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.
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.)
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.
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.