Scientology Minister's Handbook 1977 (Screenshot: Flickr)

The Church Of Scientology tends to shroud itself in secrecy, preferring to keep its inner workings to itself. With that in mind, it’s remarkable to come across a rare artifact like the Scientology Minister’s Handbook from 1977. Excerpts from this book have been shared with the public via the Flickr account of Tom, Lu, India, and Django Melly. If this heavily illustrated volume is real, it appears to provide guidance and instructions to “Volunteer Ministers” of the faith, showing them how to react in particular social situations. (It also encourages them to sell as many copies of Dianetics as possible.) The Mellys provide very little context for the images that appear in this online photo album, nor do they specify how exactly this document came into their possession. When they do offer commentary, it’s generally in the form of snarky photo captions. An image of a Volunteer Minister breaking up a fight between two children, for instance, is undermined with a joke from Airplane!: “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

The handbook, if genuine, could be a window into the often obscure world of Scientology as it was during the Carter years. In 1977, the religion had been around for over two decades and had its own power structure in place. Founder L. Ron Hubbard had long since stepped down from his role as executive director, but he was continuing to provide spiritual guidance in exile while dodging various criminal charges both in America and abroad. A disastrous FBI raid of Scientology offices was still two years away at this point.

The 1977 handbook does not seem all that sinister or foreboding. The vibe here is less like the Necronomicon and more like a very dated Sears catalog. The pictures in this book are very much of their era, capturing the earth-tone clothing, feathery hairstyles, and home decor of the late 1970s. And, as a commenter points out, the text contains some “terribly tortured English,” suggesting it had been clumsily translated from some other language. Perhaps whatever they spoke in Battlefield Earth?

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