Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron by Spencer Kansa (2014, Mandrake)
Marjorie Cameron burned brightly across the heavens in the latter half of the twentieth century. Known as the wife and mystical partner of Jack Marvel Parsons, she was the muse that led to some of his most brilliant writings. Had he not blown himself to pieces in a tragic laboratory accident, Parsons would have gone on to be one of the grand men of rocketry. There is even a crater named for him on the moon.
Wormwood Star is a detailed biography of his wife, Marjorie Cameron. A World War 2 veteran, Marjorie met up with Parsons after he was in the process of divorcing his wife Helen while both of them lived in Pasadena, CA at a large house where followers of Aleister Crowley had their own communal living arrangements. The Ordo Templi Orientis lodge that was based out of the house would eventually dissolve in a flood of egos and money owed, but Parsons and his wife managed to pull through it all. It all came to an end when he dropped a container of mercury fulminate in a home laboratory where he made explosives for the Hollywood special effects industry. Marjorie was in Mexico at the time contemplating divorce when she returned to California to discover her husband was dead. The press made a field day of a mysterious death connected to a “love cult”.
Marjorie, who went by the artistic name “Cameron”, would become a major surrealistic artist over the following years. Many of her finest work came from the period before 1960 when she painted extraordinary pictures. She befriended filmmaker Curtis Harrington and had a role of the mystery woman in his eerie Night Tide. She has one line in the move and speaks in Greek. Apparently, she didn’t understand the language and needed to learn the lines phonetically. There is also a short documentary from this time period produced by Harrington. She also has a small part in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome experimental film.
Unfortunately, Cameron’s life went into a steady spiral downward after the death of Parsons. People from that time period who remembered her described Cameron as slightly unstable and a bit of a substance abuser. There is a fine line between artistic genius and madness. Cameron crossed it back and forth most of her life. She had a daughter, but her years as a mother were spent without any support network. Her second husband was a barrel of anxieties. Although he was the father of her daughter, Cameron soon left him to pursue her bohemian ways.
As the author describes her behavior right after Parson’s death:
“Cameron’s kooky behaviour, and mishandling of her husband’s magical possessions, was becoming a serious cause for concern for her fellow Thelemites, who felt Jack’s precious papers were no longer safe in his widow’s hands. Endearing to secure as much as possible, they requested that Cameron start sharing the remaining material or, at the very least, make copies of the writings before they were lost forever…”
However, sometimes you have to separate the artist from the creation. As a person, Cameron may have had all kinds of issues, but her artwork is brilliant and holds up with the best creations from the time period. It reminds me of the story as to how Vincent Van Gough only managed to sell one painting before his tragic end. Yet, his paintings set the standard for color and tone.
Even when she was helped out by her artist friends, things had a way of turning out bad. For instance, this account of a benefit for her in 1964:
“Commencing, fittingly enough, at the witching hour, the night began with the sound of Cameron’s amplified voice reciting verses from her magical diaries from the projection booth, while 35mm slides of her artworks were projected onto the screen. Although the display worked visually, Cameron’s overly dramatic delivery elicited chuckles from some in the audience. After an intermission, Cameron’s film appearances were shown, kicking off with Ed Silverstone Taylor’s Street Fair San Francisco, followed by The Wormwood Star, and then clips of Cameron in Night Tide. A full screening of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome was meant to bring the event to a fitting finale, but what promised to be an enchanting evening turned ugly when Anger showed up in a combative mood, flanked by two goons, and demanded a halt be brought to the proceedings.”
Another bit of trivia from this book concerns the band X who lived near Cameron at one point. The song “White Girl”, one of their best, describes an angry lady standing naked in the middle of the street. From what the author as to say, it was inspired by an incident involving Cameron and her extended family.
Wormwood Star is a book that chronicles the life of a woman who was close the fires of mysticism in California in the first half of the twentieth century. It is as good a biography as you are liable to see on the subject.
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