The cross closely resembles the Christian cross, but differs from it with the addition of four diagonal rays between the conventional horizontal and vertical arms. The eight points of the cross represent the eight dynamics in Scientology:
- The Self
- Creativity, sex, and procreation (family)
- Group, society, community
- Species survival (humankind)
- Life forms in general
- Matter, Energy, Space & Time (physical universe)
- Spirit (self or others as a spiritual being)
- Infinity or Supreme being
The Church of Scientology says that "the horizontal bar represents the material universe, and the vertical bar represents the spirit. Thus, the spirit is seen to be rising triumphantly, ultimately transcending the turmoil of the physical universe to achieve salvation." 
The Scientology cross apparently dates back to the mid-1950s. Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote in 1955 that "the model of the cross came from a very ancient Spanish mission in Arizona, a sand casting which [Hubbard] dug up"  He also occasionally referred to it as the "sunburst cross". Scholars speculate the Scientology cross may have been inspired by Aleister Crowley's use of the Rosy Cross.
The practice of prominently displaying the cross in Scientology centers was instituted in 1969 following hostile press coverage in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, when Scientology's status as a legitimate religion was being questioned. In response, Hubbard ordered that, "Any staff who are trained at any level as auditors (but not in A[dvanced] O[rganization]s) are to be clothed in the traditioned ministerial black suit, black vest white collar silver cross for ordinary org wear." 
- "Scientology Cross", Church of Scientology International. Accessed 2007-07-03.
- Ability magazine issue 14, 1955
- Hubbard, "Operational Bulletin No. 5", November 1955
- Urban, Hugh B. "The Occult Roots of Scientology?: L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley, and the Origins of a Controversial New Religion".
- Hubbard, "Religion", HCO Policy Letter of 12 February 1969