Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
This started as a regular blog piece, but grew to the point I’ve had to split it into three parts. The origins and character of Scientology have fascinated me since my teens, and all the craziness and its vicious attacks on critics aside, there is a fascinating, crypto-Thelemic gnosis in there. L. Ron Hubbard created a kind of alternative Qabalah with his teachings, a quest for True Will via psychotherapy, and his accomplishment needs to be explored in greater depth than happens in media reports about Tom Cruise’s wackiness or the space-opera excerpts from the teachings indicate. This is a drop in the bucket of that exploration.
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The tabloids’ feasting on the Tom Cruise – Katie Holmes divorce has once again brought the Church of Scientology a whole bunch of bad publicity. Having courted public acceptance of his ‘religion,’ Cruise had to dodge a lot of awkward questions and outright nastiness.
As a concerned, responsible citizen, I have naturally been deeply concerned with important issues of the day such as whether or not six-year-old Suri was being groomed for a senior position in the Church when she grew up. The Daily Beast tells me one thing, Diane Sawyer another, and the Church of $ itself is playing coy because it’s nervous. In news story comments, I must have seen asked 40 times: How could anybody fall for anything as crazy as this religion, with its evil galactic emperors, body-thetans and physics-defying theories about the cosmos and its distant past – or rather, distant precursor cosmoi?
And that’s where my view departs from the mainstream. Because L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, came up with a highly viable system in his early days, as well as a compellingly off-the-wall narrative of the history oft he universe(s). It attracted people – and still does, though in falling numbers – because the therapy part of Scientology works, at least provisionally. It does provide relief from neurotic or pre-conscious compulsions or repressed emotions. But Hubbard’s unique personality meant he couldn’t leave it at that, and he was driven to develop it all into what is still one of the most bizarre concoctions in the psycho-spiritual landscape. And that has kept a grip on his most determined followers: like Mr. Cruise, they’re locked into the mythic landscape.
As anyone knows who has perused Hubbard’s biography, in 1948 he famously observed, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” This is usually construed to mean he planned a scam from the get-go. But even a brilliantly conceived scam needs work and passion to succeed, and Hubbard gave his all over the next four decades. Until his death in 1986, he was not just writing and teaching, but also using himself as Scientology’s main guinea-pig. Like Crowley, he knew he had to be the near-flawless exemplar of his own creed. He came to believe in it more ferociously than anyone else.
Right after World War II, in August 1945, he hooked up with Jack Parsons, a rocket-fuel researcher and prominent Thelemite in the Los Angeles area. Their ‘Babalon working,’ which they began in early 1946, was their main magical effort, shortly after which Hubbard absconded with most of Parsons’ cash as well as his ex-girlfriend, Betty Northrup.
When this first came out in a British newspaper in 1968, the Church replied that Hubbard had been working undercover for the US government and that he “broke up black magic in America.” It was bunk, but typically Hubbardian bravura. In reality, he had acknowledged “my good friend Mr. Aleister Crowley” in his Philadelphia Lectures from 1952, and the two men had, albeit briefly, corresponded before Crowley’s death in 1947.
It’s fair to assume that Hubbard, who was a quick study on many topics, with an excellent and encyclopedic memory, learned a huge amount from Parsons during the intense months they worked together. He would have read some of the classics of magick, including those that outline the initiatory system. Parsons would have provided a depth detail of from his own experiences, having been head of the Agape Lodge of O.T.O. since 1942, and an active occultist for years before that.
If we look at what Hubbard produced over the decade following his work with Parsons and his circle, we find that he came up with a ‘theology’ and cosmogony that parallel Hinduism and Theosophy, with bits and pieces of gnosticisms both ancient and modern: including the Qabalistic one. We are, he asserted, thetans, or sparks of consciousness that have travelled down through unimaginable ages, in cosmos after cosmos of varying dimensions and character. (See:
But the Parsons connection gave him not a theoretical structure, but a philosophy lived and experienced by an intelligent man, if a romantic dreamer. The fact that this always comes out in the sleaze-media as “Hubbard studied black magick” is an irritant, but an experienced magician will find many Qabalistic ideas in Scientology, albeit in a changed form.
To facilitate Dianetics, his early system that led to Scientology, Hubbard developed auditing, which is a tightly structured version of ‘talk therapy.’ His initial method was simply question-and-answer, with verbal acknowledgements by the auditor to the patient (later called a ‘preclear’) being mandatory to maintain crisp, in-present-time communication. After some years, he adopted the e-meter, which measures electrical resistance in the skin, and which he believed gave more consistent indications of what was, to the preclears, their personal reality, by-passing conscious filtering of uncomfortable ideas or feelings.
The aim, stated early on, was to produce ‘Clears,’ or people free from reactive activity brought on by past traumas stored in unconscious memory, which he dubbed ‘engrams.’