Captain Marvel

John Whiteside Parsons (born Marvel Whiteside Parsons 1914 – 1952), better known as Jack Parsons, was an American rocket propulsion researcher at the California Institute of Technology.He married Helen Northrup in April 1935.

image found here

“He was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley, an employee of Howard Hughes and a victim of L. Ron Hubbard. Though obscured by wild rumor and sinister presumptions, Parsons’ reputation has survived among devotees of rockets and of magic. His relationship with his mother was intense and possibly incestuous. He has been described as good looking and promiscuous, working his way through the secretarial pool at Aerojet.

still from Secretary found here

Along with his more scientific pursuits, he also tried to create a “Moon Child,” a magic being conjured via mystic ritual who would usher in a new age of unfettered liberty and signal the end of the Christian era and its outmoded morality.

Parsons had no formal education beyond high school. Yet his deep knowledge of explosives, formed through early issues of Amazing Stories and stints with explosive powder companies, earned him a leading role in a small gang performing rocketry experiments at and around Caltech in the ’30s. In those days, rocket science was the province mostly of twisted dreamers, not serious scientists. His gang was not-so-affectionately dubbed the Suicide Squad for the series of alarming explosions they caused on campus. Eventually they were exiled to the Arroyo Seco canyon to conduct experiments in discovering stable, usable rocket fuels. (They discovered plenty of unstable, unusable ones along the way.)

image found here

Then World War II changed things. The U.S. military called upon these smoke-streaked stepchildren of Caltech, hoping to use their crazy rocket gadgets to propel planes into the air in places without adequate runways. Gradually the gang of misfits evolved into the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Parsons designed new rocket fuel after rocket fuel, and eventually they succeeded in inventing jet-assisted take-off.

image found here

While inventing the castable rocket fuel that made the space age possible, Parsons simultaneously explored the frontiers of inner space, building the other half of his weird reputation. He became enraptured with the writings of the British occultist Aleister Crowley and joined the L.A.-based Agape Lodge of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley’s American lieutenants seized on the charismatic and successful scientist as a potential savior for their movement; he began donating almost all his salary to the upkeep of his lodge brethren. 

image found here

Eighteen year old Sarah Northrup began living with Parsons and Parsons’ wife, Sara’s half-sister Helen Northrup; later, Parsons and Sara became involved in an affair, which caused strife with Helen and eventually led to Helen leaving with another Lodge member, Wilfred Smith, who also had a reputation as a legendary womaniser.

Wilfred Smith found here

After the war Parson’s occult activism attracted the young L. Ron Hubbard into his life and home. The pulp writer, pre-Dianetics, took off for Florida with Jack’s mistress, Sarah Northrup, and most of his money, supposedly to buy boats to bring to California and launch a business operation they’d jointly own. Hubbard never came back. The official Scientology line –unsupported by any evidence–is that Hubbard was sent by Naval Intelligence to break up Parsons’ evil occult sex ring.

Hubbard found here

During his last days Parsons was reduced to working for Hollywood movies, making tiny explosive squibs that mimicked a man being shot. This from someone who once dreamed of blasting man into outer space. Some people regard the 1952 explosion that killed him in his Pasadena backyard lab as mysterious. One close pal, though, didn’t see much of a puzzle. He noted that “Jack used to sweat a lot and [a coffee can in which he was mixing explosives] just slipped out of his hand and blew him up.”

A crater on the dark side of the Moon has been named after Parsons. His last girlfriend, Marjorie “Candida” Cameron went on to become a successful painter and actress in avant-garde films. She is sometimes cited as the inspiration behind the Eagles song “Hotel California”

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56 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They are quite the handsome couple in that last pic.

    Scientology gives me the creeps.

    • Oh, and Secretary is one of my favourite films. 🙂

      • Mine too!

  2. another “amazing ” story

  3. Bwuhahahaaa …

    • Carl likes his puns

  4. Hmmm. So it does take a rocket scientist. Just not for what I thought

  5. I wonder how he reconciled his scientific activities with the mystical ones. Did he chat up the girls by offering to show them his rocket?

    • It’s a good line

  6. I often wonder how some people’s lives get so darn complicated. Do they attract all the mess that comes at them? What a bizarre life with such a sad ending. Great tale, nursemyra!

    • He was a very interesting man wasn’t he?

      • I don’t know that I’d describe being blown up as sad for someone with an ‘interesting’ life like his- I’d think for an occultist self taught rocket scientist with a backyard lab, being blown up was about what you’d expect!

  7. he is really good-looking 🙂
    its funny how and where we can end up in life.

    • apparently he used his looks to great advantage with the secretarial pool

  8. Looks like he was trying to get his rocket fuel in as many places as possible.

    • And for a time he succeeded

      • until that plan ‘fizzled’

      • are you taking punning lessons from Carl?

  9. Imagine being able to respond to someone saying, “It’s not rocket science…” with, “Oh, yes, it is!”
    With his talents for explosives, (unfortunately) he’d be a sought after man in these times.

  10. I remember Colin Wilson’s account of this in his book *The Occult,* and Crowley’s remark that “someone or other is supposedly trying to create a Moonchild. One becomes fairly frantic when contemplating the follies of these idiots,” or words close to that. Apparently he didn’t think too much of his American devotees and their earnest acceptance of his novel *Moonchild.* (It’s on my shelf somewhere — a terrific bore.)

    • Have you read Colin Wilson’s autobiography? I’ve just ordered it for my kindle

      • Is this a recent memoir? I’ve read so much of his stuff, which is interlaced with reminiscence, I’m not sure. Must go look. I used to think the world of him before he kind of descended into “if it’s purportedly supernatural I’ll write credulously about it” hell — a place he derided as a young writer.

      • Published 2004. Haven’t started it yet so I don’t know if it’s any good or not.

  11. At least he went off with a blast.

  12. Those were the days, when loopy amateurs pottered round laboratories creating rocket fuel and almost blowing themselves up. I suppose today’s scientists are more professional but they’re also a lot less exciting or glamorous.

    • ummm…. thanks (?)

      [and i think you’re right! scientists no longer have groupies. at least i don’t…]

      • Huh? So are you a scientist, daisyfae? I’m sure there are individual scientists who are stunningly exciting and glamorous, but scientists as a whole – I think not.

      • oh daisyfae, don’t talk tosh. you do have groupies… me, Dolce, alonewithcats, gnukid, shrinkrap…..

      • Where does one find an application to be your groupie?

      • 😉

  13. Northrup…? Is it just coincidence that a major US space/defence/aerospace corporation is called Northrop Grumman? Being intimately involved with the family that founded that organisation would certainly not have harmed his career.

    • Ooh how intriguing. I don’t know the answer to that. Will have to investigate

  14. There was a sort-of revival [of Crowley’s teachings] during the Hippie Era,mainly in “experimental” drugs. Lots of kids named Moonchild and other similarly mystic names.

    The rocket men used to be called alchemists. Today, they’re scientists.
    Thanks for another goodie, Nurse. 🙂

    • I knew people who called their babies Cinnamon, Sunshine and Sagittarius. What’s the betting they go by Cindy, Sunny and Tari now?

      • hahaha! 😉

  15. Always wondered what good ol’ L Ron looked like. Now I’m gonna have nightmares for a while.

    Secretary was a pretty good bizarre movie.

    • It was excellent!

  16. Some rocket scientists live a lot more exciting lives than others.

  17. Wow. I never expected he’d blow himself up in the end.

  18. I grew up with Amazing Stories and I also played with “stinks and bangs” as a teenager. Then I discovered girls and I dropped the first two interests. Maybe that was just as well – although girls are so much more complicated than “stinks and bangs” 🙂

  19. I can see he’s good looking but his last girlfriend is the really attractive one there!

  20. I really don’t know who was the bigger creep. Crowley or Hubbard.

  21. Having a crater on the dark side of the moon named after you does sound pretty cool… I doubt many people can claim that!

  22. I believe that I may be a devotee of rockets and magic.

    • And that I might’ve enjoyed being in that secretarial pool.

  23. pocket rocket indeed.

  24. An amazing story. There was an article about Parsons in Fortean Times back in 2000. The writer said: “If Parsons’ vital energies were confused, anachronistic, and hypocritical, he nevertheless represents (and indeed so does Ron Hubbard, his partner in magical rituals), that seething undertow of light-and-dark contrast in American life which is connected in some vital formative sense with the prototype aircraft that barrel down American runways.” (
    So there you go: Satanist sex fiend scientists represent something vital to America.

    • Fascinating article. The Fortean Times is full of good stuff isn’t it?

  25. All the best puns have already been taken.

  26. At least he died in a unique and interesting way?

  27. That one photo looks like he’s going to crater the dark side of the moon! 😉

    Oh…and you’d better catch my latest post…I’m headin’ down under…

  28. “…once he was asked for a light in the street and discharged a pistol shot instead.”

    I don’t know if it’s my insomnia or what, but for some reason I find this hilarious…

  29. “he also tried to create a “Moon Child”

    Frank Zappa succeeded.

  30. Parsons performed the famous Babalon Working with Hubbard in 1946.

    People have claimed that eliptony from the Black Dahlia to the Roswell crash, as well as his own immolation, were a product of this ritual. Crowley expressed dismay over the working: “Apparently Parsons and Hubbard or somebody is producing a moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.”

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