Interesting Times    Antireligious tendencies    CalTech and Scientology

City of Quartz, by Mike Davis,
with photographs by Robert Morrow,
Verso, London 1990, ISBN 0-679-73806-1,
pages 59-62.

CalTech's connection with the emergence of Scientology can be briefly retold here (relying heavily on Russell Miller's account).  Sometime during the 1930s one Wilfred Smith founded a Pasadena branch (`the Agape Lodge') of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) - a German­origin brotherhood of magicians (and spies) that had come under the spell of Aleister Crowley, the notorious Edwardian sorcerer and `most hated man in England'.[106]  For several years the Agape Lodge quietly succored Satan and his `Great Beast' (Crowley) with contributions, while secretly diverting Pasadenans with the amusements of sexual necromancy.  Then, sometime in 1939, the Lodge fell under the patronage and leadership of John Parsons, a young L.A. aristocrat and pioneer of Cal Tech rocketry (later a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory).  During the day, Parsons worked at the Cal Tech labs or the Devil's Gate test range with the great Theodore von Karman, perfecting propellant systems for liquid­fuel rockets; at night, he returned to his mansion on Pasadena's `millionaires row' (South Orange Grove Avenue) to perform blasphemous rituals (with, for example, naked pregnant women leaping through fire circles) in his secret OTO `temple' under the long­distance direction of Crowley.[107]

Aside from being a world­famous rocket pioneer and a secret wizard, Parsons was also a devoted science fiction fan who attended meetings of the Los Angeles Fantasy and Science Fiction Society to hear writers talk about their books.  One day in August 1945, to Parson's delight, a LAFSFS acquaintance showed up at the Orange Grove mansion with a young naval officer, Lt. Commander L. Ron Hubbard, who had already established a reputation as a master of sci­fi pulp.  Captivated by Hubbard's `charm' and expressed desire to become a practitioner of Magick, Parsons welcomed him as house guest and sorcerer's apprentice.  Hubbard reciprocated by sleeping with Parson's mistress.  Perturbed by this development, but not wishing to show open jealousy, Parsons instead embarked on a vast diabolical experiment, under Crowley's reluctant supervision, to call up a true `whore of Babylon' so that she and Parsons might procreate a literal Antichrist in Pasadena.

`With Prokofiev's Violin Concerto playing in the background', Hubbard joined Parsons in the `unspeakable' rites necessary to summon the `scarlet woman', who, after many mysterious happenings (inexplicable power failures, occult lights, and so on), was found walking down South Orange Grove Avenue, in broad daylight.  After Parsons seduced the young woman in question, Hubbard and Parson's previous mistress ran off with the rocket scientist's money to Florida.  There is no need to relate the ensuing complex chain of events, except to say that Parsons - the renowed explosives expert - managed to blow himself and his Orange Grove mansion skyhigh in Jone 1958.  Debate still rages as to whether it was an accident, suicide or murder.[108]

Hubbard, meanwhile, was ready to employ the occult dramaturgy and incanatory skills that he had imbibed in Parson's OTO temple to more lucrative uses.   Frustrated with the small­change earnings of a pulp sci­fi writer, he founded a pseudo­science, Dianetics, which he eventually transformed into a full­fledged religion, Scientology, with a cosmology derived from the pages of Astounding Science Fiction Russel Miller, in his fascinating biographical debunking of the Hubbard myth, describes the notorious Shrine Auditorium rally, at the height of the original Dianetics craze in 1950, when Hubbard introduced the world to his own equivalent of Parson's `scarlet woman:

As the highlight of the evening approached, there was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the packed hall.  A hush descended on the audience when at last Hubbard stepped up to the microphone to introduce the `world's first clear'.  She was, he said, a young woman by the name of Sonya Bianca, a physics major and pianist from Boston.  Among her many newly acquired attributes, he claimed she had `full and perfect recall of every moment of her life', which she would be happy to demonstrate.

`What did you have for breakfast on 3 October 1042' somebody yelled.  . . .  `What's on page 122 of Dianetics? . . . someone else asked.  Miss Bianca opened her mouth but no words came out.  . . .  As people began getting up and walking out of the auditorium, one man noticed that Hubbard had momentarily turned his back on the girl and shouted, `OK, what colour necktie is Mr Hubbard wearing?' The world's first `clear' screwed up her face in a frantic effort to remember, stared into the hostile blackness of the auditorium, then hung her head in misery.  It was an awful moment.[109]


One cannot be entirely unsympathetic towards Crowley, however.  During the Russian Revolution he did write to Trotsky expressing his agreement with the elimination of capitalism and proposing to be put in charge of the `extirpation of Christianity on earth'.  Trotsky did not reply.   See Wilson, p. 137.

Cf. Colin Wilson, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, Wellingborough 1987, p.147; Russel Miller, Bare­Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, New York 1987, p.113 passim; Frank Malina, `The Jet Propulsion Laboratory', in Arthur Clarke, ed., The Coming of the Space Age, London 1967, p. 67 passim.

Miller, pp.116-30.

Miller, p.165.

Two other accounts of this time have been written up by Jon Atack: one is part of his book The Total Freedom Trap: Scientology, Dianetics And L. Ron Hubbard (2; the text moved from its original UK source in 1995, since the CoS has gotten an injunction against the book there.) Another is in Atack's FACTnet report ``Hubbard and the Occult''.

``CoS'', ``Scientology'' and ``Dianetics'' are trademarks of the Religious Technology Center. Whatever.