conference where he stated, “They are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook .” Although the rant stands as one of the most memorable postgame tirades in a sport that is particularly concerned with public image, it represents a view of motivational thinking by which reality conforms to our previous inward thinking. This viewpoint is so commonplace within contemporary American culture, and indeed has been for so long that few people stop and ponder upon the revolutionary, and unsettling, implications of such a viewpoint. The belief that our thoughts have effects on eternal reality is an aspect of magical thinking that is associated with the occult arts, and it is also a fundamental aspect of contemporary motivational philosophy, and why certain people and certain institutions place so much importance on matters of attitude without fully coming to grips with the fact that their focus on such matters demonstrates their conformity with longstanding and popular occult practices. How could such a thing happen?
Let us begin by noting that America’s love of self-help and motivational theories is such that there are a great many people whose work touches upon such matters that would never recognize the occult roots of such matters. For example, I once read a book from someone who lectured on various keys and laws and strategies to success that focused on the need to have a certain attitude before one could find success . Although this particular person seemed familiar with the writings of various motivational thinkers, it is unlikely that this person reflected upon the fact that this belief in the importance of attitude springs back to the “New Thought” and “New Age” approaches of American esoteric and occult thinking going back to the 19th century. Nor is it likely that those who pondered on the mysteries of the ages or sought to promote the study of pyramids or the importance of precise Hebrew pronunciation or pondered matters of auras and other alternative health practices thought of the occult nature of such matters as well. It is particularly striking, moreover, that such people interested in such matters and desirous of promoting the personal responsibility for matters of health to the extreme that any health problem or difficulty in life is viewed as a preexisting problem with attitude or personal morality would likely consider themselves free of any connection with the occult, and may be quick to criticize the behavior of others that fail to meet up to their own lofty standards.
How does one know if something is occult or not? Few people will label themselves as occult, especially given the association of occult matters with what is hidden, what is dark, and what is wicked in nature. What is most sensible to do is to examine the matter from a historical perspective, and to see what occult historians, and such a group of people do exist, pull together as occult given their common origins in the belief in the existence of unseen powers and forces that can be tapped into by those who are adept. In Europe, occult studies have often had a high focus on ceremony and secrecy, but aside from the popularity of various occult groups like the Freemasons and Rosicrucians and others like them, much of American occult thinking has been fairly open, whether one is looking at the popularity of seances and other forms of spirit communication for entertainment and profit, whether one is seeking the mysteries of the ages, desiring to uncover and restore lost knowledge from ancient civilizations, or believes in the power of positive thinking. American occult figures have often sought legitimacy with existing religious traditions, both Christian as well as Eastern, have often been self-taught people of modest education but intense devotion to reading and often less than intense devotion to citing the sources of their understanding, and have often sought utopian social aims and promoted a belief in personal responsibility.
How often do we reflect on the negative side of our cultural obsession with personal responsibility? When one considers the theology of Job’s friends, which was commonly held during the time of Jesus Christ, affecting even the disciples, and which is commonly held today, that people are responsible for their own misfortune and suffering, it is worthwhile to ponder why such a philosophy would be held. For one, it makes people who feel somewhat successful in their own life feel better about that success, and counteracts any feeling of compassion or pity we would have for those who are obviously not doing well. If we feel that people are poor or lonely because of their own mistakes, then it is pointless to try to do something about it, nor do we endorse any changes to the systems of our society and institutions that might threaten our own comfort and well-being with a belief that such changes would be unjust. For another, a belief in the personal responsibility we have for our circumstances, and not only for how we cope with those circumstances, gives us a feeling of power and agency in our lives, even where there is a great deal that is out of our control . Our desire to reduce the need for faith and to take charge of our own lives encourages us to believe that our lives are under our control, whether or not that is the case. It is easier to believe in the illusion of our control than to reflect on the horrors that are committed in this world to those who are powerless. Is it any wonder that occult thinking is so common here when we all want to be people of power and control in our own lives?
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