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Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons – A Review

Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons

The occult, in the early part of the 20th century, set the stage for how it has come to be perceived in the 21st Century.  Never has the explanation of the third way come into a mainstream light (except in works of fiction books and film) where it has been readily played up with bright flashes of scintillating energy and half mad megalomaniacs bent on short cutting their way to the realms of the Gods.  Few have gone so far as to suggest the connection between space and the realm of the divine powers except in some of the more bizarre Lovecraftian tales of horror and suspense.  (See The Best of H. P. Lovecraft).  But the ground work of this 20th century occult, while shaped in one part by Manly P. hall was

also shaped in character that was formed by the man Marvel “Jack” “John” Parsons. And this tale, as told in the book “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” by John Carter is every bit science fact of rocket to the moon as it is Aleister Crowley‘s failure in inspiring his new aeon and Babylon working to manifest in his Thelemic following in Los Angles circa 1946.  In Jack Parsons, hubris and vanity were very much a part of his wonder at the idea of sending rockets into space.  But even in his explosive demise, Parson’s legacy on earth has crowned him a father of modern Rocketry with a crater dedicated to him on the dark side of the moon.

Jack Parsons

First published in 2004, Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons is the biography of Jack Parsons.  A self taught scientist and rocketer, Parsons started his career path as a hobby of sorts, fueled in the exhaust of creating rockets to soar into the high earth atmosphere.  This was in the age of fiction and rockets were only the dreams of explorers and fiction writers.  Like all men of vision, however, Parsons worked endlessly to create sufficient thrust to make the rocket work.  In this early life he also found and embraced the works of Aleister Crowley which became his faith, of sorts, by his practice of Thelema.  His devotion grew over time in that he became the head of the Agape Lodge of the OTO in the mid 1940’s which met and practiced in his Bohemian home in Pasadena.  In this period, Parsons regularly corresponded with Crowley, whose agents locally praised him as the successor of Crowley’s New Aeon and great work.

The book spends a considerable amount of time on Parsons life, but also included some interesting details on the Ordo Templi Orientis order that Parsons was at first so devoted to.  As it reads Carter spends considerable time in developing the history of the OTO from 1895 through Crowley’s taking over and the credibility collapse of its founders Kellner, Reuss, Mathers, and Westcott.  The history, as encapsulated in the book, is an interesting read especially as it contextualizes their history with Crowley, but also with their connections in Los Angeles in the early incubation of the occult today.  Unlike Manly P. Hall (the author of The Secret Teachings of All Ages), Crowley sent Wilfred Smith (himself a student of the OTO and Crowley) with the purpose of opening an OTO lodge, which was incorporated in 1934 and met for the first time in 1935.

left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, future JPL Director Frank Malina (white shirt, dark pants), Ed Forman and Jack Parsons (right, foreground). Nov. 15, 1936. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech

It was in this era that Jack Parson’s variously worked at the predecessor of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a variety of explosives companies, Electric companies, and gas stations (notably, even rocket scientists needing to work).  In this mix of engineering academia and occult practice, Parson’s path merged in a John Dee/Edward Kelly fashion with the infamous L.Ron Hubbard (before his Scientology fame).  In this time, Hubbard variously played scribe, confidant, and polyamerious love interest to Parson’s spouse Betty who, Carter writes, Hubbard absconded with along with the start up capitol that he and Parson’s had used to start a business. Crowley even going so far to say of Hubbard: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick–Jack Parsons weak fool–obvious victim prowling swindlers.” In a letter a few days later he said, “It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he lost all his personal independence. From our brother’s account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.”.  Included in the book are the notes Hubbard took while acting as scribe in Parsons ritual workings.

L. Ron Hubbard

From his start, it seemed Parsons was destined for something great (magickly or otherwise), but ultimately met his demise in a fiery explosion in his garage turned laboratory/workshop.  Sensing his end, perhaps, Carter reports that the last words spoken by Parsons were “I wasn’t done…“.  This final utterance is cryptic in that his professional life had blurred the line with his occult life leaving us to wonder which work he saw unfinished.  Carter suggests that Parson’s was a man drawn by an over arched Oedipious complex and a life long search for a father figure, both in Smith and in Crowley himself.  At his end, it would seem he found it in neither.

The ruins of Parsons lab 1952

Carter does an ample job in giving life to Parson’s beyond his mundane occupation of jet propulsion and established him as one of the patriarchs of the occult in Los Angeles.  As notable as he is in the scientific community, few know his name in the occult community.  What his tangible contribution is will be up to those who follow in his footsteps, but his early dalliances and their display in the public sphere ushered in the modern perception of the occult and quite possibly the era of the baby boomers and their unknown working of the Thelemic philosophy that Parsons hoped would take hold.  Parson’s, despite his end, explored the paths he wanted to physically and spiritually.  His unfinished work being his legacy, left for us to continue to explore.

I recommend the book Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter, which is available at Amazon.

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