L. Ron Hubbard

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L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles (1950)

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911 – January 24, 1986) was an American author, primarily of science fiction and fantasy stories, who is best known for having founded the Church of Scientology.

In 1950, Hubbard authored Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health and established a series of organizations to promote Dianetics. In 1952, Hubbard lost the rights to Dianetics in bankruptcy proceedings, and he subsequently founded Scientology. Thereafter, he oversaw the growth of the Church of Scientology into a worldwide organization.

Early life

L. Ron Hubbard was born in 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska, the only child of Ledora May (née Waterbury), who had trained as a teacher, and Harry Ross Hubbard, a former United States Navy officer. During the 1920s the Hubbards repeatedly relocated around the United States and overseas. Hubbard was active in the Boy Scouts in Washington, D.C. and earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1924, two weeks after his 13th birthday.

Between October and December 1928, Hubbard's family and others traveled from Guam to China. Upon his return to Guam, Hubbard spent much of his time writing dozens of short stories and essays. Hubbard failed the Naval Academy entrance examination. The following year, Hubbard complained of eye strain and was diagnosed with myopia; this diagnosis precluded any enrollment in the Naval Academy. As an adult, Hubbard would write to himself: "Your eyes are getting progressively better. They became bad when you used them as an excuse to escape the naval academy."

On September 24, 1930, Hubbard began studying civil engineering at George Washington University's School of Engineering, at the behest of his father. Academically, Hubbard did poorly: his transcripts show he failed many courses including atomic physics, though later in life he would claim to have been a nuclear physicist.

During what would become Hubbard's final semester at GWU, he organized an ill-fated trip to the Caribbean for June 1932 to explore and film the pirate "strongholds and bivouacs of the Spanish Main" and to "collect whatever one collects for exhibits in museums." Amid multiple misfortunes and running low on funds, the ship's owners ordered it to return to Baltimore. Hubbard failed to return to University the following year.

Early success as an author

Hubbard became a well-known and prolific writer for pulp fiction magazines during the 1930s. His literary career began with contributions to the George Washington University student newspaper, The University Hatchet, as a reporter for a few months in 1931.

Six of his pieces were published commercially during 1932 to 1933. The going rate for freelance writers at the time was only a cent a word, so Hubbard's total earnings from these articles would have been less than $100 (equivalent to $2,093 in 2021). The pulp magazine Thrilling Adventures became the first to publish one of his short stories, in February 1934. Over the next six years, pulp magazines published many of his short stories under a variety of pen names, including Winchester Remington Colt, Kurt von Rachen, René Lafayette, Joe Blitz and Legionnaire 148.

Although he was best known for his fantasy and science fiction stories, Hubbard wrote in a wide variety of genres, including adventure fiction, aviation, travel, mysteries, westerns and even romance. His first full-length novel, Buckskin Brigades, was published in 1937.

Military career

Hubbard was commissioned as a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Naval Reserve on July 19, 1941. By November, he was posted to New York for training as an intelligence officer. On December 18, he was posted to the Philippines and set out for the posting via Australia. While in Melbourne awaiting transport to Manilla, Hubbard was sent back to the United States accompanied by a negative report from the U.S. naval attaché: "This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment. He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance."

Hubbard was sent to submarine chaser training, and in 1943 was posted to Portland, Oregon, to take command of a submarine chaser, USS PC-815. Shortly after the vessel's shakedown cruise, Hubbard unwittingly sailed PC-815 into Mexican territorial waters and conducted gunnery practice off the Coronado Islands, in the belief that they were uninhabited and belonged to the United States. The Mexican government complained and Hubbard was relieved of command.

Hubbard attended school in Princeton until January 1945, when he was assigned to Monterey, California. In April, he again reported sick and was admitted to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland. His complaints included "headaches, rheumatism, conjunctivitis, pains in his side, stomach aches, pains in his shoulder, arthritis, hemorrhoids." He was discharged from the hospital on December 4, 1945, and transferred to inactive duty on February 17, 1946. Hubbard resigned his commission after the publication of Dianetics, with effect from October 30, 1950.

Involvement with the occult

Hubbard's life underwent a turbulent period immediately after the war. According to his own account, he "was abandoned by family and friends as a supposedly hopeless cripple and a probable burden upon them for the rest of my days." His daughter Katherine presented a rather different version: his wife had refused to uproot their children from their home in Bremerton, Washington, to join him in California. Their marriage was by now in terminal difficulties and he chose to stay in California.

In August 1945, Hubbard moved into the Pasadena mansion of John "Jack" Whiteside Parsons. A leading rocket propulsion researcher at the California Institute of Technology and a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Parsons led a double life as an avid occultist and Thelemite, follower of the English ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley and leader of a lodge of Crowley's magical order, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO).

Hubbard befriended Parsons and soon became sexually involved with Parsons's 21-year-old girlfriend, Sara "Betty" Northrup. Hubbard, whom Parsons referred to in writing as "Frater H," became an enthusiastic collaborator in the Pasadena OTO. The two men collaborated on the "Babalon Working", a sex magic ritual intended to summon an incarnation of Babalon, the supreme Thelemite Goddess. It was undertaken over several nights in February and March 1946 in order to summon an "elemental" who would participate in further sex magic.

The "elemental" arrived a few days later in the form of Marjorie Cameron, who agreed to participate in Parsons's rites. Soon afterwards, Parsons, Hubbard and Sara agreed to set up a business partnership, "Allied Enterprises", in which they invested nearly their entire savings—the vast majority contributed by Parsons. The plan was for Hubbard and Sara to buy yachts in Miami and sail them to the West Coast to sell for a profit. Hubbard had a different idea; he wrote to the U.S. Navy requesting permission to leave the country "to visit Central & South America & China" for the purposes of "collecting writing material"—in other words, undertaking a world cruise.

Aleister Crowley strongly criticized Parsons's actions, writing: "Suspect Ron playing confidence trick—Jack Parsons weak fool—obvious victim prowling swindlers." Parsons attempted to recover his money by obtaining an injunction to prevent Hubbard and Sara leaving the country or disposing of the remnants of his assets. They attempted to sail anyway but were forced back to port by a storm. A week later, Allied Enterprises was dissolved. Parsons received only a $2,900 promissory note from Hubbard and returned home "shattered." He had to sell his mansion to developers soon afterwards to recoup his losses.

On August 10, 1946, Hubbard bigamously married Sara, while still married to Polly. It was not until 1947 that his first wife learned that he had remarried. Hubbard agreed to divorce Polly in June that year and the marriage was dissolved shortly afterwards, with Polly given custody of the children.

During this period, Hubbard authored a document which has been called the "Affirmations" (also referred to as the "Admissions"). They consist of a series of statements by and addressed to Hubbard, relating to various physical, sexual, psychological and social issues that he was encountering in his life. The Affirmations appear to have been intended to be used as a form of self-hypnosis with the intention of resolving the author's psychological problems and instilling a positive mental attitude. In her book, Janet Reitman called the Affirmations "the most revealing psychological self-assessment, complete with exhortations to himself, that [Hubbard] had ever made."

Among the Affirmations:

  • "Your stomach trouble you used as an excuse to keep the Navy from punishing you. You are free of the Navy."
  • "Your foot was an alibi. The injury is no longer needed."
  • "Masturbation does not injure or make insane. Your parents were in error. Everyone masturbates."


In 1949, Hubbard began working on alternative treatments for psychiatric disorders. He turned to his editor John W. Campbell, who had a long-standing fascination with fringe psychologies and psychic powers. Campbell invited Hubbard and Sara to move into a cottage at Bay Head, New Jersey, not far from his own home at Plainfield. In July 1949, Campbell recruited an acquaintance, Dr. Joseph Winter, to help develop Hubbard's new therapy of "Dianetics."

Hubbard collaborated with Campbell and Winter to refine his techniques, testing them on science fiction fans recruited by Campbell. The basic principle of Dianetics was that the brain recorded every experience and event in a person's life, even when unconscious. Bad or painful experiences were stored as what he called "engrams" in a "reactive mind." These could be triggered later in life, causing emotional and physical problems. By carrying out a process he called "auditing," a person could be regressed through his engrams to re-experiencing past experiences. This enabled engrams to be "cleared." The subject, who would now be in a state of "Clear," would have a perfectly functioning mind with an improved IQ and photographic memory. The "Clear" would be cured of physical ailments ranging from poor eyesight to the common cold, which Hubbard asserted were purely psychosomatic.

Hubbard described Dianetics as "the hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration" when he introduced Dianetics to the world in the 1950s. He further claimed that "skills have been developed for their invariable cure." On May 9, Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published by Hermitage House. Hubbard abandoned freelance writing in order to promote Dianetics, writing several books about it in the next decade and delivering an estimated 4,000 lectures while founding Dianetics research organizations.

Dianetics was an immediate commercial success and sparked what Martin Gardner calls "a nationwide cult of incredible proportions." By August 1950, Hubbard's book had sold 55,000 copies, was selling at the rate of 4,000 a week and was being translated into French, German and Japanese. Five hundred Dianetic auditing groups had been set up across the United States.

Dianetics was poorly received by the press and the scientific and medical professions. The American Psychological Association criticized Hubbard's claims as "not supported by empirical evidence." Scientific American said that Hubbard's book contained "more promises and less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing."

Collapse of Dianetics Foundation

Dianetics lost public credibility in August 1950 when a presentation by Hubbard before an audience of 6,000 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles failed disastrously. He introduced a Clear named Sonya Bianca and told the audience that as a result of undergoing Dianetic therapy she now possessed perfect recall. However, Gardner writes, "in the demonstration that followed, she failed to remember a single formula in physics (the subject in which she was majoring) or the color of Hubbard's tie when his back was turned. At this point, a large part of the audience got up and left."

The collapse of Hubbard's marriage to Sara created yet more problems. He had begun an affair with his 20-year-old public relations assistant in late 1950, while Sara started a relationship with Dianetics auditor Miles Hollister. Three weeks later, Hubbard and two Foundation staff seized Sara and his year-old daughter Alexis and forcibly took them to San Bernardino, California, where he attempted unsuccessfully to find a doctor to examine Sara and declare her insane. He let Sara go but took Alexis to Havana, Cuba. Sara filed a divorce suit on April 23, 1951, that accused him of marrying her bigamously and subjecting her to sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulation, kidnapping and exhortations to commit suicide.

Dianetics appeared to be on the edge of total collapse. However, it was saved by Don Purcell, a millionaire businessman and Dianeticist who agreed to support a new Foundation in Wichita, Kansas. Their collaboration ended after less than a year when they fell out over the future direction of Dianetics.

Church of Scientology

Hubbard expanded upon the basics of Dianetics to construct a spiritually oriented (though at this stage not religious) doctrine based on the concept that the true self of a person was a thetan—an immortal, omniscient and potentially omnipotent entity. Hubbard taught that thetans, having created the material universe, had forgotten their god-like powers and become trapped in physical bodies.

Hubbard introduced a device called an E-meter that he presented as having, as Miller puts it, "an almost mystical power to reveal an individual's innermost thoughts." He promulgated Scientology through a series of lectures, bulletins and books. Although this model would eventually be extremely successful, Scientology was a very small-scale movement at first. Hubbard started off with only a few dozen followers, generally dedicated Dianeticists.

As membership declined and finances grew tighter, Hubbard had reversed the hostility to religion he voiced in Dianetics. Despite objections, on December 18, 1953, Hubbard incorporated the Church of Scientology, Church of American Science and Church of Spiritual Engineering in Camden, New Jersey. Hubbard, his wife Mary Sue and his secretary John Galusha became the trustees of all three corporations.

Scientology became a highly profitable enterprise for Hubbard. He implemented a scheme under which he was paid a percentage of the Church of Scientology's gross income and by 1957 he was being paid about $250,000 (equivalent to US$2,412,026 in 2021). By the 1970s, he was the leader of a worldwide movement with thousands of followers. With vast resources at his disposal, Hubbard moved aboard his own private fleet of ships, christened as Sea Org, as the Church of Scientology faced worldwide controversy.

Later life

During the 1970s, Hubbard faced an increasing number of legal threats. French prosecutors charged him and the French Church of Scientology with fraud and customs violations in 1972. He was advised that he was at risk of being extradited to France. Hubbard left the Sea Org fleet temporarily at the end of 1972, living incognito in Queens, New York, until he returned to his flagship in September 1973 when the threat of extradition had abated.

Hubbard's health deteriorated significantly during this period. A chain-smoker, he also suffered from bursitis and excessive weight, and had a prominent growth on his forehead. He suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1973 and had a heart attack in 1975 that required him to take anticoagulant drugs for the next year. In September 1978, Hubbard had a pulmonary embolism, falling into a coma, but recovered.

He remained active in managing and developing Scientology, establishing the controversial Rehabilitation Project Force in 1974[264] and issuing policy and doctrinal bulletins.

For the first few years of the 1980s, Hubbard lived on the move, touring the Pacific Northwest in a recreational vehicle and living for a while in apartments in Newport Beach and Los Angeles. Hubbard used his time in hiding to write his first new works of science fiction for nearly thirty years—Battlefield Earth (1982) and Mission Earth, a ten-volume series published between 1985 and 1987.

In Hubbard's absence, members of the Sea Org staged a takeover of the Church of Scientology and purged many veteran Scientologists. A young messenger, David Miscavige, became Scientology's de facto leader. Mary Sue Hubbard was forced to resign her position and her daughter Suzette became Miscavige's personal maid.


For the last two years of his life, Hubbard lived in a luxury Blue Bird motorhome on Whispering Winds, a 160-acre (65 ha) ranch near Creston, California. He spent his time "writing and researching," according to a spokesperson, and pursued photography and music, overseeing construction work and checking on his animals. He was still closely involved in managing the Church of Scientology via secretly delivered orders.

Hubbard suffered further ill-health, including chronic pancreatitis, during his residence at Whispering Winds. He suffered a stroke on January 17, 1986, and died a week later. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered at sea. Scientology leaders announced that his body had become an impediment to his work and that he had decided to "drop his body" to continue his research on another planet, having "learned how to do it without a body."


In 1996, the Los Angeles City Council renamed a street close to the Scientology headquarters "L. Ron Hubbard Way." In 2011, the West Valley City Council declared March 13 as L. Ron Hubbard Centennial Day. In April 2016, the New Jersey State Board of Education approved Hubbard's birthday as one of its religious holidays.

Hubbard's presence still pervades Scientology. Every Church of Scientology maintains an office reserved for Hubbard, with a desk, chair and writing equipment, ready to be used. Lonnie D. Kliever notes that Hubbard was "the only source of the religion, and he has no successor."

Hubbard, although increasingly deified after his death, is the model Operating Thetan to Scientologists and their founder, and not God. Hubbard is viewed as the "Source," "inviting others to follow his path in ways comparable to a Bodhisattva figure." Scientologists refer to L. Ron Hubbard as "Ron", referring to him as a personal friend.

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