From Chapter 8. JACK PARSONS
There is a crater on the dark side of the moon called the “Parsons Crater,” named for the American rocket engineer, chemist, rocket propulsion pioneer, and Thelemite John Whiteside Parsons (1914-1952). Perhaps it’s a stretch, but surrounding the crater are five smaller cavities spaced quite neatly so that if one were to draw connecting lines between them, a near-enough equilateral pentagram would be formed. A coincidence of passing amusement, perhaps, but when considering some of the dramatic headlines that followed Parsons’ death such as “Ventures Into Black Magic By Blast Victim Revealed” and “Slain Scientist Priest In Black Magic Cult,” it should be clear how deep the symbiosis between magic and physics ran in Parsons.
Parsons began reading the works of Crowley around 1935, which was also the year he married Helen Northup, who he had met at a church dance. Crowley fascinated Parsons, not least because Crowley (who majored in chemistry at Cambridge) had been able to present a set of spiritual beliefs that were wholly compatible with physics; Crowley was even able to explain the deep mysteries that existed in the quantum world as part of a magical system. It’s perhaps unsurprising that physicists are often, on a personal level, deeply drawn to the mystical and metaphysical, in spite of a professional adherence to rationale and the scientific method. Parsons, already an outsider in physics, saw no reason to pursue conventional spiritual fulfilment, either.
In 1939 he joined the Hollywood Agape Lodge of the OTO, of which Crowley was still in charge. . . . Parsons took the name Frater T.O.P.A.N., (an acronym of the Latin Thelemum Obtentum Procedero Amoris Nuptiae’ or “The obtainment of will through the nuptials of love”), or Frater 210 for short, and his wife Helen was dubbed Soror Grimaud by the OTO. Parsons made it across the Great Abyss and into the higher echelons of the seventh degree and beyond.
As Parsons made his way through the degrees of the OTO, the United States braced itself for war, a situation that meant considerable increases in the amount of money the government was willing to spend on rocket research. . . . Parsons’ experiments began to advance into discoveries that would shape the entire history of rocketry. He made the first ever American jetassisted take-off (JATO) in August 1941 using a solid fuel. Further funding and tests followed this successful flight, and Parsons set about making himself useful to the war effort by developing a more stable liquid fuel. As he launched various combinations of gasoline and red fuming nitric acid, he would ecstatically recite Crowley’s “Hymn to Pan” as the rockets launched in fiery bursts and exploded in the heavens, to the apprehensive amusement of observers. The GALCIT group discovered the correct combination and were now able to propose the sale of sixty JATO engines to the US Army Air Corps. To do this, Parsons, Forman, and the others formed the Aerojet Engineering Corporation in 1942.
The sale of the engines made Parsons a rich man, and he invested some of his wealth in renting a house that would be able to accommodate his Thelemic activities in comfort. He settled on property at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. The house was enormous, and was built by the philanthropist Arthur Flemming in the style of a Swiss Chalet. It had ten rooms in the main building, plus a three-roomed coach house in the yard, a swimming pool, and twentyfive acres of private gardens and allotments where animals were kept and slaughtered for both food and blood rituals.
Frater T.O.P.A.N and his wife Soror Grimaud began welcoming members of the Agape Lodge to their home to stay and indulge in magical learning and experimentation, and pitch in toward the $100 per month for rent. Parsons filled his room with his collection of ceremonial swords and daggers, a copy of the Stele of Revealing, and a statue of Pan. He built a chemical lab in the garage, entertained guests with science fiction readings in his kitchen, and conducted fairy hunts through the grounds to entertain the children of his OTO friends.
One of the first experiments Parsons undertook was to seduce his wife’s sixteen-year-old sister, Betty, who had also joined the lodge, and the OTO authorities encouraged their sexual exploration. In response, his wife began an affair with one of the many lodgers in their home--the head of the Agape OTO Lodge, Wilfred Smith. In spite of this friction, one of the principle OTO teachings was that jealousy was a base emotion unfitting for the enlightened, and tensions seem to have simmered down quickly, and all four remained friends. Smith became a father figure to Parsons, and Helen stayed on at the house where her husband and younger sister had fallen in love. Free love and sexual experimentation, as well as drugs and magic, were the norm in the big wooden Pasadena house, which became known as “the Parsonage.”
Parsons’ long-time associate Frank Malina’s wife Liljan Wunderman recalled years later that it was, “A big, big thing, full of people. Some of them had masks on, some had costumes on, women were weirdly dressed. It was like walking into a Fellini movie.” The guests included practicing witches, science fiction authors (including a young Ray Bradbury), Thelemites from the Lodge, and even physicists blowing off steam on leave from their hard work on the Manhattan Project.
The neighbors were horrified at the orgies, chanting, and attempts to evoke the Antichrist, and the police were called several times, once due to a naked pregnant woman jumping through fire in the yard. Parsons’ respected position and wealth made it easy for him to deflect the attentions of the local Pasadena cops, but all the while the FBI were building a meticulous file on their wayward rocket scientist.