Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
John Whiteside Parsons
(Rocket Science and Magick)
Written and compiled by George Knowles
John Whiteside Parsons (also known as Jack, but born Marvel Whiteside Parsons) was an American rocket fuel developer at the University of Southern California Institute of Technology (Caltech). His research was central to the United States early rocket programs in the 1930s and '40s, most notably in the development of space-capable rocket fuels and the invention of Jet-assisted Take-off Units (JATO) for military aircraft during WWII. Parsons was also a keen occultist with a particular interest in the works of the infamous Aleister Crowley, and later headed the Agape Lodge in Los Angeles, Crowley’s main lodge of the “Ordo Templi Orientis” (O.T.O.) in America.
Parsons was the second child born to Marvel H. Parsons, a wealthy real estate developer in Springfield, Massachusetts, while his mother Ruth Virginia (nee´ Whiteside) was the daughter of the President of the Stevens-Duryea Auto Co in Springfield. His parents were married in Springfield 1912, but sadly their first child was stillborn. Devastated by their loss they moved to California in an effort to put the tragedy behind them. Two years later on the 02nd October 1914 their second child “Marvel Whiteside Parsons” (named after his father) was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
Initially living in downtown Los Angeles, an area susceptible to the vices of a newly evolving City, after the birth of their son they moved to a more respectable area at 2401 Romeo Street. However, far from cementing their marriage, as the name of the Street would suggest, Ruth learned that while she was pregnant and throughout the birth of her son, her husband had been carrying on an illicit affair with a local prostitute. Distraught by his infidelity, Ruth forced him out of their home and later divorced him on grounds of adultery. Thereafter so as not to be reminded of his treachery, she refused to call her son Marvel and always referred to him as John (later he would prefer to be called Jack, the surname he is now most commonly known by).
Ruth’s wealthy parents Walter Hunter Whiteside (by then retired) and his wife Carrie also relocated to California to be closer to their daughter and help raise their grandson. They bought and moved into a sprawling mansion at 537 Orange Grove Avenue, an area in Pasadena commonly referred to as Millionaire Row. Here young Parsons was raised in the lap of luxury waited on by two English servants and cared for by his doting mother and grandparents. Despite this, Parsons remained a solitary child content to spend his time daydreaming and reading books on Mythology, Arthurian legends and early issues of Amazing Stories (a pulp Science Fiction magazine devoted to fantasy space-age travel).
Amazing Stories Quarterly, Spring 1928 - Amazing Stories, April 1932
Initially privately tutored, in 1926 Parsons began his formal education at Washington Junior High School, but away from his pampered home life he was dealt a severe dose of reality. Most of the kids at school, many from less privileged families, detested the rich kid with his airs and graces and took every opportunity to ridicule and bully him. However, he was fortunate in that he soon formed a lasting friendship with fellow pupil Edward S. Forman. Forman was the son of an impoverished farmer who had moved to Pasadena to find work as an electrical engineer. Having led a rough and tumble life, Forman was more than capable of keeping the bullies at bay, he was also bright and intelligent and shared Parsons enthusiasm for Science Fiction.
Three years later in 1929 both boys moved to Pasadena’s John Muir High School, by which time they had started experimenting with homemade rockets. Using balsa wood, cardboard and duck tape to fashion crude rockets; they scraped black powder out of fireworks in attempts to launch them from the back garden of his grandfather’s home. Later they made small-motorized rockets and experimented with various petrochemical fuels to launch them from a deserted area of the Arroyo Seco Canyon.
Parsons with Edward S. Forman
Sadly however, the Parsons family fortunes began to change. Just before the famous Wall Street crash of 1929, his grandfather had invested heavily in Pasadena real estate and built a new and expensive mansion house at 285 North San Rafael Avenue, but as the recession set in and property prices began to fall, so too did his wealth and health. He died in July 1931 leaving Parsons the beneficiary of the new house, but with little left of his fortune to maintain it.
In the meantime Parsons had left the John Muir High School to complete his formal education at the University School, a private and expensive all-boys school in Pasadena, further depleting the family fortune. To help ease the burden on their expenses, he took a part-time job working for the Hercules Powder Company (a manufacturer of explosives) in Los Angeles, while his mother Ruth Parsons also took a job as a shop assistant back in the hated downtown area of Los Angeles.
After graduating from University School in the summer of 1933, but no longer able to maintain and keep their luxury home, Parsons moved his mother and grandmother into a smaller house in Pasadena. Meanwhile he continued working part-time at the Hercules Powder Company and was quickly developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of chemicals, compounds and explosives. He had also maintained his friendship with Ed Forman, and when time allowed they continued to experiment with rockets in the Arroyo Seco Canyon.
In the autumn of 1933, Parsons used the last of his grandfather’s fortune to enrol at the Pasadena Junior College, there hoping to earn a degree in Chemistry and Physics, which in turn would gain him entry into Stanford University or Berkeley. Sadly it was not to be, for after just one term he was forced to drop out, his family fortune had run out and he could no longer afford to continue. He was fortunate in one respect however, in that he had so impressed the management of the Hercules Powder Company that he was offered a full time job at their main manufacturing plant in Pinole.
In 1935 as Parsons and Ed Forman continued their rocket experiments in the Arroyo Seco Canyon, through a contact at USC (the University of Southern California) they were introduced to Frank J. Malina, a postgraduate student in Mechanical Engineering from Texas who shared their enthusiasm for Rocketry. After explaining their experiments, Malina was able to persuaded Professor Theodore von Karman the director of Caltech’s Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory to set up a special “Rocket Research Project”. Karman also provided them with facilities in which to continue their experiments.
Frank J. Malina - Professor Theodore von Karman
In the meantime, in April 1935, Parsons married his first wife Helen Parsons (nee Northrup). They had met a year earlier at a local church dance and were married in April 1935 at the Little Church of the Flowers, Forest Lane Memorial Park, Glendale, before taking a brief honeymoon in San Diego.
Back at the university a new research laboratory was quickly set up on campus, and while Malina provided the scientific and mathematical data required for Caltech’s support, Ed Foreman began to develop ever more sophisticated and powerful engines. Parsons for his part continued to experiment with chemicals and explosives in efforts to develop a stable rocket fuel. However one such experiment resulted in the near destruction of the laboratory, after which they were dubbed the “Suicide Squad” and expelled from the campus back to the Arroyo Seco Canyon, a safer place to continue with their experiments.
After much trial and error, Parsons finally found the elusive fuel they needed by combining a mixture of Potassium Perchlorate with roofing tar. This led to the development of Rocket Jet-assisted Take-off Units (JATO), which when fitted to a military aircraft give it the extra boosting power they needed to win World War II. The success of the JATO units led to the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a company that in 1943 evolved into the Aerojet Engineering Corporation, the country’s first government-sanctioned Rocket Company and the early forerunner of the United States “NASA Space Program”.
Despite his lack of a University education, Parsons soon became acknowledged as Caltech’s leading expert on explosives. As such in 1938 he was called upon to give expert testimony in a celebrated State prosecution murder trial. A Captain Earle E. Kynette and Lieutenants Roy Allen and Fred Browne of the Los Angeles Police Department were accused of murdering a vice squad officer called Harry Raymond by placing a pipe bomb in his car. Raymond had been investigating political corruption within the police department and was about to expose them. The trial lasted several months and made headline news in all the national newspapers. As a result of Parsons expert testimony all three were found guilty and convicted for the murder.
Parsons with a mock replica of the pipe bomb used in the killing.
In 1942 Parsons father Marvel H. Parsons died and bequeathed him another huge mansion at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena. However his progress with rocket fuel and the newly formed JPL Company had yet to yield any real monetary success and he could little afford to maintain such a large home on his own. He therefore converted the home into a boarding house with 11 individual apartments to rent. Much to the anguish of his snobbish neighbours he then placed an advert in the local paper stating: “Only bohemian musicians, artists, atheists and anarchists need apply”. Nicknamed “The Parsonage”, the house was soon filled with a variety of oddball scientists, writers, artists and other eccentrics, among them Nieson Himmel (a journalist), Robert Cornog (a physicist), and L. Ron Hubbard (the author and future founder of Scientology).
Nieson Himmel - Robert Cornog - L. Ron Hubbard
By this time Parsons was also delving into the occult practises of Thelema, a magical system pioneered by the infamous Aleister Crowley. Earlier on the 15th February 1941, he and his wife Helen had been initiated into the Agape Lodge No 2 of the Church of Thelema in Los Angeles, then the base of Crowley’s magical Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Parsons quickly rose through the ranks of the OTO and on the authority of Crowley himself, in 1943 took over its leadership from Wilfred Talbot Smith.
Wilfred Talbot Smith was an expatriate Englishman who had met Crowley during his visit to Canada (1915-1919), at which time Crowley formed his first OTO lodge in Vancouver, leaving it under the leadership of Charles Stansfeld Jones. In 1930 Smith moved from Canada to California and there opened a new lodge “the Agape Lodge No 2” at 1746 North Winona Boulevard, Los Angeles, which thereafter became the main lodge of the OTO in America.
Charles Stansfeld Jones - Wilfred T. Smith - Aleister Crowley
After gaining control of the Agape Lodge, The Parsonage became the main meeting place for OTO members and attracted many visitors. Meetings and rituals conducted at the Parsonage were often followed by noisy all night parties in which sex, drugs and alcohol was in equal supply. This in turn caused much consternation among his more conservative neighbours who could little understand their goings on. Soon rumours of black magic orgies, animal sacrifices and other strange activities began to circulate, but despite frequent raids by the police, nothing sinister was found to be taking place.
Secretly however, there was much going on that would have raised eyebrows in polite society. Parsons had begun an illicit affair with his wife’s sister Sara Elizabeth Northrup (aka Betty, then just 17-year-old), while at the same time his own wife Helen was having an affair with Talbot Smith to whom she birthed a son Kwen Lanval Parsons. Shortly after in 1943, Parsons and his wife divorced and she married Talbot Smith who was later ousted from the OTO by none other than Aleister Crowley in England. Parsons in the meantime continued his affair with Betty as well as other female members of the OTO.
Sara Elizabeth Northrup – Helen Parsons and Wilfred Talbot Smith
By this time through his work with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and later the Aerojet Engineering Corporation who had gained major sales contracts with the military to supply JATO units during the progress of WWII, Parsons was once again a fairly wealthy man. However the main executive management of Aerojet was made up of academic’s from Caltech, and they had little time for the uneducated Parsons, indeed they viewed his libertine playboy lifestyle and occult associations with sceptism.
In December 1944 just before the end of World War II, Aerojet management negotiated the sale of 51% of the company stock to the General Tire and Rubber Company, but would only agree to the sale on the condition that Parsons and his old friend Ed Forman were removed from the company. Parsons who didn’t see much of a future in rocket fuel without a war, and as money was no longer a big priority for him, agreed to leave the company and sold his stock for $11,000. However he was still considered the leading expert in rocket fuel development in US and so retained a high level of security clearance working for various companies as a consultant.
In the meantime Parsons continued his OTO activities at the Parsonage and formed a magical partnership with fellow member L. Ron Hubbard (who by this time was also having an affair with his sister-in-law girlfriend Sara Northrup (aka Betty). Together they began working on the now famous series of rituals known as “The Babalon Workings”. In these he planned to invoke a “divine feminine elemental” that would usher in a new age of liberty signalling the end of the Christian era with its outmoded morality.
Parsons later declared the Babalon workings to have been successful when one night in February 1946, shortly after the conclusion of the workings, a friend of an OTO member “Marjorie Cameron” turned up at the Parsonage. On seeing her for the first time Parsons immediately recognized her as the personification of Babalon and wasted no time in getting to know her. Initially Cameron took no interest in Parsons beliefs and occult practices, but he persisted and maintained that she had an important destiny. Later that year on the 19th October 1946, Parsons and Cameron married at the San Juan Capistrano courthouse in Orange County, witnessed by his long time friend Ed Forman.
Marjorie Cameron - Jack and Marjorie Parsons
In the following year 1947, Parsons attempted to form a new company called “Allied Enterprises” with his magical partner L. Ron Hubbard and his former sister-in-law girlfriend Sara Northrup. Together they planned to buy and sell luxury boats in Florida. The venture was mainly funded by Parsons who perhaps gullibly, invested a large portion of his new-found wealth, $21,000 against just $1,100 contributed by Hubbard. Shortly after Hubbard and Sara, who he later bigamously married before divorcing his first wife, disappeared to Florida taking the bulk of Parsons money with them but with no intention of returning. Later Parsons discovered that Hubbard did buy three boats and sued him for the misappropriation of funds. Hubbard was ordered to give Parsons two of the boats and repay the rest of his money, but Hubbard never did repay his debt.
Down on his luck and once again short of funds, disheartened and disillusioned Parsons returned to Pasadena and resigned from the Ordo Templi Orientis. He had also decided to sell “The Parsonage”, which was proving a drain on his remaining finances. He and his wife then moved into rented rooms above a garage on the Cruikshank Estate in South Orange Grove, Manhattan Beach.
By this time Parsons was still working as a consultant for various local aircraft companies including the North American Aviation Company and Hughes Aircraft. While at Hughes Aircraft he was also working on a project with Israel to design and build a jet-propulsion factory. However and to help with his reseach, he was caught using his high level security clearances to access and take home confidential documents. Military security was called in to investigate and suspecting espionage, the FBI was also called in to investigate his earlier association with Wernher Von Braun in Germany. Before the start of WWII, Parsons had been an enthusiastic cross-Atlantic telephone friend with Braun during his efforts to develop a stable rocket fuel.
Wernher Von Braun
Wernher Von Braun (23/03/1912 - 16/06/1977) was the German rocket scientist credited with inventing the V-2 ballistic missile for Nazi Germany. He was one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in WWII Germany and reputedly a member of the Nazi Party and the SS. Later after the war ended, he was responsible for creating the Saturn-V rockets for the United States. Today in USA he is considered by NASA to be the “Father of Rocket Science.”
This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Parsons for the threat of communism was hanging heavy across America and the “McCarthy witchhunts” were beginning to heat up. While charges of espionage were never raised against Parsons, it was later revealed that the documents he had been collating were not particularly secret and should have been declassified after the war, but the harm had been done and he was stripped of all his security clearances. As a result he could no longer work in the US rocket industry and to make ends meet was reduced to mundane work such as pumping gas at a local filling stations and occasionally designing explosive special effects for Hollywood films. But as was his nature, in the garage of his rented home where he had stored a vast collection of chemicals and componds, he continued to experiment with explosives.
On the 17th June 1952 while rushing to fulfill a special effects order for a new Hollywood film, an explosion at his home rocked the neighborhood and was heard as far away as a mile. According to the later police reports they say: Parsons dropped a concoction of fulminate of mercury blowing off his right arm, breaking his other arm and both legs and leaving a gaping hole in his jaw. Apparently he survived the initial blast but died 45 minutes later shortly after arriving at the hospital. He was just 38 years old. His devoted mother Ruth who lived nearby, on hearing of the death of her son took a fatal overdose of Nembutal sleeping pills in order to join him in the afterlife.
Parsons legacy includes many patents for liquid and solid fuel products for rockets and a exhibit of one of his solid fuel motors is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1972 a crater, appropriately on the dark side of Moon, called “Parsons Crater” was named in his honour, yet still in most histories about NASA and the early beginnings of US space explorations, his name is hardly ever mentioned.
Freedom Is a Two-Edged Sword by John Whiteside Parsons, Edited by Marjorie Cameron and Hymenaeus Beta (on-line 1976 Edition Edited by C.R. Runyon)
Three Essays on Freedom by John Whiteside Parsons (2008). With an Introduction by Hymenaeus Beta (The Teitan Press) also includes: The Collected Writings of Jack Parsons:
Book of Babalon
Book of Antichrist
Birth of Babalon (poem)
are the Witchcraft
Woman Girt with a Sword
The Manifesto of the AntiChrist
The surviving fragments of Parsons Babalon Working are now the property of the OTO. Parsons second wife Marjorie Cameron holds the copyright to Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword.
Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendel (Harcourt 2005)
Plus to many others to mention
Best wishes and Blessed Be
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The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
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In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder
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Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Henry Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Olivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / Walter Ernest Butler / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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