Exclusive Excerpts from ‘Songs for the Witch Woman’ by Occultists Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron

Frontispiece from 'Songs for the Witch Woman' (C) - Fulgur Esoterica

Frontispiece from ‘Songs for the Witch Woman’ (C) – Fulgur Esoterica

Lyvia Filotico of Fulgur Esoterica writes with news of Songs for the Witch Woman: A new collection of poetry by legendary rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons and art by Marjorie Cameron, his lover and magickal working partner. We thank Lyvia for allowing us to run an introduction to Cameron’s turbulent life, a poem by Jack Parsons, plus an excerpt from Cameron’s diary, and a sample of her art, all taken from Songs for the Witch Woman. Learn more about Songs for the Witch Woman here.

He’ll Be Back Someday Laughing At You

Marjorie Cameron was born in Belle Plaine, Iowa in 1922. The fiery and uncompromising character for which she would later be known manifested from an early age. School friends and teachers alike saw her as a peculiar child who by nature looked at the world from a different angle. After the outbreak of the Second World War Cameron enrolled in the Navy and after a period of training became the cartographer for the Joints Chiefs of Staff. Discharged from the military in 1945, she joined her family in Pasadena where less than a year later she met the man who would change her life.

Cameron was twenty-four when she met Jack Parsons, a young and charismatic rocket scientist at the peak of his public career, associate founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and acting master of the ‘Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templis Orientis’. For the following seven years Cameron and Parsons worked together in magick, love and art giving birth to one of the most legendary magico-artistic partnerships of the century. Firmly believing that Cameron’s appearance in his life was the result of an intense series of magical workings carried out in the weeks preceding the encounter, Parsons famously wrote to Aleister Crowley ‘I have found my Elemental’. Be it as it may, in the first years of their relationship Cameron was not only unaware of such goings-on but also uninterested in Jack’s spiritual path, preferring art and love over the practice of magic.

But as time went by Parsons assumed another function in Cameron’s life as he quickly became her magical mentor. He renamed her Candida, recommended books, prescribed rituals and meditative practices to deal with her depressions. When Jack Parsons died in an explosion at the age of thirty-seven, Cameron was left alone, wondering whether she was human or elemental.

A very dramatic period follows for Cameron. For a time she withdraws into the desert, where she attempts to connect with the spirit of her lost lover through a series of magical workings. A few years later she comes back to Los Angeles, where in 1954 she appeared in Kenneth Anger’s landmark film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. She also met the director Curtis Harrington, for whom she appeared as herself in the short film Wormwood Star. In 1955 she was featured on the cover of the first issue of Wallace Berman’s artistic and literary journal Semina, so marking her firm arrival in the Hollywood artistic counter culture.Cameron spent the last decades of her life in West Hollywood, painting, writing and mastering the art of Thai Chi. She died of Cancer in 1995 at the age of 73.

“It has seemed to me that if I had the genius to found the jet propulsion field in the US, and found a multimillion dollar corporation and a world renowned research laboratory, then I should also be able to apply this genius in the magical field.” – Parsons, 1949 (quoted by George Pendle)

Marvel Whiteside Parsons was a scientist and a magician. His contribution to both disciplines is as peculiar as it is undeniable. As a scientist, Jack Parsons was part of the group who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and brought crucial insights in the Aerojet Engineering Corporation. In 1936 he independently set up the Caltech affiliated GALCIT Rocket Research Group together with his friends Edward Forman and Frank Malina in 1936. In 1939 they received funding from the National Academy of Sciences to work on Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) for the U.S. military. This made Parsons the head of the first ever U.S. government-sanctioned rocket research group in history. As a magician, he was known under the name of Jack Parsons. This Parsons was a bohemian, an occultist and a poet. He was a member of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templis Orientis of which for a short period he became the American acting master. He wrote several books on the history and practice of magic and poetry inspired by romantic and pagan ideals.

Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic is ‘the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’. It could be argued then that for Parsons, who as a teenager was an avid sci-fi reader dreaming of launching flying machines into space, magic and science were not so dissimilar: they made things he wanted happen. Jack Parsons was born 100 years ago. This book is the first one to celebrate him in all his eclectic multifaceted genius.

“The curious dynamic of their relationship can be clearly seen in the poems collected in Songs for the Witch Woman. Written largely between 1946 and Parsons’ death in 1952, they are not only a display of Parsons’ personal and literary interests, but also an insight into his tumultuous relations with Cameron. A collection of uneasy love poems, the language and meter of Songs for the Witch Woman owe a considerable debt to the Romantic poets. Keats’ “Lamia”, Byron’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” are all referred to. The imagery is similarly richly Gothic with werewolves, vampires, skulls and human sacrifice all appearing. But nothing is quite what it seems. Take Under The Hill, for instance, a deeply pagan vision of a fair girl and a satanic black goat dancing together. Oddly, however, the poem makes us sympathize with the goat, whose “eyes are yellow and patient and wise” and not the “golden girl” who has “a demon’s eyes.” She is no victim. Similarly in Punch a woman dances and “whirls / like a paragon of girls.” But she is out to entrap the unsuspecting poet. He is being “watched by sly, inhuman eyes/ eyes of spiders watching flies,” which soon leap “down, down, dreadful down/ On the unsuspecting clown,/ Clicking fangs and fearful screams/ And silence and thereafter/ Low, long laughter.” Many of the poems speak of entrapments and reversals, of women tricking or teasing men into their web to be devoured or eaten. And although a rich, pungent sensuousness overlays the poems, with datura and jasmine filling the lines with a somnolent musk, neurosis and fever, worry and sickness, never seem far away.”- George Pendle

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An excerpt from Marjorie Cameron’s magical diary. She wrote this 3 days before Christmas the same year of Parsons death while living in the desert. Alone. One can’t help but wonder: was she invoking her Holy Guardian Angel or her Lost Lover?

Marjorie Cameron’s Diary – Lamb’s Canyon, California desert – Entry Dec. 22. 5p.m. 1952:

I have built of my love a nest wherein the bed is made for birth and I have lit the gentle flower to spell the secret and I have built me a tender shell in the mouth of fear all for thee oh my love – ye all for thee And I abideth here with terrible creeping in the heart and I sing me a [indistinct text] love song And my naked feet and my strong hands do fear great testimony of my love And my [indistinct text] do move and shake of desire of thee And my stomach doth go in raging hunger in my love and my heart doth quake and roar for love of thee and my arms desire nought but to make a cage to capture the light of thee and my eyes do look in dreadful places for the star of thee and my mouth and my tongue are made a flower to hold all this, the honey with which I would call thee […] Oh ruthless lover I have forgotten thy name is love and I know you not as thou promised. And I shall come again with this food for thy indifferent gut. – and thou shall leave me only thy [indistinct text] laughing. And even this is thy fearful blessing.

***

Here’s the poem quoted by George Pendle:

“Under the Hill”
by Jack Parsons

Now while the sky is apple green
And the wind is still and the moon is ripe,
Come to the hollow under the hill
While the night is young and the evening thrills
To the thump of drums and the strum of strings
And the shrill cry of the pipe.
A girl and a goat are dancing there
In the hollow under the hill.
The goat is black and the girl is fair,
But his eyes are gold as her flying hair,

With the thump of drums and the strum of strings
And the shrill cry of the pipe.
His eyes are yellow and patient and wise
As a snake is patient, a sage is wise,
But the golden girl has a demon’s eyes
As she dances and smiles in his golden eyes
To the thump of drums and the strum of strings
And the shrill cry of the pipe.

'Songs for the Witch Woman' (C) Fulgur Esoterica

‘Songs for the Witch Woman’ (C) Fulgur Esoterica

  • Cyprus Mulch

    Thanks for posting this!

    • Matt Staggs

      I’m very interested in Jack Parsons. It was a treat. Book looks great.