A little over 65 years ago, rocket scientist Jack Parsons and his scribe (a then unknown L. Ron Hubbard) embarked on grueling course of sexual magick designed to conjure an elemental mate.1 It was the first step in what Parsons believed would become his greatest legacy…the invocation of the Goddess BABALON, the female messiah.1
On the 14th day, Parsons sensed the working was complete. He returned to his home in Pasadena to find his future wife Marjorie Cameron waiting for him. Together, the pair would attempt to incarnate a living vessel for BABALON herself. It was Parsons’ conviction that, if they succeeded, the spirit of female lust and Dionysian freedom would walk the Earth, and the blind Aeon of Horus would be redeemed.2
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time Parsons’ would crazily attempt to shape the future of humanity. Less than a decade earlier, this occult priest of the Ordo Templi Orientis pioneered a similarly far-flung set of experiments in rocketry. His research, though to this day obscure, led directly to the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and set the stage for the era of spaceflight.
Today, rocket scientists are seen as paragons of genius, but in the 1930s they were little more than a fringe sect. Robert Goddard was lampooned by the press3 and ignored by scientists4 when he published what is now regarded as one of the field’s foundational texts: A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. The most advanced “spacecraft” were developed by amateur enthusiast groups like the American Interplanetary Society, or the German Society for Space Ship Travel, as government funded agencies like NASA were still decades away.5
One of the big problems with rockets in those days was their tendency to just blow up. The black powder5 and liquid fuel6 mixtures employed were highly unstable, and prone to igniting all at once.
It was an issue Jack Parsons, Ed Forman and Frank Malina knew all too well when they were contracted by the U.S. government to design rocket-powered airplanes for the war effort. While Parsons was only 25 at the time, and lacked a college education, he was already one of the leading rocket propulsion experts in the country.5 The military grant marked the first time the U.S. government had ever funded rocket research,7 and the trio, cautiously dubbed the “Suicide Squad,” was anxious to deliver.
After months of explosive dead ends, Parsons, inspired by an obscure Byzantine naval weapon known as Greek Fire, got it in his head to concoct a rock-solid fuel from asphalt and potassium perchlorate.5 His hunch turned out to be spot on.
“Castable” solid propellants, so called because they need to be melted and poured into place, were much safer and more practical than any known alternative.5 They would go on to power the Space Shuttle, as well as the Poseidon and Minuteman ballistic missiles.5
More immediately however, Parsons’ asphalt engines led to an avalanche of government funded rocketry research.5 Now that practical propulsion systems could be produced safely and en masse, the military finally had a use for them. Universities quickly began to offer courses, and then degrees in aerospace engineering. The Suicide Squad’s original grant ballooned into a full-scale, federally funded research program…the JPL.5
But it’s a sad story really. The U.S. government, as much as they love their mad scientists, had no real use for an amateur space-enthusiast with a quirky passion for the occult. By the mid 40s, the JPL was firmly enshrined in the military-industrial complex, and Parsons found himself adrift in a sea of joblessness, magick, L. Ron Hubbards, and oh pretty much right back where we started.5
Speaking of which, just what do we make of Jack’s dual interest in rocketry and the occult?
Parsons’ colleague and close friend Frank Malina doesn’t seem to think there’s much of a connection between these two pursuits: “as far as I can remember talking to him about calculations on rocket design, there was no input from what you might say alchemy or magic.”5
Obviously, Malina knows the guy about a million times better than we ever will. But the inquisitive student of science madness would do well to question an assumption like this.
I’m not going to get into the messy business of historically reconstructing Parsons’ precise humoral complexion (such a process is time consuming to say the least, and doesn’t make for engaging blog copy). I will only note that if the history of other occult scientists like Paracelsus serves as any guide, it can be damn near impossible to separate out a scientist’s magical beliefs from their scientific ones. Indeed, in Parsons’ time, many established scientists held space travel and occult mysticism in similar esteem.5
Magic and science both rely heavily on intuition, experimentation, and personal experience. In Parsons’ case, it seems they both draw on the same Faustian impulse. Who’s to say what exactly turned his mind to thoughts of Greek Fire and asphalt explosions.
For obvious reasons, Jack Parsons is as good a launching point as any for a journey into the modern American cryptosphere. Video artist and occult synchromystic researcher Steve Willner says Parsons “was notorious in ripping wormholes in space-time and letting interdimentional negative entities in.”8 Fringe thinker Richard Hoagland nets our mad scientist in a vast occult NASA conspiracy that can be traced by carefully analyzing the astrological geometry at various launch dates.9 I’m not going to get into that stuff just yet (oh but for the love of all that is good and holy I’ll have some fun with it later!). For now I’ll just leave you the links and you can go down whatever rabbit holes you feel compelled to pursue.
Interest in Jack’s magical work has only increased since he accidentally exploded himself in his home laboratory at the age of 37.5
Though the scientific community has been slower to give Parsons his due, the International Astronomical Union bestowed upon him an honor befitting all great men of obscurity…an eponymous crater on the dark side of the moon.5
1. Staley, M. (1989). The Babalon Working. Starfire, 1(3). Retrieved January 21, 2011 from http://user.cyberlink.ch/~koenig/dplanet/staley/staley11.htm)
2. Parsons, J.W. (1946). Part One: The Book of Babalon. Unpublished Manuscript. Retrieved January 21, 2011 from http://web.archive.org/web/20040211081706/http://www.babalon.net/jwp/babalon.html)
3. A Severe Strain on Credulity [Editorial]. (1920, January 13). The New York Times, p. 12.
4. White, M. (2001). Rivals: Conflict as the Fuel of Science. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd.
5. Pendle, G. (2005). Strange Angel: The Otherwordly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
6. Yang, V., Anderson, W.E. (Eds.) (1995). Liquid Rocket Engine Combustion Instability. AIAA.
7. Malina, F.J. (1967, June). Memoir on the Galcit Rocket Research Project, 1936-38. First International Symposium on the History of Astronautics. Symposium organized by the International Academy of Astronautics with the cooperation of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, Belgrade. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.olats.org/OLATS/pionniers/memoir1.shtml
8. Willner, S. (2008, January 14). Hyperborea, The Pineal Gland, and The Spear of Destiny. Retrieved January 11, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T9yIBz7qMA (jump to 1:30)
9. Hoagland, R. (2009, March 12). Richard Hoagland 1/6 Parsons Crowley NASA & the Occult. Retrieved January 11, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiBSHcZ5lkI&feature=&p=62DD161CD45974AA&index=0&playnext=1