This article begins a series in which I will systematically deconstruct one of the foundational scriptures of the Church Universal and Triumphant, The Science of the Spoken Word.The airbrushed Spirograph cover attempts to provide some kind of spiritual-mathematical mystique to the books’ content. As I will demonstrate, the book is neither particularly spiritual nor scientific, even in the loosest sense of the word.
Nothing is more universally central to religious hubris than the idea that we humans can use our minds and voices to manipulate matter or events. From tales of Jesus affirmation “Lazarus, come forth,” to the fall of Jericho, all religious adherents dream of commanding and controlling outcomes by fiat or sound. They disguise this idiosyncratic notion of controlling God’s intercessory power by throwing in the concept that we ourselves are powerless, and it is God who is the prime mover. They imagine God to be at once all-powerful but helpless to act unless we ask. Yet he is perceived to be dutifully following our commands to find us a parking space, get us a job, find our lost keys, heal our loved ones or–in some cases–do damage or violence to our enemies. “I of mine own self can do nothing, it is the Father in me which doeth the work,” is the sentiment–paraphrased from numerous bible passages in John and Acts.
Indeed, aside from a kind of afterlife insurance policy, the primary attraction of religion is that it helps us “get things done.” In all cases, religions insist that we sublimate our own desires before the “will of God.” What this means is that we can pray for anything, no matter how petty or misguided, and God will adjust the prayer accordingly so that only good will result. It’s a can’t-lose, money-back-guarantee policy.
Sometimes people pray, and presto, the parking space instantly appears. But in the end, prayer fails to deliver at least 50% of the time. It’s like flipping a coin. “God helps those who help themselves” is the convenient and ever-present escape hatch from nagging doubt. Almost everyone realizes we get hired or not, based on our qualifications. We find or don’t find our keys. We either get the parking spot or park illegally and get a ticket. Our loved ones either get better or they eventually get worse and then die. Life goes on, with or without our prayers. About the most we can derive from praying is some kind of reduction in anxiety, akin to playing with Chinese stress balls, or rubbing a rabbit’s foot. But belief in supernatural agents who answer prayers, is a double-edged sword: If it’s possible for angels to come to our rescue, that also means we can be hurt by demons and “sinister forces.” So nothing is gained. In our accounting of peace of mind, we rob Peter to pay Paul–we give up one kind of anxiety to embrace yet another. Worse, our own accountability in our successes and failures is blunted. As the song goes: “‘The stars aren’t aligned,’ or ‘the gods are malign,’ blame is better to give than receive.”
My parents were really big on their particular brand of prayer, which was called “decreeing.” We were forced to do these decrees from the earliest age, and for me and my sisters, they were kind of like our Mother Goose rhymes:
“I am a being of violet fire, I am the purity God desires.”
This decree would be said hundreds to thousands of times a day by faithful devotees. When it is said quickly, the syllables blend together into a kind of drone. It is one of my earliest memories from childhood. What does this phrase even mean? Why a being of fire, why violet? Why the obsession with purity? Yes, I know all about the “seventh ray” being the ray of freedom and transmutation and yadda, yadda. But someone made that up. Someone or some group of people in the so-called “esoteric tradition” sat there one day and divided up the colors and assigned “god-qualities” to them. Why is that any more valid than me saying to you right now that I think chartreuse represents Nirvana?? (I don’t, but it’s an equally absurd example). Why does anyone take someone’s word for the fact that violet is the color of the seventh ray or that there even are seven rays or five secret rays or whatever?
The color spectrum goes ROY G BIV from lowest to highest frequency. For anyone with a science background, that means Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Combinations of colors give rise to the millions of shades we can perceive. It’s astounding to me that someone could latch onto the idea (and make it stick so strongly within the new age community) that one of those colors actually has anything to do with “transmutation,” or represents anything other than a specific frequency (wavelength) of light. Period.
But back to the decree I quoted. In a new-age sort of way, this phrase is a repetitive re-affirmation of the concept of “original sin.” It affirms there is something inherently wrong with us that must be transmuted and changed and gotten rid of. As far as I’m concerned, repeating phrases like this hundreds or thousands of times is an unhealthy compulsion. Each repetition reconfirms our feelings of incompleteness and impurity and lowers our self-esteem. Because all of us are irrevocably human. We are primarily sexual in nature. We are mortal and we die. This kind of affirmation sharpens that reality then buries it under a patina of wishful thinking: Wishing that we could be free of the painful and often brutal competition that makes up life on earth. Wishing that we could live forever. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be ridiculous. On second thought, it’s both.
On the quotations page of The Science of the Spoken Word (originally titled The Overcoming of Fear Through Decrees back in the 1960s) “El Morya” lays out the epic nature of the book’s claims:
Mankind living in the world today assume that recorded history is what it is and cannot be changed. They have not reckoned with the violet transmuting flame. Wherever you are, as you read my words you can begin to experience the marvelous action of the violet fire coursing through your veins, penetrating the layers of the physical temple–the bloodstream, the nervous system, the brain–pressing through the chakras, swirling through the etheric body, passing over the pages of the written record of your incarnations on earth. Line by line, letter by letter, the flame–intelligent, luminous, directed by the mind of God–sets free the energies, electron by electron, of all past misuses of the sacred fire. If you would have the benefit of this miraculous energy, you have but to make the call. For the fiat of Almighty God has gone forth, and it is cosmic law: The call compels the answer!
Now to the “uninitiated,” this paragraph makes absolutely no sense at all. So let me elaborate:
- It is not enough to solve the problems of today. The responsible and dedicated student of the masters will give the violet flame to transmute and remove not only today’s evil, but that of all of history. If that’s not an impossible burden, what would be? They say a mother’s work is never done. Well when you’re facing a million savage years of human history armed with only with paltry words, it would make cleaning the Aegean stables seem like a picnic. What’s wrong with focusing on your own life and things that matter in the here and now? An impossible goal simply serves to make a person feel permanently inadequate. I guess some cynical people might view that as El Morya’s whole point.
- The violet flame is not just an imaginary spiritual force, but something that is claimed to be physical (otherwise why mention the physical “temple” and veins and electrons?) but of course, it cannot be seen.
- El Morya also refers to the absurd idea that there are some kind of spiritual “chakras” or centers that correspond to the physical nervous system–a leftover from pre-scientific dualism or animism–notions of some invisible “animating force” that separated living organisms from inanimate matter.
- Then there’s the concept of the “etheric body” a reference to the occult tradition in which we have “subtle bodies” that co-locate with our actual body. Beyond dualism, this corresponds to the idea that there might be multiple planes of existence. The violet flame, of course, operates on all the levels, but most especially the ones we can’t see or verify.
- “Misuse of the sacred fire” is ascended master code for sexual deviance, which is of course any sexual activity outside of marriage, any gay sex, or any oral or anal sex (even if you are married). My mom and dad taught that the existence of insects had resulted from ancient “misuses of the sacred fire” which to them also included not just sexual deviance, but all forms of “Atlantean genetic engineering.” (This was later dropped because it was so outlandish, but I’m sure careful research could locate this claim in some obscure dictation from the 1960s).
- “The call compels the answer” is one of those aphorisms that is supposed to end discussion on the matter. Of course everyone knows, “the call compels the answer.” It’s a thought-stopping cliche. You might as well say “wishing makes it so.” It’s a pure solipsistic pipe dream. It’s not “I think, therefore I am,” but rather “I speak, therefore the world changes.” Judging from the success of The Secret and other new age paeans to “creating your own reality,” it’s a popular message because it makes people feel empowered, even when they’re anything but.
- Lastly, “Cosmic Law.” What the hell is cosmic law? It’s not a law of nature or science. It’s not a law and can never be a law because it cannot be tested under controlled conditions. Cosmic law really should be called a “Cosmic Wish.” It simply means “this sounds convincing, and we don’t want to be asked to prove it, so we’ll call it a law.”
Some “students” of the masters may be tempted at this point to bring up Alice Bailey, Manly Palmer Hall, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, A.D.K. Luk, the Ballards, C.W. Leadbeater, Henry Steel Olcott and others. Aside from the obvious fact that none of these sources agree with each other or my parents (who picked and chose what they wanted from each and rejected the rest) they all have the same problem. No matter how much they quote each other, no matter how vivid they each claim their experiences were, no claim has ever been verified nor could it ever be. Which is why such students get upset when asked for proof. They know none is available, and they ultimately don’t care.
Untestability takes the question of the efficacy of prayer and banishes it forever to the backwater of pseudo-science. On that grounds alone, the book is not science. It is therefore transparently fraudulent from its very title to the last word of its self-referential bibliography. If I can stomach it, I’ll try to continue this series. What I can say right now is that thanks to my parents, hundreds of thousands of people have wasted tens of millions of precious hours of their lives frenetically repeating useless rhymes.