Jack Parsons (1914-52) was a rocketry pioneer, a science fiction fan and a deeply committed occult follower of the aged Aleister Crowley. I recently read the 2004 edition of John Carter’s biography of the man, Sex and Rockets. The Occult World of Jack Parsons.
Despite such promising material, it’s not a very engaging or well-written book. It’s largely about rocketry and occultism, but neither field is contextualised very well. There’s lots of detail but not much in the way of a bigger picture. And Carter equivocates in his attitude to occultism. Sometimes he seems to believe in it, sometimes he makes fun of it, but he misses no opportunity to reproduce swaths of ceremonial babblings dreamed up by Crowley and Parsons. I’m not interested in what spells they chanted or whom they buggered (“strictly for magical reasons, my dear, I promise”). I want to know what they thought it would accomplish and what other people thought about them for it.
Occultism is exceptionally silly. Picture a robed Jack Parsons chanting Crowleyan invocations and masturbating onto a piece of parchment for several days while L. Ron Hubbard (as occult secretary) watches, takes notes and occasionally fakes cryptic messages From Beyond.
Hubbard was a con man. Eight months into his acquaintance with Parsons, the future founder of Scientology tired of humouring Parsons’s supernatural beliefs and disappeared with his host’s considerable savings and young girlfriend, the future Mrs. Hubbard.
This phrase from Parsons’s account of a vision he had in 1948 shows that he’d been reading Lovecraft: ”… went into the sunset … and into the night past accursed and desolate places and cyclopean ruins, and so came at last to the City of Chorazin. And there a great tower of Black Basalt was raised, that was part of a castle whose further battlements ruled over the gulf of stars.”
All in all Parsons comes across as a sad figure who bloomed early as a brilliant engineer and then got mired in occult confusion and deception.