Scientology and ‘Magick’ – A Realistic Assessment

crowley_parsons_ hubbard2012 | Hugh B Urban | Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions Vol 15, Issue 3, pages 91-116 | The Occult Roots of Scientology? L Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and the Origins of a Controversial New Religion | Download as .pdf

Before his breakthrough publication of “Dianetics”, L Ron Hubbard made a precarious living writing stories for a variety of pulp magazines. During this period, he met Jack Whiteside Parsons, a pioneering rocket scientist and disciple of the occultist Aleister Crowley. Hubbard became one of many (rent-free) residents of Parson’s rambling Pasadena home, and took a significant role in the curious black magic rituals which Parsons performed.

Hubbard’s participation in Parson’s rituals is well-documented, and I have provided a number of links to books and videos providing details of this period in another post.

Some critics argue that Dianetics and Scientology were heavily influenced by Crowley and Parson’s ‘Magick’ – others that the influence is small, and Hubbard was mainly interested in conning Parsons out of his considerable assets (they fell out after Hubbard absconded with several yachts that he was supposed to be selling on as part of a mutual business enterprise).

Hugh Urban is an expert on occult groups and author of the excellent book, “The Church of Scientology: a History of a New Religion“. In this paper he examines the question of how much influence Hubbard’s brief involvement with ‘Magick’ really had on the creation of Dianetics and Scientology.

OTOlogo

Symbol of the OTO

According to Urban,

Hubbard assembled a wide array of philosophical, occult, spiritual and science fiction elements, cobbling them together into a unique, new and surprisingly successful synthesis. In Hubbard’s religious bricolage, occult elements drawn from Crowley were indeed one important element, but neither more nor less important than the many others drawn from pop psychology, Eastern religions, science fiction and a host of goods available in the 1950s spiritual marketplace.

Starting on page 94  Urban provides a brief history of Hubbard’s involvement with Parsons, and the founder of Parsons’ esoteric group (the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO) Aleister Crowley.

Urban describes three ideas which are central to Crowley’s teaching that seem to have had an influence on Scientology in its early days:

One – Magick is a Science

First and foremost, Crowley repeatedly emphasizes that Magick is a science . To distinguish his practice from parlor tricks and stage illusions, Crowley spells Magick with a “k” and insists that it is an exact science based on specific laws and experimental techniques. Hence his book begins with a “postulate” followed by twenty-eight “theorems”presented as “scientifically” as chemistry or mathematics. This science is fundamentally about the correct knowledge of the individual self and its potential. In short, “Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions.

Dianetics presents itself as a ‘science of the mind’ which is based on research and absolutely reliable – that is, properly applied it will always work. These claims were later transferred to Scientology. Hubbard’s assertion that his claims were backed up by ‘research’ make better sense when you realise that he did not mean scientific research, but Crowley-style exploration of his own subjective states.  Hubbard also wrote the pseudo-scientific ‘Axioms of Scientology‘ in this spirit.

Two – “Do What Thou Wilt”

Second, the fundamental law of Crowley’s science is Thelema (ΘΕΛΗΜΑ) or “Will,” […] The law of Thelema is “do what thou wilt,” meaning that individuals should pursue their own true will, whatever that may be, and reject any social or psychological structures that impede it.

This creed is surely the origin of Scientology’s disdain for the rules of wider society which has led it into so many legal disputes and occasioned so many accusations of abuse. It is ironic that an organisation composed of people who believe in pursuing their own will is so controlling and regimented.

Three – ‘Astral Travel’ , ‘Exteriorization’ and ‘Operating Thetans’

Another central part of the magician’s practice, described in great detail […] centers on the Body of Light, which closely resembles ideas of astral projection and out-of-body experience popular in the early twentieth century. The astral body was regularly discussed by esoteric movements beginning with the Theosophical Society, which drew upon he concept of the subtle body in Indian yogic traditions. […]  Crowley takes this earlier idea of the astral body even further: the magus should think of his astral body as a kind of “creative force, seeking manifestation; as a God, seeking incarnation.” […]Ultimately, the magus who cultivates his true will, who becomes intimate with his Guardian Angel and masters the ability to travel in the Body of Light, is all-powerful.

exteriorizationThese concerns can be seen in Scientology in the form of:

  • Exteriorization – the supposed ability to apparently ‘leave the body’ is highly prized as a sign of progress in Scientology. An early auditing command instructs the student to “Be three feet back of your head”.
  • Belief in the ‘Thetan’ – according to Scientology, every person is an immortal, potentially all-powerful being which Hubbard called a Thetan, who have become so immersed in the material world that they have ‘forgotten’ their true nature.  As Crowley worked to incarnate the God-like power of his creative force, Scientologists study to recover their powers so that they can manifest their true nature as Thetans.

The Affirmations of L Ron Hubbard – Magickal Ritual?

On page 98 Urban describes the “Babylon Working” ritual which Parsons saw as his greatest achievement. Hubbard’s involvement can either be seen as genuine involvement, or a cynical attempt to gain Parson’s trust in order to part him from his money. Crowley had no doubt that Hubbard was playing Parson’s. He wrote a cable to another member of Parsons’ lodge reading ““Suspect Ron playing confidence trick —Jack Parsons weak fool — obvious victim prowlingAleister_Crowley,_Magus swindlers.” By this time, Hubbard had absconded with both Parsons’ life savings and his girlfriend.

On page 100 Urban turns to a document called “The Affirmations (or admissions) of L Ron Hubbard“. After establishing its authenticity, Urban identifies it as a species of magical ritual designed to enhance to speakers powers and abilities by assertion. Here, among Hubbards banal  insecuritiesabout the shape of his feet and his sexual potency is a revealing line, which reads:

[…] my code is to be all things a “magus” must be, that I am those things. That I burn high and bright and will last as a potent and brilliant force until well after this century has run.

Hubbard failed in this magical ambition, dying a broken man in 1986.

Conclusion

Urban distinguishes and  discusses many more similarities between Crowley’s OTO and Scientology. For example

  • The similarities between the ‘Golden Dawn cross of OTO and the Scientology Cross
  • The fact that members of both the OTO and Scientology are expected to advance through multiple levels of secret teachings.

Urban’s paper repays close reading. He concludes that, although Crowley’s teachings undoubtedly had an influence on the development of Scientology, they were only one of very many other influences which were absorbed as the organisation developed. These include Freud, Jung, self-help books, science fiction (including ‘technological’ props like the e-meter) popular concerns such as nuclear war, drug use, pollution and much more.

The influence of Crowley’s style of Magick on Hubbard has a vital  place in the development of Scientology, but it by no means provides a complete understanding.

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2 thoughts on “Scientology and ‘Magick’ – A Realistic Assessment

  1. You might like to look at my various pieces on Crowley and Hubbard – on which Urban most surely relied. First, Let’s sell these people A Piece of Blue Sky, the relevant chapter is posted at http://bluesky.exscientologistsireland.org/?page_id=22 (first published in 1990, and also the basis for Russell Miller’s account in his excellent Bare Faced Messiah); then my paper Hubbard and the Occult at http://factnet.org/l-ron-hubbard-occult (from 1993); and the paper Possible Origins for Dianetics and Scientology at http://home.snafu.de/tilman/j/origins6.html (again, 1993). David Barrett, whose work I respect, makes the mistake of believing that although Hubbard was deeply involved in the practice of ‘Magick’ he took nothing from Crowley’s ideas, as my paper shows, Crowley is the most significant source for Scientology, by far – almost all taken from his Magick in Theory and Practice, which Hubbard recommended during his Philadelphia Doctorate Course. There is also some comment at my more recent blog at the Underground Bunker: http://tonyortega.org/2014/08/21/jon-atack-the-games-l-ron-hubbard-played/
    Keep up the good work!

    • While I agree that Barrett is wrong in his belief that Hubbard “[…] took nothing from Crowley’s ideas”, I think some critics have gone to the opposite extreme, and fallen into the trap of assuming that, because there are striking similarities between Crowley’s writings and Hubbard’s ideas, that that all of Scientology is based ‘black magic’. This makes for good propaganda, but it is over-egging the pudding.

      This is why I liked Urban’s take – because he describes the clear instances of Crowley’s influence on Hubbard (showing that Scientology does, in fact, owe a considerable Debt to Crowley) while still, keeping his head. He keeps it in perspective by stating that Crowley was only one of very many writers and ideas that Hubbard plagiarised during his career. As he says in the paper:

      In Hubbard’s religious bricolage, occult elements drawn from Crowley were indeed one important element, but neither more nor less important than the many others drawn from pop psychology, Eastern religions, science fiction and a host of goods available in the 1950s spiritual marketplace.

      Urban’s meticulous scholarship enables him to both acknowledge Crowley’s writings as an major source of Scientology and keep it in perspective. That said, it is an influence which is critical to an understanding of Scientology because it set the stage for much that follows.

      Having just consulted my copy of “Piece of Blue Sky” for another post, I recommend your book and your links for their meticulous scholarship, too.

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