Parsons, Jack (1914–1952)
Jack Parsons, an explosives expert, pioneer in rocket propulsion,
and follower of the thelemic magic of Aleister Crowley
(1875–1947), was born Marvel Whiteside Parsons, the son
of Marvel and Ruth Whiteside Parsons in Los Angeles, California,
on October 2, 1914. Shortly after his birth, his parents separated,
and his mother raised him as John Parsons. His friends
and magical associates would know him as Jack.
During his teen years he developed an interest in rocketry
and explosives, and carried out a number of amateur experiments.
In 1932, while still in high school, he landed a job with
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Parsons, Jack
1187
the Hercules Powder Company. He graduated the following
year and entered Pasadena Junior College and then spent two
years at the University of Southern California, though he never
graduated. In 1935 he married Helen Northrup and shortly
thereafter left school to take a job at the California Institute of
Technology, even though he lacked the formal training that
such a job usually required. He took the lead in the development
of liquid-fuel propellants, and made a secure place for
himself in the history of rocket science.
In 1939 Parsons discovered a book by Crowley and then met
Winifred Smith, a resident of Pasadena, who also led what was
then the only active chapter of Crowley’s organization, the
Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), then in existence. Thus began
his double life, rocket scientist by day and magical student by
night. In 1941 he and his wife both formally joined the OTO.
From that time forward he would be the occasional object of
surveillance by law enforcement officials who were concerned
with his keeping explosive materials at his home. Also, neighbors
and some who had attended various events at Parsons’
home reported that he was engaged in immoral actions and
black magic. As a whole, the police discounted them. In 1943,
Parsons and his wife divorced, and he began a relationship with
Helen’s sister Sara Elizabeth ‘‘Betty’’ Northrup.
In the months immediately after World War II (1939–45),
Parsons began a set of independent magical operations that
would become known collectively as the Babalon Workings.
These workings brought him into contact with a preternatural
entity and also coincided with another shift in his personal relations.
Betty was attracted to a new friend of Parsons’, L. Ron
Hubbard. Soon after the workings began, Marjorie Cameron
came to Pasadena, and Parsons introduced her to magic work.
They would eventually marry.
The results of the Babalon Workings were manifold. Parsons
channeled a document, ‘‘Liber 49,’’ which he came to believe
was a fourth chapter to Crowley’s basic magic text, The Book of
the Law. As the workings became more involved, Crowley, then
living out his last years in England, became concerned and sent
a representative to examine the situation with the Pasadena
OTO. Parsons formed a company with Hubbard and Betty to
purchase boats on the East Coast and transport them to California.
This company failed after Parsons and Hubbard had a
disagreement and the assets were divided in a court settlement.
Hubbard would later go on to found the Church of Scientology.
Parsons went through a period of disillusionment with
magic and the OTO and resigned. He became convinced that
the organization had proven itself an obstacle to reach its own
magical goals. He began to work his magic outside of the OTO
system. In 1948 he lost his security clearance at the California
Institute of Technology. It was reinstated the following year,
but in January of 1952, he lost it again. His involvement in
magic was the stated reason for his lost status. Then on June
17, 1952, Parsons died when his home was destroyed in an explosion.
The exact nature of what occurred has never been satisfactorily
explained. His mother committed suicide after hearing
of his death.
Parsons was a minor figure in the magical world at the time
of his death. However, in the wake of the revival of interest in
Crowley and magic in the 1970s, his work was rediscovered and
in the early 1980s published. It has remained in print and been
reproduced widely on the Internet. A first biography appeared
in 1999.
Sources
[Carter, John.] Sex and Rockets The Occult World of Jack Parsons.
Venice, Calif. Feral House, 1999.
Parsons, Jack. The Book of AntiChrist. Edmonton Isis Research,
1980.
———. The Book of B.A.B.A.L.O.N. Berkeley, Calif. O.T.O.,
1982.
———. Freedom Is a Two Edged Sword, and Other Essays. Edited
by Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel and Hymanaeus
Beta. New York Ordo Templi Orientis, 1989

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