Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He now has a new edition of the book out, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
When L. Ron Hubbard introduced Dianetics in 1950, and then reorganized his movement as Scientology in 1952, the goal of his therapy was “clear” — a state that promised higher IQ, total recall, and immunity from disease. But it wasn’t until 1966 that he said the first true clear had been produced, a man named John McMaster.
By then, Hubbard was proposing even higher states of being with even more superhuman abilities. He called these higher states “Operating Thetan” levels. Today, the highest state a Scientologist can achieve is OT VIII — and it takes years of expensive auditing, and something like $300,000 to attain. To outsiders, Scientologists usually deny that the OT levels bestow special powers on members, and some independent Scientologists tell us that these levels are just about “gaining confidence” or “knowing yourself.”
Jon, to each other, do Scientologists still talk about the OT levels as unlocking superhuman powers?
JON: Believers are sure that other Scientologists have magical powers, and are encouraged to think that such powers include mind-reading. As Scientologists believe that memory is non-corporeal, yet stored in “pictures,” rather like movie film, it is deemed possible for one “thetan” to read another thetan’s “mental image pictures.” Hubbard encouraged even more strenuous beliefs for the final OT level — OT VIII — which was claimed to make the recipient “at cause over physical matter, energy, space and time.” Scientologists who have been pronounced Operating Thetans are held in awe, even though demonstrations of “OT powers” tend to be limited to the belief that traffic lights are being changed by will power, or clouds moved, or dust devils deflected. I instead offer all Scientologists the opportunity to move a fragment of tinfoil across a level table by will power alone. In thirty years, no Scientologist has, as yet, accepted the challenge. James Randi would be out a million dollars if any one of them could.
For those reaching the OT levels, and I speak from experience, comes the realization that you don’t have any supernatural powers, whatsoever, by any empirical test, so there is something wrong with your personal application of the technology, which always remained “workable,” even when it was changing every few months — at times, quite radically. Hubbard instructed all of us who had passed the level of Clear to act in a way that would show us to be completely unabberated to maintain the good repute of the State of Clear. In the inner Sea Organization this boils down to acting out dreadful anger through constant panic, and this anger pours down the organization until the public walk through the door, when smiles are pasted on. The Commanding Officer of the Manchester Org once told his staff they were not smiling enough and ordered them so to do.
But the expectation that others have these spectacular powers remains, and is hinted at by those who have done higher levels. While I was on OT V, at Saint Hill, a mission holder expressed her gratitude that “Ron” had thought up something to dig her out of the mess that OT III had caused her fifteen years before. This is not an unusual outcome. That her own OT III was supervised by Hubbard himself, while she was on the first Class VIII course, makes the pill no easier to swallow. Would the first real OT please stand up? Or can we just accept that Scientologists pretend to have OT powers?
THE BUNKER: As we remember, early in your book you describe getting to OT V on your own journey. Could you add some thoughts about what it was like while you were experiencing it? Was it a constant disappointment that you weren’t developing superhuman abilities?
JON: I’d been involved with Scientology for seven years, when I first crossed the portal of the Advanced Course Room at Saint Hill. It took me three years to renovate the house I’d bought with a friend, and we both put every penny of our profit into OT levels. Compared to today’s prices, the few thousand we spent seems relatively cheap, but it still represented all of my savings.
You have to imagine the build up. I’d flown through every course and auditing level. My needle almost always floated. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have actually received so little auditing, and spent so little money.
OT I was disappointing. I was sent into East Grinstead to watch people and pretend to be OT. I didn’t feel any benefit, but the Case Supervisor reckoned I’d just overrun the process, and urged me on to OT II. Here I had to watch a tedious Hubbard Clearing Course film, where he explained how ill he’d been in the run-up to discovering the keys to the “Routine 6 Bank” (formerly known as the reactive mind, but renamed for the now defunct Grade VI). It reminded me of his Ron’s Journal ’67 lecture, made a couple of years later, where once again his bronchitis had almost done for him. That he chose to chase “implants” and “body thetans” rather than simply quitting his 120 cigarette-a-day habit is yet another example of his fantastic capacity to blame the wrong target (which he assured us is the typical behavior of a suppressive person).
OT II was simply a continuation of the old Clearing Course (yet another essential section of the “white taped road to freedom” that fell quietly into disuse). After months of “digging a ditch” (as Hubbard put it) on the Clearing Course, poor victims were then subjected to more of the same. Given a list of “dichotomies,” I was expected to re-experience the implants which consisted of two contradictory statements (“to be or not to be,” for instance) along with the recollection of an electric shock. I’ve never quite worked out how I could have been a “natural clear” and yet still carried around this adjunct bit of the Clearing implant, but you learn to put aside such mysteries, in the hope that all will indeed become clear, one day.
Again, I felt no benefit, but by this time, a friend from the Birmingham Org had arrived to start his OT I and his excitement at the revelations which I couldn’t share was tangible. I had to play along, and hint at the marvels contained on OT II. It was a farce. I was open with the Case Supervisor, who recommended that I get on with OT III, the real meat of the OT levels.
In the dowdy Advanced Course room, I opened the shabby pink folder and read Hubbard’s faded handwritten directions. A staffer walked in at the appropriate moment and said, “It’s just like Colin Wilson’s Mind Parasites, isn’t it?” This was about the closest to an OT phenomenon that I’ve ever experienced, because I had indeed been thinking about Wilson’s novel about aliens who live off the energy of human thought. It was hard to take in, and disappointing, but it was Hubbard, and I resolutely believed that he wouldn’t let me down. Little did I know. Hubbard spent his whole life letting people down, one way or another, but I was yet to find that out.
OT III used to be promoted as giving “freedom from overwhelm.” Nothing would ever get to you again, after this level. This was the emotional equanimity that I longed for. Further, Hubbard promised that it led to “high affinity” for others (not noticeable in David Miscavige, who has been stuck at OT III for three decades, now. Talk about “no case gain!”).
I spent three days hunting down body thetans, separating them from their clusters and imagining Incidents One and Two, until I was blue in the face. I could not understand why Hubbard had broken the inviolable Auditor’s Code, which demands that we “never evaluate” for a preclear. Why hadn’t we just been given a date and told to find the incident? Like every other OT III I’ve met, I didn’t look up the word “cherub,” either, so we all had a misunderstood (though I don’t think that’s why OT III doesn’t work. But a “cherub” is a big scary angel, not a cute little putti baby). My friend from Birmingham was bursting with gleeful anticipation, and, keeping in mind Hubbard’s demand that we never let on about any failings, once the state of clear had been declared, I grinned back and kept on pretending.
After three days, I could find no more body thetans. The Examiner confirmed this, and I was declared OT III. A couple of days later, I found the former senior case supervisor UK, and confessed that I was unaware of any benefit from the level. I expected to be sent to Ethics, so I was very surprised when he said, “A lot of people find that. You need OT IV.”
I borrowed a thousand pounds and took a 12.5 hour “intensive” of OT IV — the OT Drug Rundown — which was guaranteed to liberate me from the harmful effects of drugs on the “whole track” (i.e., from the beginning of time). I was disappointed to find that it was wholly and solely about body thetans. I told the former senior C/S that I hadn’t experienced any noticeable benefit from the level, and was again told, “A lot of people find that. You need OT V.”
Again, I borrowed more than two thousand pounds and bought two “intensives” of New OT V. My first OT V auditor couldn’t open the window to his auditing room (so much for his OT powers) and the room stank. After my first “intensive,” at £200 an hour, I complained and was assigned the UK’s top auditor, Richard Reiss, who was then Senior Case Supervisor UK (having succeeded the guy who was selling me the levels — so the two top “Tech” guys in the UK were responsible for my success). Reiss had only one other client at the time. He was auditing Van Morrison, who left the cult soon afterwards. Reiss went on to become Senior C/S at Flag and is the Scientologist who persuaded Bill Clinton that the cult is okay, because they were buddies at Oxford.
My shoulder was hurting, because I’d slept in a funny position, but Reiss insisted that the pain was caused by body thetans, so I watched my money draining away in the attempt to cure a temporary muscle sprain.
The former senior C/S brought money lender Lee Lawrence with a cheque for £7,000 and spent an unremitting 13 hours trying to get me to take the loan (at over 30 percent interest). I later met many people who’d succumbed to this offer. After my lukewarm experience of the OT levels, and given that I was already over £3,000 in debt, my resolve was steely, and when they left, they still had the cheque.
I didn’t pick up my OT V “processing” for over a year, when I went to the new Advanced Ability Centre, in East Grinstead. Both my auditor and my C/S there were Flag trained. On the first day, I told the auditor that I didn’t think that any of the body thetans I’d “run” were full-scale personalities, but rather they might be “entities” (something Hubbard was keen on from the early days of Scientology). The next day, I said that they were likely “mental machines” or locked up “attention units.” On the third day, I said that I’d mocked the whole thing up. The auditor, a trifle pale from my heretical statements, checked the OT V list and declared that nothing was reading, so I was now OT V (or maybe it was Advanced Ability Level V). I suggested that I might be PTS; that I wasn’t getting “case gain” because of some connection to a Suppressive Person. I was the only long term member I knew who had never had a PTS Rundown. The auditor asked who I was PTS to, and I had no hesitation in saying “L. Ron Hubbard.” At this she visibly blanched, and even her iron-hard TRs were shaken. She all but pleaded for me to extend the list of possible suspects. I told her that it would make no difference, but obliged, anyway. She checked the full list against the E-Meter, but had to swallow her panic and “indicate” that I was indeed “PTS to L. Ron Hubbard.” It took a few weeks for me to realize the poetic beauty of this, my last auditing session. I had spent nine years under the undue influence of L. Ron Hubbard, in the “agreed upon apparency” that is Scientology. I’d never seen anyone demonstrate an OT ability, in all that time. But we all pretended and put on our bravest faces. Or excused our inability because our “necessity level” had not been high enough. Surely we would have these supernatural powers once the need arose? But it was only make believe, in the Barnum and Bailey world of Ron Hubbard.
THE BUNKER: Thank you for that guided tour, Jon. And it’s a shame you didn’t gain the ability to leap tall buildings with a single bound.
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 15, 2013 at 07:00
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