Name: Silva Mind Control (SMC), now, the Silva Method
Founder: Jose Silva
Date of Birth: August 11, 1914 February 7, 1999 1
Birth Place: Laredo, Texas
Year Founded: Began in 1944; went public in 1966
Sacred Text: The Silva Mind Control Method , by Jose Silva and Philp Miele, is considered the movement’s most important document and outlines the self-help philosophy of the Silva Basic Lecture Series. Several texts published later expand upon the ideas set forth in early mission-like statements and explain in greater detail the intricacies and objectives of the Silva Method. Among these, Jose Silva and Burt Goldman joined to author The Silva Mind Control of Mental Dynamics, containing a wealth of practical and finer tuned problem solving techniques for work, health, love and money. See bibliography for further information on relevant Silva texts.
Size of Group: What started as a family experiment in the 1940’s and a group of 39 trained clairvoyants by 1963 has become a high-profit, high-profile, self-help industry reaching millions of people worldwide. Though Silva International remains family run, its business extends to 107 countries and rising, with the Basic Lecture Series being presented in 29 languages. 2
The Silva Method is a self-help program based on the techniques developed by Jose Silva, a relatively benign, client based organization designed to teach meditative as well as supernatural methods. It represents nearly half a century of his work in the fields of psychology and hypnosis, though he never underwent professional training. The Silva Method rejects the label of religion, though structurally, methodologically and spiritually it reflects the qualities of a quasi-religious organization.
The Early Years
Raised in Mexico with no formal education, Jose Silva is said to have a special gift for people, for learning, for inventiveness, and for success. He made a name for himself in the electronics business, buying used and broken radios and repairing them for a large profit. Soon afterwards, in April 1944, he was drafted into the army, a married man with three children. 3 As part of the extensive interviews given to recruits, Jose underwent a psychiatric evaluation that fueled his interest in the science of psychology for years to come. 4 After his release from the military two years later, he returned home to Laredo to a job in radio repair and his new hobby of psychiatric and hypnotic study.
Setbacks and Formation
Excited by his readings, Jose began to entertain the idea of raising IQs. By 1949 he was practicing hypnosis on his children and formulating a procedure to help them perform better in school. 5 It was on such an occasion that his life and research were to be refocused forever. While working with his ten year old daughter Isabel, Jose noticed she was answering questions before he asked them, in essence reading his mind. At that moment he knew he had stumbled onto something even greater: clairvoyance. He then shifted his focus from cultivating IQ to psychic talents.
Silva contacted renowned parapsychologist Dr J. B. Rhine at Duke University in 1953 to inform him he’d created a clairvoyant in Isabel, but was met only by adamant professional skepticism. 6 Dr. Rhine declared that clairvoyance, or the psi factor, was like intelligence in that it could not be enhanced. Silva believed otherwise. In order to test his hunch, Silva spent the next ten years training 39 volunteer subjects from his circle of family and friends to function as clairvoyants and worked to perfect his technique. In 1963, the Laredo Parapsychology Foundation Inc. was established and within three more years the basic 48-hour Silva Mind Control course was ready. 7
Through various forms of relaxation and hypnosis, Jose believed brain-wave frequency could be slowed enough to help subjects attain a prolonged alpha state. He knew from his work in electronics that the most effective circuit was the one with least resistance, and so he strived to find a way to lower the impedance of the human brain with the expectation that enhanced performance would follow. 8
According to alphagenics, alpha brain waves are associated with a dream-like level of consciousness, subjective sense and intuition. 9 This is where the theory of brain hemisphere enters play, a theory that Jose Silva built his life upon. When brain waves are slowed to the alpha range, the center of the human frequency range, both hemispheres of the brain take part in thinking. 10 Humans are predominantly left-brained, but those in the world considered geniuses are the ones tapping into a greater portion of right-brain activity. It is through stimulation of this hemisphere that IQ is enhanced and clairvoyancy and other such subjective, intuitive processes cultivated.
While the popularity of Silva’s work heightened within his community, his studies still failed to meet with scientific approval. By 1965 he even wrote President Johnson and offered to turn over all his research on the development of paranormal activities of the human mind to the government at no cost, out of the great sense of duty he felt towards God, country and humanity, but was flatly denied. 11
Silva Goes Public
In 1966, Silva received an invitation to address the Area Arts Association in Amarillo, an ideal forum to publicize his research. Largely right-brained in nature, this pool of artists provided prime candidates for the Silva Method and they began training immediately. 12 From this pilot group, a few of the artists established satellite programs upon the course’s completion in January 1967 to teach the Silva Method in other cities.
Interest in the training grew daily and Silva began to travel on lecture circuits to cities and universities across the country, attracting crowds of people interested in gaining the insight promised by the Silva Method. The method became so popular that regional directors were hired to keep up with demand and instruct seminars throughout the nation and eventually the world. Gradually, greater quantities of doctors and individuals of religious occupation began to get involved with Silva and acceptance within those communities steadily augmented.
The Perfected Technique- The Silva Basic Lecture Series
The Silva Basic Lecture Series has become a concise, 2-day seminar aimed at aiding individuals towards self-empowerment. It is a dense 48-hours packed with lectures and meditative exercises, teaching positivism and Silva’s own home-crafted techniques for stress, dream, memory and habit management along with hoards of other common, useful, unbelievable or supernatural skills. 13 By the end of the session, Silva claims to be able to develop ESP abilities in any individual. Among some of its more promoted teachings are the mastery of meditation and visualization as tools for accelerating healing and solving problems. 14
At the core of the course are some of Jose Silva’s basic guidelines for success. Participants must desire, believe and expect the event to take place or it may not. They must also avoid “creating a problem.” 15 That is, Silva testifies that the mind power he teaches cannot be used for malevolent purposes. Beyond these introductory principles, the Silva Basic Lecture series seems to capitalize most on the techniques it disseminates to its pupils.
The series begins by schooling its students to reach and exit a meditative state at will and later to control the meditation and learn to use it “dynamically to solve problems.” Silva believes the “single most valuable tool we have” is the mental imagery technique, building upon solid meditative talents. 16 Once an individual learns to perfect their visual imagery and project things onto a “mental screen,” the dynamics of the process can be invoked. The course turns then to instructing its pupils on speed learning, memory and dream recall, using dreams to create solutions to problems, shedding unwanted habits like smoking and overeating and lastly and most amazingly psychic healing. Perhaps the most difficult to understand and rationalize, the most intriguing and widely argued, the attainment of ESP abilities begins with simple visualization and projection techniques and allegedly evolves into the paranormal.
The great success of the Silva Basic Lecture Series motivated this self-help program to expand and specialize. Jose Silva now offers courses and writes books geared towards business managers, sales professionals, and even ventures to patch up wayward marriages. Beyond the basic seminars, Silva has recently launched the Silva UltraMind ESP System, a more concentrated course on psychic cultivation.
Silva believes himself to be the leader of a “new phase of human development” which is “ushering in a new age of spiritual development and understanding.” He also views human beings as “caretakers of the planet” with a duty towards self-betterment for the sake of the human race at large. 17 The Silva method is one of many New Age movements, a descendant of Eastern traditions that advocates finding one’s inner God and making peace with the spiritual environment. Jose Silva firmly believes he’s doing the work Jesus would have us all do, that life is about “finding solutions to existing problems” and our purpose is to “perfect creation.” 18 The Silva Method declares itself as “God-oriented” and “striving towards the attainment of Christ consciousness.” 19 This notion seems to clearly suggest a relationship with a higher form of guidance is central to the Silva Method, but other sources reveal a more tentative religious confession when it’s cited that previously Silva Mind Control has asserted boldly it is “not a religious movement.” 20
Silva’s work is a blend of the spiritual and scientific, as many quasi-religions are. The Silva Method is committed to and fueled by research in the fields of alphagenics and parapsychology. By teaching others to function comfortably in an alpha state, he encourages positive thinking, stress management, and creative growth. The crux of Silva’s philosophy is his conviction that he can teach others to unite the objective and subjective realms of thought; that, in a sense, genius abilities can be transferred. This method of transfer is the secret and crown jewel of the Silva Empire.
Religion has never been a static commodity. Throughout history it has been innovated and adapted in order to meet humanity’s spiritual needs. As the counter-culture crisis of the 1960s emerged in the American landscape, tension mounted between social and political institutions and the public began to experience elevated levels of disenchantment, another such spiritual need suffered impoverishment. The New Age movement, popularized in the 1970’s, grew out of this void and attempted to reconcile disillusionment by creating a new path through which to pursue spiritual satisfaction. This new religious movement sought to “find social, religious, political and cultural convergence between the new Eastern and mystical religions and the religious disenchantment of many westerners.” 21
Part of the New Age vision involves “awakening to such new realities as a discovery of psychic abilities, the experience of psychic or psychological healing and the emergence of potential within oneself” as a vehicle for individual and eventual societal transformation. 22 New Age movements are also built around experience and vision rather than a belief system. 23 This is one reason why even more secular movements still fall under the New Age category, movements that might not otherwise define themselves as religious but which deal in the spiritual realm. Its loosely defined religious nature allows it to encompass organizations that might otherwise not fit under typical cult and sect categories.
For those organizations, avowedly secular or not, that do not engage in specifically prescribed religious activity but still exhibit many features common to religion, there are two New Age subcategories. The first of the “secular religion” subset is para-religions, which refers to “nonreligious entities that share features in common with religious organizations as well as to secular projects that nonetheless deal with matters of ultimate concern.” 24 They obviously eschew the American folk category, but maintain significant resemblances to religion. The other subset is quasi-religions, referring “to groups which deal with the sacred but are anomalous given the American folk category of religion,” usually “straddling the boundary between the sacred and the secular.” 25 Leaders of such organizations are extremely important because they “have at their disposal the option of emphasizing the religious nature, the nonreligious nature, or the ambiguity of their organization and its regiment in different sorts of circumstances.” 26 Many quasi-religions emphasize basic self-help, self-empowerment messages, coupled with meditation and positivism, without teaching actual religious beliefs.
Bordering on secular, the Silva Method is among the groups that elude the labels of “sect” and “cult” and instead fit into the non pejorative category deemed quasi-religions. The Silva Method’s lack of strict theological tendencies clearly qualifies the non-religious but spiritual aims of the Silva Method as New Age. Jose Silva’s group is part of the growing number of psychic development interest groups and parapsychological research organizations that have emerged along with other alternative health, mystical and Eastern groups in the New Age tradition. Jose Silva and Silva International are among the many individuals, organizations and businesses that have arisen to facilitate the personal and ultimate world transformation advocated by the New Age vision. Furthermore, the self-help nature of quasi-religions is the Silva Method in a nutshell.
Silva also parallels many quasi-religious leaders in his flexibility of self-definition and his tendency to emphasize the aspect of his organization most fitting for the situation. This sort of behavior is visible in Silva’s tentativeness to express religious sentiments. Sometimes Silva asserts boldly that the Silva Method is “not a religious movement” while other times he mentions training individuals to reach Christ consciousness. The advantages of an organization’s reluctance to express religious affiliation vary. In the case of the Silva Method, it may be out of fear of discouraging potential clients with an inflexible theological doctrine or because it wishes to add legitimacy to its therapy by “distancing itself from more religious tendencies.” 27
Silva as quasi-religion explains not only its hybrid nature and complicated origins but serves to place the Silva Method amongst the newer religious movements catering to a new, evolving overall sense of religion. As Americans turn away from more traditional, American folk definitions of religions focused on “a transcendent deity, standing above nature, controlling but not controlled by natural law,” they are finding increased satisfaction in institutions not typically thought of as religious. American religious behavior is in a state of metamorphosis, and the Silva Method is one step ahead, anticipating contemporary needs and dressing its organization in the popular quasi-religious garb.
Issues and Challenges
Christian Critics: Premises of the Debate
The basis for Christian criticism of the Silva Method lies in their divergent biblical interpretations and the Christian objection to Silva’s obsession with self-perfection. The Christian conviction that clairvoyants are super human, functioning God-like, conflicts gravely with the biblical notion that there is only one God 28 . In a sense, by creating all these mini-Gods, Silva is threatening the Christian social order. In defense, Jose Silva argues that what he’s doing is completely natural. He sees the Silva Method as cultivating hidden talents. Thus, by steering clear of the supernatural, he doesn’t feel the Silva Method engages in the occult in any manner. 29 In addition to his misguided religious convictions, Christian critics accuse Silva of trying to influence the Protestant and Catholic church. Basing their fears on the presence of clergy in Silva seminars and the growing number of nuns who actually use the Silva Method in their classrooms, they worry about the implications of these assumed anti-Christian teachings on the theological doctrines of the church. 30
Slandering Jesus Christ and Issues of Salvation
Most adamant in identifying the Silva teachings as misinterpretations and anti-biblical Silva teachings are John Ankerberg and John Weldon. In their Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, they argue that Silva teachings and beliefs about Christ, salvation, and related issues qualify it as occult and at odds with traditional Christian beliefs. Jose Silva contends that if Christ’s actions cannot be duplicated then they are of no use. 31 Thus, Silva endeavors to teach Christ-like powers, asserting that man is to save himself. Ankerberg and Weldon view this philosophy as conflicting with the traditional biblical belief that Christ died for man’s sins and simply believing in him merits salvation. 32
Jose Silva disagrees and argues that man must go beyond the mere acceptance of Jesus Christ into emulation. Similarly, Silva believes we are all “sons of God,” thereby disputing common biblical interpretations that Jesus is “God’s one and only son.” 33 By aspiring towards Christ consciousness, Silva believes it is within man’s grasp to even surpass his power and accomplishments. By claiming the Silva Method can teach its students to perform miracles in the same way Jesus did, Silva tramples the biblical teachings which profess Christ’s powers were not merely mind over matter but derived from his Father. 34
Thus, argue Ankerberg and Weldon, Silva fails to distinguish between man’s own mind power and God and Christ’s genuine supernatural talents. Silva also questions the imminence and importance of the second coming, believing instead that Christ already taught man what he needed to know and that expanding right brain activity provides the key to correcting human problems and warrants passage to the inner kingdom. 35
Ankerberg and Weldon see the Silva Method as eliminating Christ from the salvation process. Silva interprets the biblical reference to man and the inner kingdom by suggesting the “kingdom of God is within” rather than “in the midst of” man. 36 By simply attaining the alpha stage of consciousness it is possible to access the inner kingdom, bypassing the prerequisite belief in Christ as savior and rejecting his redemptive work. The Silva Method teaches self-reliance, to the point that positivism is the pathway towards self-cleansing. There’s no need for Christ to absolve man’s guilt because the expungement of guilt is required before entering alpha. 37
In addition, the Ankerberg and Weldon critique goes beyond Silva’s views of Christ and salvation. They argue that Silva’s teachings regarding heaven, hell and Satan deny those teachings the reality granted by Christian biblical interpretations. 38 Moreover, Silva views man as innately good and evolving towards God-like status while the Bible finds man is sinful as a result of the fall, denying him the God-like image of his initial creation.
Fear of the Occult-Spiritism and Meditation
Jose Silva counters challenges that the Silva Method borders on spiritism by defining the psychic dimension as being at one with the spiritual dimension. Even so, his critics argue many of the practices promoted by the Silva Method make it impossible to normalize what are clearly religious dimensions. As part of meditation, participants are told to use spirit guides, invoke supernatural counselors in the psychic world. These counselors are not explained as products of imagination, but rather defined as uncontrollable spirits with their own volition who serve to transmit supernatural information to individuals while in an alpha state of consciousness. 39 Instead of the Holy Spirit, the Silva Method offers polytheistic advisors. And in a larger sense, too, Jose Silva and his instructors serve as spiritual gurus, instructing pupils on how to ascend to higher levels of self-awareness through highly personalized meditative and visual techniques.
While Silva maintains his meditation methods to be a natural process, Christian critics argue that forcing oneself to stop the natural thinking process (that is, reach an alpha-dream state at a time other than when sleeping) is anything but natural. Similarly, Silva’s visualization teachings aimed at changing or creating reality are declared by these Christians to be bordering on sorcery, another of the Bible’s clear taboos. In the same vein, much of what the Silva Method advocates, cultivating psychic abilities, controlling dreams and gaining healing powers, qualify as spiritual manipulation and sorcery as well. Interestingly, the Silva organization labors to avoid these labels of occult and spiritism by redefining crucial terms like clairvoyance as sensory projection and replacing reference to the channeling of energy more commonly referred to as prana, ch’i, or the odic force with reaching an alpha state. 40
Christian evangelists continue to criticize the practices of meditation and visualization according to the Silva Method on the grounds that their ultimate goal blatantly disregards the Bible’s instruction that man is not supposed to be God, while meditation strives to bring individuals frighteningly close.
Beyond Evangelical Critique: Subjective Work
The irony of the Silva Method, of course, is that it is difficult if not impossible to prove. Quantitative evidence of subjective work is hard to come by. In a book by Robert Stone advocating the Silva Method and the man behind it, the author suggests a standard IQ test would be valuable in measuring results, but coincidentally “such tests are largely left-brain oriented and would not reflect increased right-brain activity, which is one of the major benefits of the Silva training.” 41 So if Silva claims to produce psychics, who measures success and failure? Inevitably, these claims will remain suspect until such a time when comprehensive and objective tests may be applied.
Untestable, Says Silva Himself
In his own book, The Silva Mind Control Method, Jose Silva fuels the skeptic’s fire in his discussion of practicing ESP. Statements about the common occurrences of “misses” when practicing telepathy, intended to reassure the budding student, cast doubts on this seemingly fool-proof plan. 42 It’s further learned that students are protected so much from these inevitable failures that when operating psychically with a partner, the orientologist is instructed not to tell the psychic partner when he is wrong. Instead, to avoid discouragement, the failing psychic is told by his partner “I have no information on that.” 43 Furthermore, Silva makes sure to add as a convenient, end-of-the-chapter tag that all wishes a psychic makes remain secret. Relying on wish folklore, Silva parallels psychic practice to the blowing out of birthday candles, suggesting the wish won’t come true if it’s revealed. He claims that bottling up secrecy is a way to prevent the dissipation of energy. 44 In Silva’s own book, he grants several misses in ESP, instructing students not to tell they were wrong and keep such psychic dabblings secret.
In sum, the Silva Method is grounded in spiritual presuppositions and teachings that are accepted on faith – notwithstanding the fact that truth claims are made. Judging from the dearth of apostate literature, there can be little doubt that the Silva Method has produced many satisfied clients. In the final analysis, the Silva Method proves itself to be a contemporary belief system that must be understood in quasi-religious terms.
Ankerberg, John, and Weldon, John. 1996. “Silva Mind Control,” in Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs. Eugene, OR: Harvest House. 553-572.
Greil, Arthur L. 1993. “Explorations Along the Sacred Frontier: Notes on Para-Religions, Quasi-Religions, and Other Boundary Phenomena” in Handbook on Cults and Sects in America, David Bromley and Jeffrey K. Hadden, eds. Religion and the Social Order series. Vol 3A. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. 153-172.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1996. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Volume Two. New York: Gale.
Silva, Jose, and Philip Miele. 1977. The Silva Mind Control Method. New York: Pocket Books.
Silva, Jose and Robert B. Stone. 1992. You the Healer: The World-Famous Silva Method on How to Heal Yourself and Others. Kramer.