Louis Theroux's much-anticipated My Scientology Movie arrives this week, and you'll be glad to know the documentarian is at the top of his game.
Denied access the Church of Scientology's movers and deceivers, Theroux instead talks to prominent apostates, working with them and actors to create staged versions of behind-the-scenes abuses. It's shocking stuff. However, given the running time, lip service is paid to the Church's actual doctrine, skimming over what crazy stuff worshipers believe and concentrating more on the bullying culture festering at the upper echelons of the organisation.
This makes sense from a journalistic point of view - if it bleeds, it leads - but we thought we'd help out curious viewers of this excellent film with a quick guide to the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the Church's founder.
Be warned: it gets weird.
Let's start with the big one - Scientology's version of a creation myth, the root source of all their other beliefs. Deep breath here.
75 million years ago, Xenu was the leader of a Galactic Empire of 76 planets, one of which was Earth, which then went by the name "Teegeeack". Faced with dissent at his court and an overpopulation problem across his Empire - the average population of a planet was 187 billion - Xenu decided to go all Night of the Long Knives.
Luring his enemies into his clutches with a phoney message, Xenu had them kidnapped and then flown in spacecraft which just happened to look similar to the planes of the Fifties - the period Hubbard was formulating Scientology.
Arriving at Teegeeack, the offending citizens were dropped around our planet's volcanoes, where a series of hydrogen bombs were detonated to destroy them. Their disembodied souls were released into the atmosphere, re-captured, then forced to watch movies implanting them with the false ideas of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and so on. Disorientated, these souls - thetans - coalesced around the bodies of the few living things left, and have continued to be attached to human beings ever since.
Meanwhile, Teegeeack, now known as good old Earth, has continued to be kept as a prison planet, the secrets of Xenu's rule only revealed to those who have paid tens of thousands of pounds to rise up Scientology's spiritual ladder.
In fairness to the Church, they frequently deny how central this story is to their beliefs - but since a volcano is a key part of their iconography, these denials don't draw much water.
These are our immortal souls, which simply willed themselves - and the rest of the universe - into existence millions of years ago. A thetan drives a human body, you could say, while 'body thetans' infest the unfortunates uninitiated in the higher levels of Scientology - these are the surviving remnants of the folks Zenu deposited on Earth all those years ago, who have been rendered depleted and degraded.
These pesky varmints are responsible for everything from illness to evil, they prevent humanity from reaching its full potential, and they obscure our true identities even from ourselves.
If you want to gauge their impact on you, you'll need to head in for a session of:
This is a series of spiritual counselling sessions, where an E-meter - a rudimentary device measuring skin conductivity - is employed in tandem with a series of quick-fire questions designed to penetrate the subject's psychological shielding.
These can be on innocuous things like breakfast preferences, or deeply personal matters like sexual histories, or lingering childhood trauma.
The whole process is framed in vaguely therapeutic language, but this is slightly undermined by reports that the Church documents what people say in these sessions and can threaten to make the information public if the subject doesn't toe the line.
Anyway, so far, so The Master. What's the ultimate goal of this?
You may have seen Alex Gibney's fantastic documentary which goes by this title - and if you haven't you really should. The title refers to the ultimate telos of Scientology, where the individual is 'clear' of the body thetans getting in the way of their potential.
Once you have reached this stage through extensive study and auditing sessions, you are ready to pursue higher levels of being.
This is a system of 18 levels of spiritual freedom and capability that are possible once you've rid yourself of your body thetans, ranging from 'OT I' to 'Supreme Being.'
You can promote yourself through, again, more auditing, more studying and more cash payments - although the Xenu story is one of the teachings at this point, so we may have saved you a few bob. If you're willing to fork out, though, the Church claims the higher levels grant practitioners over matter, energy, time, and space, which, to be fair, does sound pretty cool.
What to make of all this? Let's ask Arnold.
My Scientology Movie hits cinemas this Friday