L Ron Hubbard began his career as a religious guru with the publication of his book “Dianetics”. Published in 1950, its success was insured by an article in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction, and the enthusiastic support of Astoundings’ editor John W Campbell.
As Dianetics gradually gave way to Scientology, there was a period when Scientologists other than Hubbard were permitted to write books and magazine articles.
One such article appeared in the 1956 Mystic Magazine (a publication that you would not immediately associate with an “Applied Religious Philosophy”).
Closer examination of the cover reveals a number of connections to an earlier partnership between an author and editor working in pulp science fiction – one which had already created a popular fad around a questionable document that made amazing claims.
Two years earlier Raymond A Palmer and Richard Sharpe Shaver had blazed a trail for the later success of Dianetics.
Palmer and ‘The Shaver Mystery’
The article about Scientology in Mystic Magazine is headlined: “Scientology Explained As Told To The Editor”
The editor of Mystic Magazine at this time was one Raymond A Palmer. Palmer began his literary career as the editor of the science fiction pulp magazine Amazing Stories in 1938 .
In 1945, Palmer attracted considerable controversy when he published a story entitled “I Remember Lemuria!” This was, in fact a collaboration between Palmer and Richard Sharpe Shaver, It began with a letter written by Shaver to Amazing Stories in 1943, in which he made some (literally) incredible claims.
Shaver claimed that the electrical coils in the welding equipment he was working with had somehow attuned his mind so that he could receive the thoughts of his workmates – and also those of malignant entities who lived in an unsuspecting subterranean world.
He later submitted a 10,000 word document to Palmer, entitled A Warning to Future Man which set out an elaborate account of the secret history of the world, which he claimed to be literal truth.
A prehistoric race once inhabited the Earth, and build great underground cities. However, they had to flee the planet when the Sun began to produce dangerous radiation. Inevitably some were left behind, and the majority of them degenerated.
In an echo of H G Wells The Time Machine (in which mankind divides into the gentle Eloi and sadistic, devolved Morlocks) Shavers ancient race divides between noble “Teros” and savage “Deros”. Shaver claimed first-hand experience of this world, as an escaped prisoner of the evil Deros.
When Shaver’s account turns to the ‘mind rays’ that the Deros use to project thoughts into the minds of the Human Race (who evolved after the era of dangerous radiation had passed) the modern reader would probably realise that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
According to Shaver, these mind rays are responsible for nearly all of Mankind’s misfortunes, from minor accidents to global disasters. The Deros also travel through space, and collaborate with evil extraterrestrial races.
Palmer re-wrote this paranoid fantasy in fictional form, as a novella, entitled it, “I Remember Lemuria”, and published it in Amazing, complete with the back-story.
(Note: Modern readers should not that the descriptions of the behaviour of the evil Deros gave Shaver ample opportunity to express a characteristic sado-masochistic misogyny that makes them unreadable today).
The “Shaver Mystery Club” Fad
This story was an immediate success – the issue sold out, and letters began to arrive at the editorial offices from people who claimed to have had ‘close encounters’ with the inhabitants of Shaver’s fictional world, experienced the influence of ‘mind rays’ and heard voices out of our (supposedly) hollow Earth.
This interest was formalised when “Shaver Mystery Club” societies started to spring up around the US. The stories served to simplify the complexity of modern life, and give the believer the illusion of control – or at least the illusion of understanding what is really going on. This movement was probably one of the first modern conspiracy theories.
Stories by Shaver, always set in the same strange world, became a regular feature of Amazing. Between 1945 and 1948 75% of issues contained some Shaver-related material (a story, or a discussion of the ‘mystery’). Initially, this was credited with increasing the magazine’s circulation from 135,00 to 185,000 copies.
Inevitably, however, readers began to tire. Critics organised a writing campaign which urged the magazine to stop publishing Shaver material, and instead turn to the more scientifically rigorous and literary science fiction that was appearing in its rival Astounding. During 1948, Amazing called it a day, and stopped publishing Shaver material. Palmer left the magazine less than a year later.
Astounding Science Fiction and the Promotion of Dianetics
It was only two years after the Amazing had stopped publishing Shaver material, and the fad was far from dead.
There are many parallels to be drawn between the passing Shaver fad, and the soon-to-be Dianetics fad. They both:
- Made factual claims based on ideas that were formulated as carelessly as pulp fiction
- Offered a simple explanation for a complex problems – Dianetics took this one step further, by claiming to provide a solution
- Received an enthusiastic response from people who claimed to have directly experienced what was described
- Spawned organisations – Hubbard rapidly organised “Dianetics Institutes” (closely resembling the “Shaver Mystery Clubs) to capitalise on public interest
The public had tired of Shaver’s wild stories, so Dianetics presented itself as rigorously scientific. It is ironic that, as Dianetics developed into Scientology, Hubbard added the infamous ‘space opera’ elements to its doctrine, and Scientology began to look more and more like one of Shaver’s stories.
The resemblance between Shavers Denros, and the Psyclos of Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” are inescapable. The fact that Scientologists believe that almost all of mankind’s misfortunes are caused by psychiatrists, who use not mind rays but drugs and psycho-surgery underline Hubbard’s debt to Shaver (or, perhaps, their common paranoia).
Neither Campbell nor Hubbard could have forgotten the Shaver phenomenon, nor the lucrative boost in circulation that it brought about. If they were hoping to reproduce the fad, they were likely surprised by their success.
A New Mythology for the 20th Century
In 1949, Palmer, the editor who had created the Shaver phenomenon, abandoned science fiction and struck out on his own. His time with Amazing seems to have established that his interests lay in the world of so-called paranormal phenomena
His first personal creation, Fate magazine (which he published and edited) was an enduring success. It capitalised on 20th century myths, such as psychic abilities, UFOs, cryptozoology, alternative medicine, and telepathy.
He also published and edited other books and magazines with similar themes including, of course, Mystic Magazine, which brings us full circle.
Take another look at the cover of Mystic Magazine, and you will see that its main story is not about the newcomer, Scientology, but Palmer’s own enduring favourite, “The Shaver Mystery”.