Marjorie Cameron

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Marjorie Cameron Parsons
Marjorie Cameron.jpg
Marjorie Cameron Parsons
Born 23 April 1922
Belle Plaine, Iowa, USA
Died 24 June 1995 (73)
Los Angeles, California, USA

Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (23 April 1922 – 24 June 1995) was an American artist, occultist, actress, poet, and an iconoclast in the mid-century Southern California counterculture. Her artistic output includes paintings, finely-drafted drawings, film performances and books of poetry and illustrations.

Biography[edit]

Early life: 1922–1945[edit]

Cameron in the WAVES

Cameron was born on 23 April 1922 in Belle Plaine, Iowa, [1] the first of four children. An artistic, mystical child, she rebelled at an early age against the conservative small town society in which she came of age, and was often at odds with her railroad worker father and church-going family.

After graduation from Davenport High School in 1940, she enlisted in the WAVES, a part of the U.S. Navy, and became a cartographer for the Joint Chief of Staff, and also worked in a photographic unit. Discharged from the military in 1945, she joined her family in Pasadena, California where she became a fashion illustrator.

Marriage to Jack Parsons and occult training: 1946–1952[edit]

Cameron was 24 when she met Jack Parsons, one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a spiritualist, mystic and acting master of the Agape Lodge, a branch of the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) [ 2]. Parsons was convinced that Cameron was the “Elemental” he had been summoning through the Babalon Working rituals he had been enacting with L. Ron Hubbard. Their attraction was immediate, and they began a passionate relationship that culminated in their marriage on October 19, 1946. Having an aversion to all religion, Cameron initially took no interest in Parsons' Thelemite beliefs and occult practices, although he maintained that she had an important destiny, giving her the magical name of "Candida", often shortened to "Candy", which became her nickname.[2] Their relationship was tempestuous, and Cameron separated from Jack several times. The first time she traveled to Europe, where she hoped to meet Jack’s spiritual teacher, Aleister Crowley. Crowley died before she arrived in England, so she traveled to Switzerland and Paris. [3]

Cameron and Jack on their wedding day

In 1948 she settled in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to pursue her art, where she met artists David Siqueriros, Renate Druks and Paul Mathison. During this time, Jack continued his magical training of Cameron via correspondence. Cameron came back to California in 1950 to reunite with Jack and they settled again in Pasadena. Jack was no longer associated with Cal Tech or JPL, and was doing explosive works for the film industry and Hughes Aircraft in a home laboratory. They planned an extended stay in Mexico in 1952, however the day before they were to leave, he received a rush order of explosives for a film set, and he begun work on it at his home laboratory on June 17, 1952. [3] In the midst of the project, an explosion destroyed the building during which Parsons was fatally wounded, and upon being rushed to the Huntington Memorial Hospital by emergency services was declared dead.[4] Upon hearing about her son’s death, Jack’s mother killed herself, leaving Cameron without a husband or mother-in-law.

Mental instability: 1952–[edit]

In Mexico, Cameron began performing blood rituals in which she cut her own wrist, in the hope of communicating with Parsons' spirit. As part of these rituals, she claimed to have received a new magical identity, Hilarion.[5] When she learned that an unidentified flying object had been seen over Washington D.C.'s Capitol Building she considered it a response to Parsons' death.[5] After two months, she returned to California, where she committed a failed suicide attempt.[6] Increasingly interested in occultism, she read through her husband's papers, coming to understand the purpose of his Babalon Working and furthermore believing that the spirit of Babalon had been incarnated into herself.[7] She came to believe that Parsons had been murdered by the police or anti-zionists, and continued her attempts at astral projection to commune with him.[8] Her mental stability was deteriorating, and she became convinced that a nuclear test on Eniwetok Atoll would result in the destruction of the Californian coast.[9] Though unproven, there is evidence that she was institutionalized in a psychiatric ward at this period, before having a brief affair with African-American jazz player Leroy Booth, a relationship that would have been illegal at the time.[10]

Art and acting[edit]

Like many women interested in magic, such as Ithell Colquhoun, Vali Myers, Rosaleen Norton and the surrealist Leonora Carrington, Cameron was also an artist. Her art depicts many images of an otherworldly nature drawn from the Elemental Kingdom and the astral plane.

Cameron was an influential figure among the 'Beat artists' and was particularly close with Wallace Berman and George Herms, both of whom she met in the early 1950s.[11] Her artwork appeared in the first issue of Berman's celebrated journal Semina (1955–64). Berman's photograph of Cameron appeared on the cover of the same 1955 issue.[12]

She played a prominent role in Kenneth Anger's film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, again as the Scarlet Woman. She also appeared in two films of Curtis Harrington, his ten-minute 1956 portrait, The Wormwood Star, which focused on Cameron and her artwork,[13][2] and Night Tide (1961), where Cameron starred as a mysterious woman credited as 'Water Witch'. A brief excerpt from The Wormwood Star can be seen by searching YouTube under "House of Harrington Part 1" (the excerpt runs from 6:19 to 7:04); the full version has been released since as part of the The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection via Drag City/Flicker Alley.[14]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Carter, John (2004). Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons (new edition). Port Townsend: Feral House. ISBN 978-0922915972. 
Kaczynski, Richard (2010). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (second edition). Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-0-312-25243-4. 
Kansa, Spencer (2011). Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron. Oxford: Mandrake. ISBN 978-1-906958-08-4. 
Parsons, John Whiteside (2008). Three Essays on Freedom. York Beach, Maine: Teitan Press. 
Pendle, George (2005). Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0753820650. 
Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bollingbrook, Illinois: Teitan Press. ISBN 0-933429-07-X. 

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