Wormwood Star by Spencer Kansa

Wormwood Star by Spencer Kansa

Between January and March 1946, the rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons, along with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, performed a ritual developed by Aleister Crowley with the intention of manifesting a form of the divine feminine power known as ‘Babalon’. The ‘Babalon’ archetype appears in Crowley’s Liber Al (Book of the Law), where she epitomises the female sexual current as expressed via the liberated and sensually aware woman.

This was something of a dangerous and challenging concept to society back in its day!

The result of the ritual swept Parsons completely off his feet when he met Marjorie Cameron—a divinely sensuous woman with striking red hair and blue eyes at a party at his house. He immediately considered her to be a physical manifestation of the spirit of Babalon that he and Hubbard had invoked.

Soon after their meeting, Parsons moved from 1003 Orange Grove Avenue, New York to Manhattan Beach. It was there that, on 19th October 1946, that he and Marjorie Cameron married and began a life together.

Wormwood Star by Spencer Kansa traces Marjorie Cameron’s life from her birth in Belle Plaine, Iowa in 1922 through to her death in 1995.

Kansa follows the artist’s life through its many ups and downs on both a personal and professional level. He reveals both the role that she played in the life of her husband and the development of her creative work which ended with her holding a primary position today as a counter-cultural icon and key figure in the development of postwar Los Angeles art.

In the early part of his book, Kansa describes the circumstances that brought Parsons and Cameron together. He reveals that in every way the coupling appeared to have been a match made in heaven—but one that eventually ignited a fire that was to explode with the death of Parsons a few years later in 1952.

Although the relationship between Cameron and Parsons was not always harmonious, they even contemplated divorce at one point with Parsons engaging in an extra-marital affair, they did espouse and exemplify the Thelemic principle of advan-garde living, alternative thought and non-conventional living.

They began holding parties that were invariably attended by bohemians and members of the beat generation.

Cameron would also attend the jazz clubs of Central Avenue with her friend, the sculptor Julie Macdonald and, with her growing sense of self-confidence, she started earning money producing illustrations for fashion magazines and by selling some of her paintings.

Kansa explains how, shortly after Parsons’ death, Cameron attempted to commit suicide and that she entered a period of mental instability that resulted in her incarceration in a psychiatric ward for a short period.

This stage of her life mirrored her movement into the darkside of the occult. While in Mexico, she performed blood rituals with the intention of communicating with the spirit of her late-husband.

In many ways, it seems that whilst the occult and magick partly drove her into the darkside, it was also her salvation for, when she eventually came out of the other side—a reborn and magickally-charged individual, her professional life took her into the exciting new terrain of acting.

It was Paul Mathison and the actor Samson DeBrier who initially introduced Cameron to the film-maker and Thelemic advocate Kenneth Anger. He gave Cameron a leading role, opposite Anais Nin, in his 1954 film ‘Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’. In it, she played the parts of both Kali and the Scarlet Woman.

A year later, Cameron collaborated with filmmaker Curtis Harrington in his documentary film about her work as a conceptual artist, entitled ‘The Wormwood Star’.

In 1961, she co-starred alongside Dennis Hopper as the Water Witch in Harrington’s feature film ‘Night Tide’—a film that was based on a short story drawn from a Greek myth in which watery sirens lure sailors to their death.

The film was entered at the Venice Film Festival where it received glowing reviews from the Italian press. It received further critical acclaim when Time Magazine included it in their top ten films to see that year.

During the late 1960s, Cameron remained fascinated by the occult. She relocated to Velarde, New Mexico where she lived for a few years before moving to Los Angeles where she continued writing and working on her artwork. This was largely based on her mystical visions, contact with elementals, astral travels and dreams.

She also became an enthusiastic student of astrology and an adept practitioner of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. But as her life drew to a close, she dedicated more of her time to her family and grandchildren.

She passed away with cancer at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center in 1995.

In the epilogue of his book, Kansa cites Kenneth Grant’s reference to Cameron in his book ‘Hecate’s Fountain’ and her influence in his founding of his New Isis Lodge. Although he never forgot the woman whom many believed personified Crowley’s concept of the Babalon, he did, like so many, directly experience and appreciate her incredibly powerful and magnetic aura.

Wormwood Star closes with a notes section and a short interview with the author himself about his publication and research that underpins it.

Review

This is a good and fair assessment to my mind of Marjorie Cameron but, sadly, it does not reveal a great deal about Cameron’s relationship to Parsons. This may have been intentional to avoid letting the weight of Parsons’ persona get in the way of the main subject matter but I would have liked to have read more about this aspect of her life.

The book also includes little of Cameron’s magickal interests and work. Instead, it concentrates on her artistic and acting interests. I think that it is safe to assume that Cameron would have kept a magickal diary or written similar papers but there is no evidence of this in the book.

While these are important elements to Cameron’s life that I feel are missing from the story, there is no doubt that this is a well researched book. It should be said that the copy under review here is the Mandrake 2014 version that has been reprinted and updated. It includes an number of additional photographs and images.

Sadly, the majority of these do not reproduce very well in this publication as they are rather under-exposed and therefore lacking detail.

Despite this, they do add greatly to the story and, given that so many are rare and evidently from private collections, including the Warburg Institute, they must have been difficult to obtain.

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to Marjorie Cameron. Although it is possibly not a definitive account of her life, it does contain a great deal of important detail and insight regarding her eventful life.

As a book, it runs along at a cracking pace and reveals the sense of atmosphere that existed at that time and around the people and events that seemingly magickally transported themselves into Cameron’s life.

Wormwood Star leaves the reader with little doubt that the story of the relationship between Parsons, Crowley and Hubbard has, up until now, missed a vital ingredient. Kansa proves that this missing element was Marjorie ‘Babalon’ Cameron.

Her overt sense of individuality, alluring sexual nature and the Thelemic current that she continued to express after Hubbard’s departure, Crowley and Parsons’ deaths adds an important chapter to Thelemic history.

Cameron was, by all accounts, a complex and challenging individual who lived way before her time and certainly a long time before the Thelemic culture and alternative movement fully became established. Had she lived today, I am sure that her life story would have read quite differently!

Wormwood Star is a pulsating account of a vibrant individual. Someone who lived her life in a magickal way and whose legendary position in occult annals has been skillfully captured and shared in this well-researched bio.