It’s been 60 years to the day since occultist/rocket scientist Jack Parsons blew himself up while mixing chemicals – an accident which numerous conspiracy theorists claim was anything but. Here’s an account on Huffington Post by someone who was close to Parsons’ widow, although it’s shuffled off to the ‘Weird News’ section (alongside stories like “Seafood Dinner Leaves Woman With Mouthful Of Squid Sperm”, “Chinese Granny Pole Dancer” and “Famous Authors’ Zombie Tarot Card Readings”).
In his book Strange Angel, George Pendle describes the fallout from Jack Parsons’ death; I’ve added some notes for anyone new to the story:
There was no funeral for Jack Parsons. The OTO (1) held a service to honor the fact that “Brother John Whiteside Parsons has taken his last journey with the sun.” Betty (2), now divorced from Hubbard, was in attendance. Parsons’ body was cremated and his widow, Candy (3), took the ashes into the Mojave Desert. At the intersection of the two massive, whirring power lines, she scattered his ashes and watched as a light desert wind swept them into the air like smoke.
In the years after his death, Parsons’ reputation would be distorted by gossip and hearsay. Speculation grew wilder after the discovery of his Babalon writings (4), with their frequent invocations of his own death and transformation into “living flame.” The less people knew Parsons, the more outrageous their claims. Some claimed he had been destroyed for his magical ambitions, and there was even talk that he had been assassinated by an angry Howard Hughes (5), in retaliation for the former employee’s theft of company documents. Some of those who had lived at 1003 (6) with him thought he had never recovered from the pain of Betty’s departure, and Jane Wolfe (7) thought his death was a suicide “with the help of the unconscious.” Ed Forman, devastated by the death of his oldest and closest friend, came up with probably the most plausible answer: “Jack used to sweat a lot and the damn thing just slipped out of his hand and blew him up.” In life, Parsons had solved his share of mysterious explosions. It was somewhat ironic that his fate should now be inextricably linked to one.
After her husband’s death, Marjorie “Candy” Cameron grew ever more involved in the occult. She had become convinced that she was the incarnation of Babalon that her husband had prophesied, and insisted on burning the majority of his former possessions. She achieved a degree of fame within the underground arts movement in California over the next forty-five years, thanks to her unsettling, powerful paintings, and her pictures appeared in exhibitions across the country. She also performed in a number of avant-garde films, most notoriously acting alongside Anaïs Nin in Kenneth Anger’s Crowley-inspired Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (8).
On the far side of the moon, the dark side of the moon, between fissures dedicated to Aleksej Krylov, the Soviet mathematician, Paul Ehrlich, the German Nobel laureate for medicine, and Sir John Cockcroft, a physics Nobel laureate, lies a crater forty kilometers wide, named simply “Parsons.” It is remarkably fitting that the moon, in many ways the guiding light of Jack Parsons’s life, should be the one place where he would finally find acceptance among his peers.
1. Ordo Templi Orientis, the occult order headed by Aleister Crowley; Parsons was the leader of the order’s Agapé Lodge
2. Sara Northrup, known as Betty, Parsons’ sister-in-law. They had an affair and Northrup subsequently married L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.
3. Parsons’ second wife, artist and actress Marjorie Cameron, known as Candy.
4. Babalon Working was an occult ritual influenced by Crowley and performed by Jack Parsons with L. Ron Hubbard which sought to summon a female messiah on Earth, Babalon.
5. Parsons worked for a time at the eccentric millionaire’s Hughes Aircraft Company, but was dismissed on suspicion of espionage.
6. 1003 S. Orange Grove Avenue was the large Pasadena house where Parsons and a floating cast of fellow occultists and sympathisers stopped in or stayed, their doings subject to wild rumour
7. Jane Wolfe was a one-time silent movie actress who turned to occultism, at one point smoking opium with Crowley at Cefalú.
8. More on Anger’s 1954 movie here.
Meanwhile if you want to honour Parsons’ passing by mixing up something strong of your own, Rune Soup has some tribute cocktail recipes. Finally, some footage of Parsons at work along with some personal recollections: