Sex-Cult Rocket Man

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John “Jack” Whiteside Parsons’s life seems too improbable to be believed. But it’s all there in the biographies, Sex and Rockets and Strange Angel (the basis of a TV series of the same name), among other places, including a streaming series based on Strange Angel.

Born in 1914, Parsons died in 1952 while working on an explosive special effect for a movie in his home laboratory. The explosion has been called an accident, a suicide, or an assassination, depending on the source. An obituary in the Pasadena Independent described Parsons as “a down-to-earth explosives expert who dabbled in necromancy.” More recently, the New York Post went with: “this sex-crazed cultist was the father of modern rocketry.”

Well, not the only father. And, as all this happened in southern California, surely not the only sex-crazed cultist.

Swedish professor of religious studies Henrik Bogdan explores what Parsons was up to in January 1946, when he attempted to conjure up “Babalon,” the Thelemic goddess of female sexuality.

Parsons’s partner for what he called the “Babalon Working” was his housemate, a science fiction writer and fellow occultist named Ron Hubbard. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard, who was still several years away from founding the Church of Scientology. The Church says that Hubbard was acting undercover to subvert Parsons’s black magic and rescue a “girl,” Sara “Betty” Northrup, from Parson’s clutches. Northrup, Parson’s sister-in-law and lover, became Hubbard’s second wife.

Spoiler alert: the Babalon Working didn’t re-order the universe, though Parsons spent the next five weeks in bed with his new lover, an ex-Navy WAVES member named Marjorie Cameron, in an effort to spawn the goddess. Cameron and Parson wed in late 1946, and after his death, she “would identify herself with Babalon for the rest of her life.”

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