Jack Parsons: Last of the Magicians

The remarkable American occultist John Whiteside “Jack” Jack Parsons is well known to veteran disinfonauts, but new to the hipsters at Motherboard/Vice:

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the world leader in space exploration. JPL scientists have put robots on Mars, sent probes into interstellar space, and collected dust from the tails of comets. But what if the real purpose behind its mission was something darker?

What if the lab was less interested in exploring outer space than the depths of the void? What if its researchers huddled around their computer screens in search of paranormal entities or dark gods crawling clear of the event horizons of nearby black holes?

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Los Angeles Times publicity photo of John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons during the murder trial of police officer Earl Kynette.

Of course, that’s not the case. JPL is not part of some Joss Whedon-esque occult-industrial complex. It does not mingle science with the supernatural. Yet one of its founders did.”Slain Scientist Priest in Black Magic Cult” read one headline after the death of John Whiteside Parsons on June 17, 1952.

“John W Parsons, handsome 37 year old rocket scientist killed Tuesday in a chemical explosion, was one of the founders of a weird semi-religious cult that flourished here about 10 years ago,” read a report.

The rhetoric got more lavish as the days went by.

“Often an enigma to his friends [he] actually led two lives….In one he probed deep into the scientific fields of speed and sound and stratosphere—and in another he sought the cosmos which man has strived throughout the ages to attain; to weld science and philosophy and religion into a Utopian existence,” wrote one paper.

Soon the newspapers were at fever pitch with talk of “sexual perversion,” “black robes,” “sacred fire,” and “intellectual necromancy.” At the heart of every story was one simple question: Who the hell was this guy?

It’s hard to find as weird and tragic a tale in the annals of science as that of John Whiteside Parsons. Born 100 years ago, Parsons seemed devoted to reconciling opposites, smashing together the technical and the spiritual, the white lab coat and the black robe, fact and fiction, science and magic…

[continues at Motherboard/Vice]

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