Psyched Out: America’s First Mail-Order Religion


In 1929, Frank Robinson invented America’s first mail-order faith. He referred to as it “Psychiana,” a reputation that got here to him in a dream, and hyped his creation in eyeball-grabbing journal commercials. “I TALKED WITH GOD,” one learn. “Sure, I did, Really & Actually.”

Frank Robinson (College of Idaho Library Collections & Archives)

Robinson’s advertisements put readers on the spot. Did they need “Wealth or Poverty—Happiness or Despair—Which?” Individuals preferring wealth and happiness might discover these treasures, Robinson promised, by subscribing to his 20-lesson mail-order course in Psychiana, a “psychological faith” that not solely revealed how one can converse with God but additionally how one can purchase godlike powers. The course price $20—a buck a lesson—and throughout the Nice Melancholy and World Battle II People by the 1000’s ante’d up, hoping for illumination.  

If Robinson had “Really & Actually” talked with God, it should have been an fascinating chat. As Brandon R. Schrand writes in his 2020 biography, Psychiana Man, Robinson had led “a freewheeling, vagabond lifetime of questionable employment historical past, reckless army service, alcoholism, imprisonment, compulsive mendacity, fraud and chapter.” In fact, none of these flaws disqualify a person from changing into a spiritual chief in these United States. 

Son of a Baptist minister, Frank Bruce Robinson was born in England in 1886.  He was 10 when his mom died. In 1889, his father married a rich lady who repeatedly clashed with Frank. The minister solved that downside on Frank’s sixteenth birthday, signing the youth up for a 12-year stint within the Royal Navy.

Frank detested his time earlier than the mast, faked an sickness, and was discharged. He returned residence, however not for lengthy. In 1903, his father dispatched him to Canada as a part of a shipload of orphans and paupers. For 3 years, he lived in an Ontario orphanage that rented its residents to farmers as low cost labor.  

Fleeing the establishment, Robinson started a interval of drink-sodden folly. In Toronto in 1910, he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which quickly expelled him for drunkenness. In Oregon in 1912, feigning American citizenship, he enlisted within the U.S. Navy, which shortly ejected him as a “power alcoholic.” In San Francisco in 1916, he joined the U.S. Military underneath a pseudonym. Shipped to the Philippines, he was imprisoned for “willful disobedience of orders” and discharged.

“I used to be ineffective and only a frequent drunk,” Robinson later recalled.

However in 1917 he give up ingesting. He labored in pharmacies, peddled shares, and bought self-help books door-to-door. He married a choose’s daughter, and in 1928 they settled in Moscow, Idaho, the place Robinson, 42, labored in a drugstore whereas he concocted his new faith.

Fueled by espresso and cigarettes, he spent nights pounding a borrowed typewriter, banging out these mail-order Psychiana classes—greater than 200,000 phrases, a lot of them typed in capital letters. Calling himself “Dr. Robinson,” he promised his “REVOLUTIONARY TEACHING” would reveal how one can use “DYNAMIC UNSEEN POWER” to carry out miracles, together with therapeutic the sick. This mystical “God Energy” may very well be accessed via respiratory workouts and by repeating “I BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF THE LIVING GOD” time and again. Robinson warned college students to “obey my directions TO THE LETTER” or else “get nowhere, and solely be a loser.”

He marketed Psychiana in pulp sci-fi and detective magazines. The hype labored: Hundreds purchased into his mail-order theology and Robinson quickly had expanded Psychiana to incorporate {a magazine}, a “Psychiana Brotherhood” membership—month-to-month dues $2—a medical clinic in Moscow, and, for sufferers unable to make it to Idaho, mail-order medical diagnoses at $5 a pop. Robinson quickly grew to become the city’s largest non-public employer and a rich man.

However his doubtful claims sparked a federal investigation and in 1936, an indictment cited Robinson for passport fraud. At his trial, in Moscow, prosecutors proved that Robinson had sworn, on his passport software, that he was an American, born in New York—a declare the proof confirmed to be false. Robinson retorted that his mom had advised him he was born whereas his dad and mom have been visiting New York, and he believed his mother. This superb  protection labored: hometown jurors acquitted him.

Irked, the feds moved to deport Robinson as an unlawful immigrant till William Borah, Idaho’s highly effective Republican senator, brokered a deal. Robinson can be deported however permitted to use for readmission to the U.S, which was promptly granted. 

“After the crucifixion comes the ascension,” Robinson crowed after his victory. “We all know that divinity can’t be crucified.”

The pages of pulp magazines proved to be a bountiful setting for advertisements by which Robinson placed on the exhausting promote touting his cult. (College of Idaho Library Collections & Archives)

Utilizing his authorized troubles to lift cash, Robinson cited his acquittal as proof that his “DYNAMIC UNSEEN POWER” actually labored. He launched a radio present and a lecture tour, showing on stage flanked by two stenographers who transcribed his each phrase, lest any godlike knowledge be misplaced. “The showman in him hungered for the vitality of a dwell viewers,” his biographer writes, “and the stage is the place he felt at his finest.”

In Might 1940, as German armies have been blitzing via France, Robinson instructed his followers to pause 4 instances day-after-day, shut their eyes, visualize Adolf Hitler, and repeat “The spirit which is God will deliver your downfall.” Robinson despatched a telegram to French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, informing him of Psychianians’ efforts on France’s behalf. “Consequently, you can not lose,” he added. 

In June, the Nazis seized Paris. Two weeks later, a coronary heart assault almost killed Robinson. Medical doctors ordered mattress relaxation. As an alternative, he labored day and night time smoking, slurping espresso, and typing so furiously that he taped his fingertips to maintain them from bleeding. In two years, he wrote a whole lot of articles and 9 books. His prose grew to become ever weirder. He stated that “God had chosen me” to enlighten humanity. He recommended he may run for the U.S. Senate. He claimed to have seen his canine cross via closed doorways. He claimed that he’d healed a pig’s bleeding tail just by expressing sympathy for the punctured porker. And he proclaimed, “THE DEAD CAN BE BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE.”

After atomic blasts ended World Battle II, Robinson circulated a two-sided leaflet touting “The New Psychiana.” One aspect blared, “THIS CIVILIZATION IS DOOMED,” predicting  that atomic conflict would quickly kill most people. 

The opposite aspect proclaimed, “THIS IS GOOD NEWS,” detailing a post-apocalyptic utopia by which “all shall dwell FOREVER WITH THE GREAT SPIRIT WHICH IS GOD.”

In October 1948, Frank Robinson’s “DYNAMIC UNSEEN POWER” expired; the mail-order mystic died at 62.  He was not “BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE,” however his widow and son managed to maintain Psychiana alive for 4 years, repackaging and reselling Robinson’s writings. In 1952, they closed down the operation, blaming postal prices. Newsweek discerned a special trigger: “With out the dynamic persona of the founder,” the journal reported, “Psychiana gave the impression to be doomed.” 

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