Actually, it IS rocket science

The explosion that ripped through a Pasadena mansion on a late afternoon in early summer of 1952 still echoes in the minds of occultists and conspiracy theorists to this day.

The first, though unfortunately not immediate consequence, was that the author of the calamity, a rocket scientist named Jack Parsons, died; horribly he lingered for hours after the accident. On the same day his devoted mother, who had been drinking heavily since hearing of the incident, swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills and breathed her last.

The scientist’s back story rolled out in local newspapers over the ensuing days, growing more astonishing with each new revelation. It appears no less incredible over half a century later, combining Satanism, Scientology, space travel and the FBI.

The man at the centre of this unlikely confluence of elements was born John Whiteside Parsons in Pasadena in 1914. As a young man he displayed a keen scientific intellect, all the more remarkable for the fact that he never finished college. He became one of the foremost experts in the emerging field of rocket propulsion, his experiments ushering in advances in both domestic air travel and the space race.

But that brilliant mind was just as preoccupied with the occult and Parsons was chosen by Aleister Crowley himself to head the Californian lodge of his “Ordo Templi Orientis” (OTO). In that capacity he came into contact with L. Ron Hubbard, who assisted in ceremonies and later married Parsons’s first wife Sara. It was not all he took: Parsons enjoyed the dubious distinction of being one of the first of many people ripped off by Hubbard. And the “church” he founded, with its arcane knowledge imparted level by level, for a fee, owed much to Crowley’s methods.

Before each rocket launch Parsons would invoke Pan, and his ultimate goal was not to reach the moon but to create a Moonchild, an occult messiah, with his second wife Marjorie Cameron as the required “Scarlet Woman”. There have been suggestions over the years that Parsons’ death, officially the result of a chemical experiment gone wrong, was actually the consequence of summoning forces he couldn’t deal with. After all, Parsons was known to be a meticulous worker who treated dangerous chemicals with respect, and it seemed impossible that he had simply mixed up a fatal brew by accident.

Oops.

Was it deliberate? Well Parsons had been part of a group of audacious scientists nicknamed the “Suicide Squad”, but there was no obvious motive for taking his own life. There is no conclusive evidence of another party in the incident, but the shadowy forces which dominated Parsons’ life make him a natural subject for the Feral House/Fortean Times/Disinformation school of investigative paranoia.

Two books, George Pendle’s Strange Angel and Sex and Rockets by John Carter do their best to make sense of the tangled web of Parsons’ life. But as I so often wonder on Strange Flowers, why has there been no movie about him to date? Julia Child is a candidate for a biopic and not Jack Parsons? While we wait for feature filmmakers to see the light, here is a preview of a documentary about Parsons, Jet Propelled Antichrist.

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