Science, Fiction, and the Magician: How L. Ron Hubbard Conjured Scientology
And helped spawn the UFO cults
The trans cult is not the only one I study. At my own website, osborneink.com, I published an essay this week about one of the most famous flying saucer cults of all time. It is available for my premium subscribers. If the topic interests you, please consider a trial subscription.
Last month, I published this essay on the origins of Scientology. Today I am sharing it with premium subscribers to The Distance. An audio version is embedded below the paywall.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard did not create Scientology from original material. For example, “in his early Dianetics practice we can see clearly the influence of Freud, Jung, and other thinkers available in the mid-twentieth century, as well as the influence of popular self-help works such as Norman Vincent Peale’s best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking,” religious studies professor Hugh Urban writes.1 Hubbard had no real expertise, however, so he had to invent it.
He claimed that he had learned psychoanalysis from a US Navy commander, had been made a blood brother of the Blackfoot tribe, and toured China, India, and Tibet to learn eastern wisdom as a boy. Hubbard had even studied under “the last remaining magician from the line of Kublai Khan’s court.” Son of a Navy officer based on Guam, Hubbard did in fact visit China and the Phillipines in 1927. However, his accounts of this tour are contradictory, and his diary shows he cared little for monks or temples. Rather, he expressed contempt for the local population. There is no sign of Freudian analysis, zero appreciation for classic literature, nor any expression of interest in philosophical systems in his diary. Despite his later claims that Scientology was the western successor to Buddhism, the young Hubbard was unimpressed by his encounter with that religion. Thus there is little evidence that Hubbard cared much about spritual matters as a young man.
As an adult, however, Hubbard joined the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, which is still the largest Rosicrucian organization in the world, for six months during 1940. Based on a series of anonymous pamphlets printed in the early 17th century, just after the age of alchemists, Rosicrucianism is a syncretized blend of the Corpus Hermeticum, Kabbalah mysticism, and Gnostic Christianity. War interrupted Hubbard’s spiritual path. Discharged from the Navy in December 1945, Hubbard resumed his interest in magic with Jack Parsons, a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons led the Agapé Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) in Los Angeles. Founded by Freemasons at the beginning of the 20th century, the OTO was an occult blend of Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and sexual magic that belonged to Aleister Crowley’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Although Crowley mostly agreed with the work of Helena Blavatsky, he disdained Annie Besant, her successor leader of the church of Theosophy, as a rival, claiming that he alone was on the correct path to spiritual enlightenment through magic rituals. Calling his retake on Theosophy Thelema, Crowley maintained a tight grip on his own underlings. Parsons dutifuly kept his master up to date on his new friendship. Hubbard “is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is completely in accord with our own principles,” Parsons wrote to Crowley. He was in need of a partner in sorcery, he said, and Hubbard fit the bill.
Although Ron has no formal training in Magic, he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences I deduce he is in touch with some higher intelligence, possibly his Guardian Angel. He describes his Angel as a beautifully winged woman with red hair whom he calls the Empress, and who has guided him through his life and saved him many times.
Just months later, however, they were bitter enemies. Hubbard then embarked on creating his own religion thereafter, borrowing freely from Crowley’s ‘magick.’ Textual critics have identified Crowley’s Book of the Law as one of Hubbard’s sources. According to his estranged son Ronald Edward DeWolf, aka “Nibs,” Hubbard never actually stopped practicing Crowleyan magick. In turn, during its early history, Scientology helped inspire the first flying saucer cults, including one of the most famous in the world. On his way to becoming (in)famous himself, L. Ron Hubbard thus played a small, but crucial role in the transformation of 19th century Theosophy into alien contact narratives.