Season 2, Episode 6: “Jack Parsons: The Devil and the Divine”
Directed by Alice Troughton
Written by Sean Crouch
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Mary Webster: The Witch of Hadley” – click here
This episode dives into the weird and wild true story of John Whiteside Parsons a.k.a Jack Parsons, whose interest in chemistry, rocket propulsion, and Aleister Crowley‘s cult religion Thelema all made him one hell of an interesting dude. Jack is also the focus of the new CBS series, Strange Angel, starring Jack Reynor— you can find recaps + reviews here.
We open in 1952, June 17th. In Pasadena, California, Jack Parsons (Josh Bowman) was trying to “solve the mysteries of the universe” in his garage experimenting on chemicals. But he’d been doing that since he was eight years old, “summoning demons” and other occult shit. This is the man who created the first rockets made to explore space. In the ’50s, and a little earlier, his ideas were those of science fiction to others. Only until he was able to put them in action.
In 1936, Jack was in the desert testing one of his rockets, along with Edward Foreman (Ryan Sampson) and Frank Malina (Brian Caspe). They were busy debating names to call space explorers, such as “space sailors,” “cosmos travellers,” and “cosmonauts.” Nobody was as sure as Mr. Parsons that these tests would, eventually, prove successful. They were doing these tests under the nose of Cal Tech, where they got the siphoned off the materials necessary.
“Looks like an angel”
Jack was inspired by childhood heroes like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Jules Verne to go on to be the visionary rocketeer he became as an adult. A steady diet of science fiction and real life in equal doses helped him feed his quest for knowledge. We get lots of historical information about Parsons and his trajectory, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and his relationship to Theodore von Kármán. The lab specifically was where things really took off. He and the lads were dubbed as the infamous Suicide Squad because of their daring experimentation. And Jack’s strange ways of doing things – his “spellcraft” – wasn’t working for his partners, who found it childish and silly. He was insistent that magick was the key. Ever since he was a boy, he knew magick and science was one and the same.
At a certain point, Jack started writing to Aleister Crowley (Ian Gelder) — “The Wickedest Man in the World.” Crowley had started the religion and spiritual philosophy, Thelema. This involved ceremonies, rituals, and sex magick. People assumed he was worshipping the devil. At twenty-four, Jack chose “sex over cannibalism” and converted from Catholicism into the Thelema order. Parsons and Crowley never met, though they corresponded often via letters. The Great Beast himself helped Jack see finding his “Scarlet Woman” he saw during the rocket’s explosion was a key to manifesting his will in the world.
So Jack went back to the desert with nothing but magick and blood and drugs. He sought out the woman of his visions, tripping on hallucinogenic substances until the answers came to him. Later, in 1945, Jack’s polyamory and his differently lifestyle made people uncomfortable, so he was pushed out of JPL.
“God & science— make up your mind.”
One day, Jack met a woman called Marjorie Cameron (Alicia Witt), an artist. He saw an image in her sketchbook like one he witnessed drawn in the sand in the desert, from his drug trip. The two fell into bed together, and he saw her as his goddess, his Scarlet Woman with her fiery red hair and all. She became his muse. Although she wasn’t content being some component of the male gaze, she had her own dreams. She was a Navy woman, an artist, and an actress.
Jack was paying the bills blowing things up in Hollywood, getting no further along with conjuring his demon again and proving his rockets could fly. He continued as leader of the Agape Lodge in California for Crowley, conducting blood ceremonies – like the consumption of the “Cake of Light” – and he brought Marjorie deeper into their religion’s spiritual pursuits. She wasn’t as thrilled with it as him. He kept seeing her as a tool, oblivious to her wants, her needs, and her fears. This forced her to finally leave him.
Everything Jack had was gone. He was rejected by everybody and every institution of which he was a part. Although the magick continued calling. He unravelled, throwing himself deeper into his pursuit. He was able to get stronger, better chemicals to experiment with because of his Hollywood work. This didn’t help him. He blew himself up, resulting in brutal injury, losing a limb, needing an amputation, and generally leaving him in tatters. Jack believed when he was eight it was himself he conjured, a vision of his bloody death. He was the demon.
“It didn’t work out in this body, this life.”
Jack Parsons has been an interest of mine for a little while, so between Strange Angel and Lore, Father Gore’s had lots to enjoy in 2018! This is a stellar episode, digging deep into the man’s weirdo life. There’s so much more to explore, so make sure to check out some of the linked material.
Let’s hope Season 3 will be on the way in another year’s time.