Marjorie Cameron – artist, actress and sex magick practitioner
Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (April 23, 1922 – July 24, 1995), who professionally used the mononym Cameron, was an American artist, poet, actress and occultist. A follower of Thelema, the new religious movement established by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, she married the rocket pioneer, Jet Propulsion Lab-founder and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons. Cameron’s drawings breathe the same vitality and elemental sexual power as Austin Osman Spare’s line drawings and Rosaleen Norton’s work.
Marjorie Cameron was born in Belle Plaine, Iowa. Her father, railway worker Hill Leslie Cameron, was the adopted child of a Scots-Irish family; her mother, Carrie Cameron (née Ridenour), was of Dutch ancestry. She was their first child, and was followed by three siblings:
James (b. 1923), Mary (b. 1927), and Robert (b. 1929). They lived on the wealthier north side of town, although life was nevertheless hard due to the Great Depression. Cameron attended Whittier Elementary School and Belle Plaine High School, where she did well at art, English, and drama but failed algebra, Latin, and civics lessons. She also participated in athletics, glee club, and chorus.
Relating that one of her childhood friends had committed suicide and that she too had contemplated it, she characterized herself as a rebellious child, claiming that “I became the town pariah … Nobody would let their kid near me”. She had sexual relationships with various men; after Cameron became pregnant, her mother performed an illegal home abortion. In 1940, the Cameron family relocated to Davenport so Hill could work at the Rock Island Arsenal Munitions Factory. Cameron completed her final year of high school education at Davenport High School. Leaving school, she worked as a display artist in a local department store.
Jack Parson and his sex magick for invoking Babalon
Marjorie Cameron volunteered for service in the United States Navy during the Second World War, after which she settled in Pasadena, California. There she met Jack Parsons, who believed her to be the “elemental” woman that he had invoked in the early stages of a series of sex magic rituals called the Babalon Working. Unbeknownst to Cameron, Parsons had just finished this series of Enochian magical rituals with his friend and lodger L. Ron Hubbard, all with the intent of attracting an “elemental” woman to be his lover.
Upon encountering Cameron with her distinctive red hair and blue eyes, Parsons considered her to be the individual whom he had invoked. After they met at The Parsonage on January 18, 1946, they were instantly attracted to each other and spent the next two weeks in Parsons’ bedroom together. Although Cameron was unaware of it, Parsons saw this as a form of sex magick that constituted part of the Babalon Working, a rite to invoke the birth of Thelemite goddess Babalon onto Earth in human form. They entered into a relationship and were married in 1946.
The introduction into magic(k)
In the winter of 1947, Cameron travelled from New York to Paris aboard the SS America with the intention of studying art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, which she hoped would admit her with a letter of recommendation from Pasadena’s Art Center School. She also wanted to visit England and meet with Crowley and explain to him Parsons’ Babalon Working. Cameron learned upon her arrival in Paris that Crowley had died and that she had not been admitted to the college. She found post-war Paris “extreme and bleak”, befriended Juliette Gréco, and spent three weeks in Switzerland before returning home. When Cameron developed catalepsy, Parsons suggested that she read Sylvan Muldoon’s books on astral projection and encouraged her to read James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Heinrich Zimmer’s The King and the Corpse, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Although she still did not accept Thelema, she became increasingly interested in the occult, and in particular the use of the tarot.
Although Parsons sparked her involvement in Thelema and occultism, the relationship with Parson was often strained. After Parsons’ death in an explosion at their home in 1952, Cameron came to suspect that her husband had been assassinated and began rituals to communicate with his spirit. While in Mexico, Cameron began performing blood rituals in the hope of communicating with Parsons’ spirit; during these, she cut her own wrists. As part of these rituals, she claimed to have received a new magical identity, Hilarion. When she heard that an unidentified flying object had allegedly been seen over Washington D.C.’s Capitol Building, she considered it a response to Parsons’ death. After two months, she returned to California and attempted suicide. Increasingly interested in occultism, she read through her husband’s papers. Embracing his Thelemic beliefs, she came to understand his purpose in carrying out the Babalon Working and also came to believe that the spirit of Babalon had been incarnated into herself. 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 his spirit.
In December 1952 Cameron moved to a derelict ranch in Beaumont, California, about 90 miles (140 km) from Redondo Beach. With the aid of Druks and Paul Mathison, she gathered a loose clique of magical practitioners around herself which she called “The Children”. Intentionally comprising members from various races, she oversaw a range of sex magic rituals with the intent of creating a breed of mixed-race “moonchildren” who would be devoted to Horus. She became pregnant as a result of these rites, and termed her forthcoming child “the Wormwood Star”, although the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. The group soon dissolved, largely because many of its members became concerned by Cameron’s increasingly apocalyptic predictions.
The movie carreer
In Los Angeles, Cameron befriended the socialite Samson De Brier and established herself within the city’s avant-garde artistic community. Among her friends were the filmmakers Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger. She appeared in two of Harrington’s films, The Wormwood Star and Night Tide, as well as in Anger’s film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. In later years, she made appearances in art-house films created by John Chamberlain and Chick Strand.
The second marriage
Through common friends Cameron met Sheridan “Sherry” Kimmel, and the two entered a relationship. A veteran of the Second World War from Florida, Kimmel suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, often causing him severe mood swings. He developed an interest in occultism and became intensely jealous of Parsons’ continuing influence over Cameron, destroying Parsons’ notes on the Babalon Working that she had kept. Cameron again became pregnant, although she was unsure who the father was. She gave birth to a daughter, Crystal Eve Kimmel, on Christmas Eve 1955. She allowed her daughter to behave how she pleased, believing that that was the best way for to learn. With her friend, the film-maker Curtis Harrington, Cameron then produced a short film, The Wormwood Star, which was filmed at the home of multi-millionaire art collector Edward James; the film features images of Cameron’s paintings, and recitations of her poems.
Cameron’s first exhibition
In autumn 1956 Cameron’s first exhibition was held, at Walter Hopp’s studio in Brentwood; several paintings were destroyed when the gallery caught fire. Around this time, Cameron was introduced to the actor Dean Stockwell at a public recital of her poetry; he then introduced her to his friend and fellow actor Dennis Hopper. She was also an associate of the artist Wallace Berman, who used a photograph of her on the front of the first volume of his art journal, Semina. The volume also included Cameron’s drawing, Peyote Vision. This artwork was featured in Berman’s 1957 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Feris Gallery, which was raided and shut down by the police. Investigating officers claimed that Peyote Vision, which featured two copulating figures, was pornographic and indecent, thus legitimising their actions.
In late 1957, Cameron moved to San Francisco with her friends Norman Rose and David Metzer. There she mingled within the same bohemian social circles as many of the beat generation of artists and writers, and was a regular at avant-garde poetry readings. She began a relationship with the artist Burt Shonberg, and with him moved into a ranch outside of Joshua Tree. Together they began exploring the subject of Ufology, and became friends with the ufologist George Van Tassel. After Kimmel was released from a psychiatric ward, Cameron re-established her relationship with him, and in 1959 they were married in a civil ceremony at Santa Monica City Hall; their relationship was strained and they separated soon after.
In 1960, Cameron appeared alongside Dennis Hopper in Harrington’s first full-length film, Night Tide. The film was a critical success and—despite not receiving a wide distribution—became a cult classic. She was invited to appear in Harrington’s next film, Games, although ultimately never did so. After Cameron moved to Venice, Los Angeles, a local arts shop exhibited her work in August 1961. On his return to the U.S. from Europe, Anger moved in with Cameron for a time, before the duo moved into a flat on Silverlake Boulevard in early 1964; Anger remained there before departing for New York City. According to Anger biographer Bill Landis, Cameron had become “a rather formidable maternal figure” in Anger’s life. In October 1964, the Cinema Theatre in Los Angeles held an event known as The Transcendental Art of Cameron, which displayed her art and poetry and screened some of her films; Anger arrived and disrupted the event by objecting to the screening of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome without his permission. He then launched a poster campaign, The Cameron File, against his former friend, labelling her “Typhoid Mary of the Occult World”. The pair later reconciled, Cameron visiting Anger in San Francisco, where he introduced her to Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. LaVey was delighted to meet her, having been a fan of Night Tide.
The later life of Marjorie Cameron: 1969–1995
In the latter part of the 1960s, Cameron and her daughter moved to the pueblos of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she developed a friendship with sculptor John Chamberlain and appeared in his art movie, Thumb Suck, which was never released. While in New Mexico she suffered a collapsed lung and required hospitalization. Her health was poor, as she suffered from chronic bronchitis and emphysema (both of which were exacerbated by her chain smoking), while hand tremors prevented her from being able to paint for four years. Returning to California, by 1969 she was living in the Pioneertown sector of Joshua Tree. From there she and her daughter moved to a small bungalow on North Genesee Avenue in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles, which at the time had become impoverished and associated with crime, sex stores, and adult movie theatres; she remained there for the rest of her life.
By the mid-1980s, Cameron was focusing to a greater extent on her family life, particularly in looking after her grandchildren, who were known to go joyriding in her jeep. Neighbors recall her playing a Celtic harp in her garden and slowly walking her dog around the block while smoking a joint of marijuana. At one point, she was arrested for cultivating cannabis in her home. Cameron became a regular practitioner of Tai chi, took part in group sessions in Bronson Park under the tutelage of Marshall Ho’o, and earned a teaching certificate in the subject. She became very interested in José Argüelles’ The Mayan Factor and Charles Musès’ The Lion Path, and undertook the Neo-shamanic practices endorsed in the latter. She was also influenced by claims made in the writings of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas about a prehistoric matriarchal society devoted to a goddess. Cameron was very interested in A. S. Raleigh’s Woman and Superwoman, taped her own reading of it, and sent copies to her friends and local public radio for broadcast. Throughout all of these disparate spiritual interests, she retained faith in the Thelemic ideas of Crowley.
As well as entertaining old friends who came to visit her in her home, Cameron also met with younger occultists, such as the Thelemite William Breeze and the industrial musician Genesis P-Orridge. Cameron aided Breeze in co-editing a collection of Parsons’ occult and libertarian writings, which were published as Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword in 1989. Cameron was acquainted with the experimental film-maker Chick Strand and appeared in the latter’s 1979 project Loose Ends, during which she narrated the story of an exorcism. In 1989, an exhibition of her work titled The Pearl of Reprisal was held at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. It included a selection of her paintings and a screening of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and The Wormwood Star, while Cameron attended to provide a candle-lit reading of her poetry.
Marjorie Cameron’s Death
In the mid-1990s, Cameron was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent radiotherapy treatment, which she supplemented with alternative medicines. The tumor was cancerous and metastasized to her lungs. She died at the age of 73 in the VA Medical Center on July 24, 1995, and underwent the Thelemic last rites, carried out by a high priestess of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Her body was cremated and its ashes were scattered in the Mojave Desert. A memorial event was held at Venice’s Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in August.
Cameron’s recognition as an artist increased after her death, when her paintings made appearances in exhibitions across the U.S. As a result of increased attention on Parsons, Cameron’s life also gained greater coverage in the early 2000s. In 2006, the Cameron–Parsons Foundation was created to preserve and promote her work, and in 2011 a biography of Cameron written by Spencer Kansa was published.
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