Vernon Howard in 1965 (The Regents of the University of California/ Creative Commons)

The Greatest Metaphysical Philosopher You’ve Never Heard Of

And that’s just how Vernon Howard wanted it

Mitch Horowitz
11 min readMay 26, 2023


By the mid-20th century, prosperity ministries and extreme motivational seminars created a chasm between the ideals and reality of popularized metaphysics and positive-thinking spirituality.

Yet one of the most distinctive and skilled spiritual thinkers of the era deftly avoided this pitfall. He was a man who began his career in the tradition of the success gospel but eventually distanced himself from it. Leaving behind his old life, and with it the ethical and material dilemmas of spirituality-for-sale, he defined a wholly fresh concept of mind-power.

His name was Vernon Howard (1918–1992). While this mystical writer and philosopher lacked fame, following, or renown, he possessed an extraordinary, and probably singular, gift for distilling the complexities of the world’s religious and ethical philosophies into aphoristic and ardently practical principles.

Indeed, Howard, a California transplant born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, was probably the most remarkable and independent voice to emerge from America’s culture of practical spirituality; though as his outlook matured, it became impossible to pin any label on him.

In the first leg of Howard’s writing career, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, he produced books that could have come from the conventional New Thought catalogue. They bore such titles as Success Through the Magic of Personal Power; Time Power for Personal Success; Your Magic Power to Persuade and Command People; and Word Power: Talk Your Way to Life Leadership.

Howard’s folksy oeuvre extended to works of popular reference, trivia, and children’s nonfiction, such as Lively Bible Quizzes and 101 Funny Things to Make and Do. To the outside observer, the Los Angeles–based author was just one more scribe-for-hire, of the type found in any large city.

But in the mid-1960s, Howard’s outlook underwent a remarkable maturation. His personal genesis began with a wish to escape from the cycles of euphoria and depression that characterize the life of any ambitious writer. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1978:

I started realizing the uselessness of the extraneous…



Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China