Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and for more than three years he’s been 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.
Please excuse my long absence from the Bunker. I have been involved in the creation of the Open Minds Foundation for the last eighteen months and it has commanded my full attention since the new year began.
My new book, opening Minds: the secret world of manipulation, undue influence and brainwashing, is available through Amazon on kindle. The print version will be available in a few weeks time. In it, I’ve expanded upon my fascination with Scientology and its elaborate thought reform program, showing how the same dynamics operate not only in other totalist cult groups, but also in terrorist groups, gangs, paedophile rings, and to greater or lesser extent throughout our society as a whole.
Now that we have launched the website (and please do take a look), I have found some time to consider the age-old problem of body thetans for my fellow Bunkerites.
It had taken me seven years to cross the threshold of the dank and dowdy Advanced Organization course room. I was ready for the promised marvels and wonders, but instead found myself utterly perplexed by the bizarre Section Three of the Operating Thetan course. Why had Hubbard decided to violate the Auditors’ Code, which by then I knew by heart: “Never evaluate for the preclear”? Surely, if this stuff was real, we would find it for ourselves using the “date/locate” procedure?
While I was trying to comprehend this departure from Standard Technology, a chap wandered in and asked me if the material reminded me of Colin Wilson’s Mind Parasites. It had indeed reminded me of this science-fiction novel about entities that gorge on human thought. In retrospect, it was simply a coincidence brought about because anyone who had read Wilson’s novel would have had the same thought, but at the time, it convinced me that as this fellow had been able to read my mind, there was probably something in this rambling account of Prince Xenu and the Galactic Confederation.
Even after seven years as a true believer – seven years of secrets, hints and whispers – I found the whole Xenu/Xemu story hard to swallow. It took just three days before the e-meter stopped reading on my “body thetans” – we “Natural Clears” were not in Xenu’s sector of the galaxy, it seemed. The Saint Hill Examiner checked and I was pronounced an OT III “completion.” A few days later, I told the former Technical Secretary UK that I had felt no real benefit from the level. He said, “A lot of people find that. You need OT IV.”
OT IV proved to be more body thetans – as our proprietor here at the Bunker has pointed out, there is a certain irony in the notion that on OT IV, you pay to relieve these thetan parasites of their drug problems. A day or two after finishing OT IV, I again dragged my tail to Saint Hill to admit that I (again) felt no noticeable benefit. After seven years of believing in Hubbard’s “science” of the mind and spirit, I was deflated. The response was the same: “A lot of people find that. You need the next level.”
While on OT V, the head of Birmingham Mission confided to me her delight that Hubbard had come up with something to resolve the mess caused by OT III. She had taken the Class VIII course – the OT III specialist course – under Hubbard’s own direction, so it was a surprise to hear that she had struggled for 15 years after finishing OT III. Since then, I’ve met many people who were disappointed and messed up by OT III.
I left Saint Hill after borrowing yet more money and finding no benefit in New OT V. I spent the next year wondering about body thetans. It was a horrible way to look at the world. I later met a guy who had spent almost 20 years attending to his body thetans (all under the auspices of the mother cult and its Standard Technology). He had devoted quite some time to a fellow lodger at the Scientology rooming house. He was auditing off her body thetans (although she was actually on a higher OT level) to eliminate her body odor. It was not working.
OT III ramps up the paranoia manifestly. If you are a computer engineer, you will start looking for gremlins in your computer. If your child is unhappy, you can blame the thousands (or even millions) of little devils. Whoever you are, you will live in a world inhabited largely by malign, invisible entities.
Inevitably, some people crack under this enforced and medieval belief. Long ago, I gave a talk to staff at Haywards Heath asylum. I was told that they treated an average of two OT IIIs a year. Despite their desperately long shifts, 14 members of the hospital staff came to my talk. So much for Hubbard’s ravings about their compassion level (from the man who merely cursed the bad publicity when told of his son Quentin’s death). They were surprised at my detailed description of acute psychosis induced by OT III, and welcomed my suggestions that they should not use any drug therapy. The guy they had just released had punched anyone who came near and smeared his room with excrement. Scientology had simply abandoned him to his fate.
After I left the mother cult, the OT V list was checked on the meter by my Flag-trained auditor, and nothing read, which meant that I had attained the lofty height of OT V! During those final days on OT V, I at first told the auditor that none of these body thetans had seemed like a real being to me. The next day, I suggested that they were simply “entities” or “mental machines.” On the last day, I decided they were nothing more nor less than the “attention units” described in Hubbard’s pre-thetan text, Science of Survival. A few days later, I declared that I had been “PTS” to Ron Hubbard – a pretty fair description of any involvement in Scientology, I later realized. A person deemed a Potential Trouble Source may be dangerous to Scientology because of a connection to a Suppressive Person, i.e. a critic of Scientology.
I read the OT VI materials and walked away: enough body thetans, already!
I wanted to know where the body thetan idea had come from. I remembered my few days in a Zen monastery, as a teenager, where I had seen a Tibetan painting showing a meditator fighting off his inner devils. That seemed a reasonable start, so I read Alexandra David-Neel’s books about her adventures in Tibet. She was a remarkable woman – actually of the Theravadim Buddhist persuasion, rather than the Mahayana of the Tibetans – she received the France’s Legion D’Honneur and lived to be over 100. Looking back, her reports of various marvels do seem a little naïve, but they are still a great read. I read four of her books – bestsellers when Hubbard was a young man, so standard fodder for populist mysticism at the time – but I did not find the answer I was looking for.
Then, a friend gave me a copy of Terry Clifford’s Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry: The Diamond Healing, which gave me exactly what I wanted. Clifford studied Tibetan medicine for her PhD dissertation. As she says: “to the Tibetans, ‘demons’ is a symbolic term. It represents a wide range of forces and emotions which are normally beyond conscious control and all of which prevent well-being and spiritual development … Obviously, none of these is a devil in the narrow sense of the word.”
Tibetan medicine treats people according to their own worldview. Illiterate peasants believe that they are inhabited by demons, so physicians treat them within that paradigm (I think lashings of yak butter may be involved). The intelligentsia understand the same phenomena as “mental entities or projections (mostly of a lower order) or as psychic fields of force, either natural or contrived.” (Theodore Buring, quoted by Clifford). The true Buddhist understands that everything, including mental entities, is illusion. Clifford cited the 12th century female yogi (or “yogini”) Ma-Chig-La: “but Demons don’t really exist! The truth of the matter is this: Anything whatsoever that obstructs the attainment of liberation is a Demon. Even loving and affectionate relatives can become Demons if they hinder your practice. But the greatest Demon of them all is belief in a self as an independent and lasting principle.”
In 1954 in a lecture called “Anatomy of Universes”, Hubbard expressed a comparable opinion: “You could explain to him down to the last ditch why that mass of energy was sitting there…You could explain it to him on a basis of demonology. And you could make it so exciting and so significant, giving the history of demons, their separate and various names, how they are all bossed by separate and particular archangels or archdevils, and how this has affected him in various ways and how to use them in various ways, and if you are convincing enough, he would lose that mass. This is what is known as ‘demon exorcism’. If you pray hard enough, if you explain hard enough, you’ll finally bang enough significance into this mass so he doesn’t have to pull it up to his chest to look at it. But of course, he has to be in a hypnotic state to have this done to him, doesn’t he? … You could actually make somebody get rid of one of these masses simply by putting enough significance into it for him. That’s hypnotism! That’s why people are willing to be hypnotized! They’ve got to have enough significance to explain why they’re going through all this strain!” (6 May 1954 – reprinted in Advance! 89).
So, you have to hypnotise people to make them believe they are possessed, and as Hubbard often boasted, he was a master hypnotist: He claimed to have learned the dark art aged 16, and so had over two decades of practice by the time he launched Dianetics. Hubbard’s own encounter with entities is described by his mentor (yes, Hubbard did have one), Arthur J “Speed-King” Burks – a colonel in the Marine Corps and author of over 800 pulp fiction stories. Burks’s autobiography, Monitors, talks about the “Little Its” – entities invisible to the normal human eye, which he describes as “brownies, gremlins … fairies, sprites, kobalds, leprechauns and anybody’s guess what else.”
Monitors contains this passage: “One afternoon the Redhead [Ron Hubbard] walked in on us. … He was in uniform. He sat on the couch. We waited to see whether he would be aware of The Little Its. Suddenly something in the middle of the bare floor caught his attention. He began to laugh. ‘What are they?’ asked the Redhead. ‘Little men?’ We started to explain, but he wasn’t listening. He was holding out his two forefingers, pointing at each other, but a foot or two apart. We gather from him that the ‘little men’ were using forefingers as parallel bars. Redhead chuckled over The Little Its with great delight, and since he could ‘understand’ them, they sometimes served him as messengers to us.”
These particular invisible creatures did not make it all the way into Scientology, but the bit about ‘messengers’ is of special interest. Floundering after he had sold his interests in Dianetics in 1952 (for a single dollar), Hubbard had to create a new “science” out of whole cloth. He turned to his master Aleister Crowley’s books, and reworked his ideas (I’ve tracked many of these in Possible Origins for Dianetics and Scientology).
Now, Crowley was a ritual magician and believed that a significant aspect of magick depended on the ability to round up discarnate entities and send them to harass your enemies. So the notion of the Little Its as messengers is common in magical (and magickal) circles (and I do hope that this stimulates my expert friend Mark to comment about Hubbard’s relationship to the OTO, rather than simply chiding me privately at the pub). It is just that in dark magic, the messengers have painful messages.
I say “dark magic,” but let me – as is so usual – digress: There is only dark magic, because any attempt to control another secretly is wrong – whether it be a love potion or a Tone 40 intention. In his Hubbard Chart of Human Evaluation (or “Hoo-Ha”), Hubbard says that the highest emotionally toned person “Dislikes to control people,” which is kind of weird as Scientology quite openly teaches hard sell, 8-C (“infinite control”), upper indoctrination training routines and much else about surreptitious domination. But, then again, the double bind, obvious contradictions are the glue that sticks even the smartest people to the Technology of Scientology.
Back to the BTs. Hubbard did use the idea of discarnate entities from the beginning of Scientology, but no one was buying it. Typically, he would attract 30-50 students to his $500 “doctorate” or “advanced” courses (there were 38 people at the Philadelphia “Doctorate” Course according to its organizer, Helen O’Brien). His oldest son, L Ron Jr., or Nibs, said that he and his dad would think up new ideas (or borrow old ones) and try them out at a Doctoral or Advanced Clinical Course. Whatever helped to calm hecklers (the upper indoctrination drills, for instance) or produced euphoria would be added to the program.
Entities came and went over the years, but there was no secrecy about them until the release of Section Three of the Operating Thetan Course (in 1967). So, in 1954’s summary of seven “Clinical Courses” The Creation of Human Ability Hubbard said: “The third dynamic could be said to be that dynamic embracing persistence of groups of objects or entities” and further: “This we call the reactive mind. It is an actual entity …” showing that he understood the term in a wider sense than just the indwelling demons of OT III, IV, V, VI and VII (hope I didn’t give away too much there, for anyone who wanted the OT levels to be a surprise).
However, Hubbard never lost sight of the meaning used by ritual magicians: entities are souls (and if Hubbard got his hands on them, lost souls). While trying to crack his barbiturate addiction (and, yes, again, he confessed it on tape; see Never Believe a Hypnotist), and collect an entirely unjustified pension for his purported ulcers, Hubbard wrote his infamous series of Affirmations, also known as the Admissions. They appear to be phrases that he would affirm or repeat to himself, and included the phrases “All men are my slaves” and “All elemental beings are my slaves”
Although elemental beings would include gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders (at least according to Wikipedia), I think Hubbard cast the net further and believed that he was influencing discarnate entities that would all later be described as “body thetans.” His consistent failure to sell the idea led Hubbard to shroud it in secrecy and threats of fatality (though maybe he was hoping to collect all of those discarded discarnate beings for his own invidious purposes, as any megalomaniac ritual magician would).
OT III had to remain a deep secret, because anyone reminded of it who had not prepared themselves (by removing the goals-problems masses of Release Grade 6, the Clearing Course, OT I and OT II) would die within days of hearing the doleful tale. By the time I did OT III, it was no longer necessary to spend years on GPM clearing (only the old OT II survives from the original Bridge). I had two days on OT II and left it baffled, but it took me several months after leaving before I could tell anyone the tall tale that is OT III. The phobia runs deep: if I tell someone about this rather thin science fiction story, it may be lethal.
Hubbard, of course, desperately tried to sell his screenplay of the OT III incident – Revolt in the Stars – only a decade after making this dire threat, so he evidently changed his mind: either it was no longer dangerous, or he wanted to eradicate the human race.
The last laugh came on Hubbard’s swan song, “Thank-you for Listening” (the review in Melody Maker ran: “You’re supposed to eat vegetables, not listen to them”), Hubbard explained how he had managed to use religion to make a fortune ($648 million, so I’ve read): “In olden days the populace was much afraid of demons/ And paid an awful sky high price to buy some priestly begones … Oh now here is the why that makes the world an evil circus/ No demons at all but just the easily erased evil purpose.”
So, there you have it: no need to spend hundreds of thousands climbing the bridge to freedom – the OT levels are actually redundant: “no demons at all.” You just need to find the “evil purpose.”
If that isn’t clue enough to solve the Zen koan of Scientology, then try this: Misownership is the fundamental mistake (as the OT V materials say, courtesy of David Mayo). It isn’t your evil purpose. It is Hubbard’s, and all you have to do to be free of him is to give him back all of those body satans (Forgive my lisp – but since the National Enquirer quoted my use of the phrase “body satans,” I use it as badge of honour), those engrams, those service facsimiles, those overts, those evil purposes and just come into present time…
Now, would anyone like to attest?
Today in Atlanta, it’s time for a new Ideal Org!
Hey, do you have your ticket?
We’ll be waiting to hear from our correspondents on the scene who will be hoping to get a glimpse of Scientology leader David Miscavige for us. Check back here in the afternoon for our latest reports.
UPDATE: We’ve been away from the computer for a while today. Now that we’re back, we have a bunch of photos in our inbox. We’re just going to post them in no particular order…
Says one of our correspondents: “At 2:12 the crowd is about the same size. Couple of protestors outside. Mostly cops and security keeping things quiet. No one on stage yet. No Miscavige sighting.”
Another correspondent says: “They started with ‘Georgia on my Mind’ 20 minutes ago. There are no more than 250 to 300 people here tops, and most are Sea Org. ABC news is here. The locals are Christian and none too happy about this. They were quite kind to me and some other Anons and media and allowed us sweet video and picture views from their balconies across the street. The Post Office was apparently annoyed at Scientologists for using their lot so they told them it was for Postal Customers only. They are right next door.”
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield