May 16, 2017 In the season finale of Something True, we crack the seal on Jack Parsons—a legendary rocket scientist, drummed out of the profession for his overbearing interest in the occult magick of Aleister Crowley. Parsons devoted his early retirement to a full-throated study of the arcane arts. His ambitions were nothing less than to coax an ancient, beautiful goddess from her primal dimension into the spare bedroom of his Pasadena bungalow. Everything proceeded to plan, until Parsons made a famous friend who would not only change his life, but the world... and all the worlds beyond.
Read a full transcript of this episode on the Something True website.
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Music on this week’s episode:
Anamorphic Orchestra – Stop the Clocks
Pictures of the Floating World – Ash Gray*
David Szesztay – Cheese
Cory Gray – Medieval Tension 60s*
Pictures of the Floating World – Cold*
Paniks – Clavire
Pictures of the Floating World – A Thousand Stars*
*modified for the podcast.
Jack Parsons was only 31 when he was pushed out of his own company. In 1942, he’d founded Aerojet with a few colleagues, to produce and sell the rocket technology they had spent the last 10 years inventing and perfecting.
Aerojet’s flagship product was the jet-assisted take-off engine: a small rocket that helped large or overloaded aircraft to achieve flight. The primary client for these engines was the United States military, who then used their purchasing power to coax Aerojet into the lucrative business of ballistic missile production.
World War 2 was good for Aerojet—and for Parsons, whose military value as a rocket scientist helped him avoid direct combat. But as the war ended, so did the demand for missiles, and Aerojet needed money. The General Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, agreed to buy a 51 per cent stake in Aerojet, on one condition: lose Jack Parsons.
He was one of the best rocket scientists of his time, who had figured out how to safely mass-produce rocket fuel. He was respected back then, and respected today—there’s a crater on the moon named after him. So, in 1945, what was the problem with Jack Parsons?
Well, for one thing, he wasn’t a good fit for a corporate environment. He was young, brash; He looked like he might star in movies about a sexy rocket scientist that he wrote himself. He’d been expelled from boarding school for blowing up toilets—which began his lifelong obsession for blowing things up, cut tragically short in 1952 when he blew himself up. He had unusual and uncouth sexual habits, a steady intake of hard drugs and was a draft-dodging socialist in a time of war and fevered patriotism.
Jack Parsons was no angel—but, in his personal time, he was trying to summon one. That was the problem.
The creature’s name was Babylon. She was the Great Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth; a goddess in the occult system devised by the British magician Aleister Crowley. Parsons, a Crowley disciple, would in time attempt rituals to incarnate the divine Babylon into mortal form, so that he might copulate with her, give his blood to her, and be reborn by her as a saint in the City of Pyramids.
In the corporate culture of General Tire and Rubber, this was a big no-no.
You’re listening to Something True – stories from the footnotes of history. Written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby. This week’s episode: Babylon.
Jack Parsons didn’t put up a fight when he was bought out of his Aerojet contract and stock. ‘Fine, so be it!’ he said. ‘You’ll all be obsolete in a year—the future is in Laundromats, you fools!’
But he would struggle to make the change to the Laundromat business. He was a rocket scientist, through and through, and so he sat around the house with too much money and time on his hands. Fortunately for him, he had hobbies.
Parsons lived in a mansion on Orange Grove Avenue, in Pasadena. It was the communal residence and headquarters of the Agape Lodge (the Californian branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO), the new occultist movement popularised and then led by Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast and master of magicks.
Parsons and his wife Helen were introduced to the OTO by friends in 1939. Parsons became a devout student of Crowley’s work, and Thelema: the system and laws of magic that Crowley proposed in his books Konx om Pax and Horton Hears a Who.
When he was still working as a rocket engineer, Parsons would try and induct his colleagues in the ways of the OTO. He'd even invoke Crowley before rocket tests, reciting the famous sayings of the master: “Hail Horus! An absolute legend.”
Besides Thelema, there was much about the OTO that appealed to Parsons: an encouraging attitude towards the use of hallucinogens, and a belief in free love. Parsons liked that a lot, because it was a solid pretext for him to swap out his wife Helen for her 17-year-old sister, Sara.
‘Look, Helen, I just find her more sexually attractive, being as she is so much younger than you—you get it.’ Helen was fine with it. She’d bought into the OTO lifestyle herself by then, and was taking her own partners.
Now, Sara and Helen’s parents hated all of this, of course. But the spirit of free love prevailed: Parsons and Sara became lovers, and she was okay with Parsons inviting artists, atheists and other exotic characters to come by the house, swing with him sexually and explore dark magic.
The hoity-toities of Pasadena, meanwhile, could not harrumph enough at this, and often called the police on spectacles like a naked, pregnant woman jumping through fire in Parsons' backyard. ‘Please, officers, what is this nonsense!’ Parsons protested, while potentially wearing a cape. ‘I am a famous rocket scientist!’
Aleister Crowley liked having Parsons as his agent in California. Some said this was because he was “THE CHILD WHO SHALL BEHOLD THEM ALL” as prophesied in the religious texts dictated to Crowley by the Thelemic pantheon. Others said it was because Parsons gave Crowley a lot of money on a regular basis. Parsons liked Crowley, too. He’d never really known his own father, and in Crowley, Parsons had the mad English sex monster he'd apparently always wanted in a paternal figure. He even kept a signed portrait of Crowley in his library, which was inscribed, “Alright, mate? Keep the cash coming—sincerely, a wizard.”
In his fellow OTO members, Parsons found (as well as a father) delightful new brothers and sisters. There were silent film stars, an elderly woman who claimed to have slept with every famous man in France, but only the famous ones, and a charming, recently discharged naval officer about Jack’s age, named L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard made a strong impression. He was witty, and had amazing stories about his overseas adventures. He and Parsons quickly became great friends. ‘We are great friends!’ Parsons wrote to Crowley. ‘He is a gentleman; honest and intelligent.’ Parsons believed that Hubbard had tremendous potential for training in Magick.
Hubbard was down with that. He was also down for hooking up with Parsons’ girlfriend Sara—and the two became a steady item. ‘I just find him more attractive, sexually,’ Sara told Parsons, ‘you get it.’ He sort of got it. It was totally consistent with his precious principles of free love, so it was okay… but now that he had to watch his friend making out with his girlfriend, he struggled with the concept. ‘What’s happening is good,’ he mused, ‘but also, I hate it.’
Recognising that these were mere petty jealousies, Parsons conducted a black magic ritual to make him and Ron best friends again. He felt much better after that, even asking Hubbard to come in with him on a special project: summoning a god.
Not just any god—the best-looking one. Her name was Babylon, and in Thelemic cosmology she is the Consort of Chaos, guardian of the Abyss and the Sacred Whore who is the Mistress of All. ‘Wouldn’t it be rather nifty if we summoned her into this mortal realm,’ Parsons said, ‘and then I made love to her?’
‘Well, OK,’ said Hubbard, ‘Cool beans.’
The ritual began at nine p.m. Parsons was to perform the ceremony, while Hubbard, in the role of the Scribe, would take minutes and action points.
Parsons inscribed a piece of parchment with Enochian symbols and planetary signs. With a consecrated dagger, he traced a pentagram in the air, and recited the Invocation of the Bornless One:
Thee I invoke, the Bornless One
Thee, that didst create the Earth and the Heavens
Thee, that didst create the Night and the Day
Thee, that didst create the Darkness and the Light.
Then, Parsons recited the Third Key:
I am the circle on whose hands stand twelve Kingdoms. Six are the seats of living breath: the rest are sharp sickles, or the horns of death. Wherein the creatures of earth are, and are not, except in mine own hands; which sleep and shall rise!
Hubbard’s pen flew furiously. Next, Parsons spoke the Secret Name of God over the parchment and traced seven hexagrams in the air, crying:
He who cries aloud in the place of desolation! He whose voice seems to have wings! He who sits upon the holy throne!
And ritual was almost complete, but there remained one last step: Parsons masturbated onto the parchment and Hubbard made a note of this.
‘Is it done?’ Hubbard asked.
‘No, we must do that at least seven more times,’ said Parsons, cleaning himself off. ‘Let us rest before we begin again.’
So, they repeated all of that for the next eleven nights. ‘Now,’ said Parsons, ‘we just sit back and wait.’
But nothing happened, and Parsons became listless and depressed. Hubbard attempted to lift Parsons’ spirits, and refocus him on more productive matters, by coming to him with a business proposition: a new company, to be formed by the two of them and Sara, called Allied Enterprises. The concept behind it was simple: buy boats on the East Coast, and transport them to California, where they would be sold at a mark-up. ‘Well, it’s no masturbating onto a piece of paper,’ thought Parsons, ‘but what is?’ He put his underwear back on, shook Hubbard’s hand, and invested the bulk of his Aerojet buy-out: twenty thousand dollars.
It was just the kick in the pants Parsons needed to get out of the house and re-enter the business world, where he had previously found such tremendous success. And it might have worked, except for one thing: Babylon showed up.
She knocked on the door in February 1946. As described in the texts, she had red hair, green eyes, and was attractive: ‘It worked!’ cried Parsons. ‘You’re the elemental form of the Consort of Chaos whom I commanded to enter this world by masturbating!’
‘No,’ she said, ‘my name is Marjorie, I know some of your old colleagues from the rocket science industry, who told me about the OTO, and I thought I’d see for myself.’
Parsons didn’t need to listen, he knew who she was. And once Marjorie understood what was going on, she was into it.
‘I have my elemental!’ Parsons wrote to Crowley. ‘She turned up one night after the conclusion of the Operation, and she has been with me since.’ Parsons didn’t want to waste any time. They made love constantly. Parsons believed that if she conceived, she would give birth to a Moonchild, into which great Babylon would reincarnate. The Moonchild, it was prophesied in Crowley’s writings, would be mightier than all the kings of earth. Pretty soon, she was pregnant, and Parsons was feeling good. He’d invented the rocket engine, summoned a goddess, and then impregnated her all before he was 35!
‘I have been in direct touch,’ Parsons bragged to Crowley in a letter, ‘with the One who is most Holy and Beautiful, mentioned in The Book of the Law.’
But Parsons’ mentor was baffled. ‘You what? Jog on, mate, you’re mental.’ It was all a bit too much for Crowley; now a 70-year-old man with bronchitis who didn’t want to keep getting all these long letters about how enthusiastically Jack Parsons was masturbating.
Nobody else at the lodge seemed to believe in Parsons either, they thought he’d totally lost it. Eventually, Parsons retired from all official lodge business so as to focus on his sex magic with Marjorie.
Apart from her, the only voice that was really a comfort in those times was that of L. Ron Hubbard.
Then, Hubbard and Sara disappeared. Along with all of Allied Enterprises’ money, which was all of Parsons’ money. Parsons wasn’t too concerned until word got back to him that Hubbard and Sara had used all the money to buy a boat for themselves, and that they intended to set sail from Miami for adventures in China.
Parsons couldn’t let the betrayal stand. He wouldn’t allow it. He followed them to the Miami docks, where he found that, in fact, they hadn’t used the money to buy a boat—they’d used it to buy three boats. One of them had just sailed, and was out in the Atlantic, with Hubbard and Sara aboard. He’d barely missed them.
He had lost everything—Aerojet, his career, his position in the OTO, Sara, Crowley, Hubbard, and all of his money. He was a loser. There was no other way to look at it: from one of the greatest rocket scientists in the world, he had reduced himself to huddling in a dark room with a cape, masturbating and chanting nonsense.
But he wouldn’t give up. And perhaps on that Miami dock, he found strength in the words that his mentor, Aleister Crowley, had made famous:
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
No, Hubbard and Sara would not escape, not if Parsons had anything to say about it. He checked into a Miami hotel room, where he called upon the one friend he could always rely upon in times of darkness: the forces of magic. He consecrated a circle, and beseeched the demon Bartzabel for aid. Bartzabel, the demon prince of Mars, who could raise storms.
‘Can you hear me, Bartzabel?’ Parsons cried into the aether. ‘It’s me, Jack Parsons!’
He ordered the demon to scour the Atlantic with his black claws and send Hubbard and Sara back to shore.
He waited, and waited, for it to work.
And it did.
Hubbard, looking over the bow of the boat, saw a fierce squall bearing down upon them. There was nothing he could do. The waves ripped the sails from the craft, and he was forced to set a course back to port.
The boat returned to Miami, where he waited. His hands in the pockets of a black trench coat, its tails flapping in the electric air. Jack Parsons, master of the dark arts... and Rocket Man.
That was Something True, a podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby, with artwork by Ray Chen. Music credits can be found in the description and on our website at somethingtrue.net. Thank you so much for joining us for this series of Something True. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it on iTunes, leave us a review, tell your friends, or get in touch with us on twitter @atruepodcast. And we hope to see you again… IN HISTORY—[frankly embarrassed guffaw] Oh, fuck it.