In this month’s London Review of Books there is an interesting review of Hugh Urban’s new book on Scientology. In the review, Rachel Aviv pulls out two quotes from L. Ron Hubbard that I had not heard before and which were doubly interesting. The first was Hubbard’s 1954 confession that he did not believe his own teachings about space federations and Xenu:
‘I’m just kidding you mostly,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe any of these things and I don’t want to be agreed with about them … All I’m asking is that we take a look at this information, and … let’s see if we can’t disagree with this universe, just a little bit.’
But I think most of us could have guessed that. The second I found even more interesting. In it, Hubbard claims that science fiction (especially his own early efforts) is a distorted ancestral memory of real, prehistoric events:
‘The science fiction writer’s memory is faulty, and he gets himself all restimulated and so forth, and he doesn’t remember straight. Some of them remember it quite well, but then they reverse their time … and put it all into the future.’
So, “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” and all that… But what is so fascinating here is that this is the same process Helena Blavatsky had used a 80 years earlier in developing Theosophy. She had claimed in the Secret Doctrine that
“Our best modern novelists, who are neither Theosophists nor Spiritualists, begin to have, nevertheless, very psychological and suggestively Occult dreams […] [T]he clever novelist seems to repeat the history of all the now degraded and down-fallen races of humanity.”
These races, of course, were Blavatsky’s invented Lemurians and Atlanteans, who, just like Hubbard’s early humans, were inhabited and possessed by extraterrestrial souls, mostly from the moon or Venus.
Blavatsky, like Hubbard, took science fiction and attempted to recast it as an occult truth. For her, it was Bulwer-Lytton’s free energy source vril, from The Coming Race, that was a secret occult truth masquerading as fiction. For Hubbard, it was the entirety of the alien agenda from pulp fiction space operas. Later, the Heaven’s Gate cult would take Star Trek as a documentary and commit mass suicide to meet the mother ship they imagined trailed behind the comet Hale-Bopp.
This contrasts markedly with what H. P. Lovecraft did with this same set of material. Instead of using speculative fiction as a springboard for fake science and spirituality, Lovecraft reversed the process and took Blavatsky’s fake science, including extraterrestrials, root races, and lost continents, and used it as a spurious support for his own fiction. But Lovecraft is certainly not alone in using pseudoscience as background for speculative fiction, as any quick glance at the SF section of a bookstore (presuming bookstores still exist) will attest. Even the pseudohistorian Graham Hancock took a crack at it, using his own failed theories about a lost ice age civilization as the grounding for his first novel, Entangled.
What fascinates me is the way speculative fiction and pseudoscience interpenetrate so deeply, each drawing on and building upon the other, in sort of a see-sawing ladder that rises ever higher. Today there are religious groups that claim science fiction stories are true, and several groups of Satanists and other occultists insist that Lovecraft’s space gods were real beings that impressed themselves into Lovecraft’s mind. What we need today is a new Lovecraft who can pull the whole sorry mess back across the porous membrane between fact and fiction and place space alien deities firmly on the side of fiction.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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