Crowley, Hubbard, And The New Individualism

Straightaway, let me clarify. In the previous post I quoted  Ron Hubbard as saying: “The one super-secret sentence that Scientology is built on is ‘Do as thou wilt—that is the whole of the law.’” The words belong to L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., not Sr.. Speaking of Scientology, the son added: “It came from the black magic, from Crowley.”

Hubbard Sr. was a confessed admirer of Crowley, calling him “my very good friend.” According to Hubbard Jr., his father prepared for his Philadelphia Doctorate Course lecture series, taped in 1952, by reading Crowley. The title of the son’s book, L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, indicates a certain filial tension. But let us take that as a healthy response to having grown up with Hubbard’s attraction to Crowley’s occult system.

Aleister Crowley. Self Portrait as The Sun (1920).
Aleister Crowley. Self Portrait as The Sun (1920).

For scholars of scientology, the series is available used on Amazon for under one dollar. If you are more fastidious, you can purchase it spanking new from Bridge Publications for $1,150. The publisher offers this synopsis:

“This renowned series stands as the largest single body of work on the anatomy, behavior and potentials of the spirit of Man ever assembled, providing the very fundamentals which underlie the route to Operating Thetan. Here it is in complete detail—the thetan’s relationship to the creation, maintenance and destruction of universes. In just those terms, here is the anatomy of matter, energy, space and time, and postulating universes into existence. Here, too, is the thetan’s fall from whole track abilities and the universal laws by which they are restored.”

Bridge continues with a quote from Hubbard, Sr.:

“What can a thetan do? Now, we’ll say a Cleared Theta Clear. You couldn’t put down such a goal, because that’s the postulated, outer-line, unattainable absolute. Probably anything we understand it to be is probably attainable already, but what is the outermost limit of it? Lord knows. Haven’t got any idea and you haven’t either.”

If you are unsympathetic to Scientology, you will find that comment incoherent, even desolate. If you entertain some tenderness toward occult quests for a theory of everything, you will stand on Nietzsche’s assertion in Beyond Good and Evil that every “profound thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.”

A Witch and Her Familiars, a Cat and a Demon (17th C.). British Library, London.
A Witch and Her Familiars, a Cat and a Demon (17th C.). British Library, London.

Intuition of unseen forces and attempts to control them have been with us forever. The systems of belief that we call the occult are various in origin and implication. But throughout the long history of the occult, there ran a consistent thread of concern for the causes of misfortune and ways to relieve it. Helplessness in the face of events—disease, debility, fire, childbirth, crop failure, or the luck of a bad draw—was a crucial element. Witchcraft, astrology, divination, ghosts, fairies, reliance on ancient auguries or apocalyptic prophecies offered means of making sense of the inexplicable.

More recent mystico-magical systems, fermenting since the eighteenth century, are different. Whatever else they might contain, they are fueled by ambition—phrased and costumed in variegated ways— to divinize oneself. Here are Icarus’ wings to fly us toward new possibilities of becoming. Or, as Scientologists would phrase it, to reach the “upper echelon of theta beingness and behavior.”

What the Crowleys and the Hubbards of our times represent is a quasi-spiritualized individualism. Here is David Riesman’s autonomous man in fancy dress. Or devil’s gear. The insignia of this new autonomous individual is his heightened self-consciousness, and a de-socialized will that transcends the virtues of the old bourgeois individual still tethered to civil society.

Our new individualism comes wrapped in the exotic, like Crowley’s cult of Thelema or Hubbard’s Scientology, to suggest evermore extravagant and hallucinatory understandings of the self. And the Self so discovered is, inevitably, superior to the restraints and formalities of ordinary life. If Crowley’s squalid end is any gauge, that is hell enough.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey and Kenneth Anger viewing Crowley’s Satanic Frescoes in Thelema Abbey, Sicily.
Dr. Alfred Kinsey and Kenneth Anger viewing Crowley’s Satanic Frescoes in Thelema Abbey, Sicily.