Bio of Jack W. Parsons (part of )
-= Beloved of Babalon =-
An introduction to J. W. Parsons
Part I of IV
John Whiteside Parsons was born on 2 October 1914 in Los Angeles,
California. His mother and father separated whilst he was quite young
and Parsons said later that this left him with "...a hatred of
authority and a spirit of revolution", as well as an Oedipal
attachment to his mother. He felt withdrawn and isolated as a child,
and was bullied by other children. This gave him, he thought, "...the
requisite contempt for the crowd and for the group mores...".
Parsons was born into a rich family, and sometime in his youth there
was what he referred to as a loss of family fortune. This loss must
only have been a temporary one, though - perhaps caused by the
break-up of the family - since in the 1940's he inherited from his
father a large, Victorian-style mansion in the well-to-do area of
Pasadena. Durring adolescence, Parsons developed an interest in
science, especially physics and chemistry, and in fact he went on to
develop a career as a brilliant scientist in the fields of explosives
and rocket-fuel technology. His achievements as a scientist were such
that the Americans named a lunar crater after him when they came to
claim that territory for their own. Appropriately enough, Crater
Parsons is on the dark side of the moon.
Parsons made contact with the O.T.O. and the A.'.A.'. in December
1938, whilst visiting Agape Lodge of the O.T.O. in California.
He was taken along by one of his fellow scientists. At that time
Agape Lodge used to give weekly performances of the Gnostic Catholic
Mass, seeing this as both a sacrament and a recruiting front. Agape
Lodge was by then a moderately thriving and expanding concern, having
been founded in the mid-1920's by Wilfred T. Smith, an expatriate
Englishman. Smith had many years earlier been an associate of Charles
Stansfield Jones (Frater Achad) in Vancouver, Canada. Crowley seems
to have had, at least to begin with, a high regard for Smith, and
expected great things of him. Over the years, however, he grew
increasingly disillusioned. Crowley felt that the O.T.O. should have
flowered in California, given imaginative leadership. Smith was
simply not capable of delivering, he thought, and perhaps even
deliberately impeding things. By the time that Parsons joined the
Lodge in 1939, together with his wife Helen, relations between Smith
and Crowley were already in terminal decline, and Crowley was casting
around for someone else to take over headship of the Lodge. One of
the items in the Yorke Collection at Warburg Institute is a collection
of over 200 letters exchanged between Crowley and Smith, in which
the steady decline in their relationship is starkly illustrated.
At this time, the Lodge was firmly in the grip of Smith and his
mistress, Regina Kahl. They were very authoritarian, and ruled things
with the proverbial rod of iron. At the weekly performances of the
Mass, Smith was the Priest and Regina Kahl the Priestess. The Parsons
were initiated into the O.T.O. in 1939 and like many entrants of the
time they took up membership of the A.'.A.'. as well. Jack Parsons
took as his motto "Thelema Obtentum Procedero Amoris Nuptiae", an
interestingly hybrid phrase which conveys the intention of attaining
Thelema through the nuptial of love; the initials transliterated into
Hebrew give his Magical Number, 210. He seems to have made quite an
impression on hisfellow members. Jane Wolfe, who had spent some time
with Crowley at Cefalu, was an active member of the Lodge at the time.
The following entry is from her Magical Record during December 1940:
"Unknown to me, John Whiteside Parsons, a newcomer, began astral
travels. This knowledge decided Regina to undertake similar work. All
of which I learned after making my own decision. So the time must be
Incidentally, I take Jack Parsons to be the child who "shall behold
them all" (the mysteries hidden therein. ALI, 54-5).
26 years of age, 6'2", vital, potentially bisexual at the very least,
University of the State of California and Cal Tech., now engaged in
Cal. Tech. chemical labratories developing "bigger and better"
explosives for Uncle Sam. Travels under sealed orders from the
government. Writes poetry - "sensuous only", he says. Lover of music,
which he seems to know throughly. I see him as the real successor
of Therion. Passionate; and has made the vilest analyses result in
a species of exaltation after the event. Has had mystical experiences
which gave him a sense of equality all round, although he is
hierarchical in feeling and in the established order."
Jack Parsons seems to have had something of a reverential attitude
towards Smith, perhaps seeing him as some sort of father figure - the
relationship between them seems to have had that sort of ambiguity.
In later years, he described how he felt an alternate attraction and
repulsion where Smith was concerned; and Smith, whatever his
limitations and faults may have been, was evidently a cherismatic man.
Parsons, for his part, evidently made a strong impression on Smith.
In a letter to Crowley during March 1941, Smith wrote as follows:
"...I think I have at long last a really excellent man, John Parsons.
And starting next Teusday he begins a course of talks with a view to
enlarging our scope. He has an excellent mind and much better
intellect then myself - O yes, I know it would not necessarily have
to be very good to be better than mine...
John Parsons is going to be valuable. I feel sure we are going to
move ahead in spite of Max Schneider's continual efforts to discredit
me. He still exhibits your letters as proof that I am a number one
son of a bitch. I thought you were going to write to tell him to
The last sentences in this quotation throw light on an important
factor in the affairs of Agape Lodge - the turmoil and personal
friction that was a constant emotional backdrop, and which seems
finally to have invalidated all their efforts. The Lodge was
constantly riven by personal feuding and upheaval, and Crowley's
influence over the course of events seems in realitym to have been
marginal. The nucleus of Agape Lodge was some sort of forerunner of
a hippie commune. Apart from anything else, Smith appears to have
regarded the women members of the Lodge as constituting his personal
harem, and of course this added to the friction. Crowley was in
correspondence with many of the members at this time, and seems to
some extent to have encouraged people to tell tales on each other.
No doubt he saw it as a good way of keeping in touch with what was
going on, but it tended to inflame the widespread personal clashes
that were going on. He did try to make openness and honesty a
policy - laying down a rule that if "A" wrote to "B" attacking "C",
then "A" was duty-bound to copy the letter to "C" as a matter of
course. This seems to have happened but rarely, however.
In his attempts to assert his authority over the Lodge generally,
and Smith in particular, Crowley was frustrated by the loyalty -
despite all the bitchiness around - to Smith and Kahl. On the face
of it, he should have been able to exert his authority easily
enough. Karl Germer, his trusted right-hand man, was in New York;
whilst his colleague from the Cefalu days - Jane Wolfe - was a
member of the Lodge. Jane Wolfe was the same age as Crowley, but she
was very weak and indecisive. Reading about the course of the Agape
Lodge during the 1930's and 1940's is a bewildering experience. The
whole thing, despite the glamour that time and mystery now lend it,
seems to have been a mess. It is as well for us to bear in mind that
Jack Parsons - his obvious gifts notwithstanding - was part of this
melodramatic flux and flow.
Although Crowley grew increasingly desparing of and impatient
with Smith, and saw all to clearly the need to replace him as head
of Agape Lodge, the problem for Crowley - quite apart from HOW to
get rid of Smith - was with whom to replace him. In the course of a
letter to Crowley of March 1942, Jane Wolfe made her recommendations:
"Incidentally, I believe Jack Parsons - who is devoted to Wilfred -
to be the coming leader, with Wilfred in advisory capacity. I hope
you two get together some day, although your present activities in
England seem to have postponed the date of your coming to us. Jack,
by the way, comes in through some inner experiences, but mostly,
perhaps, through the world of science. That is, he was "sold on the
Book of the Law" because it foretold Einstein, Heisenberg - whose
work is not permitted in Russia - the quantum field folks, whose
work is along the "factor infinite and unknown" lines, etc. You two
would have a whale of a lot of things to talk over. He and Helen are
lock, stock and barrel for the Order."
By 1943, Crowley appears to have decided that some definite course
of action was necessary to get rid of Smith, and that his continued
presences in the Lodge was harmful. In a letter of May 1943, to a
member called Roy Leffingwell, he wrote:
"I think that Smith is quite hopeless. I am quite satisfied with what
you say about his reactions to your family. It is all very well, but
Smith has apparently nothing else in his mind. He appears to be using
the Order as a happy hunting ground for "affairs". You say the same
thing, and I have no doubt that it is quite correct. I think we must
get rid him once and for all; and this will include the Parsons,
unless they dissociate themselves immediately from him, without
* This concludes "PARSONS.I", part I of IV.