The New Thought or Mind Cure Movement
Around 1890, the New Thought or Mind Cure crusade, which borrowed from Samuel Smiles’s self-help outlook, generated dozens of books mingling metaphysical spirituality with self-help training programs (Braden 1963; Fuller, 1982, 1989, 2001).
The quest for health and spiritual integration embodied in the “Mindcure movement,” as William James called it in The Varieties of Religious Experience, readily incorporated elements of neuroascesis. A major instance is to be found in the works of Warren Felt Evans (1817–1889), an American Methodist minister turned Swedenborgian. The basic idea of his doctrine was that illness originates in the mind because of false beliefs and can be overcome by way of openness to God. He developed it in books with such titles as Mental Cure (1869), Mental Medicine (1871), The Divine Law of Cure (1881), Esoteric Christianity and Mental Therapeutics (1886), and The Primitive Mind Cure (1885).
Evans picked up several gimmicks from phrenology and phrenomagnetism. For example, he claimed that touching the skull could increase the action of the underlying cerebral organ: “Touch the organ that you wish to excite, or any part of the brain whose activity you may desire to augment,” he wrote, “and silently will or suggest that they feel happy, or calm, or strong, or hopeful, as the case may require, and it will have its effect in inspiring the proper mental state” (Evans 1874, 74). His recommendation for those prone to despondency and despair was the following: “Let us fix the attention upon the part of the cerebrum which is the organ of hope and, if need be, place your finger upon it and a joyful sunshine will light your darkness” (75). The old healing touch magic combines here with the religious laying on of hands as the means to reach the patient’s innermost being.