Jack Parsons died on June 17 1952, after being literally blown to pieces by an explosion that also destroyed his laboratory – he managed, however, to remain conscious after the explosion. Despite there being a number of different theories as to the cause – ranging from a simple accident to an obscure alchemical ritual gone wrong to assassination plots organized by a number of subjects – police investigations filed it as an accident. He was 37 years old.
Despite his short lifetime, his accomplishments were astounding and his legacy paints a picture of him as one of the quintessential modern lunatics. Born Marvel Whiteside Parsons into a wealthy yet troubled family, Parsons was a high school misfit who soon found comfort in an oddball mixture of science fiction and mythology readings, occult studies, and dabblings in amateur rocketry. This was the starting point and the sky, as the old saying goes, was the limit. Well, maybe not quite.
Despite an extremely promising early start as one of the pioneers in the budding field of rocket science, it’s his occult leanings that remain as his main historical legacy. By his mid-20s, he was initiated into the Agape Lodge, a regional branch of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templii Orientis. A privileged and determined intellect, he quickly ascended through the ranks and was considered ‘the most valued member of the order’ according to Crowley himself. It was during this period where he developed a philosophical theory based on the Thelemite principle of True Will, and what prevented humans from attaining it: fear manifested in different strata of social and emotional troubles and insecurities. In his own words:
“The Will must be freed of its fetters. The ruthless examination and destruction of taboos, complexes, frustrations, dislikes, fears and disgusts hostile to the Will is essential to progress.”
Controversial for his proclivities for sexual debauchery – even within the extremely liberal OTO crowd – his tenure as head of the Lodge threw his life into a chaotic spiral of sex, drugs and occult obsessions which eventually had him canned from his career in rocketry. It was then that he met L. Ron Hubbard, a discharged naval officer, science-fiction writer and would-be founder of Scientology, with whom, both lost in a haze of mutual admiration and bitter rivalry, he would attempt to bring for The Babalon Working.
The Babalon Working was essentially a series of interlocked magical rituals destined to conceive a Moonchild, a magically invoked spiritual child, which would then have to be redirected into an actual human fetus and thus bring forth the spirit of Babalon, the Thelemic goddess of female sexuality, fertility and liberation. The first part of the ritual, aimed at finding a suitable sexual partner, was notably successful: Marjorie Cameron, artist and would-be Kenneth Anger muse, soon found herself running into Parsons and was instantly taken in.
Duped by Hubbard, who ran away with the life savings Parsons had invested in a new joint business venture, and after a harrowing war of legal accusations, media defamation, and magical battles, Parsons soon found himself financially destitute and publicly slandered; hindered by a well-publicized history of involvement in the occult, deviant sexuality, narcotics and Marxist politics, he was the center of much attention both from the police and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which he was investigated by and had to stand before. He resigned from the OTO (although he would remain in touch with Crowley until his death) and produced his defining text, ‘Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword,’ a brief socio-political essay in which he channeled Thelemite rationale into liberal principles and denounced the increasingly authoritarian and repressive nature of American society:
“Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other, responsibility. Both edges are exceedingly sharp and the weapon is not suited to casual, cowardly or treacherous hands. Since all tyrannies are based on dogma and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us to look beyond them for truth and freedom will both be far away. And yet the Truth is that we know nothing…”
August 16, 2015 at 11:00 am
Always great to see an article about Jack Parsons, no matter how short. For a deeper understanding of the man I recommend George Pendle’s “Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons” (soon to be turned into a miniseries on AMC, courtesy of Ridley Scott) and, to a lesser extent, the much more speculative “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” by John Carter.
Those of you out there who become real Parsons fanatics after devouring those two books are encouraged to read “Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron” by Spencer Kansa.
But the best way to get to know Parsons is to buy “Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword”, read it, and then start practicing ceremonial magick.
In nomine BABALON,
August 16, 2015 at 10:23 am
A few problems with this article: considering Parsons founded the rocketry program at Cal-Tech, which is still one of the leading propulsion labs in the nation, and helped create the liquid rocket fuel still used today, AND he has a crater on the moon named after him, it seems absurd to claim his main influence has been in occult circles. The author obviously knows a bit more about the history of occult groups than he does about the history of jet and rocket propulsion, but to call Jack Parsons an amateur is equivalent to saying the same thing about the Wright Brothers: rather than being simply effective hobbyists, they were the first professionals in the field and paved the way for all who came after. That Parsons saw rocketry and ritual magick as intimately connected indicate exactly how much of a pioneer he truly was.
Ricardo Ministro Gonçalves
August 15, 2015 at 7:25 pm
The original Tony Stark.
August 13, 2015 at 3:25 pm
” La verdad es que no sabemos nada … “
August 13, 2015 at 3:22 pm
The true father of Scientology
August 13, 2015 at 10:27 am
David James this is the guy I said you should write a feature about
August 13, 2015 at 10:32 am
I’m all about it
August 13, 2015 at 9:35 am
This headline missed out on “rockets”
August 13, 2015 at 6:32 am