Kirstie Alley's Thetan 8 Status In Scientology Explained

Alongside thousands of "Cheers" fans, the Church of Scientology sought to honor beloved TV star Kirstie Alley after she passed away on December 5, 2022 (via the Daily Mail). Alley was a longtime devotee of the controversial religion and one of the church's highest-ranking members. Alley was recognized as a Thetan 8 in 2018 during an initiation that took place on the church's Freewinds cruise ship, a 440-foot-long vessel based in the Caribbean that holds the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO), which deals with the training and auditing associated with the religion's highest level (via Scientology).

Scientology first became a lifeline for Alley in the late '70s when she was experiencing addiction. Her conversion came after reading "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," written by the religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard (via the Los Angeles Times). Alley claimed that reading Hubbard's work led to a revelatory moment that helped her with her addiction. Before embracing the faith, she jokingly remarked (per the Daily Mail) that she had "done enough cocaine to kill several people."

Up until her death, Alley defended her religion in the press, arguing that it is poorly understood by the public. According to CNN, the mysterious and highly secretive religion teaches insiders that humans are infected by the souls of an ancient alien race — the body thetans. Although Alley herself once claimed that aliens are not a central part of Scientology, church members remain notoriously tight-lipped about what they do believe.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

What does the church believe?

Those who rise up the Operating Thetan (OT) levels of the church supposedly gain superhuman abilities that allow them to transcend the physical plane of existence (via "Understanding Scientology"). This process is achieved through a practice called auditing, in which individuals check themselves for body thetans, mysterious entities that supposedly plague the human body and cause mental health issues. Hubbard was particularly interested in human psychology, and he offered his system as an alternative to mainstream drug therapies (via CNN).

In order to test for thetans, Scientologists use an e-meter — and you may have noticed them standing on street corners offering to check your energies for you. Like everything else in Scientology, e-meters are fairly mysterious, but it is known that the devices test the electrical resistance of human skin the same way that lie detectors do (via The Guardian). Scientologists claim that this allows them to understand how a person is feeling.

In theory, once the body thetans have been found and cleared, the human soul goes back to its original form as an immortal thetan, escaping the constraints of the physical body entirely.

How do Scientologists escape the body thetans?

The road to a body-thetan-free life is a long one that requires adherents to repeatedly attend clearing courses, sit through audits, and purchase costly books (via Insider). Many celebrities have been particularly drawn to L. Ron Hubbard's bizarre teachings, and they are by far the most likely to reach the upper levels of the eye-wateringly expensive scale. Each step in the process requires a sizable fee — stretching up into the millions.

According to actor Leah Remini, who has now left the church, getting to level 5 alone costs at least $400,000 (via the BBC). In return, upper-level thetans are treated with a great deal of reverence, which may also go some way toward explaining the religion's appeal among the very ambitious stars of Tinseltown (via "Understanding Scientology"). In theory, once a person becomes clear at each level, they develop certain supernatural abilities such as telekinesis, as the laws of physics no longer apply to them. Scientologists also argue that those who attend their courses do not need to seek out traditional medicine for illnesses such as cancer, the very illness that took Alley's life (via Rolling Stone).

How do people reach level 8?

The next stop for the rare few who reach the end of the "bridge to freedom" is the Freewinds cruise ship, which oversees level 8 training via the FSSO (via CNN). It is widely believed that L. Ron Hubbard started using the ship in order to escape government scrutiny after being thrown out of the U.K.

The cruise itself has been described as both a spiritual retreat and a punishing slave-labor camp by various insiders. Critical ex-members have complained that they were forced to work for free on the ship and have called the church out for abusive security checks designed to ensure obedience (via Insider). Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, one distressed member claims she was locked in a sweltering engine room for daring to talk to Tom Cruise too much.

According to Leah Remini, many of those who spend their millions to become a level 8 are subsequently disappointed to discover nothing meaningful happens to them — and they are still required to spend more money (via Global News). Although ex-members have often accused the church of being a cult, of people trafficking, and of extorting money out of its members, Alley herself remained positive about the church up until she died. After reaching level 8 status, she proudly pronounced (via the Daily Mail), "Now here I stand a New OT VIII shiny, fresh and calm ... well, as calm as a thetan like me can be."