Jack Parsons and the Real “Suicide Squad”

The Story of a Sorcerous Scientist

On October 2nd of 1914, a boy named Marvel Whiteside Parsons was born in Los Angeles, California. He later came to be known as John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons. Jack came from a very wealthy family. He grew up on Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, otherwise known as “millionaire mile”. The street was lined with extravagant mansions. More to the point, as a result of his privileged upbringing and daring intellect, Jack became a chemist, rocket engineer, and propulsion researcher. He would even go on to become associated with Caltech and was one of the principal founders of both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Aerojet Engineering Corporation. Jack Parsons also invented the first castable, composite rocket propellant. He pioneered the advancement of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel rockets. This was cutting-edge technology at the time. Jack was at the forefront of the field of rocketry. He even invented the propellant technology that was used on the Space Shuttle and in the Minuteman missile. Of course, the thing was that along with having a penchant for physics, Jack Parsons was also a Thelemite occultist who was deeply devoted to Aleister Crowley and his teachings. In 1939 he went to the Church of Thelema on Winona Boulevard, in Hollywood, and witnessed a ceremonial performance of the Gnostic Mass. Shortly thereafter Parsons came to strongly believe in the power of magick. Moreover, he felt that it was a force that could be explained by quantum mechanics. In many ways, Jack was a chemist by day and an alchemist by night. Parsons even went so far as to recite the “Hymn to Pan” prior to every test launch of a new rocket. He made absolutely no distinction between being a scientist and an occultist.

In his youth, Jack was utterly fascinated by stories of supernatural powers, as well as scientific wonders. He once tried to summon the Devil right in his own bedroom. Jack Parsons was more than willing to sell his soul to Satan in order to learn the secrets of the universe. As a boy, Jack dreamed about one day building the first rocket ship that would take men to the Moon. Although at the time, the idea was considered to be nothing more than spectacular science-fiction. Back then most people thought that space travel was impossible, but not Jack. He was a radical visionary thinker. Unfortunately for him, as a result of being a bit of a bookworm and a spoiled brat, Parsons was often bullied in school. He had but one friend, a boy named Edward Forman. They shared a similar passion for sci-fi pulp fiction, plus Ed stood up for Jack on more than one occasion. In 1928 they even went so far as to adopt the Latin motto per aspera ad astrata (through hardship to the stars) at which point they became amateur rocketeers. They soon pockmarked the Arroyo Seco canyon with their dangerously explosive experiments. This is around the time when Jack began using glue as a binding agent for the loose powder in his DIY rockets. Jack’s single-minded passion for building spaceships even distracted him from doing his schoolwork. So, ultimately, Jack’s mother decided to send him to a military boarding school to straighten him out but in typical fashion, Parsons was expelled for blowing up his dormitory toilets.

Although his mother and father had been divorced for quite some time when Jack’s father died in 1931, he and his mother basically lost everything at that point. This was all the more important because Parsons was attending college to study physics and chemistry at the time but he had to drop out because they could no longer afford his tuition. In the end, he was forced to stop attending Stanford University during the Great Depression. Then, in 1934 Jack reunited with his childhood friend Ed Forman and a graduate student named Frank Malina to form the Caltech-affiliated Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory Rocket Research Group (GALCIT) supported by chairman Theodore von Karman. As their experiments got more and more dangerous they had to move out into the desert to an area called the Devil’s Gate Dam. In time they even became known around campus as the “Suicide Squad”. In 1939 the GALCIT Group gained funding from the National Academy of Sciences to work on the Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) project for the US military. Their rocket experiments were the cover story of the August 1940 edition of Popular Mechanics, which discussed the prospect of being able to ascend above Earth’s atmosphere and one day even reach the Moon. Then, in 1942 during WWII they founded Aerojet to develop and sell the technology. In this way, the Suicide Squad became JPL in 1943.

Two years before JPL emerged Jack Parsons and his wife Helen Northrup joined the Agape Lodge, the Californian branch of the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Then, at Aleister Crowley’s bidding, Jack Parsons replaced Wilfred Talbot Smith as its leader in 1942. Parsons ran the Lodge from his mansion on Orange Grove Avenue, otherwise known as the “Parsonage” in Pasadena. In the end, though, Jack was expelled from JPL and Aerojet in 1944 due to the OTO’s rather infamous reputation. Needless to say, the academic community wasn’t happy about working with a drug-addicted sex-crazed sorcerous scientist. They were also really just tired of Parsons’ hazardous workplace conduct. To make matters worse, the following year Jack separated from Helen after having an affair with her sister Sara. Then Sara left Jack for his so-called friend L. Ron Hubbard. Around that time, Jack performed the “Babalon Working” to bring an incarnation of the Thelemic goddess Babalon into his life. In 1946, Jack went out into the Mojave Desert taking down seventy-seven clauses of what came to be known as his Book of Babalon. Then, shortly after he summoned the Scarlet Woman, Jack returned home where he met Marjorie Cameron. She immediately became his new lover. Following that, Hubbard defrauded Parsons of his life savings to start Scientology, and Jack resigned from the OTO. As time went on Jack Parsons tried to keep his childhood dream alive by working as a consultant for the Israeli rocket program, but he was soon accused of espionage and was forced to abandon his lifelong career. Then, at the age of only 37, the enigmatic founder of the Suicide Squad perished in a catastrophic home laboratory explosion. In a death most befitting of a mad scientist, Jack Parsons went out with a bang.

An Eclectic Autodidact Polymath Essayist

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