Though the Church of Scientology was established on this day — Feb. 18 — in 1954, the idea came to L. Ron Hubbard a few years earlier when, according to Scientology's official website, "with further investigation through late 1951 and 1952, Ron indeed contacted, measured and provided a means to experience the human soul."
It was around that time that those investigations drew the attention of TIME, which first explained Scientology in the Dec. 22, 1952, issue. By that point, Hubbard was already known to readers as an author, especially of Dianetics; he had recently left his eponymous Dianetic foundation to work on Scientology. The TIME story was fairly dismissive of his new idea — he had "whipped up the bastard word Scientology," it reported — but still took the time to explain how it worked:
It all began when Hubbard added an electrical gadget to his dianetic auditing—an "electropsychomeer" or "E-meter," something like a lie detector. The subject holds electrodes in his hands, and a dial needle records changes in current when he tells about deeply disturbing things in his past. Hubbard found that some of his subjects could not locate "painful prenatal experiences" anywhere on earth, but when he asked them whether these things had happened on another planet, the needle jumped like crazy.
This was enough for Hubbard. He scrapped his old dianetics "time track" (running back to the moment of the subject's conception) and soared off through "whole track" cosmic space. In a number of booklets and pamphlets on Scientology and "electropsychometry," he tells how he has discovered and isolated "Life Energy in such a form as to revive the dead or dying . . . [gained] the ability to make one's body old or young at will, the ability to heal the ill without physical contact, the ability to cure the insane and incapacitated."
And, no matter how TIME addressed the idea, Scientology was already gaining adherents. Scientology clubs were becoming popular, the article noted: "Needed for a club's start: a collection of Hubbard's books ($2 to $5) and an E-meter ($98.50 at Hubbard's Phoenix headquarters)."
Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Remember Venus?