'Hubbard broke up black magic in America . . . because he was well known as a writer and philosopher and had friends among the physicists, he was sent in to handle the situation [of black magic being practised in a house in Pasadena occupied by nuclear physicists]. He went to live at the house and investigated the black magic rites and the general situation and found them very bad . . . Hubbard's mission was successful far beyond anyone's expectations. The house was torn down. Hubbard rescued a girl they were using. The black magic group was dispersed and never recovered.' (Statement by the Church of Scientology, December 1969)
(Scientology's account of the years 1945-46.)
Hubbard was a patient at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital for three months after the war, although the doctors were undecided as to precisely what was wrong with him. He was certainly neither blind nor crippled, but seemed to be suffering from endless minor aches and pains. His medical record shows that he was examined exhaustively, almost every week, complaining of headaches, rheumatism, conjunctivitis, pains in his side, stomach aches, pains in his shoulder, arthritis, haemorrhoids . . . there seemed to be no end to his suffering. Sometimes the doctors could find symptoms, sometimes they could not. In September, for example, he was declared 'unfit for service' because of an ulcer, but in November his ailments were described as 'minimal'.
It may be, of course, that Ron was simply preparing the ground to claim a veteran's disability pension, for he certainly wasted no time putting in his application. Lieutenant Hubbard was 'mustered out' of the US Navy on 5 December 1945, and on the following day he applied for a pension on the basis of a sprained left knee, conjunctivitis, a chronic duodenal ulcer, arthritis in his right hip and shoulder, recurrent malaria and sporadic undiagnosed pain in his left side and back.
On the claim form, Ron said his wife and children were living with his parents at 1212 Gregory Way, Bremerton, until he was able to get
1. L. R. Hubbard Claim 7017422, Veterans' Administration Archives
a house of his own. He described himself as a freelance writer with a monthly income of $0.00; before he joined the Navy he claimed his average earnings had been $650 a month.
Satisfied he had presented a convincing case for a pension, Ron drove out of the Officer Separation Center in San Francisco at the wheel of an old Packard with a small trailer in tow, both of which he had recently acquired. Home and the family were to the north, up in Washington State. But Ron headed south, towards Los Angeles, to a rendezvous with a magician in a bizarre Victorian mansion in Pasadena.
John Whiteside Parsons, known to his friend as Jack, was an urbane, darkly handsome man, not unlike Errol Flynn in looks, and the scion of a well-connected Los Angeles family. Then thirty-one years old, he was a brilliant scientist and chemist and one of America's foremost explosives experts. He had spent much of the war at the California Institute of Technology working with a team developing jet engines and experimental rocket fuels and was, perhaps, the last man anyone would have suspected of worshipping the Devil.
For Jack Parsons led an extraordinary double life: respected scientist by day, dedicated occultist by night. He believed, passionately, in the power of black magic, the existence of Satan, demons and evil spirits, and the efficacy of spells to deal with his enemies.
While still a student at the University of Southern California, he had become interested in the writings of Aleister Crowley, the English sorcerer and Satanist known as 'The Beast 666', whose dabblings in black magic had also earned him the title 'The Wickedest Man In The World'. Crowley's The Book of the Law expounded a doctrine enshrined in a single sentence - 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law' - and Parsons was intrigued by the heady concept of a creed that encouraged indulgence in forbidden pleasures.
In 1939, Parsons and his young wife, Helen, joined the OTO, Ordo Templi Orientis, an international organization founded by Crowley to practise sexual magic. A lodge had been set up in Los Angeles and met in a suitably sequestered attic. Meetings were conducted by a priestess swathed in diaphanous gauze, who climbed out of a coffin to perform mystic, and painstakingly blasphemous, rites. Parsons quickly rose to prominence in the OTO and by the early '40s he had begun a regular correspondence with Crowley, always addressing him as 'Most Beloved Father' and signing his letters 'Thy son, John'.
When Parson's father died, his son inherited a rambling mansion and adjoining coach-house on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. South Orange Grove was where the best people lived in Pasadena in the '20s and '30s, and although its discreet gentility was
2. Alva Rogers, Darkhouse, 1962
3. John Symonds, The Great Beast, 1971
4. Letter from L. Sprague de Camp to Symonds, 5 August 1952
fading by the end of the war, most of the large houses in the area were still in single occupancy, the paintwork had yet to peel and the lawns were regularly watered and manicured.
The residents of South Orange Grove Avenue did not welcome the arrival of young Jack Parsons, for the elegant three-storey family mansion, shaded by huge palms and flowering magnolias and set in its own grounds, was rapidly transformed, under his ownership, into a rooming-house of dubious repute - the only way he could afford to keep the house was by renting rooms. This might not have caused too much upset in the neighbourhood, except that when he advertized for tenants in the local newspaper, he specified that only atheists and those of a Bohemian disposition need apply. Thus were the myriad rooms at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue occupied by an exotic, argumentative and peripatetic assortment of itinerants and ne'er-do-wells - out-of-work actors and writers, anarchists and artists, musicians and dancers, all kinds of questionable characters and their equally questionable friends of both sexes. Noisy parties continued for days on end, guests slept on the floor when they could not find a bed and sometimes they simply forgot to leave.
Understandably the neighbours were outraged, although they would undoubtedly have been even more alarmed had they known that the house was also destined to become the headquarters of a black magic group which practised deviant sexual rites. Parsons converted two large rooms into a private apartment for himself and a temple for the OTO lodge. In his bedroom, the biggest room in the house, there was an altar flanked by pyramidal pillars and hung with occult symbols. The other room was a wood-panelled library lined with books devoted to the occult and dominated by a huge signed portrait of Crowley hanging over the fireplace.
No one was allowed into these two rooms unless specifically invited by Parsons; when members of the OTO turned up for a meeting, the doors remained firmly closed. Other residents sometimes glimpsed Parsons or one of his followers moving about the house in black robes, but no one really knew what went on in the 'temple' On one occasion, two smirking policemen arrived at the front door to investigate a complaint that the house was being used for black magic orgies. They had been told, they said, something about a ceremony requiring a naked pregnant woman to leap nine times through a sacred fire, but they made it so obvious that they considered the whole thing to be a joke that Parsons had no difficulty convincing them he was a bona fide and respectable scientist, and persuaded them to leave without conducting a search.
Among his other interests, Parsons was also a science-fiction fan and occasionally turned up at meetings of the Los Angeles Fantasy and
5. Interview with Nieson Himmel, Los Angeles, 14 August 1986
Science Fiction Society, where devoted fans gathered every week to meet the top science fiction writers. Jack Williamson, a regular contributor to Science Wonder Stories, encountered Parsons at a meeting in 1941 and was surprised to learn he was a scientist. 'He had read my novel Darker Than You Think, which deals with the supernatural,' Williamson recalled. 'I was astonished to discover he had a far less sceptical interest in such things than I did.'
To Parsons there was an attractive affinity between magic and science fiction and on Sunday afternoons in the summer his science-fiction friends tended to congregate in his kitchen for endless discussions about the relative merits of sci-fi writers, their ideas and stories. One of the fans who regularly took the streetcar to South Orange Grove Avenue on Sunday afternoons was a young man called Alva Rogers, who would eventually become a 'semi-permanent resident' - an arrangement that was not in the least unusual. On an early visit he met and fell in love with a young art student who was renting a room in the mansion and thereafter he would spend the night with her whenever he could.
Rogers was fascinated by the house, its owner and the occupants. 'Mundane souls were unceremoniously rejected as tenants,' he said. 'There was a professional fortune teller and seer who always wore appropriate dresses and decorated her apartment with symbols and artefacts of arcane lore. There was a lady, well past middle age but still strikingly beautiful, who claimed to have been at various times the mistress of half the famous men of France. There was a man who had been a renowned organist in the great movie palaces of the silent era. They were characters all.'
According to Rogers, Parsons never made any secret of his interest in black magic or his involvement with Aleister Crowley. 'He had a voluminous correspondence with Crowley in the library, some of which he showed me. I remember in particular one letter from Crowley which praised and encouraged him for the fine work he was doing in America, and also casually thanked him for his latest donation and intimated that more would shortly be needed. Jack admitted that he was one of Crowley's main sources of money in America.
'I always found Jack's insistence that he believed in, and practised, magic hard to reconcile with his educational and cultural background. At first I thought it was all fun and games, a kick he was on for its shock value to his respectable friends. But after seeing his correspondence with Crowley, and the evidence of his frequent remittances to Crowley, I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.'
In the summer of 1944, Helen Parsons left her husband and ran off with another member of the lodge, by whom she was pregnant.
6. Letter to author from Jack Williamson, 1 November 1986
7. Rogers, op. cit.
Parsons consoled himself by transferring his affections to Helen's younger sister, Sara Northrup, who was then eighteen, a beautiful and vivacious student at the University of Southern California. Within a few months, Sara dropped out of her course and moved in with Parsons, to the great distress of her parents. At South Orange Grove Avenue she became known as Betty (her middle name was Elizabeth). Completely under the spell of her lover, she was soon inculcated onto the OTO and assisting in its ceremonies. In accordance with the teachings of 'the Beast', Parsons encouraged Betty to enjoy sex with other members of the lodge, or indeed any man who took her fancy. It would not affect their relationship, he loftily explained to anyone who cared to listen, since jealousy was a base emotion unworthy of the enlightened and fit only for peasants.
'Betty was a very attractive blonde, full of joie de vivre,' said Rogers. 'The rapport between Jack and Betty, the strong affection, if not love, they had for each other, despite their frequent separate sextracurricular activities, seemed pretty permanent and shatterproof.'
It was soon to prove an illusion. One afternoon in August 1945, Lou Goldstone, a well-known science-fiction illustrator and a frequent visitor to South Orange Grove Avenue, turned up with L. Ron Hubbard, who was then on leave from the Navy. Jack Parsons liked Ron immediately, perhaps recognized in him a kindred spirit, and invited him to move in for the duration of his leave.
Ron, ebullient as always, was not in any way intimidated by the egregious company and surroundings; on the contrary, he felt instantly at home. Most evenings he could be found dominating the conversation at the big table in the kitchen, where the roomers tended to gather, telling outrageous stories about his adventures. One night he unbuttoned his shirt to display the scars left by arrows hurled at him when he encountered a band of hostile aborigines in the South American jungle.
Like almost everyone in the house, Alva Rogers thought Hubbard was an enormously engaging and entertaining personality. Rogers also had red hair and Ron confided to him his belief, confirmed by extensive research he had undertaken at the 'Royal Museum' in London, that all redheads were related, being descended from the same line of Neanderthal man. 'Needless to say,' Rogers recalled, 'I was fascinated.'
For a while, Ron shared a room with Nieson Himmel, a young reporter who had also met Parsons through a shared interest in science fiction. Perhaps because of the inbred scepticism of newspapermen, Himmel was less impressed than most by his new room-mate: 'I can't stand phoneys and to me he was so obviously a phoney, a real con
8. Rogers, ibid.
man. But he was certainly not a dummy. He was very sharp and quick, a fascinating story-teller, and he could charm the shit out of anybody. He talked interminably about his war experiences and seemed to have been everywhere. Once he said he was on Admiral Halsey's staff. I called a friend who worked with Halsey and my friend said "Shit, I've never heard of him."
'I was not one of his favourite people because I liked to try and trip him up. One time he told a story about how he was walking down a corridor in the British Museum when he was suddenly grabbed by three scientists who dragged him into an office and began measuring his skull because it was such a perfect shape. I said, "Gee, Ron, that's a great story - didn't I read it in George Bernard Shaw?" Another time he said he was in the Aleutians in command of a destroyer and a polar bear jumped from an ice floe onto his ship and chased everyone around. I recognized it as an old, old folklore story that goes way back.
'He was always broke and trying to borrow money. That was another reason he didn't like me - I would never lend him a cent. Whenever he was talking about being hard up he often used to say that he thought the easiest way to make money would be to start a religion.'
Parsons shared none of Himmel's mistrust. He considered that Ron had great magical potential and took the risk of breaking his solemn oath of secrecy to acquaint Ron with some of the OTO rituals. Betty, too, was much enamoured with the voluble naval officer, so much so that she soon began sleeping with him. True to his creed, Parsons tried to pretend he was not concerned by this development, but others in the house thought they detected tension between the two men. Himmel, who was himself in love with Betty, was furious that she had been seduced by Hubbard. 'Betty was beautiful, the most gorgeous, intelligent, sweet, wonderful girl. I was so much in love with her and I knew she was a woman I could never have. Then Hubbard comes along and starts having affairs with one girl after another in the house and finally fastens on to Betty. I couldn't believe it was happening. There he was, living off Parsons' largesse and making out with his girlfriend right in front of him. Sometimes when the two of them were sitting at the table together, the hostility was almost tangible.'
Alva Rogers, too, sensed that Parsons was suffering. 'Jack had never boggled at any of Betty's previous amorous adventurings, but this time it seemed somehow different . . . although the three of them continued to maintain a surface show of unchanged amicability, it was obvious that Jack was feeling the pangs of a hitherto unfelt passion, jealousy. As events progressed, Jack found it increasingly difficult to keep his mind on anything but the torrid affair going on between Ron
9. Interview with Himmel.
10. Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, 1972
11. Interview with Himmel.
and Betty and the atmosphere around the house became supercharged with tension.'
Nevertheless, Parsons clearly remained convinced that Ron possessed exceptional powers. After Ron had left to report back to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Parsons wrote to his 'Most Beloved Father' to acquaint him with events: 'About three months ago I met Captain L. Ron Hubbard, a writer and explorer of whom I had known for some time . . . He is a gentleman; he has red hair, green eyes, is honest and intelligent, and we have become great friends. He moved in with me about two months ago, and although Betty and I are still friendly, she has transferred her sexual affection to Ron.
'Although he has no formal training in Magick, he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences I deduced that he is in direct touch with some higher intelligence, possibly his Guardian Angel. He describes his Angel as a beautiful winged woman with red hair whom he calls the Empress and who has guided him through his life and saved him many times. He is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles . . . I think I have made a great gain and as Betty and I are the best of friends, there is little loss. I cared for her rather deeply but I have no desire to control her emotions, and I can, I hope, control my own. I need a magical partner. I have many experiments in mind . . .'
In early December 1945, Ron showed up again at South Orange Grove Avenue, still in uniform, having driven directly from the Officer Separation Centre in San Francisco. He parked his Packard and his trailer at the rear of the house and walked back into the complicated, enigmatic lives of Jack Parsons and Betty Northrup. To Parsons's secret distress, Betty and Ron immediately resumed their affair.
Alva Rogers and his girlfriend were perhaps the only two people in the house who really knew how much their friend was suffering. 'Our room was just across the hall from Jack's apartment,' Rogers recalled, 'and in the still, early hours of a bleak morning in December we were brought out of a sound sleep by some weird and disturbing noises as though someone was dying or at the very least was deathly ill.
'We went out into the hall to investigate the source of the noises and found that they came from Jack's partially open door. Perhaps we should have turned around and gone back to bed at this point, but we didn't. The noise, which by this time we could tell was a sort of chant, drew us inexorably to the door, which we pushed open a little further in order to better see what was going on.
'What we saw I'll never forget, although I find it hard to describe in any detail. The room, in which I had been before, was decorated in a
12. Symonds, op. cit.
manner typical of an occultist's lair, with all the symbols and appurtenances essential to the proper practice of black magic. It was dimly lit and smoky from a pungent incense; Jack was draped in a black robe and stood with his back to us, his arms outstretched, in the centre of a pentagram before some sort of altar affair on which several indistinguishable items stood.
'His voice, which was actually not very loud, rose and fell in a rhythmic chant of gibberish which was delivered with such passionate intensity that its meaning was frighteningly obvious. After this brief and uninvited glimpse into the blackest and most secret center of a tortured man's soul, we quietly withdrew and returned to our room, where we spent the balance of the night discussing in whispers what we had just witnessed.'
Rogers was convinced that Parsons was trying to invoke a demon in order to despatch his rival, or harm him in some way. It clearly did not work, however, for Ron remained in the best of spirits. Despite what Alva Rogers and his girlfriend had seen on that unforgettable December night, the fragile three-cornered relationship continued. Parsons seemed determined to try and overcome what he considered to be an unworthy emotion. 'I have been suffered to pass through an ordeal of human love and jealousy,' he noted in his 'Magical Record', adding, 'I have found a staunch companion and comrade in Ron . . . Ron and I are to continue with our plans for the Order.'
Their plans were unprecedented. Parsons wanted to attempt an experiment in black magic that would push back the frontiers of the occult world. With the assistance of his new friend, he intended to try and create a 'moonchild' - the magical child 'mightier than all the kings of the earth', whose birth had been prophesied in The Book of the Law more than forty years earlier.
Aleister Crowley professed 'the great idea of magicians of all times' was to bring into being an Anti-Christ, a 'living being in form resembling man, and possessing those qualities of man which distinguish him from beasts, namely intellect and power of speech, but neither begotten in the manner of human generation, nor inhabited by a human soul'. To find a mother for this new Messiah, Parsons envisaged invoking an elemental spirit of the 'whore of Babylon', the scarlet woman of St John's Revelation: 'I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots . . .'
On 4 January 1946, Jack Parsons began a series of elaborate mystic
13. Rogers, op. cit.
14. Parsons file, O.T.O. archives, New York
15. Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law
rituals, known as the 'Babalon Working', which he hoped would lead to the invocation of a scarlet woman whose destiny was to be mother to the moonchild. For the benefit of future magicians, he kept a detailed, day-by-day account in a manuscript he called the 'Book of Babalon'.
Magical rites began in the temple at South Orange Grove at nine o'clock that evening, with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto playing in the background. First Parsons prepared and consecrated various magical weapons, tablets and talismans, then he carried out eleven separate rituals, beginning with 'Invoking Pentagram of Air' and 'Invocation of Bornless One' and ending with 'License to Depart, Purification and Banishing'.
The nightly ritual of incantation and talisman-waving continued for eleven days, at first without much effect. Parsons noted that a strong windstorm blew up on the second and third days, but he had obviously been hoping for rather more startling results. 'Nothing seems to have happened,' he wrote in a letter to Crowley. 'The wind storm is very interesting, but that is not what I asked for.'
On the seventh day, Parsons was woken at midnight by seven loud knocks and he discovered that a table lamp in the corner of his bedroom had been thrown violently to the floor and smashed. 'I have had little experience with phenomena of this sort,' he recorded. 'Magically speaking, it usually represents "breaks" in the operation, indicating imperfect technique. Actually, in any magical operation there should be no phenomena but the willed result.'
Not until 14 January was the frustrated magician able to report an encouragingly mysterious occurrence. 'The light system of the house failed at about 9 pm. Another magician [Hubbard] who had been staying at the house and studying with me, was carrying a candle across the kitchen when he was struck strongly on the right shoulder, and the candle knocked out of his hand. He called me, and we observed a brownish yellow light about seven feet high in the kitchen. I brandished a magical sword and it disappeared. His right arm was paralyzed for the rest of the night.'
Next morning, the magicians had more prosaic business to attend to. For some time, Ron, Betty and Jack had been discussing the prospect of going into business together, buying yachts on the East Coast and sailing them to California to sell at a profit. On 15 January the three of them signed their names to an agreement setting up a business partnership with the hopeful title of 'Allied Enterprises'. It was not exactly an equitable financial arrangement, since Parsons put up more than $20,000, Ron only managed to vouchsafe $1200 and Betty contributed nothing. Under the articles of co-partnership, it was vaguely stated that Allied Enterprises would indulge in activities of a
16. Grant, op. cit.
'varied and elastic nature', presumably with an eye to subsequent expansion into other fields.
That evening, the new business partners resumed their magical activities and there was a further strange incident involving Ron who was by then occupying the role of 'scribe'. Parsons noted that the scribe had 'some sort of astral vision' and saw one of his old enemies standing behind him clad in a black robe with an 'evil, pasty face'; Ron promptly launched an attack and pinned the phantom figure to the door with four throwing knives. 'Later, in my room,' Parsons wrote, 'I heard the raps again and a buzzing, metallic voice crying, "Let me go free." I felt a great pressure and tension in the house that night.'
The tension continued for four days, until the evening of 18 January. The magician and his scribe had ventured out into the Mojave Desert on some unexplained mystical mission and, at sunset, the stress that Parsons had recently been experiencing drained away. He was suffused instead with a sense of well-being and turned to Ron and said simply: 'It is done.'
When the two men returned to South Orange Grove Avenue, they found the 'scarlet woman' waiting for them. Her name was Marjorie Cameron and in truth she was not very much different from many of the unconventional and free-spirited young women who had gravitated to the Bohemian lodging-house in Pasadena. But Parsons was convinced that she was his libidinous elemental spirit, not least because it transpired she was not only willing, but impatient, to participate in the magical and sexual escapades he had in mind. 'She is describable', he wrote in the 'Book of Babalon', 'as an air of fire type, with bronze red hair, fiery and subtle, determined and obstinate, sincere and perverse, with extraordinary personality, talent and intelligence.'
A few days later he wrote exultantly to Crowley: 'I have my elemental! She turned up one night after the conclusion of the Operation and has been with me since . . . She has red hair and slant green eyes as specified . . . She is an artist, strong minded and determined, with strong masculine characteristics and a fanatical independence.'
Crowley replied: 'I am particularly interested in what you have written to me about the elemental, because for some little time past I have been endeavouring to intervene personally in this matter on your behalf . . .'
Towards the end of February, Ron went on a trip to the East Coast, perhaps to investigate the yacht market on behalf of Allied Enterprises. On 28 February Parsons drove alone into the lonely reaches of the Mojave Desert to perform an invocation of the goddess Babalon. During this invocation, he said, the presence of the goddess came
17. Parsons v. Hubbard & Northrup, Case No. 101634, Circuit Court, Dade County, Florida.
upon him and commanded him to write a mystical communication, couched in picturesque biblical terminology and beginning: 'Yea, it is I, Babalon. And this is my book . . .'
The seventy-seven clauses Parsons excitedly scribbled in his notebook became the centrepiece of the 'Book of Babalon'. He believed he was taking instructions for the impregnation of his scarlet woman, although it would not have been immediately obvious to nonbelievers: 'Now is the hour of birth at hand. Now shall my adept be crucified in the Basilisk abode. Thy tears, thy sweat, thy blood, thy semen, thy love, thy faith shall provide . . .'
Some of the message was also suspiciously contemporary: 'Thou fool, be thou also free of sentimentality. Am I thy village queen and thou a sophomore, that thou should have thy nose in my buttocks?'
Parsons returned to Pasadena in a state of considerable agitation which was greatly increased when his magical partner arrived back the next day and announced he had had a vision of a 'savage and beautiful woman riding naked on a great cat-like beast' and had an urgent message to deliver.
That night, in the temple at South Orange Grove, the two magicians made preparations to receive the message. Candles were lit, incense burned and a magical altar was laid with flowers and wine. Hubbard, the scribe, wore a white-hooded robe and carried a lamp; Parsons, the high priest, wore a black robe and carried a cup and dagger. An automatic tape recorder was set up and at Hubbard's suggestion Rachmaninoff's 'Isle of the Dead' was played as background music.
At eight o'clock, Hubbard began to intone his message from the astral world: 'These are the preparations. Green gold cloth, food for the Beast, upon a hidden platter, back of the altar. Disclose only when the doors are bolted. Transgression is death. Back of the main altar. Prepare instantly. Light the first flame at 10 pm, March 2, 1946. The year of Babalon is 4063 . . .'
After a few minutes, Parsons noticed that his scribe was pale and sweating profusely. Hubbard rested for a few moments, then continued: 'Make a box of blackness at ten o'clock. Smear the vessel which contains flame with thine own blood. Destroy at the altar a thing of value. Remain in perfect silence and heed the voice of our Lady. Speak not of this ritual or of her coming to any person . . .
'Display thyself to Our Lady; dedicate thy organs to Her, dedicate thy heart to Her, dedicate thy mind to Her, dedicate thy soul to Her, for She shall absorb thee, and thou shall become living flame before She incarnates . . .'
When Hubbard finished dictating, the scarlet woman, naked under
a crimson robe, was brought into the temple. 'Oh circle of stars,' the high priest informed, 'whereof our Father is but the younger brother, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space . . .'
Marjorie Cameron had been well rehearsed in the necessary response. 'But to love me is better than all things . . .' she chanted. 'Put on the wings and arouse the coiled splendour within you. Come unto me, to me! Sing the rapturous love songs unto me! Burn to me the perfume! Drink to me for I love you! I am the blue-lidded daughter of sunset, I am the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night sky . . .'
With passions mounting, the three black magicians intoned a chorus: 'Glory unto the Scarlet Woman, Babalon, the Mother of Abominations, that rideth upon the Beast, for She hath spilt their blood in every corner of the earth and lo! she hath mingled it in the cup of her whoredom . . .'
The scribe remained at the altar declaiming and describing what was supposed to be happening on an astral plane while the high priest excitedly inserted his 'wand' into the scarlet woman and they began copulating furiously.
At midnight the unholy troika retired to bed, exhausted. Next morning one of the lodgers in the house disturbed Parsons while he was meditating in the temple - he flew out in a rage and put a curse on the man, who, he said, was very soon taken ill. After this incident, Parsons confessed that he succumbed to a black mood. His temper cannot have improved when he discovered that the roof of the guest-house had caught fire and been partially destroyed the previous night while he was otherwise occupied. He darkly deduced that the fire had started at the very moment, during the night's black festivities, when he had smashed an image of Pan.
'That evening,' Parsons wrote, 'the scribe and I resumed our work.' This time a white sheet smeared with menstrual blood was laid out on the floor of the temple and a red star, cut from the high priest's robe, was symbolically burned on the altar. As Parsons performed the 'Invocation of the Wand' on the naked body of the scarlet woman, the scribe droned: 'Embrace her, cover her with kisses. Think upon the lewd lascivious things thou couldst do. All is good to Babalon. All . . . The lust is hers, the passion yours. Consider thou the Beast raping.'
On the third and final day, the rituals began four hours before dawn and ended with a long poem titled 'The Birth of Babalon' extolling 'holy whoredom':
Her mouth is red and her breasts are fair and her loins are full of fire,
And her lust is strong as a man is strong in the heat of her desire,
And her whoredom is holy as virtue is foul beneath the holy sky,In the 'Book of Babalon', Parsons was completely convinced that the magic had worked and that his scarlet woman would be delivered of a moonchild in nine months. 'Babalon,' he wrote confidently, 'is incarnate upon the earth today awaiting the proper hour of her manifestations.'
And her kisses will wanton the world away in passion that shall not die.
Ye shall laugh and love and follow her dance when the wrath of God is gone,
And dream no more of hell and hate in the birth of Babalon.
But in his 'Magical Record' he was less assured: 'For the last three days I have performed an operation of birth, using the air tablet, the cup and a female figure, properly invoked by the wand, then sealed up in the altar. Last night I performed an operation of symbolic birth and delivery. Now I can do no more than pray and wait.'
On 6 March, Parsons sat down to compose a letter to his Satanic Master in England, apprising him of the momentous events that had recently taken place. 'I can hardly tell you or decide how much to write,' he began. 'I am under command of extreme secrecy. I have had the most important, devastating experience of my life . . . I believe it was the result of the IXth degree working [the class of sexual magic designed to produce a higher being] with the girl who answered my elemental summons. I have been in direct touch with One who is most Holy and Beautiful as mentioned in The Book of the Law. I cannot write the name at present. First instructions were received direct through Ron, the seer. I have followed them to the letter. There was a desire for incarnation. I do not yet know the vehicle, but it will come to me bringing a secret sign. I am to act as instructor guardian for nine months; then it will be loosed on the world. That is all I can say now . . .'
Crowley, who was by then in his seventies, chronically addicted to heroin and facing death, was irritated by his disciple's secrecy. On 19 April he despatched a terse reply: 'You have got me completely puzzled by your remarks about the elemental . . . I thought I had a most morbid imagination, as good as any man's, but it seems I have not. I cannot form the slightest idea of what you can possibly mean.' On the same day he wrote to Karl Germer, head of the OTO in the United States: 'Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a Moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.'
While Parsons fretted over Crowley's letter, his faithful scribe was facing more earthly, and much more familiar, problems. Having contributed his meagre savings to Allied Enterprises, Hubbard was badly in need of money. He had written virtually nothing since leaving
18. Book of Babalon, O.T.O archives, New York
20. John Parsons, 'Magical Record', O.T.O. archives, New York
21. Symonds, op. cit.
the Navy and his wife was rapidly losing patience with his repeated excuses as to why he was unable to send any money home to support her and the children.
Polly recognized by this time that there was little chance of saving her marriage. Towards the end of the war, she and Ron had briefly discussed moving to California when he was discharged from the Navy, but Polly refused to uproot the children. She had a nightmare vision of trying to raise a family while trailing forlornly after her husband, backwards and forwards from one coast to the other. Nibs and Katie were happily settled in Bremerton, enjoyed school, and had friends and family all around. Polly had left The Hilltop and moved in with Ron's parents to be closer to the facilities of Bremerton; it was an arrangement she found perfectly satisfactory. Both Harry Hubbard, who had retired from the Navy and found a job as manager of Kitsap County Fair, and his wife enjoyed having their grandchildren around.
But while Polly was content to live with her in-laws, she still needed money to feed and clothe herself and the children and, not unreasonably, she expected her husband to provide it. Ron's problem in this regard was not just that he was broke (nothing unusual), but that he had reached the limit of his credit with the residents of 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, having borrowed from everyone who was prepared to lend.
In February, the Veterans Administration had awarded him a pension of $11.50 a month for a ten per cent disability caused by his ulcer. Ron did not consider this miserable amount to be nearly sufficient and on 18 March, two weeks after completing his duties as a black magic scribe, he lodged an appeal, producing a dramatic new disability which he had somehow neglected to mention on his original claim form. 'I have lost between sixty and eighty per cent of my vision,' he claimed in a letter typed on his distinctive initialled notepaper, 'and as my profession is that of writer, my present inability to read or use my eyes seriously affects my income. I cannot work either long hours or under the slightest adverse conditions. My income at the present time, due entirely to service connected injuries, is zero. Would you please advise me as to the steps I should take to gain further pension?'
After his years in the Navy, Ron was well aware of the speed with which the wheels of bureaucracy moved and his need for money was urgent. His solution was to persuade Parsons that the time had come to activate Allied Enterprises. Towards the end of April, Ron and Sara [she was only called Betty at South Orange Grove] left for Florida with $10,000 drawn from the Allied Enterprises account at the Pasadena First Trust and Savings Bank. Parsons approved the withdrawal so that the partnership could purchase its first yacht in the
22. Letter to author from Mrs Catherine Gillespie, November 1986
23. Hubbard file, VA archives
east; it was agreed that Ron and Sara would then either sail it back to California for re-sale, or transport it overland, whichever proved to be cheaper.
It seemed a perfectly simple and sensible business arrangement, although Parsons presumably did not know that on 1 April Ron had written to the Chief of Naval Personnel requesting permission to leave the United States to visit South America and China. However, not many weeks passed before Parsons began to worry, for he heard not a word from either Ron or Sara. He realized, with mounting frustration, that they had gone off with $10,000 of his money and he had little idea of where they might be. He confessed his concern to Louis Culling, another member of the OTO lodge, and swore he was going to get his money back and dissolve the partnership.
The next day Ron telephoned from Florida, reversing the charges. Culling was at South Orange Grove when the call came through and he was amazed to find that Parsons was completely dominated by Hubbard. After what had been said the previous day, Culling expected Parsons to be cool towards his wayward partner at the very least. But Parsons made no mention of his disquiet, did not complain about being kept in the dark and said nothing about dissolving the partnership. He was soon laughing happily into the telephone as if he had not a care in the world and the conversation ended with Parsons saying, 'I hope we shall always be partners, Ron.'
Greatly disturbed, Culling took it upon himself to make some inquiries and on 12 May he wrote to Karl Germer: 'As you may know by this time, Brother John signed a partnership agreement with this Ron and Betty whereby all money earned by the three for life is equally divided between the three. As far as I can ascertain, Brother John has put in all of his money . . . Meanwhile, Ron and Betty have bought a boat for themselves in Miami for about $10,000 and are living the life of Riley, while Brother John is living at rock bottom, and I mean rock bottom. It appears that originally they never secretly intended to bring this boat around to the California coast to sell at a profit, as they told Jack, but rather to have a good time on it on the east coast . . .'
Germer naturally informed Crowley, who replied by cable on 22 May: 'Suspect Ron playing confidence trick. Jack evidently weak fool. Obvious victim prowling swindlers.' In a letter seven 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 has 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.'
While Crowley and fellow members of the OTO were already in
24. L. R. Hubbard navy record
25. O.T.O archives, New York
agreement that Brother Parsons had been conned, Brother Parsons was painfully arriving at a similar conclusion and at the beginning of June he packed a case and caught a train East, determined to track down the errant lovers and get his money back.
In Miami, Parsons discovered to his astonishment that Allied Enterprises had already purchased three boats - two auxiliary schooners, the Harpoon and the Blue Water II, and a yacht, the Diane. It seemed that Ron had raised mortgages totalling more than $12,000 to buy the schooners.
Parsons traced the Harpoon to Howard Bond's Yacht Harbor on the County Causeway, but there was no sign of either Ron or Sara. The Blue Water was found at the American Ship Building Company docks on the Miami river; again, there was no one on board.
One evening a few days later, Parsons received a telephone call from the harbour. The Harpoon, he was told, had set sail at five o'clock that afternoon, with Ron and Sara on board apparently intent on making an escape. In his Miami hotel room, Parsons donned his magic robes and traced a circle on the floor with his magic wand. At eight o'clock, he stepped into the ring and performed the 'Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram', the preliminary to all magic, followed by a full invocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, whose help he sought to restrain his fleeing partners. In a letter to Crowley describing his actions, he was able to report a highly satisfactory result: 'At the same time, so far as I can check, his ship was struck by a sudden squall off the coast, which ripped off his sails and forced him back to port, where I took the boat in custody.'
On 1 July, the magician sought redress through more conventional means: he filed suit in the Circuit Court for Dade County, accusing Ron and Sara of breaking the terms of their partnership, dissipating the assets and attempting to abscond. A receiver was appointed to wind up the affairs of Allied Enterprises and a restraining order was placed on the defendants, preventing them from leaving Miami or disposing of any of the partnership's assets.
'Here I am in Miami pursuing the children of my folly,' Parsons wrote gloomily to Crowley on 5 July. 'I have them well tied up. They cannot move without going to jail. However, most of the money has already been dissipated. I will be lucky to salvage $3000 to $5000.'
On 11 July, the three partners signed an agreement, drawn up by Parsons' lawyer, dissolving the partnership. Ron and Sara handed over the Blue Water and the Diane and agreed to pay half Parsons' legal costs. For his part, Parsons allowed Ron and Sara to keep the Harpoon in return for a $2900 promissory note which covered his financial interest in the schooner. Jack Parsons returned to Pasadena satisfied that he had made the best deal he could under the circumstances and
27. Grant, op. cit.
28. Parsons v. Hubbard & Northrup
not too distressed at the loss of his former lover and his former best friend. He never saw either of them again.
In Miami, Ron and Sara were returned to their accustomed state of penury after their brief fling at the expense of Allied Enterprises. Their most immediate and pressing problem was how to maintain payments on the $4600 mortgage still outstanding on the Harpoon. Ron, who had never allowed money matters to worry him over-much, clung to the belief that he would eventually be able to wheedle a larger pension from the Veterans Administration. On 4 July, Independence Day, he had spent part of the holiday composing yet another stirring appeal against his pension award and introducing a further hitherto unmentioned disability, this time a 'chronic and incapacitating bone infection'.
On the claim form, he painted a harrowing picture of a veteran gamely struggling against disabilities which he rated at one hundred per cent. His original duodenal ulcer had mysteriously multiplied; his 'ulcers', he pointed out, had caused him to abandon his old profession of 'ship-master and explorer' and severely hampered his work as a writer. 'I can do nothing involving nervous strain without becoming dangerously ill.' As for his failing eyesight, he now found it difficult to read for more than three or four minutes without suffering from headaches, making it virtually impossible for him to do any research. His problems had begun, he noted, after 'prolonged exposure to tropical sunlight in the Pacific'. Furthermore, he was lame as the result of a bone infection in his right hip, contracted at Princeton University because of 'the sudden transition from the tropics to the slush and icy cold of Princeton'. He was unable to walk without suffering severely.
'My earning power, due to injuries, all service connected,' he concluded, 'has dropped to nothing. I earned one thousand dollars a month prior to the war as a writer. I cannot now earn money as a writer and attempts to find other employment have failed because of my physical condition.'
To support his case, Hubbard persuaded Sara to write to the Veterans Administration as an old friend to provide independent corroboration of his rapidly deteriorating health. She put her parents address in Pasadena on the top of the letter.
'I have known Lafayette Ronald Hubbard for many years,' she began, inauspiciously and untruthfully, 'and wish to testify as to the condition of his health as I have observed it since his separation from the Navy.
'Before the war, he was an extremely energetic person in excellent health and spirits . . . Since his return in December last year he is entirely changed. He cannot read because of his eyes, which give him
much pain. He is rather lame and cannot take his accustomed hikes . . . He has tried to work at three different jobs and each he has had to leave because of an increase in his stomach condition. He seems to need an enormous amount of rest . . .
'I do not know what he is going to do for income when his own meagre savings are exhausted, because I see no chance of his condition improving to a point where he can regain his old standards. He is becoming steadily worse, his health impaired again by economic worries . . .'
In fact, a short-term solution to his economic worries was immediately and obviously at hand: the Harpoon. Faced with the impossibility of repaying the mortgage, Ron decided to sell the boat in the hope of clearing his most pressing debts. Solvent again, temporarily at least, he asked Sara to marry him. She accepted unhesitatingly. At the beginning of August the lovers left Florida and caught a train for Washington DC. On 10 August 1946, twenty-one-year-old Sara Northrup and L. Ron Hubbard were married in a simple ceremony at Chestertown, Maryland.
By a curious coincidence, Chestertown was only thirty miles from Elkton, where L. Ron Hubbard had married Polly Grubb in 1933. Sara knew nothing of Polly and had no idea that her new husband had been previously married. Still less did she know he had never been divorced.
Similarly, Polly, in Bremerton, had yet to learn her husband was a bigamist.
Back at South Orange Grove in Pasadena, Parsons sold the old mansion for development and moved into the coach-house with his scarlet woman, Marjorie Cameron, whom he subsequently married. It was to be a tragically brief alliance. On the afternoon of Friday 20 June 1952, Parsons was working alone in the garage of the coachhouse, which he had converted into a laboratory. At eight minutes past five there was an enormous explosion. The heavy stable doors were blasted from their hinges, the walls blew out and a huge hole was torn in the floor timbers. When the dust had cleared, a partially dismembered body could be seen still bleeding in the rubble.
Further horror was to follow. Police traced Parsons's mother, Mrs Ruth Virginia Parsons, to the home of a crippled woman friend in West Glenarm Street. Informed of the accident and her son's death, Mrs Parsons returned to the room where her friend was sitting in an armchair. She sat down in another chair out of reach, unscrewed a bottle of sleeping tablets and, watched by her helpless and appalled friend, rapidly swallowed the entire contents. Unable to move from her chair, the terrified cripple watched her friend slowly die.
29. Hubbard file, VA archives.
30. Pasadena Star News, 21 June 1952 and 5 July 1952
The inquest found that the explosion had been caused by Parsons accidentally dropping a phial of nitro-glycerine. But because of his known interest in the occult, there were inevitably rumours of suicide or even murder; none of his friends could believe that a man so experienced in handling explosives would have dropped nitro-glycerine accidentally.
Whatever the truth, no black magician could have wished for a blacker departure from the world.