Monday, May 3, 2010

American History Hex Conclusion: freedom is a two-edged sword

You are in rude health, and yet you are hysterical; you are fascinated and subdued by all things weird and unusual, though to the world you hold yourself so high, proud, and passionate. You need love, it is true; so much you know yourself; and you know also that no common love attracts you; you need the sensational, the bizarre, the unique. But perhaps you do not understand what is at the root of that passion. I will tell you. You have an inexpressible hunger of the soul; you despise earth and its delusions; and you aspire unconsciously to a higher life than anything this planet can offer.
The Moonchild, Aleister Crowley.

Whatever one is to make of the Babalon Working - an elaborate sex magick ritual undertaken by an eccentric rocket scientist and a mesmeric trickster soon to attain global infamy - the appearance of Marjorie Cameron in its midst remains a stunning serendipity. If you take the schmaltzy concept of a romantic encounter that was meant to be - and place it in the context of neo-pagan sex magick - then the meeting of Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron in the spring of 1946 was surely written in the stars.

Cameron was born in Belle Plain, a sleepy rail-road town located two miles north of the Iowa River, in 1922. Her youth is the story of a gifted, but deeply strange outsider - the type of character that frequently appears in coming of age horror novels. The night she was born was wracked by a fierce thunderstorm, and equally heady emotional turmoil. Her father, believing his wife was dying, got drunk and attempted suicide.

Marjorie was prone to introspection and peculiar visions from a very young age. She claimed to see a precession of four white horses gliding by her bedroom window, and believed an old well on her grandfather's land was a gateway to hell. She was a bright, lonely teenager, frequently adorning to a hideout in her parents attic, and going on nocturnal rambles in her dressing gown accompanied by a retinue of stray black cats.

Around 1939, the Cameron's moved to Davenport, a city which was then somewhat under the severe cloud of the Great Depression. Marjorie's seemingly acute sense of alienation from her surroundings only worsened, and she attempted to take her own life more than once. A certain degree of personal stability came, ironically enough, with the advent of World War II. In '43, Cameron turned her back on various college scholarships in order to become an unlikely recruit of the Navy. As in Jack's case, the military formed a unlikely outlet for her wayward creative streak. She found herself drawing maps for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an occupation that on one occasion brought her eyeball to eyeball to with no less than Winston Churchill. Later, work in a photo laboratory on the Potomac lead to a meeting with Gene Kelly, constituting an early initiation into the occult power of the moving image. After her brother was shot and injured, Cameron went AWOL back to Belle Plain. Hence, she was court-martialed, and saw out the last months of the war confined to base.

In '46, the family were living in Pasadena. Fate, blind chance, or the concentrated magickal acumen of Parsons and Hubbard lead Marjorie to encounter an old Navy buddy at the unemployment office. He told he was currently living in a wild mansion under the auspices of a "mad scientist" that she had to meet. Meanwhile, Jack and Ron were somewhere in the Mojave desert imploring the astral plane for an elemental.

In many respects, the story of the Babalon Working ends precisely where it begins, with a peculiar air of anti-climax. Without any understanding of the nature or goal of the operation, Marjorie was happy enough to participate. The ritual was consummated and declared a success. Jack and Marjorie later married. No child was born, however, leading to a lingering sense of mystery regarding the real goal of the operation. Too some degree, the most ambitious magickal ritual of the 20th century is now as open to myriad interpretation as a poem or a painting. In his essay, Anti-Christ Superstar, Richard Metzger reads the Babalon Working as a genuine attempt to facilitate apocalypse - if we understand the apocalyptic as the unravelling of a false order of being, and the revelation of a true one: "What we have been brainwashed to believe is "good": patriotism, so called "free" enterprise, private property, Christianity (not the teachings of Christ but the hateful travesty the religion bearing his name has become), is now beginning to be seen by the emerging generation of the crowned and conquering child to be the deathtrip bullshit it truly is."

Certainly Parsons the libertarian philosopher envisioned himself as an enemy of the age old system which, under a plurality of changing terms for what are essentially the same things, divides humanity into a minority of masters, and a majority of slaves. In his extraordinary essay Freedom is a Two-edged Sword, he labels this imperious body politic the "established doctrine that all men and women were owned "in mind" by the church, and "in body" by the state. This convenient situation was supported by the authority of social morality, religion and even philosophy." The revolution, as Jack envisioned it, was invariably a sexual one: "The superstition which fostered this shameful condition is no longer dominant, but the institution that promoted the belief that the human body is obscene, that love was indecent, and that woman was forever made foul by original sin continues to mould our thoughts and shape our laws".

Reading the Working in the light of Parsons' Oedipal complex, Robert Anton Wilson suggests an act of ultimate transgression that transcends and nullifies all inhibition, and all binary logic of guilt underpinning the very notion of transgression: "Babalon represents the Mother and the Whore, the opposite archetypes of the male mind. To say it aloud, when making love to Babalon as Cameron, Jack Parsons did consciously what all men do unconsciously: he fucked his mother. After 2000 years of Christian sex-hate and sex-guilt, only in that total life-and-death battle with all inner inhibitions could he achieve that liberation which all of us seek, all of us fear, and all of us confront eventually, in the hour of our death, when we finally don’t give a damn any-more about what other people think".


Aleister Crowley:
In late 1947, Jack sent Marjorie Cameron to England, to meet Aleister Crowley. While on route, she sojourned for awhile in Paris. It was there she learned that the man who had dreamed - or been channelled - her future role in the archetypal drama of the Babalon Working had just died. Crowley's last words, according to legend, were "I am perplexed." It may be that in the disappointing latter years of his life, he came increasingly to question the provenance of that deep baritone which had spoken to him in his Cairo apartment in '04. But had he somehow lived to see out the whole of the twentieth century, what would he have thought? Beginning in the aftermath of the Babalon Working would unfold a whole nexus of cultural forces which mimicked in many respects the essential outline of the Aeon of Horus. It was, after all, conceived as the era of the crowned and conquering child. In the 1950's began the idea of the youth culture, and began the process of rebellion and assimilation whereby the youth culture would alter and remake the whole order of the world.

Crowley was such a prescient figure that some aspect of his persona would appeal to each successive wave of the youth movement: his fascination with mysticism and the occult to the hippies, his cultivation of scandal, shock value, and social agit-prop to the punks, his identification with witchcraft and Satanism to the goths, and so on. In the Sixties, the most Crowleyean of decades, large swathes of the west adopted essentially to pursue the Thelemic law of unfettered self-discovery and self-expression. To argue that this lead directly to Altamont or the Tate/Le Bianca murders is to miss the fact that it also lead, perhaps more circuitously, to the Apple mac, and the whole fabric of life in the 21st century. The Star Child of Kubrick's 2001 is perhaps the most perfect unintentional iconic representation of Crowley's Aeon of Horus: the paradoxical violence of evolutionary ascent, and the embryonic emergence of cosmic out of terrestrial awareness: "They shall gather my children into their fold: they shall bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men."

All of the above is not necessarily to argue that Crowley was the recipient of a prophetic transmission - simply to suggest that history itself often incarnates parts or bytes of the future in the most unlikely places.

L. Ron Hubbard:
One the great ironies of our tale is the fact that its most prominent and widely known figure is also by far its most scurrilous. While engaged in the Working, Jack and Ron had also established a business partnership, Allied Enterprises, to which Jack contributed $20,979, and Ron a paltry $1,183. Crowley, a adroit player himself, smelled the rat all the way from England: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick–Jack Parsons weak fool–obvious victim prowling swindlers.” Shortly after the completion of the Working, Hubbard vanished in a cloud of stage conjurer's smoke, back into the wide world with Jack's then girlfriend Sara Northrup, and the bulk of Jack's then life-savings in his pocket. Surveying the dreary affair a few days later, Crowley wrote "It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he lost all his personal independence. From our brother’s account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.”

The story of the rise of Scientology - a repeat of the Parsons swindle on a grander, global scale - is widely documented. The success of dianetics began - like so many other freaks of the future - within the hermetically sealed community of science fiction fandom. Then it spread like a bad dose of memetic clap into the always deranged mental melting pot of Hollywood, and beyond. At Williams College in Massachusetts, the distinguished professor of political science Frederick L. Schuman became an ardent champion. When the New Republic roundly rejected dianetics, he admonished the periodical: "I beseech ye, in the bowels of Christ, to consider whether ye may not be mistaken." By printing their negative review, he argued, the New Republic had made itself "the laughing stock of the rapidly growing throng of people who know what dianetics is all about. Not the book, but the review, is 'complete nonsense,' a 'paranoiac system' and a 'fantastic absurdity.' There are no authorities on dianetics save those who have tested it. All who have done so are in no doubt whatever as to who is here mistaken." The dye, by this point, was well and truly cast.

The central tenet of Thelema - "Do what Whilt shall be the whole of the Law" - was never intended to be a simple-mined exhortation to hedonism and self- indulgence. Rather, Crowley's belief was that a person should attain a full and proper understanding of him/herself, a knowledge of the essential self, entirely separate from social conditioning, and the self's own social conditioning agent, the ego. (In this sense, Crowley's teachings echo Gurdijieff's notion of the necessity to "awake" from the robotic sleep walk of habituated consciousness and everyday social existence.) With a sufficient intensity of discpline and concentration, the occultist discovers his True Will. The True Will is something greater than merely a personal goal - it is an almost Tao-like pre-disposition or tendency towards something. Magickal initiation, then, is the process whereby an individual discovers his True Will, and attains the power to act in accordance with that Will, and to be greater than any and all opposition the True Will encounters. Naturally, there is potentially a massive dark side to having that kind of power - the power to act in accordance with your own Will at all times. This is why Jack Parsons wrote that freedom was a two-edged sword, the other side of the blade being responsibility: "Freedom is a two-edged sword. He who believes that the absolute rightness of his belief is an authority to suppress the rights and opinions of his fellows cannot be a liberal. Liberalism cannot exist where it violates its own principles. It cannot exist where the emergency monger or the utopia salesman can obtain a suspension of rights, whether temporary or permanent. Liberty cannot be suppressed in order to defend liberalism". (The noble sentiment is of course echoed in the iconic caption in Amazing Fantasy #15 that read: WITH GREAT POWER THERE MUST ALSO COME - GREAT RESPONSIBILITY!)

The progress of the dianetics student towards the status of "clear" echoes the Thelemic process of self-awareness, albeit in a vulgarised form, via Habbard's fairly crude conflation of psychoanalysis and the language of analog recording technology. Hubbard himself clearly embodies the dark potential of personal magnetism and power - the sword wielded for the mastery of others, without first having attained a mastery of itself. The connection between Scientology and Hubbard's experiences of the occult was made explicit in a notorious 1983 Penthouse interview given by his son Ronald De Wolf. L. Ron Jr. describes the Church as a "power and money and intelligence gathering game", adding "what a lot of people don't realize is that Scientology is black magic that is just spread out over a long time period. To preform black magic generally takes a few hours, or, at most, a few weeks. But in Scientology its stretched out over a lifetime, so you don't see it. Black magic is the inner core of Scientology, and it is probably the only part of Scientology that really works." Elsewhere in the interview, De Wolf suggests deeply disturbing dimensions to Hubbard's pre-occupation with the occult: "As an example, Hitler was involved in the same black magic and the same occult practices that my father was. The identical ones. Which, as I have said, stem clear back to before Egyptian times. It's a very secret thing. Very powerful and very workable and very dangerous. Brainwashing is nothing compared to it. The proper term would be "soul cracking". It may sound like incredible gibberish, but it made my father a fortune."

It certainly did. In 1986, when Hubbard died of a stroke, his estate was worth $600 million dollars. In his later years, he had returned to the passion that had started it all - writing pulp science fiction. His followers - including some of the most prominent members of the entertainment industry - await his promised resurrection as a political leader.

The Working Itself:
While the aims of the Babalon Working may be largely a matter of interpretation at this point, another pertinent question arises: did it actually work? By far the most entertaining theory offered regarding the after-effects of the Working is that of the British occultist Kenneth Grant. In Outside the Circles of Time and elsewhere, Grant argued that Parson and Hubbard's' rituals in the Mojave desert opened a portal in time and space, through which the UFOs and their trickster pilots flew in the summer of '47: "How complex the pattern is may be appreciated by the fact that when Parsons received Leiber 49, which he proclaimed to be the fourth chapter of AL, it was in magical concert with L.R. Hubbard that extra-terrestrial contact was established. The Working began in 1945-46, a few months before Crowley's death in 1947, and just prior to the wave of unexplained aerial phenomena known as the "Great Flying Saucer Flap." Parsons opened a door and something flew in; he supposed it was Babalon and the fourth chapter of AL; others have supposed other things but all are agreed that something unusual, something inexplicable by mundane laws, occurred at that time."

Did Jack Parsons' fool-hardy magick really open some kind of door, a door that would haunt the skies of the twentieth century with the peripheral spectre of the UFO? Grant's theory is undoubtedly among the stranger and more fanciful we have heard for the origin of the saucers. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that in March of 1946, Marjorie Cameron witnessed a flying saucer hovering over the Parsonage; had she reported it, this would have made her the first eyewitness of the Great Flap of 47. Writing about the incident to Jane Wolfe in 1953, Cameron associated the craft with the "war engines" promised in Crowley's Book of the Law: "The flying saucers - the miracle! - our war engine! I saw the first one in the spring of 1946 at 1003."

Marjorie Cameron.
After Jack's death, Marjorie Cameron went on to maintain an utterly unique presense in occult and experimental cinema circles. She became the muse of two underground filmmakers, Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger. She appeared with Dennis Hopper in Night Tide, Hanson's 1961 homage to Val Lewton's Cat People, and the same director later made a short called The Wormwood Star which explored her work as a poet and artist. It was in the films of Kenneth Anger, however, that the strange currents of the Babalon Working continued to flow more conspiciously. Anger met Cameron at a party in the Hollywood home of warlock Samson Debreir. At the time, Anger was casting for his occult fantasia The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. The young director was completely overwelmed by Cameron's personality and appearance, and cast her as the Scarlet Woman in the Inauguration, alongside erotic author Anais Nin, Curtis Harrington, and Anger himself.

Cameron's second husband was Sherif Kimmel, who is said to have inspired the character of R.P.Murphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Tales of hauntings, and of peculiar apparations and entities, continued to follow her throughout her strange, always extreme life. Though a largely unknown figure today, Marjorie Cameron stands in many respects as a formidable female equivilient to the Beat Generation authors, her life story a sustained exploration of the joys - and madness-inducing horrors - that attend upon intense freedom, hedonism, and the outer limits of experience. In many respects, it seems that she believed that the Moonchild born in 1946 was herself.

Jack Parsons.
Jack Parsons was killed in an explosion in his home laborary on the 17th of June, 1952. His mother killed herself just hours later. In the years following the Working, both aspects of his strange double life were effectively in freefall. The FBI investigated his activities with the OTO, and later allegations that he had inadvertantly released sensitive information to the state of Israel, resulting in the loss of his security clearences. He had been forced to find work at a gas station, and later overseeing ersatz explosions for small Hollywood productions. His death - allegedly as a result of dropping a fulminate of mercury - is rifle with the associations of an over-achieving alchemist hitting the brutal limits of nature head-first, and crashing back down to earth. Paradoxically, Parsons had been too much of a visionary for the daylight world of military-funded science, and far too nieve, and fundamentally honorable, for the ego-ridden subculture of contempory occultism. Werner von Braun later labelled him the true father of the American space programme, and in 1972 an impact crater on the Dark Side of the Moon was named Parsons in his honor.


Michael Garrett said...

Well done. Thanks for that.


Tristan Eldritch said...

Mike - don't mention it, hope you enjoyed it!

Michael Garrett said...

It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts and explore your interests with you. I would have loved to have gotten Tonnies take on the opening the UFO doorway idea. I'm pretty sure he would have had something to add about it.


Black Nyx said...

Thank you for your post about Marjorie Cameron. I'm always thrilled when I can find out a little bit more about her. I would *love* to see Wormwood Star...

Tristan Eldritch said...

Black Nyx - Cameron really is a fascinating character. I'd love to see Wormwood Star too, but sadly couldn't find it anywhere on the web....

solerso said...

old post i know, but not for me i just discovered love to see the creation of a worldwide educational resource to explain to people that scientology and its "mysteries" and "secrets" are just old, well known, well documented,gnostic ideas. the idea of humanity as godlike immortal beings trapped in the material world., etc.. hubbard just took the things he read about when he was a hanger on at Agape OTO lodge, and dressed them up in sapce/sci-fi drag. maybe he was inspired by a fusion of crowley and parsons in his mind. its merely a con. anyone (who wishes to make a long study) can follow ancient gnostic beliefs and practices without paying any money to the scientologists.