By Aaron Deese
In the latter half of the 19th century human beings would break the proverbial bonds of gravity. We would hurl ourselves into the atmosphere, eventually planting flags on the moon, sending six-wheeled rovers to mars, and even transmitting a sort of “personal ad” to hypothetical alien civilizations via unmanned craft. Today space is accessible to (highly wealthy and well connected) tourists, while just over half a century ago the thought of leaving planet earth was regarded as laughable.
Many brilliant, enterprising individuals contributed to this great work.
One of them would go largely forgotten by much of the world due to the outlandish nature of his personal life, and his scientific contributions are still generally unacknowledged (or more accurately, unknown) by the world at large.
Parsons with a replica of an explosive device used in a criminal investigation
Jack Parsons was born in 1914 in Pasadena California to parents Ruth Whiteside and Marvel Parsons. His given name at birth was Marvel Whiteside Parsons. He was often called John Parsons, but is widely known today as Jack Parsons. Jack was born into wealth, and performed poorly for a time in school due to what historians now believe may have been undiagnosed dyslexia. Very early in life he discovered a love of the paranormal, and at the age of 12 he claimed to have summoned an actual demon while performing ancient and forbidden rites. He was fascinated by the concept of real magick, and would spend a good chunk of his short life as an acolyte of Aleister Crowley. Crowley, the well known occultist and founder of the order of the Order of Thelema, warrants greater research and discussion which we do not have space for within the body of this article.
As an adult, Jack was an avid practitioner of “sex magick,” which we will not examine in any great detail, but suffice to say is likely exactly what you think it is. He was heavily invested in a sequence of magickal rituals referred to as the “Babalon Working,” (the misspelling of Babylon was intentional) which incorporated many Themelic elements and also involved the use of hallucinogenics.
Jack was also a friend – and purported lover – of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. In a bizarre twist, Hubbard and Parsons would be close associates for a number of years, but would later have a falling out which involved a love triangle, a stolen boat, massive financial fraud and ended in a crescendo with Parsons allegedly using his magickal powers to summon a hurricane off the Eastern coast of Florida.
Outlandish, perhaps unbelievable and eccentric attributes aside, Parsons was a brilliant scientist. He, along with fellow rocket pioneer Frank Malina and others, would invent fuels and other chemical compounds which would eventually allow human beings to leave planet earth and enter outer space. When he was much younger, Parsons regularly corresponded with such noted scientists as Hermann Oberth, Robert H. Goddard and Wernher von Braun (as if Parsons' story needed any more intrigue, Wernher von Braun was quietly recruited from Nazi Germany by the United States after World War II as a part of the now declassified Operation Paperclip.)
In 1936, Parsons helped to found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is currently owned by NASA and operates to this day. In the 2000s JPL primarily works in the field of robotic devices for use in outer space, but in Parsons' day they were instrumental in getting earth-built rockets off of the ground. It is interesting to note that JPL could also easily be an acronym for “Jack Parsons Laboratory,” and rumor has it that it was anecdotally referred to by this name on more than one occasion. It can easily be argued that the course of the Space Race would have gone very differently were it not for Parsons and his “Suicide Squad” - so called because the chemicals they were working with were untested and extremely dangerous.
Jack with the notorious "Suicide Squad"
In an sadly ironic twist of fate, one such compound would eventually result in Parsons' death. One day, hard at work in his home laboratory on pyrotechnic effects for the film industry – another area in which he was a pioneer – Parsons was literally blown to pieces in an accidental explosion. While he survived he initial blast, he would soon die of his wounds at the tragically young age of 37 in 1952.
Speculation surrounding his death abounds to this day. Even though the police ruled Parsons' death an accident, many contemporary and modern researchers have argued that it may have been the result of murder or suicide. Was Parsons depressed over the loss of his life savings and his separation from the Order of Thelema? Was he unable to reconcile himself from the loss of his beloved Scarlet Woman, Marjorie Cameron? Did someone in his tumultuous and colorful past bear a murderous vendetta against him? Did the government eliminate him due to his knowledge of secret information?
Perhaps this should have been mentioned at the outset, but Jack Parsons (for a time) had a valid government security clearance and worked on projects supervised by Wright Patterson Airbase.
Wright Patterson is another topic which bears greater research, but one popular story about the base is that at least some of the debris and alleged bodies recovered in the UFO crash at Roswell – which actually took place 90 miles from Roswell in the town of Corona – were taken to Wright Patterson and are stored there to this day in a secret facility known as “Hanger 18.” While this proves nothing, it is at least of interest to note that Parsons had connections to a facility rumored to be key in the narrative of the Roswell case. One could wander down the rabbit hole of speculation and guess that perhaps Parsons was in possession of Roswell-related materials and/or information at the time of his death. After all, the Roswell incident occurred in 1947; Parsons died in 1952 (this theory is not supported by any hard evidence and is a purely fantastical and tangential imagining on the part of the writer).
A JPL publicity photo with Parsons cropped out
Parsons has also left an impression on pop culture. The Amazon adaptation of Aaron Mahnke's popular podcast Lore features an episode about Parsons, and CBS ran a drama series about Parsons' life called Strange Angel for two seasons. In addition, the first episode of the popular podcast Tanis provides an overview of Parsons life, and connects his activities to the fictional Tanis narrative. The popular David Lynch series Twin Peaks has also seen Parsons written into its mythos. Jack is also the subject of other fictional and biographical adaptations.
There is much, much more to say about Parsons. He was a business man, writer, artist, ran a boarding house, and was party to numerous personal scandals which would – unfortunately - define his legacy after his death. Through a modern lens his personal activities may still be considered outlandish, eccentric and even immoral depending upon the perspective of the individual, but his scientific contributions cannot – and should not – be overlooked. In addition, his desire to explore the unknown and discover the hidden truths of the universe can be identified with by any modern paranormal enthusiast, and more importantly, many or most human beings.