Since the story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes broke there have been more revelations in the British press about the malevolent and sinister nature of the scientology cult. It’s the little stories that I find most compelling, the anecdotes of the victims, people who have walked out of the shadows into the present light. One that caught my attention at the weekend was that of Astra Woodcraft, a London girl who was co-opted into scientology when she was just a little younger than Suri, the daughter of Cruise and Holmes.
It was 1984 when her mother took her to Saint Hill College, a scientology centre in the county of Sussex on the English south coast. Only five years old at the time, she was subjected to a form of confessional interrogation that scientologists refer to as ‘auditing.’ The whole process took twelve hours, leaving her dizzy and disorientated.
Two years later she moved with her family to Clearwater in Florida, where the cult’s ‘worldwide spiritual centre’ is located. As her mother descended ever deeper into the recesses of scientology, Astra’s family life from this point forward was desultory at best, as was her education.
It was while they were in Florida that her mother joined the order known as Sea Organisation or Sea Org. Such family life as Astra had effectively ended. Children, you see, are considered a distraction for parents who are meant to dedicate themselves to the organisation’s ‘higher mission.’ Astra was given over to communal living. With her spluttering education at an end, she spent her teenage years working for a pittance, fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. All this on an inadequate and monotonous diet of beans and rice.
Now living in California, she was fourteen when she signed her own billion year Sea Org contract, committing herself to countless lifetimes of scientology, eons upon eons of the same futile thing. The following year she was induced into an early marriage, as pre-marital sex is forbidden. She was also put in charge of “enforcing ethics and justice”, working at the International Training Centre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Scientology, from what I gather, is governed by a myriad of petty rules. In a climate of endless supervision, snooping and fear people can get into trouble for all sorts of things, such as having loose paper on their desks. Masturbation is a big no no, and one of Astra’s first tasks in the ethics police was stop a forty-year-old man given over to the practice. She was only fifteen at the time.
Another of her duties was to monitor those who had spoken of leaving the organisation. This meant that she had to sleep outside their doors with her wrist tied to the doorknob with a piece of rope. Those disobeying the rules were made to perform hard labour in‘re-education’ centres. People, incidentally, Astra included, were also made to wear military-style uniforms. The whole thing sounds depressingly familiar.
The breaking point for her came when she became pregnant at the age of nineteen. This infringed another Sea Org edict against their members having children. Working round the clock with little or no free time, she finally understood that her life was not her own; even her body was not her own. When her pregnancy was discovered pressure was put upon her to have an abortion, even by her own mother, otherwise she would be denounced as a ‘Suppressive Person’, a cardinal sin, and her family would never speak to her again.
She refused, finally taking her leave. She was later sent a bill for $89,000, supposedly for counselling and ‘self-improvement courses’. “It was a childhood I would not wish on anyone”, she subsequently said. “I had the courage to leave and to choose my own future. I appreciate my freedom in a way that some people might not be able to imagine. I hope Suri Cruise gets to appreciate hers.”
Astra went on to set up a website called Ex-Scientology Kids where people like her could share their experiences. They are all ‘apostates’, according to the Church of Scientology, people who have fabricated their various accounts. The thing is these testaments, coming from a wide range of individuals, have a remarkable consistency to them, the same depressing details, the same blighted lives. People like Astra lived under a regime that a British judge said was “grimly reminiscent of the ranting and bullying of Hitler and his henchmen.”
It’s as well to remember that the next time you look on the grinningly inane Cruise, or John Travolta or Will Smith, or any of the other celebrity faces of this pseudo religion, a religion for pseuds and frauds.