A couple of days ago I wrote an article on the history of Halloween. And, after writing the article, I figured why not do a few more Halloween-themed articles for October – and keep it going through October. So, with that said, let’s begin. Of its Jet Propulsion Laboratory – based in Pasadena, California – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, says: “JPL grew up with the Space Age and helped bring it into being. It is a place where science, technology, and engineering intermix in unique ways: to produce iconic robotic space explorers sent to every corner of the solar system, to peer deep into the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, and to keep a watchful eye on our home planet. Analyzing the data pouring back from these machine emissaries, scientists around the world continue to discover how the universe, the solar system, and life formed and evolved.”
NASA continues: “JPL’s beginnings can be traced to the mid-1930s, when a few Caltech students and amateur rocket enthusiasts started tinkering with rockets. After an unintended explosion occurred on campus, the group and its experiments relocated to an isolated area next to the San Gabriel Mountains, the present-day site of JPL. In the following decade, as an anxious country sought to respond to the menacing challenge of German V-2 rockets, the fledgling Jet Propulsion Laboratory (officially named in 1944, some 14 years before NASA was formed) was sponsored by the U.S. Army to develop rocket technology and the Corporal and Sergeant missile-systems.”
What is left out of this statement from the JPL is that among those “students and amateur rocket enthusiasts” who “started tinkering with rockets,” one of them was Marvel Whiteside Parsons. Or, rather, Jack Parsons, a brilliant pioneer in the field of rocketry who followed Aleister Crowley’s Agape Lodge of the Thelemic Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) in California. It’s notable that Parsons’ company, the Aerojet Corporation, made the solid-fuel rocket boosters that ensured NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet took to the heavens. Parsons even has a crater named after him on the surface of the Moon. But, that’s not all. On every Halloween, the staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory perform an intriguing ritual – in Parsons’ honor. Halloween takes its name from All Hallows’ Eve, a term first used in the 1500s.
That Halloween is tied to All Saints Day (which is celebrated on November 1, one day after Halloween) had led to an understandable assumption that Halloween has Christian-based origins. It does not. There’s no doubt that the ancient, Celtic festival of Samhain played a significant role in the development of Halloween. Pagan rites and druidic rituals were part and parcel of the way in which Halloween came to be, too. It is, therefore, very intriguing that the staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory embraces the world’s creepiest night – and its attendant ties to paganism and the world of the druids – by paying homage to Jack Parsons. They do so in a fun and alternative fashion. Mannequins – dressed in white lab-style coats and designed to represent Parsons and his colleagues in the early years of rocketry – are wheeled into the JPL. The staff holds nothing less than a memorial to the man and his ground-breaking work. Within the world of the JPL, the joke is that those three-letters actually stand for “Jack Parsons Lives.”
The fact that once a year NASA’s staff embrace a ceremony born out of paganism and secret, druidic teachings – and also embraces Parsons, who was a disciple of Aleister Crowley, a man who had fingers in numerous secret pies – is, some might say, intriguing. More correctly, it’s beyond intriguing (for some, at least, who see a conspiracy theory everywhere). But, as this article ends, it’s important not to get all overexcited about such things. In other words, we shouldn’t see this as some sort of sinister “secret society” situation. It’s just a bit of fun – and that’s all it is. In other words, when we’re celebrating Halloween, so is NASA. It really is as simple as that: good fun for everyone on October 31.