Ep 16: The Sky Calls To Us: The Occult Origins Of The Space Race
There seems to be something almost mystical about humanity’s relationship to space. The ability to, not just travel into space, but to turn around and look back at our fragile planet hanging serenely in a near infinite black vacuum has already profoundly changed how we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos. Astronauts have coined the term “the overview effect” to describe the profound feeling of interconnectedness that results from looking down at the Earth from space.
Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, explained the transcendent experience that he had while in space like this:
“The biggest joy was on the way home. In my cock-pit window, every two minutes, I saw the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun, the whole 360 degree panorama of the heavens…and that was a powerful, overwhelming experience. And suddenly, I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft, and the molecules in the body of my partners, were prototyped, manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness and connectedness, it wasn’t them and us, it was “that’s me,” it’s all of it, it’s one thing. And it was accompanied by an ecstasy. A sense of, “Oh my God, wow, yes!” An insight. An epiphany.”
And this view of the Earth doesn’t just change our awareness of our connection to each other, but to the greater cosmos, as well. The ability to travel beyond our own planet allows us to dream of a greater destiny for humanity, and it offers us a shot at the kind of immortality that only beings who aren’t dependent on any one home world could ever hope to enjoy.
So perhaps it’s not at all surprising that space can inspire the sort of awe and worshipful wonder that we tend to associate with the divine. And yet, when we look into the strange history of humanity’s journey to space—and the even stranger beliefs of the figures critical to getting us there—there seems to be something more at play than just our transformative awe at the vastness of creation.
Because listen, there’s no non-crazy-sounding way to say this, so I’m just going to go for it:
The reality is that when we look back at the history of the early space programs in the United States and the Soviet Union, many of the scientists who were responsible for the critical breakthroughs that made space travel possible were occultists who believed themselves to be in telepathic communication with non-human intelligent beings who were guiding their work.
Yeah. I know. It’s a lot. It sounds so outrageous that it would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as some crazy fringe theory. Except that these people existed, their beliefs are well-documented, and so are the astonishing inventions and innovations that came from their alleged contact with these beings.
And although NASA has very clearly and intentionally distanced itself from this chapter in its history, there is evidence that these same sorts of occult practices continue to exist at the highest levels of the space program among the people responsible for their most bleeding edge breakthroughs.
What Is The Occult?
But before we dive into any of that, I think it’s important that we first take a moment to talk about what the occult actually is.
From the very beginning of my research into this topic, it became clear to me that the UFO phenomenon was somehow inextricably linked to the occult. Wherever you find references to one, you naturally find references to the other. And yet, although this connection was self-evident, I’ll admit that it took me quite a while to put my finger on exactly what that connection is. And even now, I feel like I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface.
I think there are a few different reasons why the concept of the occult is so hard to pin down, and it’s worth taking the time to explore them so that we can hopefully arrive at a working definition of the occult that will allow us to have a more nuanced understanding of the strange stories regarding the origins of human spaceflight that are to follow.
The Stigmatization of The Occult
One of the most significant factors that contributes to the confusion around what the occult is lies in the fact that it has been aggressively stigmatized in our culture. At best, dabbling in the occult is generally seen as an aesthetic choice—a personal branding move that communicates something distinct, and many would argue distinctly antisocial, about oneself.
At worst, our society regards the occult as an intentional alignment with evil forces. It brings to mind devil worship, blood drinking, and other ritualized horrors. And from the “satanic panic” of the 1980s through to the modern day hysterics of the QAnon crowd, it’s clear that this fear of the occult and its practitioners is alive and well, even in our aggressively scientific age.
And yes, some of the spookier things that we associate with the occult are relevant to actual occult practices, however, these things are hardly representative of the occult as a whole. The realm of the occult comprises a much more nuanced and varied tapestry of traditions including the ancient mystery schools, witchcraft, Paganism, spiritualism, astrology, alchemy, secret societies like the Freemasons, New Age spirituality, and more. When you begin to get a grasp on how vast the world of the occult really is, it becomes obvious that pigeon-holing the occult as any one set of beliefs or practices simply doesn’t work.
So what then, if anything, is the connective thread that ties all of these disparate traditions and practices together? What is the occult? To really begin to grapple, not just with the content of this episode, but with many of the other major themes moving forward, we need to have a more mature and nuanced understanding of what the occult actually is.
In a talk on his book Occult America, lauded occult writer, Mitch Horowitz gave what I think is a pretty solid working definition of the occult. According to Horowitz, the occult is “the belief that there is an invisible dimension to life whose effects can be felt on us and through us, and this invisible dimension can be searched for outside of any individual congregation or religion or dogma”.
He’s basically saying that the occult has two primary defining characteristics. First, you have the belief in dimensions and forces that exist beyond the physical realm, and that we have the ability to interact with, influence, and in some cases even harness these forces. The second part is that this invisible dimension can be accessed directly. You don’t need an intermediary in the form of religious teachings or leaders to interact with it.
This is a useful definition because it both gives us a definition of what the occult is, and also what it is not. Namely, it is not religion. And the differences between the occult and religion are important for us to understand.
Let’s start by looking at Western religious traditions. This is an oversimplification, and there are certainly exceptions, but in general, the focus of Western religious traditions is salvation. Humans are believed to be inherently flawed beings that must be delivered from the consequences of these flaws by divine intervention. And though it is incumbent upon humans to seek salvation, in a real sense, they can never truly earn it, because no human can ever truly be worthy—only saved through the grace of God.
By contrast, in occult traditions—and again, this a bit of an oversimplification—the focus isn’t on salvation, but ascension. In this model, the human being doesn’t need to be saved by God, but rather one only needs to look inward to find the spark of the divine within. By coming to greater knowledge of one’s true nature, a person comes to greater knowledge of reality as a whole. The result is some version of ascension or enlightenment in which the person becomes a more perfected or higher version of themself.
Or to simplify it even further, in religion the mechanism of salvation is exterior to the person, in the occult the mechanism of ascension is interior to the person.
Looking at it in this way can help us understand not just what the occult is, but also why it has been so stigmatized throughout history. I want to be really clear that I’m not making any claims or judgements about the reality of any particular set of religious or occult beliefs. To be honest, I don’t know what I believe at this point, and even if I did, it’s antithetical to everything I believe to push my beliefs on you. But here’s a quick thought experiment.
Let’s say that you were the power-hungry type who wanted to more easily govern and control large groups of people—which set of beliefs would you rather those people subscribe to? Would you rather that they believe that they were fundamentally flawed and can only potentially be saved through elaborate rules, supplications, and hierarchies? Or would you rather that people believe that they are powerful creative agents each of whom carries the spark of the divine within them?
Once again, I’m not making a claim either way on the reality of either belief system. But it’s at least important to recognize that there might be ulterior motives for the aggressive stigmatization of occult beliefs.
Religion vs. the Occult
And I also think it’s important to point out that, although there seem to be clear cultural battle lines drawn between traditional religion and the occult, the distinction between the two isn’t always so black-and-white in our daily lives. Occult and pagan practices are often assimilated into religious practices, and many occultists are not above indulging in religiosity.
For example, I was raised in the Catholic tradition. The culmination of the Catholic Mass involves a ritual in which bread and wine are believed to be transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. The process by which this is done is virtually indistinguishable from ritual magic. It would be impossible to claim otherwise. And yet, it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to refer to a Catholic priest as an occultist. When occult and religious traditions collide, one subsumes the other in a way that makes it impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
So while I think it’s important to understand the differences between religion and the occult, there is an extent to which we need to be able to collapse those two relatively arbitrary labels in order to step back and look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, the occult and traditional religion are two sides of the same coin—they are each attempts to grapple with the most profound and mysterious elements of the human experience. And though we try to categorize them and wrap them up in neat little boxes, the reality is that, when it comes to approaching the mystical, there are as many paths as there are people to walk them.
What Does The Occult Have To Do With UFOs?
And all of this brings us back to our original question which is—what does the occult have to do with UFOs? And I’ll be honest—I’m still not entirely sure how to answer that question. It’s easy to point out the various places where these two topics overlap, but when you zoom out and try to look at the whole thing to establish any kind of a coherent narrative explaining their relationship to one another, there are no easy answers.
There are some clear commonalities, however, that are worth exploring.
One of the things they have in common is liminality. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the concept of “liminality” has been having a bit of a moment online over the past few years. Liminality refers to the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage. Like entering into the 8th month of a pandemic lockdown, liminality is all about standing on the threshold of something uncertain after having gone through something harrowing.
And liminality is something that you find woven throughout both the occult and accounts of the UFO phenomenon. First of all, the communities that are most drawn to both of these things have an aspect of liminality themselves. They tend to be rebels, outsiders–
And both deal with forces, beings, and events that can seem at once to be there and not there, real and not real. And the ways and places in which these forces make themselves known have a liminality about them as well. For example, both experiencers and occultists might use a trance state to contact a higher being, and anomalous experiences are often associated with the hypnagogic state between dreaming and waking.
Everywhere you look with regard to both of these topics, you find the same themes again and again of boundaries, thresholds, fringe areas, and spaces in between being entangled with UFO and paranormal phenomena. And while this might seem vague and a bit arbitrary at first blush, as we’ll explore in our next episodes, there are several emerging theories of reality that might help to explain why this is the case.
Hidden Mysteries & Ascension
Another commonality is that both UFOs and the occult deal with hidden mysteries and the concept of ascension in one form or another. In the occult these mysteries are conveyed by divine teachers, and the student, upon understanding these teachings, is able to ascend.
And in the UFO world, the existence of technology that exists in a paradigm so far beyond our own suggests the existence of a higher intelligence–a higher intelligence that could conceivably share their knowledge with us. And through that knowledge we have the potential to become something more than simply human, but a truly space faring species.
And symbolically, the idea of being taken up into a craft in the sky has deep parallels to ascension stories and myths that can be found throughout sacred texts of the past.
Another major overlap between UFOs and the occult is the emphasis on psi phenomena which includes things like extrasensory perception, telepathy, precognition, and psychokinesis. In the case of the occult, many occult practices are aimed at harnessing various types of psi phenomena to do things like influencing how events unfold, gaining access to non-local intelligence and information, and communicating with non-human intelligences.
And in the case of UFOs we see many references to this kind of psi phenomena, as well, many people who report experiencing contact with these craft and the beings associated with them say that the communication that they received was entirely telepathic. And those who seek to proactively establish contact with UFOs through Human Initiated Contact Events (or HICE) use techniques like meditation, trance states, and visualization that are similar to occult practices aimed at the same types of outcomes.
And while this might all sound like a bunch of “woo woo” nonsense–and I’ll confess that it did to me when I first started down this path–there is considerable and surprising evidence to suggest that psi phenomena aren’t just real, but they seem to represent a latent ability that we all have. I know that one might be a tough pill to swallow. We’ll dive into it a lot more in the next episode. But for now just put that one on the shelf and we’ll get back to it.
Huge Implications For The Nature Of Our Reality
Another thing that they have in common is that, if real, both UFOs and certain occult practices have pretty stunning implications for the nature of our reality. In fact, if anything, I think that alone is enough to consider that UFOs and the occult might be related in some meaningful way. Put simply, the paradigm shift needed for us to adequately explain all the weirdness associated with UFOs is so massive that it’s likely to explain a whole bunch of other strange phenomena as well. Maybe it will give us some insight into the occult and psi phenomena. Or maybe we’ll find that they are all manifestations of the same thing.
In the next episode, we’ll get into theories of reality that could potentially explain how that could be.
The Government Believes In Them
And finally, one of the most notable things that the UFO phenomenon and certain occult and psi phenomena have in common is that, though the government has both privately and publicly led the aggressive stigmatization of both–it’s pretty clear that the government believes this stuff is real.
Just last week, on January 12, 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its long overdue report on UAPs. In this report it says that the US government has received over 350 reports of UFO sightings since March 2021, half of which remain unexplained–and it recommends that further resources be deployed to study this potential national security threat. If you haven’t read that report yet, you can read it here.
And as we’ll discuss more in the next episode, behind closed doors, the government has also invested considerable resources into researching and leveraging the kind of psi phenomena that many would associate with the occult including remote viewing and astral projection.
And, if you ask me, that alone makes it worthwhile to consider all of these things that we might once have scoffed at a little more closely. Because if there is something that they are trying this hard to keep us from exploring while secretly spending decades studying it themselves–I mean, don’t you want to know why?
There’s a much more interesting story to be told here, and while it’s clear that many of the most profound secrets about these strange phenomena remain concealed from us, significant and startling parts of this story are hiding in plain sight. And one such story can be found in the occult origins of the space race.
The Space Race & The Occult
When it comes to the story of how humanity first made its way to the stars, there’s the story that we’re told in the history books, and then there is the truth. It’s often this way with history. Which is not to imply some kind of a conspiracy. I only mean to say this:
History is not a recounting of the facts of what happened in the past. History is an interpretation of what happened in the past based on the data that is available and told through the lens of the dominant culture of the day. The reality of the past is far too vast, nuanced, and intrinsically unknowable to ever truly be captured. That’s not what history is. Rather, history is a story that is created when we pull forward various narrative threads from the past and frame them in such a way as to extract meaning.
For example, the story of how the Cold War provided the fuel for the space race as two superpowers battled for global dominance—that’s true. And the story of how the collective will of the American people to go to the moon, as President Kennedy famously said, “not because it is easy but because it is hard”, provided the impetus for the moon landing, humanity’s greatest achievement to date—that’s true, too. Or as true as history ever is.
But there is another very different story that can be told that is also true. Instead of being a story about collective will this is a story about individual madness. Instead of the triumph of reason and scientific endeavor, it’s a tale that shreds the very fabric of consensus reality leaving us unmoored and without a clear foundation.
As the sociologist William Bainbridge observed, “Not the public will, but private fanaticism drove men to the moon.” And this story is just as true as the other. Scattered throughout the narrative of the early space race loom the figures of men whose pursuit of the mechanisms of space flight led them to the very brink of madness—some never to return. And it seems that under every rock we find more evidence of deep ties between humanity’s early space programs and strange occult beliefs and practices.
That’s the story that I want to tell.
The German Rocket Program
And like so much of the lore involving high strangeness from the mid-twentieth century, this story, unfortunately, has its roots in Nazi Germany.
In episode 12 we did a deep dive into the lore surrounding Nazi involvement with the occult and the possibility that it might have led to breakthroughs in secret technology. If you haven’t listened to that one yet, I highly recommend that you do to get the full context here.
To make a long story short, near the end of WWII, the Nazis managed to make some pretty significant advances in rocket technology. In 1942, led by a brilliant young scientist named Wernher von Braun, Germany developed the world’s first ballistic missile, the V2. With a range of 200 miles, the V-2 could travel at 3,500 miles per hour while packing a 2,200-pound warhead.
The V-2 far surpassed anything that the United States or the Soviets had in their arsenal at the time, and had it been rolled out a little sooner, it very easily could have turned the tide of the war. And to this day, rumors persist about how exactly the Nazis managed to continually beat the United States and the Soviet Union to the punch on the development of critical new technologies—and all of these rumors center on the involvement of UFOs and the occult.
Some have speculated that Germany had their own UFO crash a few years before Roswell from which they were able to back-engineer several technological breakthroughs. Others believe that the infamous Nazi search for ancient treasure and mythological relics may have led them to discover lost technology and esoteric knowledge that gave them the advantage. And still others believe that these breakthroughs were channeled from non-human entities who were guiding the Nazi scientists.
As we discussed in detail in episode 12, it’s hard to know if any of that could possibly be true, but what isn’t in doubt is that the occult was central to Nazi ideology. And so Nazi scientists like Werner von Braun would have been steeped in this culture, and would have had to at least given the outward appearance of having subscribed to it. Whether that means that the occult had anything tangible to do with their scientific breakthroughs though is really impossible to know. But it’s important to be aware of this occult influence, because of what happened next.
As WWII drew to a close, the seeds of another conflict that would come to define the geopolitical landscape for the next 4 decades had already been planted and were beginning to sprout—and that conflict was the Cold War.
Although the U.S. and the Soviet Union had fought alongside one another in the war as part of the Allied Powers (which also included Great Britain), by the time the war had reached its conclusion, tensions between the two nations were at an all-time high. In the crucible of war, both nations had been forged into formidable global superpowers, and their diametrically opposed ideologies fed the flames of a growing rivalry.
At stake was nothing less than global domination. And so as both nations began the process of picking over the bones of what had been Germany’s massive war machine, both nations were not-so-secretly scrambling to claim the experts and resources that were left behind for their own—knowing that if they didn’t, those people and resources would end up in the hands of their rival.
Of particular interest to both countries were Nazi scientists, engineers, and technicians with specialized knowledge—especially those who had been involved in the rocketry program that had developed the V-2. And despite the fact that most of the scientists, including Werner von Braun, were high-ranking SS officers and card-carrying members of the Nazi party, a plan was made by the United States government to overlook all of that in return for them coming to the U.S. to continue their work in the employ of the government.
This classified program, code named Operation Paperclip, brought more than 1600 German scientists and engineers to the United States between 1945-1959. For their part, the Soviet Union responded by relocating more than 2,200 German specialists during one night on October 22, 1946. And just like that, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union that came to define the early decades of the Cold War had begun.
If you find it shocking and disturbing that the United States gave refuge to known Nazis and war criminals who then went on to form the foundation of our space program—you aren’t alone. It’s hard to deny that this is one of the darkest chapters in our history. It’s particularly disturbing when you recognize that von Braun ended up becoming something of an American hero.
In 1960, von Braun started working at NASA, where he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V super heavy-lift launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. In 1967, von Braun was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, and in 1975, he received the National Medal of Science. Further, he is remembered as both the “father of space travel” and the “father of the American lunar program”, and he appeared in family-friendly Disney films talking about space and the moon landing.
Now granted, there are those who have argued that von Braun only joined the Nazi party because he was forced—and that if he hadn’t joined he likely would have been killed. They argue that he was just a scientist who was too caught up in his work to involve himself much in the machinations of politics and war.
However, as you’ll recall from episode 12, von Braun was the head of the German rocketry program which birthed the V-2. And this program utilized the brutal forced labor of countless prisoners of the concentration camps—at least 10,000 of which died from illness, beatings, or starvation.
And yet, because of his strategic significance in the space race, the United States government was willing to overlook his clear and unambiguous involvement in torture, slavery, and genocide. In 1963, President Truman, under whose leadership Operation Paperclip was carried out, recalled that he was not in the least reluctant to approve the program because, in his own words, “this had to be done and was done”.
A dark chapter, indeed.
Wernher von Braun & Jack Parsons
As we look ahead to all of the occult strangeness that would come to define the early space programs of the United States and the Soviet Union, it would be easy to point to this chapter as the root cause. But the truth is much more complicated.
The reality is that it wasn’t just the German rocketry program that had ties to the occult. Despite having drastically different cultural backgrounds and contexts, some of the brightest minds and greatest inventors in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union—without whose work we almost certainly wouldn’t have made it to the moon—were deeply involved in various forms of occult practice. And for many of them, these practices were integral to their work.
A perfect example of this could be found in a man who was actually a childhood penpal of von Braun—a man by the name of Jack Whiteside Parsons.
When both men were teenagers in the 1920s, the idea of space travel was a distant fantasy relegated to the world of science fiction novels. Von Braun and Parsons already had a deep interest in the subject which led them to strike up a long-distance friendship which lasted for years. Talking for hours on the phone, they exchanged ideas, tips, and notes from experiments on everything from explosions to home-engineered rocket fuel tests. However, In 1932, when von Braun began working for the German Army just before the country fell under Nazi rule, Parsons quickly severed ties.
Like von Braun, Parson’s childhood interest in rocketry and space travel followed him into adulthood. It was a passion that would define his life, and ultimately, also his death. And like von Braun, without Parson’s contributions to the field, humanity would not have been able to make it to the moon.
So why have so few people heard of this near-forgotten forefather of the space program? And why has NASA seemingly sought to erase his legacy? The answer lies in a bizarre and somehow uniquely American tale–one born in the affluent outskirts of mid-century Los Angeles, and steeped in a heady mix of sex, drugs, rockets–and of course, the occult.
Sex, Drugs & Rocket Science: The Magickal Life of Jack Parsons
Though when most people think of a rocket scientist it probably brings to mind mental images of a brilliant but meek type shuffling around in a lab coat, Jack Parson could not have been more the opposite. Rather than a life of quiet study, Parson’s life was one of extremes, excess, and hedonism.
I could easily write an entire book just on Parsons and his wild shenanigans, but luckily someone already has. The phenomenal book, Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendle, does great job exploring the many strange tales involving this controversial and enigmatic character if you’d like to dive into those further. I couldn’t possibly include them all in this episode, but here are some highlights to give you a taste of what kind of a guy Jack Parsons was.
Parsons was born into a wealthy family, and spent his childhood in Pasadena. From a young age he had a voracious interest in science fiction which quickly developed into an interest in rocketry, and he began doing amateur rocket experiments with friends from school. But for Parsons this was much more than just the passing fascination of a schoolboy blowing up bottle rockets in the park–it was the seed of a lifelong passion.
Unfortunately for Parsons, when the Great Depression hit, his family lost most of their fortune. The financial hardship forced him to drop out of Pasadena Junior College and Stanford University before completing his degree. However, the young rocket scientist was not to be deterred by lack of access to formal education, and continued the rigorous pursuit of his studies and experiments.
In 1934, along with friends Edward S. Forman and Frank Malina, he formed the Caltech-affiliated Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory (or GALCIT) Rocket Research Group. And by 1939 the GALCIT Group gained funding from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to work on Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) for the U.S. military.
But just as his professional career was beginning to take off, Parsons began to turn his attention to new, and even more exotic, interests. Following a brief flirtation with Marxism in 1939, Parsons converted to Thelema, a new religious movement founded by the English occultist, Aleister Crowley.
Crowley’s name looms large as one of the most notorious and influential in 20th century occultism. Originally a member for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult secret society in the 19th and 20th centuries, Crowley claimed to have channeled the text that would become the foundation of Thelema while on his honeymoon in Cairo with his first wife, Rose, in 1904.
The honeymoon had started as most honeymoon’s do, with the bride and groom arriving in Egypt and fraudulently claiming to be a prince and princess. The newly self-minted royals rented an apartment where they proceeded to set up a temple room where Crowley began to perform rituals to invoke Egyptian deities. During these rituals, Rose was said to have become delirious and repeatedly told Crowley, “they’re waiting for you”.
According to Crowley’s later accounts, a few days later, on April 8, 1904, he heard a disembodied voice claiming to be a messenger of the Egyptian god Horus whose name was Aiwass. The voice spoke to Crowley for three days, as Crowley feverishly copied down everything that it told him, resulting in the text that became known as The Book of the Law. This book, and the philosophy that it espoused, became the cornerstone of Crowley’s religion, Thelema.
The book proclaimed that humanity was entering a new Aeon, and that Crowley would serve as its prophet. It stated that a supreme moral law was to be introduced in this Aeon, which was embodied in the words “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Now, even if you aren’t familiar with Crowley, just based on what I’ve already told you’re probably getting the sense that this phrase is representative of an anarchistic, and even antisocial, worldview in which one is encouraged to do basically whatever one wants regardless of the consequences. And as we’ll see, Crowley and many of his followers, including Jack Parsons, certainly seemed to live by that axiom. Crowley was popularly known as “the wickedest man in the world” in his time, and it was an image that he both earned and embraced with exuberance.
However, in fairness, I think it’s important to point out that that isn’t exactly how it’s presented in The Book of the Law. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” isn’t necessarily meant to imply that you should do whatever you want. Rather, it is referring to the Thelemic concept of the True Will, which is entirely distinct from the wants and desires of the ego. One’s true will can be thought of as one’s true “purpose” or “calling” in life. So “do what thou wilt” isn’t a call for hedonism, but rather to move oneself into alignment with one’s true essence and purpose.
For Crowley, however, hedonism seemed to be part and parcel of his approach to the occult. And his drive to be unfettered by rules and limitations seemed to extend even to his own religious movement. Crowley wasn’t initially sure what to do with The Book of the Law, and was said to have often felt resentment for it. And although the text that he claimed to have channeled commanded him to do a series of tasks including stealing a particular Egyptian artifact from a museum, buying and fortifying his own island, and translating The Book of the Law into all of the world’s languages, he ignored all of these mandates.
Certainly hedonism had come to be the center of Crowley’s practice at the time that he came into contact with Jack Parsons. Parsons first attended a Gnostic Mass in 1939, and became fascinated with Thelema. He immersed himself in Crowley’s work and became convinced that Thelemic magick was real, and that it was a force that could be explained through quantum mechanics–an idea that we’ll explore in the next episode.
By 1941, Jack and his wife Helen Northrup joined the famed Agape Lodge, which was the Californian branch of the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). And in 1942, Aleister Crowley, who publicly recognized Jack Parsons as being one of the most important of his followers and a possible successor, pushed for Parsons to become leader of the lodge, replacing its former leader Wilfred Talbot Smith.
Parsons began to run the Lodge from his mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, kicking off an absolutely wild series of events. Encouraged by the sexually permissive culture of this new world in which he found himself, Parsons promptly began a sexual relationship with his wife Helen’s 17-year-old sister, Sara, who then declared herself to be Parsons’ new wife. Devastated by this news, Helen sought comfort with the Agape Lodge’s former leader Wilfred Talbot Smith. The four of them, remarkably, remained friends and moved into Parsons mansion together with a handful of other dedicated followers.
Parsons’ home became a hub of bizarre and frenetic activity. At once a commune, an occult lodge, a chemical laboratory, and a salon for some of the top science fiction writers of the day, daily life on Orange Grove Boulevard, was chaotic to say the least. And his affluent Pasadena neighbors, as I’m sure you can imagine, were not amused. After multiple allegations of the home being the site of a “black magic cult”–allegations which were, to be fair, more-or-less true–both the Pasadena Police Department and the F.B.I. opened investigations into the Lodge.
Although they failed to find evidence that the Lodge was a threat to national security, the mansion was still undoubtedly the site of all manner of immoral and illegal activity. For his part, Parsons at this point had fallen deep into a well of debauchery and self-destruction. Having long been a heavy-user of alcohol and marijuana, he had begun to habitually use cocaine, amphetamines, peyote, mescaline, and opiates, as well.
Unsurprisingly, in light of his extracurricular activities, Parsons’ work began to suffer, and he began to show up to work hungover and out-of-sorts. That paired with his increasingly eccentric behavior, his deteriorating reputation in the community, his alleged complete lack of regard for workplace safety, and his propensity for sleeping with literally whomever he wanted–including the partners of his colleagues and friends–led to Parsons being expelled from JPL and Aerojet in 1944.
L. Ron Hubbard
From there, things only got more bizarre for Parsons. He began to rent rooms to non-Thelemites at his mansion which had come to be known as the Parsonage. He placed ads in the local paper specifying that “only bohemians, artists, musicians, atheists, anarchists, or any other exotic types” need apply.
It was around this time that U.S. Navy officer and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard moved into the Parsonage. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard and Parsons quickly became fast friends. Parsons was so taken with Hubbard that he soon wrote to Crowley that although Hubbard had “no formal training in Magick he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences I deduce he is in direct touch with some higher intelligence…He is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles.”
And as these principals included an anarchist approach to sex and relationships, Parsons’ wife Sara soon found herself deeply enamored with Hubbard, which in turn caused Parsons to become intensely jealous. He decided to overcome his jealousy and seek a new partner through occult means, which involved an elaborate sex magick ritual in the Mojave desert–in which he included Hubbard despite his jealousy because he believed him to be particularly sensitive to magickal phenomena.
When he returned home after this ritual, he met a woman named Marjorie Cameron who was visiting the Parsonage, and he became convinced that she was the “elemental” woman and manifestation of Babalon that he had invoked through his ritual in the desert and began a relationship with her.
He eventually had a falling out with Hubbard and Sara as the result of some shady business dealings. The three had started a company together called Allied Enterprises, and Parsons had invested his life savings of around $20,000 (the equivalent of $300K today) into the venture. Hubbard convinced Parsons that they should use that money to travel to Miami to purchase three yachts which they would then sail through the Panama Canal and sell on the West Coast for a profit.
After being convinced by Crowley that Hubbard had defrauded him, Parsons tracked the couple down in Miami Beach where he discovered them with all three yachts. Hubbard and Sara tried to flee on one of the yachts, but whether it was an act of magick or simply a striking coincidence, after Parsons performed a ritual containing an invocation of Bartzabel—a vengeful spirit of Mars–the couple was hit with a squall and forced to return to port.
Allied Enterprises was dissolved, and Parsons eventually won a settlement in court requiring Hubbard to reimburse him. However, after the trial, Parsons decided not to take any further action to collect the money after Sara threatened to report him for statutory rape–charges that she almost certainly could have made stick considering that their relationship had begun when she was still a minor. Hubbard went on to marry Sara (despite still being married to her first wife), and eventually founded Dianetics and Scientology.
Like I said, I could literally fill a book with dozens more equally crazy tales from the life of Jack Parsons, but we don’t have time to get into all of that today. But suffice it to say that his life didn’t get less weird after that. And perhaps it’s not surprising that someone who packed such so much life into such a short period of time would meet his end sooner than expected.
By 1952, Parsons had lost his clearance with the F.B.I., effectively stopping him from being able to continue his career in rocketry. To make a living he founded the Parsons Chemical Manufacturing Company, which was based in North Hollywood and created pyrotechnics and explosives such as fog effects and imitation gunshot wounds for the film industry.
On June 17, 1952, Parsons received a rush order of explosives for a film set a day before he was set to depart on a trip. He rushed to begin work on it in his home laboratory. Soon after an explosion destroyed the lower part of the building. Parsons was found still alive, but horrifically wounded, and he died a short time later. He was 37 years old.
The investigation by the Pasadena Police Department concluded that Parsons had been mixing fulminate of mercury in a coffee can when he dropped it on the floor, causing the initial explosion, which quickly escalated when it came into contact with other chemicals in the room. While some of his colleagues thought that this explanation was likely given some of his more reckless tendencies, others weren’t convinced that the explosion was an accident.
Some thought there was evidence that the explosion came from under the floor where he was standing, indicating that his death may have been foul play–perhaps on the part of the government. And as if this story didn’t have enough notorious mid century megalomaniacs in it, one of the other parties suspected of having been behind the plot was none other than Howard Hughes, who apparently suspected Parsons of having stolen sensitive documents from his company.
There was other speculation, as well. Some thought Parsons had killed himself intentionally. Still others thought that he had died while working a ritual. To this day, his death has never been fully explained.
The Legacy of Jack Parsons
The legacy of Jack Parsons might be a complicated one, but it’s not ambiguous. Whatever his personal habits and proclivities, it’s impossible to deny that his contributions to the field of rocket science were extraordinary. Among many other notable accomplishments, he helped invent not only the solid-fuel rocket, but he was also a pioneer developer of Jet-Assisted Takeoff, both of which were innovations that were key to our eventual journey to the moon.
And in a certain sense, it would be easy to simply write Jack Parsons off as a brilliant guy who fell in with the wrong crowd, partied a little too hard, and flew a little too close to the sun. It’s a tidy and unchallenging narrative that would allow us to separate out his genius from the parts of the story that are less convenient.
But it would also require that we entirely ignore Parsons’ own perceptions about his work and his occult practice. Because to Parsons, these things weren’t separate. They were two sides of the same coin. Like the science fiction that he loved so dearly, the things that occupied his attention were all just different modalities for both exploring the cosmos and plumbing the depths of his own potential.
So what should we make of Parsons? There’s a certain kind of genius that looks like madness, but does that mean that Jack Parsons was crazy? Quantum mechanics certainly seems to imply an intrinsic subjectivity to our reality. Could what we think of as magick be a set of practices that can allow one to better harness our in-born ability to shape events and outcomes?
During rocket tests, Parsons was known to ecstatically recite Crowley’s poem “Hymn to Pan”–a Greek god associated with nature, fertility, music, sexuality, and fear–in a style that his colleagues compared to the fiery preaching of Billy Graham. The words of Crowley’s poem are powerful and evocative, and I found myself taken with the image of the dark-haired young scientist out in the desert, summoning a long-dead god with a combustible hubris strong enough to rend the very heavens in two in his quest for the stars.
I found this incredible rendition of the “Hymn to Pan ” on the Son of a Priest Youtube Channel, which I will link to in the episode description. The channel’s owner was kind enough to let me share it with you here.
Hymn to Pan by Aleister Crowley
Thrill with lissome lust of the light,
O man! My man!
Come careering out of the night
Of Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan! Come over the sea
From Sicily and from Arcady!
Roaming as Bacchus, with fauns and pards
And nymphs and satyrs for thy guards,
On a milk-white ass, come over the sea
To me, to me!
Come with Apollo in bridal dress
(Shepherdess and pythoness)
Come with Artemis, silken shod,
And wash thy white thigh, beautiful god,
In the moon of the woods, on the marble mount,
The dimpled dawn of the amber fount!
Dip the purple of passionate prayer
In the crimson shrine, the scarlet snare,
The soul that startles in eyes of blue
To watch thy wantonness weeping through
The tangled grove, the gnarled bole
Of the living tree that is spirit and soul
And body and brain — come over the sea,
(Io Pan! Io Pan!)
Devil or god, to me, to me,
My man! my man!
Come with trumpets sounding shrill
Over the hill!
Come with drums low muttering
From the spring!
Come with flute and come with pipe!
Am I not ripe?
I, who wait and writhe and wrestle
With air that hath no boughs to nestle
My body, weary of empty clasp,
Strong as a lion and sharp as an asp —
Come, O come!
I am numb
With the lonely lust of devildom.
Thrust the sword through the galling fetter,
Give me the sign of the Open Eye,
And the token erect of thorny thigh,
And the word of madness and mystery,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan Pan! Pan,
I am a man:
Do as thou wilt, as a great god can,
O Pan! Io Pan!
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! I am awake
In the grip of the snake.
The eagle slashes with beak and claw;
The gods withdraw:
The great beasts come. Io Pan! I am borne
To death on the horn
Of the Unicorn.
I am Pan! Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan!
I am thy mate, I am thy man,
Goat of thy flock, I am gold, I am god,
Flesh to thy bone, flower to thy rod.
With hoofs of steel I race on the rocks
Through solstice stubborn to equinox.
And I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend
Everlasting, world without end,
Mannikin, maiden, Maenad, man,
In the might of Pan.
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan! Io Pan!
The Russian Cosmists
In many ways, Jack Parsons represents a distinctly American approach to the occult–one that is fiercely individualistic and steeped in the punk rock values of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, occultists were also deeply involved in shaping the early space program of the United State’s Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. But, as you might imagine, the vastly different cultural context in which it emerged gave birth to an occultism of an entirely different variety–Russian Cosmism.
In his book, The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers, author George M. Young describes Russian Cosmism as:
“…a highly controversial and oxymoronic bled of activist speculation, futuristic traditionalism, religious science, exoteric esotericism, utopian pragmatism, idealistic materialism–higher magic partnered to higher mathematics.”
In many ways, Russian Cosmism is a reflection of the culture of the people themselves. As philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev wrote in his book The Russian Idea: “Two contradictory principles lay at the foundations of the structure of the Russian soul, the one a natural Dionysian, elemental paganism and the other ascetic monastic Orthodoxy.”
So what did the Russian Cosmists believe exactly? And how did it contribute to humanity’s journey to space? To understand that, we need to take a moment to examine this complex philosophy through the lens of the work of two father’s of modern space travel: Nikolai Federov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
We’ll start with Nikolai Federov, a philosopher regarded by many as the first of the Russian Cosmists. Although Federov didn’t write any books in his lifetime due to his belief that books and ideas shouldn’t be owned–and his few works were only published posthumously–his thinking had an outsized influence on the shaping of Cosmist philosophy.
Federov’s work came down to one core idea: that all known problems have a single root in the problem of death, and that no solution to any social, economic, political, or philosophical problems will prove adequate until we have solved the problem of death.
“All philosophies,” Federov wrote, “while disagreeing about all else, agree on one thing–they all recognize the reality of death, its inevitability, even when recognizing, as some do, nothing real in the world. The most skeptical systems, doubting even itself, bow down before the fact of the reality of death.”
However, according to Federov, the inevitability of death doesn’t necessarily need to be so…inevitable. “Death is a condition,” he wrote, “but not a quality without which man ceases to be what he is and what he ought to be.” And it’s that very idea of what a man “is” and “what he ought to be” that is core to the philosophy of Federov. In his view, what a human is, is immortal, and what he or she ought to be is engaged in the active pursuit of immortality for themselves and their fellow human beings.
An interesting side-note: in many ways, what you find in Federov’s belief system is the roots of the modern-day futurism and transhumanism that is embraced by biohacking tech billionaires and their breathless followers today. When asked directly, some of the richest and most powerful people in the world will tell you that they think theirs might be the first generation not to die. Whether that’s wishful thinking or not remains to be seen.
According to Federov there are two reasons for death, and both of these reasons come down to entropy. On the one hand, there is entropy inside of the human body that leads to death. Internal organ systems break down over time and become disorganized through the process of aging until life is no longer possible. On the other hand, there is an unpredictability to the events outside of the body such as weather phenomena. Federov believed that man might achieve immortality by “introducing will and reason into nature” to counteract these forces.
But in order to do this, the human being must be perfected. According to Federov, this meant evolving into a “self-creating, mind-controlled form, capable of infinite renewal, which is immortal”. He envisioned a superhuman future for humanity where the perfected human form could self-direct itself to accomplish any task from flight to seeing through walls to surviving the harsh conditions of space. These bodies would also finally manifest humanity’s true immortal nature by constantly regenerating itself at the cellular level, including creating new organs if necessary, and developing new modes of energy exchange that would allow it to self-feed indefinitely, something like a plant that is also its own greenhouse and watering system.
In Federov’s worldview then, space exploration isn’t just a fun option for humanity to be undertaken simply out of curiosity or a desire for conquest. Rather it should be pursued as an ultimate end in itself to assure the triumph of life over death for all of humanity.
Federov’s thinking was hugely influential, not just on Russian Cosmist philosophy, but on many of the forefathers of the Soviet space program. One of the most notable of these forefathers was early rocket theorist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Tsiolkovsky had frequent and direct contact with Federov over a 3-year period when Tsiolkovsky visited the library where Federov was working. And while Tsiolkovsky’s thinking undoubtedly pulled from a variety of sources, the influence that Federov had on him is apparent.
What’s most remarkable about Tsiolkovsky’s work is how much of it feels almost prophetic. Though Tsiolkovsky died in 1935 at the age of 78–a full quarter of a century before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space–he conceived of many of the necessary components of modern space flight at a time when these ideas were considered to be, at best, science fiction.
He wrote more than 400 works including approximately 90 published pieces on space travel and related subjects. Among his works are designs for rockets with steering thrusters, multistage boosters, space stations, airlocks for exiting a spaceship into the vacuum of space, and closed-cycle biological systems to provide food and oxygen for space colonies.
Among Tsiolkovsky’s published works were many works of fiction, as well. He had a gift not just for quantifying space travel through mathematical equations, but for translating his enthusiasm for the topic in such a way as to popularize the very idea of space travel itself. Many of the future Russian cosmonauts, including first-man-in-space Yuri Gagarin were avid readers of Tsiolkovsky’s work as children, inspiring them to pursue their future career as adults.
However, according to Tsiolkovsky, all of his work concerning space travel and his development of the theory of rocketry was merely supplemental to his philosophical research on these subjects. One of the central ideas of his philosophy is that life and spirit are present in all matter. He wrote:
“I am not only a materialist but also a panpsychist, recognizing the sensitivity of the entire Universe. I consider this characteristic to be inseparable from matter. Everything is alive, but with the condition that we consider living only that which possesses a sufficiently strong sense of feeling. Since everything that is matter can, under favorable circumstances, convert to an organic state, then we can conditionally say that inorganic matter is…potentially living…”
Tsiolkovsky saw the Universe as being both rationally organized and hierarchical. On the bottom rung of this hierarchy are “lower life forms” consisting mainly of matter in which spirit is dormant. These life forms eventually evolve into higher ones, in which the spirit is awakened and more dominant. At the highest levels of evolution as a being reaches perfection, we outgrow our corporeal meatsacks and become beings of light and energy.
Tsiolkovsky believed that we are made of the same “atom spirits” as ethereal beings that exist beyond our dimension like angels, gods, and ascended masters. He further believed that these higher beings are in constant communication with us, reading our thoughts and sending us messages through celestial symbols which most of us don’t perceive, much less understand. For Tsiolkovsky, a genius is a person who is capable of comprehending and channeling these messages from higher beings and translating them into earthly projects, like “the poet who hears the muses” or “the inspired inventor who turns a dreamed universal symbol into a useful object.”
Racism & Esoteric Thought
I want to pause here for a moment to acknowledge that there is a dark side of Tsiolkovsky’s worldview–and it’s a thread that you unfortunately find woven throughout many of the branches of occult and esoteric thinking. Within the ideal of the self-perfecting human, is a slippery slope that can lead to the horrific belief that human evolution requires the elimination of or “weeding out” of those of us who are somehow deemed to be defective. We only have to look back to the rise of Nazi Germany to understand how profoundly dangerous and how terribly inhumane that belief is.
In fact, there are those that argue that due to the prevalence of that sort of belief system within esotericism that the occult is an inherently hateful ideology. And while I don’t fully agree with that perspective, I can’t deny that there is a certain danger there. It’s my opinion that the vast pantheon of occult beliefs and practices are far too varied and nuanced to be inherently any one thing. And I’d argue that philosophical models, like any tool, can be used for good or for evil depending on who is wielding them.
Still, I think it’s important to be aware of the dangers and pitfalls of certain belief systems, particularly those that have been used to justify mass violence against human beings. In general, the ideologies to watch out for are any that:
- tie moral superiority to genetics or to any particular physical traits or abilities
- hold social hierarchies to be both naturally occurring and intrinsically fair structures whereby the morally superior rule over the morally inferior, or
- put any one person or group of people in charge of the spiritual evolution of another
I’ve found that as long as you are mindful to keep those ideas at arm’s length, it becomes easy to navigate some of these stickier occult concepts without straying from the road of decency and compassion for one’s fellow human beings.
What Does It All Mean?
OK. So now that we’ve taken a tour of the occult practices and philosophies of some of the most influential figures of the early space programs of the United States and the Soviet Union, what are we to make of all of it?
If I’m being honest, I don’t really know what to do with all of this.
As a skeptical, rational person approaching this subject, the “nuts and bolts” of the UFO phenomenon is usually where you start. It’s certainly where I started. I mean, the government says UFOs are real. Highly trained members of our military are seeing them all the time, and some of these sightings have been verified by multiple witnesses and highly advanced tracking systems. That’s something that just about anyone can get their head around. They are crafts of some kind. They’re technology–super advanced technology, but technology all the same. These are concepts that we understand.
But the problem is that, once you start really diving into this topic, you immediately recognize that where the rubber meets the road–by which I mean, in the cases of contact between the UFO phenomenon and real people–nothing about these experiences appears to be rational. Even things like time and “cause-and-effect” seem to break down in the presence of whatever these things are. There is a strange quality about the UFO phenomenon–it is somehow both there and not there.
And yet, UFOs are–at least some of them–undeniably some form of technology that falls outside of our current technological paradigm. With craft that can, in the case of the infamous Tic Tac, travel 80,000 ft in less than a second, it’s not a stretch to assume that this technology is the product of a highly advanced intelligence. Hell, the craft themselves might be that intelligence. We simply don’t know. The only thing that this phenomenon ever seems to bother to make clear is that we are not alone.
There is a weird cognitive dissonance that comes at the point when you begin to really internalize that reality–that we are not alone. Because if an advanced intelligence is interacting with our military, they almost certainly aren’t interacting only with our military. And if they are interacting with everyday people, then we have to assume that at least some portion of the bizarre accounts people give of those types of interactions are true.
But people who hear voices or see strange entities are crazy right?
It’s a reflexive response. The stigma against any form of anomalous experience runs so deep in our culture, that it can be difficult for even the most independent thinkers to approach the idea that some so-called “crazy people” might not actually be crazy, for fear of people thinking that they have gone crazy themselves. We’re powerfully disincentivized to even consider such thoughts, so many of us who have never had such an experience ourselves simply don’t. Why would we?
But in the case of Jack Parsons and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky these claims are particularly difficult to ignore. Both men believed themselves to be in communication with non-human intelligences, and this belief not only fueled their work–it informed it. And you could write them off as batty, you could fairly claim that Parsons did way too many drugs, you can point out what a crazy time it was ontologically speaking and that the lines between science and science fiction were blurred. You can doubt them and discredit in a thousand different ways.
But the reality is that without their work, we never would have made it to the moon. Their insights and breakthroughs took us to space. I mean, it’s literally rocket science. Nothing about it was easy or intuitive or inevitable. And so even the most skeptical among us has to at least ask themselves how crazy these men really could have been. And if they weren’t crazy, could it really be possible that a non-human intelligence guided our journey to space?
And even more remarkably, could there still be a legacy of this kind of contact going on in the space program today?
It turns out that there is. And it’s not just isolated to the space program. As Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka revealed in her phenomenal book American Cosmic: UFO’s Religion, Technology, these sorts of experiencer-scientists can often be found at the bleeding edge of futuristic fields like aeronautics and biotech.
These likely are not names that you know or will ever hear. These people tend to be intensely private, are bound by multiple government clearances and NDAs, and usually have enough money from their dozens of highly lucrative patents and business ventures that they can afford to fly under the radar. In short, this is not a group of people that is easy to find–but in her research for her book on UFOs, Diana found them.
We last discussed Dr. Pasulka’s American Cosmic in episode 11 when we were exploring the emergence of UFO lore. We only just scratched the surface of the book in that episode, so I’m excited to dive into it more here. Because one of the most compelling aspects of American Cosmic is Diana’s description of forming a friendship with two such experiencer-scientists to whom she gave the pseudonyms James and Tyler.
James & Tyler
Although James and Tyler had never met before Diana introduced them, the two men had a lot in common. Both men were scientists at the very top of their fields. Defying the stereotypes, both drove fancy sports cars funded by their work. And most significantly, both men were experiencers of the phenomenon who believed that their work was in some way guided by contact with a non-human intelligence.
James & Tyler were both members of what J. Allen Hynek of Project Bluebook fame termed “the Invisible College”–a small, secretive group of scientists and researchers who study the phenomenon behind the closed doors of some of our most elite scientific and academic institutions. And both men were also what Diana termed “meta-experiencers” or scientists who are interested in what experiencers see and how they see it and then use that data to inform their work.
With these two contacts, Diana quickly found herself on the other side of the looking glass. As an academic and someone who was entirely skeptical about the UFO phenomenon before beginning her work, she found herself in the surprising position of being confronted with the reality of two people who weren’t just sane, but generationally brilliant, and who were making extraordinary claims. And to back up these claims they each had decades worth of surprising breakthroughs and paradigm breaking patents. Startling in both their breadth and level innovation, their respective bodies of work, save lives, cure diseases, and stretch the very limits of human potential.
And lest you doubt the credentials of these gentlemen, it’s worth noting that “James” has since outed himself and is actually none other than the distinguished Dr. Garry Nolan, who holds the Rachford and Carlota A. Harris Professor Endowed Chair in the Department of Pathology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Nolan is an immunologist, academic, inventor, and entrepreneur who has founded and sold multiple biotech companies in his career. In short, he could not be more legit.
Except for Tyler. Tyler is one of the very few people who one might consider “more legit”. Although his identity hasn’t been revealed, Tyler has been involved in the space program for decades, and his involvement with both the exploration of space, and the phenomenon, have taken him to places of which few can dream.
And his story arc within American Cosmic provides a compelling case study of the potential involvement of non-human intelligence within the United States space program.
One of the most fascinating parts of Diana’s accounts of Tyler is that she was able to find and meet him at all. Like I said, these people tend to be intensely private and Tyler was no different. So the fact that Diana was able to find him meant that he wanted to be found–at least by someone like her.
When Diana asked him why it was that he agreed to talk to her, a religious studies professor, Tyler’s answer was surprising. He said, “I have mentors in the space program. One of them, who is now retired, explained that the next discovery in my field is going to come from your field. I am at the limit of understanding what I can from a materialist perspective. My mentor explained that mysticism, religion, and consciousness is where I need to go to learn what’s next.”
As she got to know Tyler, a narrative of his life began to emerge.
One of the biggest turning points for Tyler was witnessing the death of his dear friend and colleague, the beautiful astronaut, Judith Resnick, in the Challenger explosion in 1986. Although many others who were gathered to watch the launch were initially in denial about what happened, Tyler said that he immediately knew that his friend was gone and experienced immense grief.
Distraught by the loss, Tyler found comfort in Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos. He found himself thinking more and more deeply about technology that he believed to be just over the horizon that would far exceed that of the space shuttles and allow humans to truly venture to the stars. Despite this new fascination, he knew that he needed to leave the space program. The trauma of the incident seemed to be too much, and Tyler felt that it was time to move on.
As he was considering this at work one day, a general came into his office requesting proposals for experiments that would be run on the space shuttle Columbia. As this general was speaking, Tyler suddenly had what he called a “memory” about this experiment that had not yet been performed. And somehow, he knew that if it was performed that this experiment would work. The experiment was to test whether or not a non-charged material could speak with a charged material, and it could only be tested in space.
It took some convincing and getting a professor to sign on to the experiment for Tyler to convince the general that it should be done, because Tyler didn’t have a PhD, but the experiment was eventually performed on the space shuttle–and it went exactly as Tyler had anticipated.
A few days after the experiment Tyler was called to Washington D.C.–he thought to receive an award. But instead he was interrogated by a two-star general who demanded to know where he got the idea for the experiment. Tyler had to tell him the truth, that it was a memory. The general eventually believed him.
Recognizing both the business potential, and the potential to do good, that was presented by his new “memories” Tyler started a new company with a few of his associates pursuing biomedical applications for the ideas that came to him through this new gift. He was quickly churning out new patents and sold his first biomedical company to a public corporation for an undisclosed amount of money–but enough that he could have easily retired.
It was then that a combination of fate and boredom led him back to the space program, but this time it was a very different scenario. By this time Tyler had come to believe that he was connected to a source that was part of an off-planet intelligence, and had been since shortly after the Challenger explosion. It was to this non-human intelligence that he attributed the success of his company, and he maintained a strict set of protocols to help facilitate ongoing communication.
Once back in the program, Tyler told Diana that he believed that he was intentionally exposed to something that zapped him with energy and somehow used frequencies to change the way that he thought. Whatever it was, it seemed to increase his ability to access information from this intelligence.
He couldn’t go into many details, but he claimed that in his work he was often interfacing directly with the phenomenon. He said that he didn’t know who chose him for these strange jobs–that his own boss didn’t even really know what he did–and that he suspected that they (as in, the off-world intelligence) were somehow involved in directing his activities.
And yes–it would be easy to write Tyler off as crazy–a man driven to some kind of a psychotic break by a traumatic event. Except for the patents. The technology that Tyler claims to channel is strikingly futuristic. One example Diana gives in the book is of a “material that has been etched at the molecular level with information. The etching codes the material with information that human bone ‘reads’ as itself. It is then incorporated into diseased tissue and bone, which helps the body recuperate from cancer and other illnesses.”
And if the story ended right there it would be a stunning tale, but it’s what happens to Tyler at the end of American Cosmic that is perhaps the most compelling part of his story. But if you want to hear more about that, you’ll have to read the book. You can find the link in the episode description.
I do, however, want to circle back quickly to talk about the protocols that I mentioned which Tyler uses that he believes helps to facilitate his communication with the off-world intelligences that guide his work. These protocols are both cognitive and physiological in nature, and they are a part of his everyday practice.
One of the most important of these is sleep. Tyler had participated in studies about astronauts and sleep, and he used that information to inform his protocols. Tyler makes a point of getting a lot of sleep–specifically, he sleeps for 8 hours, wakes up, and then goes back to sleep for one more hour.
When he wakes up, he gets a big glass of water and goes outside to drink it in the sun. Sun is also very important to Tyler because he believes it recharges his cells. He tends to spend most of his work day working outside on his porch in the sun.
Tyler is also meticulous about maintaining a rigorous schedule of exercise including intense yoga. He eats very clean. He doesn’t watch television. And he avoids caffeine and alcohol.
I was lucky enough to take a couple of classes over the summer from Dr. Pasulka and it’s clear that she is fascinated with these protocols–and I can see why. With her background in religious studies she was able to quickly identify a pattern that other people might have missed. Specifically, she saw the profound similarities between these sorts of protocols and the devotions practiced by members of certain religious orders.
But she also recognized through her encounters with James and Tyler that these same practices are used by communities of what she referred to as “extremely effective people” across a wide variety of fields and disciplines. These communities include elite military and special forces, certain members of the Vatican who occupy special positions, extremely creative types like artists and musicians, as well as top scientists like James and Tyler who claim to “download” information from outside intelligences.
And all of this is fascinating, because like the other stories we’ve explored today, it implies not only that it might be possible for humans to access and communicate with a non-local, non-human intelligence–but it suggests that it’s a skill that one might be able to cultivate. It’s something that you can learn how to do, and then get better at it.
And that’s exciting.
So where does all of this leave us? Well for one, it leaves us with a lot of questions:
Are scientists on the bleeding edge of technological innovation really communicating with and being guided by “off-world” intelligences? And if so, what is the mechanism by which this happens? And who are they? And what are their motivations for helping us in this manner?
And if these people aren’t really communicating with “off-world” intelligences, then what exactly is going on here? What are these phenomena that they are experiencing that seems to be so closely tied to their scientific output? Are they accessing something like Jung’s “collective unconscious?” Is this simply some built in feature of consciousness meant to trigger our continued forward progress?
What this line of questioning leads us to–like so much else in the realm of UFOs and high strangeness–is the unsettling realization that something about our fundamental models of reality must be wrong. When so many supposedly “impossible” things are happening to otherwise intelligent, rational, credible human beings, at what point do we finally need to concede that the models that we use to judge what is possible must be wrong?
I’d argue that we’re there–and that we’ve been there for a while. And some of the top minds in the fields of physics and consciousness are already working on new models of reality that might make room for and explain the impossible things that happen everyday. And that’s what we’ll be discussing next time.
- American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technoogy by Diana Walsh Pasulka
- Strange Angel: The Other World Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendle
- The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Federov and His Followers by George M. Young
- Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz
- The Magical Father of American Rocketry | Reason