Friday, June 14, 2024

Birth of a Religion by Gordon Melton

December 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Evidence

Immediately after the war, in December 1945, but while still a commissioned officer and on active duty, Hubbard became involved in one of the most intriguing episodes in his long life, participation in the activities of the Ordo Templi Orientis. The OTO is a ritual magic group, then headed by the aging Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the famous and somewhat notorious occultist. It practiced what it saw as real magick (as opposed to stage magic); the secret ritual of the group involved the use of sex to raise magical energies. After World War II, the Agape Lodge of the OTO was opened in Pasadena,California, and one John W. (Jack) Parsons (1914-52), an explosives expert and key man at the California Institute of Technology, emerged as a leader of the small group. Soon after his discharge from Oak Knoll, Hubbard showed up at the Pasadena OTO headquarters.

According to accounts published by the OTO, Parsons developed an immediate liking for Hubbard and invited him to participate in the OTO work, though Hubbard refused to become a member. Even though Hubbard was not properly initiated, he assisted Parsons on several magical operations in what he would later claim was in fulfillment of his military intelligence function.[1] For whatever reason, early in 1946 Parsons and Hubbard had a parting of the ways. Parsons claimed that Hubbard had persuaded him to sell the property of the Agape Lodge, after which Hubbard, along with Parsons’s sister-in-law Betty, allegedly absconded with the money. Hubbard reappeared on a newly purchased yacht off the Florida coast. Parsons pursued him, and on July 5, 1946, a confrontation occurred. Hubbard had sailed at 5:00 p.m. At 8:00 p.m., Parsons performed a full magical invocation to “Bartzabel.” Coincidentally, a sudden squall struck the yacht, ripped the sails, and forced Hubbard to port, where Parsons was able to recover at least a small percentage of the money.[2]

Hubbard’s account (and that of the present-day Church of Scientology) denies any attachment to the OTO. Rather, Hubbard claimed that in his capacity as a U. S. intelligence officer, he was sent to scrutinize Parsons and the lodge. The building that served as the lodge’s headquarters also housed a number of nuclear physicists living there while working at Cal Tech (and these physicists were among sixty-four later dismissed from government service as security risks). Hubbard asserted that, due to his efforts, the headquarters was torn down, a girl rescued from the group, and the group ultimately destroyed.

Both stories stand and, in fact, may be genuine perceptions of the events since Hubbard obviously would not make any undercover “investigative” operation known to Parsons. These events also appear to be the source of charges that Hubbard based Scientology’s teachings in part on Crowley’s. It should be noted that, whatever happened during Hubbard’s association with Parsons, the teachings of the Church of Scientology are at wide variance with those of Crowley and that the practices of the church show no direct OTO influence. [3]

  1. Space does not allow a detailed discussion of Hubbard’s involvement with the Agape Lodge. I have included a more detailed discussion in the most recent editions of the Encyclopedia of American Religion (Detroit Gale Research, 1996), 162, and in my paper published as “Thelemic Magic in America: The Emergence of an Alternative Religion,” in Joseph H. Fichter, ed., Alternatives to American Mainline Churches (Barrytown, NY: Unification Theological Seminary, 1983), 67-87.
  2. In an off-the-cuff remark during the Philadelphia Lectures in 1952 (PDC Lecture 18), Hubbard referred to “my friend Aleister Crowley.” This reference would have to be one of literary allusion, as Crowley and Hubbard never met. He obviously had read some of Crowley’s writings and makes reference to one of the more famous passages in Crowley’s vast writings and his idea that the essence of the magical act was the intention with which it was accomplished. Crowley went on to illustrate magic with a mundane example, an author’s intention in writing a book.
  3. Critics of the church have gone into great detail to point out possible sources for the various aspects of the teachings of Dianetics and Scientology, and there are certainly numerous points of convergence between Hubbard’s teachings and individual ideas and practices available elsewhere. At present, it is not known which aspects of Dianetics Hubbard actually encountered in previously existing sources and subsequently incorporated them into his system and which parts occurred to him independently. The essence of Hubbard’s originality, however, lies not so much in the sources of the individual elements as in the synthesizing of them into a finished system.

Melton, R. G. (2009). Birth of a Religion. Scientology. J. R. Lewis. New York ; Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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