Scientology and the Occult: Hugh Urban’s New Exploration of L. Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley


Last June, we brought you the first review of The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Ohio State professor Hugh Urban, and then the first interview with the good professor himself.

During that interview, Urban told us that he was planning to continue his research into Scientology, and would be looking into a variety of areas. But we didn’t know that one of those interests included a closer look at L. Ron Hubbard’s wild occult history that preceded his publication of 1950’s Dianetics.

Longtime Scientology watchers will be at least somewhat familiar with the tale: that after his involvement in WWII, Hubbard shacked up with Jet Propulsion Lab rocket scientist Jack Parsons, a man heavily into the occult, and in particular the teachings of The Great Beast, British occultist Aleister Crowley. You may even know something about the kinky things Parsons and Hubbard did trying to create a “Moonchild.” But what Urban does in a new piece for the journal Nova Religio is produce a thorough, academic study of the ways that Crowley’s “magick” found parallels in what would become Hubbard’s most famous creation, Scientology.

Urban went into some of this material in his book, but he tells me he wanted to explore it more in depth with this article.

Nova Religio is one of those academic journals still doing things the old-fashioned way — its articles don’t appear in full on its website, and readers either need to purchase a copy of the journal or get it through an academic institution or something. So, we’ll play along and hold on to our copy of the story and do our best to describe it here. Perhaps later Urban can convince the publication to allow wider access to the piece.

Urban’s article is titled “The Occult Roots of Scientology?: L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley, and the Origins of a Controversial New Religion,” and if you’ve read his book, its introduction will seem very familiar.

He then lays out the basics: after returning from his service in the war, Hubbard moved into John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons’s Pasadena rooming house (the “Parsonage”), which was something of a flophouse for his occult friends. Parsons was heavily into Crowley’s “magick,” and soon found a willing partner in Hubbard — and even wrote to Crowley himself about their attempts to engage in some of Crowley’s rituals. The relationship between Hubbard and Parsons ended badly, with accusations of fraud and theft. But later, as Hubbard developed his ideas for Dianetics and Scientology, his experience with Crowley’s “Ordo Templi Orientis” (OTO) seems to have permeated his thinking and even the terminology of the church.

Urban notes that the church itself has virulently denied that Hubbard’s occult activities had anything to do with Scientology, or that remnants of Crowley’s occult ideas can be found in its scriptures. But one of the most useful things about Urban’s article is the way he shows that it’s the church’s own statements and legal maneuvers which tend to verify the connection between Crowley’s “magick” and Hubbard’s “tech.”

If you’ve read Urban’s book, you’ll know that he accomplishes this neat trick with calm, deeply researched and thoroughly convincing material told in a crystal-clear prose style.

To begin his investigations, Urban goes back to the early 20th century and Aleister Crowley’s rise as the most famous occultist of his day. Joining OTO and then becoming one of its leaders, Crowley wrote widely, and Urban focuses particularly on his book Magick in Theory and Practice, which Hubbard would later cite in lectures.

When Urban began to describe some of the ideas in that book, this Scientology watcher has to admit to the hairs on the back of his neck going up. The similarities to what Hubbard would later say about his own “technology” are stunning…

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.”

Oh, L. Ron, you are so busted.

Urban goes on to explain how in Crowley’s magick, the fundamental concept is Thelema, which represents a person’s inner will, and the ability to do “what thou wilt.” Doing the processes of Crowley’s magick rituals, the point is for a magus to astrally project himself so that he can ultimately become an all-powerful being who is “capable of being, and using, anything which he perceives, for everything that he perceives is in a certain sense a part of his being. He may thus subjugate the whole Universe of which he is conscious to his individual Will.”

Sound familiar? In Hubbard’s Scientology, which he insists is a science that will allow you to discover your true nature, you learn that you are a thetan, and through his processes you will ultimately be able to leave your body and become an all-powerful being able to create universes.

Wow. L. Ron didn’t even change the handwriting to throw off the teacher.

But that was in the future. In 1945, Hubbard moved in with Parsons, and the two got up to some seriously kinky activities. Early in 1946, Parsons began what he called his “Babalon Working” experiments as he and Hubbard began trying to take Crowley’s ideas into new territory.

Crowley had written about the possibility of a “magickal child” or “Moonchild,” and Parsons decided he’d try to make one. He identified a woman named Marjorie Cameron as the person who would be his “elemental,” and then the two got busy, Urban writes…

According to Parsons’ remarkable personal accounts of these rites, Hubbard was intimately involved in the Babalon Working…Hubbard was asked to serve as Parsons’ seer or “scribe” during the Babalon Working; indeed, Hubbard became nothing less than the “voice” for Babalon herself, who spoke through him and was recorded by Parsons.

So was Ron sitting by taking notes, or speaking in tongues, or something else while Jack was having occult-flavored sex with Marjorie? Whatever the three got up to, on March 6 Parsons wrote to Crowley saying that the deed was done and that in nine months a Moonchild would be born.

Crowley was not impressed. He wrote to a friend in April, “Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a Moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these goats.”

But all was for naught, apparently. No child was born, Hubbard made off with another of Parsons’s girlfriends, Betty Northrup, and absconded to Florida in a sailboat-sales scheme gone haywire, and in 1952, Parsons blew himself up with an accidental chemical explosion in his home lab.

Urban, meanwhile, is only getting warmed up.

“Perhaps the most remarkable part of this whole story is that the Church of Scientology admits that all of this did happen,” he writes. Apparently unable to deny entirely that Hubbard took part in wild occult sex rites with a rocket scientist, the church has, over the years, floated the howler that Hubbard was actually on a military mission to infiltrate Parsons’s little black magic club in order to neutralize it.

“It is worth noting, however, that neither the Church of Scientology nor any independent researcher has ever produced any evidence for this claim,” Urban calmly notes.

Urban then turns to even more sensitive material that the church has never denied the authenticity of…

One of the most important documents for making sense of the Crowley-Hubbard link and the occult roots of Scientology is a curious text called the “Affirmations” (or “Admissions”) of L. Ron Hubbard. Composed in 1946 or 1947, “Affirmations” appears to be Hubbard’s own personal writings, meant to have been read into a tape recording device and then played back to Hubbard himself. No church official has ever publicly denied that “Affirmations” is an authentic Hubbard document, and Scientology’s own legal position indicates that it does consider the document to be church property and clearly wants to keep control of the text.

As Urban says, in these extremely personal writings, Hubbard sounds very much like Crowley.

“Affirmations” indicates that the author is engaged in some kind of magical ritual and hoping that his “magical work is powerful and effective.” In fact, the “affirmations” describe themselves as “incantations” designed to become an integral part of listeners’ natures, impressing upon them the reality of their psychic powers and magical abilities. Perhaps more significant, however, is the repeated mention of a female guardian figure, the most important spiritual adviser and aid to the listener. The emphasis on the guardian here seems to have been directly influenced by Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice

Urban goes on to note parallels between what Hubbard writes in his “Affirmations,” and then goes into a lengthy description of Scientology’s concepts and how they echo Crowley. (He also points out the ways that Hubbard’s midcentury, Cold War-influenced religion is also very different than the Victorian occult ideas of Crowley.)

Urban only includes a couple of short quotes from Hubbard’s “Affirmations,” but he encouraged me to take a longer look at them where Gerry Armstrong — once a trusted employee who was asked by Hubbard to gather his personal papers — put it online in 2000.

Um, this stuff is amazing. Before I reproduce some excerpts of it here, I’ll quote Urban about the document’s background…

According to a mutual release and settlement agreement between the Church of Scientology of California and former member Gerald Armstrong in 1986, Armstrong agreed to return a number of confidential documents to the church, including all copies of Hubbard’s “Excalibur manuscript” and “all originals and copies of documents commonly known as the ‘Affirmations’ written by L. Ron Hubbard.” Here the church clearly indicates that the text was written by L. Ron Hubbard, and it is difficult to understand why the church would file suit to retain ownership of the text were it not an authentic document.

Urban makes a good point. And so, brace yourself as we read a pre-Dianetics L. Ron Hubbard talking to himself and trying to encourage himself despite several physical ailments and some other knocks he’d taken in his life…

“My service record was not too glorious…

“I can have no doubts of my psychic powers…

“Sexual feeling has been depressed by several things amounting to a major impasse. To cure ulcers of the stomach I was given testosterone and stilbesterol. These reduced my libido to nothing…

“In 1942…while training in Miami, Florida, I met a girl named Ginger who excited me…From her I received an infection of gonnohorea (sp?). I was terrified by it, the consequences of being discovered by my wife, the navy, my friends. I went to a private doctor who treated me with sulfa-thiazole and so forth…

“I carried this fear of disease to sea with me. I was reprimanded in San Diego in mid-43 for firing on the Mexican coast and was removed from command of my ship…

“Sara, my sweetheart, is young, beautiful, desirable. We are very gay companions. I please her physically until she weeps about any separation. I want her always. But I am 13 years older than she. She is heavily sexed. My libido is so low I hardly admire her naked…

“I have a very bad masturbatory history. I was taught when I was 11 and, despite guilt, fear of insanity, etc. etc. I persisted. At a physical examination at a Y when I was about 13, the examiner and the people with him called me out of the line because my testicles hung low and cautioned me about what would happen if I kept on masturbating…

“By eliminating certain fears by hypnosis, curing my rheumatism and laying off hormones, I hope to restore my former libido. I must! By hypnosis I must be convinced as follows…

“(b) My mind is still brilliant. My memory unaffected by drugs or experience…

“(d) That things sexual thrill me…That naked women and pornography excite me greatly…

“(m) That I have only friendship for Jack Parsons…

“(o) That I believe in my gods and spiritual things…

“(p) That nothing can halt my ambitions…

“(u) That my code is to be all things a “magus” must be…

“(x) That my magical work is powerful and effective…”

“Course II… You can sing beautifully. Your voice can imitate any singer. Your tones are round and true…

“Material things are yours for the asking. Men are your slaves. Elemental spirits are your slaves. You are power among powers, light in the darkness, beauty in all…

“You will make fortunes in writing. Any book you care to write now will sell high and well…You talk easily to a dictaphone and the copy is excellent. The copyist has no effect upon your work. You don’t care what she reads…

“Your psychology is advanced and true and wonderful. It hypnotizes people. It predicts their emotions, for you are their ruler…

“You will live to be 200 years old, both because you are calm and because of modern discoveries to be made in your lifetime…

“You will always look young. Your weight is 180 lbs. And you will attain and hold that weight…

“Many women are not capable of pleasure in sex and anything adverse they say or do has no effect whatever upon your pleasure. Their bodies thrill you…You have no fear if they conceive. What if they do? You do not care. Pour it into them and let fate decide…”

As you can see if you follow the link above, there’s much, much more in this vein. I’ve only excerpted a very small amount of Hubbard’s lengthy confessions. And in several places, Hubbard refers to his “Guardian,” an angel-like creature that sounds like the same creature in Crowley’s magick, his “Holy Guardian Angel.”

As I said earlier, Urban is also careful to note the dissimilarities between Crowley’s magick and Hubbard’s tech, but I can’t remember anyone doing such a thorough job showing how much Hubbard owed to his occult master. For Scientology watchers, we can only hope that Urban’s article becomes widely available, and soon.

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.

@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega


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