Cameron, born in Belle Plaine Iowa in 1922, was a driving force in the transition between the original Thelemic movement personally directed by Aleister Crowley, and the modern era of Thelema. She is disproportionately responsible for the dispersion of Thelemic ideals into popular culture, where they would form a major kernel of the sexual revolution.
By the time Grady McMurtry began to work actively with Thelema in the late 1960s, Thelemic ideals were already widespread in modern culture. There was fresh demand for Crowley’s written work, and through avant garde artists in New York and London, Crowley’s name had come to the attention of artists such as Jimmy Page and John Lennon, who popularized Crowley and Thelema beyond the wildest imaginings of its small cadre of official caretakers.
No one person can be credited with this. Crowley’s legacy never entirely died out in Britain, or in esoteric circles on either continent, however Cameron is heavily responsible for the transmission of Thelemic ideas into first the Beat Generation, then wider sixties counterculture.
After serving as a a cartographer in the United States Navy during the Second World War, Cameron moved to Pasadena California, where she joined Agape Lodge and became a working and romantic partner of Jack Parsons. The two would eventually marry and though they quarreled on numerous occasions, and separated at one point, remained married until Parsons death in an explosion in 1952. Cameron believed until her death that Parsons had been murdered, a conjecture which has never been successfully supported or disproven. The explosion occurred shortly before Parsons and Cameron were to immigrate to Israel, and had Parsons lived, the presence of Thelema in the cultural ferment of the 1960s might have been considerably lessened, if it was an influence at all.
Cameron can only be viewed as a major contributor to Parsons’ “Book of Babalon.” While Parsons wrote the book during a magical retreat while Cameron was in New York, her influence, as seen in her later work, lies heavily on the book. Certainly Parsons also heavily influenced Cameron, and it is important to understand their work as a shared undertaking. Parsons medium was largely the written word, which has given the impression that his contribution was paramount, however their shared project “Songs of the Witchwoman” in which his poetry is presented opposite her illustration makes her impact clear. The work also demonstrates Cameron’s clear, strong, voice.
Following Parsons death Cameron moved to Beaumont, where she founded an esoteric group called The Children practicing a simplified form of Thelema. As an explicitly racially diverse group, the group and its significance was largely minimized or marginalized by a predominantly white occult establishment in the late 20th century, and its goals have often been written about in unflattering terms. In practice Cameron’s group represents an important continuation of the concept of Thelemic Community.
Following the dissolution of The Children, Cameron returned to Los Angeles where she became well established within the avant garde arts community of the mid and late fifties. Through her friendship with influential host and actor Samson De Brier, she moved into social circles that included Kenneth Anger, Anais Nin, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, and Anton LaVey. De Brier was a veteran of the Atlantic City homosexual community of the 1930s, and the social circles around him were a major venue for the advancement of queer culture.
While Cameron may not have been the only person in Beat era Los Angeles with access to the rarefied social circles of progressive artists, and a comprehensive knowledge of Thelema, she is certainly the best known and most influential. History cannot prove transmission through conversation, but Cameron’s presence at the core of the arts community in Los Angeles must be seen as a major avenue by which Thelema, or at least its personalities and ideas, passed into the mainstream and informed much of the esoteric writing and thinking of the mid and late 1960s.
In the typical fashion that female personalities, particularly those who were not prolific writers, documenting their own situation, tend to be marginalized, Cameron has long been viewed as a sort of satellite to Jack Parsons. It is the case that aside from the situation of hosts such as De Brier, we did not have good terms for artists whose principal work lay outside their actual output. Today we would consider Cameron to be an “influencer” perhaps the most important in the history of Thelema. Cameron made Thelema “cool,” and had it not been it is unlikely that nascent efforts at its revival would have been of interest to more than a few devout occultists.
Cameron became a visual artist, working in illustration, painting and pottery. Her work “Peyote Vision” was censored by the LA Vice Squad in 1957, after which she largely stopped exhibiting, though her work has seen a contemporary exhibition at MOCA, however she is probably best known for her cultivation of esoteric work, and her work with Kenneth Anger in the highly Thelemic film “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.” It has been asserted that Cameron destroyed most of her visual work in an act of “ritualized suicide,” and only a handful of examples still exist, though some were photographed or filmed. Anger’s films are one of the major vehicles by which Thelema reached the arts community, and the Director was explicit that it was Cameron introduced him to Thelema.
While it is inappropriate to view Cameron principally as an adjunct to Parsons, her work as a latter amanuensis is worthy of note. She worked extensively as co-editor with William Breeze in presenting Parson’s essays as the 1989 “Freedom is a Two Edged Sword.”
Cameron is said to have stated in later years that she was the living incarnation of Babalon. She was a striking individual who made a strong impression on everyone who saw her, both in person and on film. Her contributions to Thelema are poorly documented, though a 2010 biography “Wormwood Star the Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron” by Spencer Kansa has helped shed light on her legacy. What we do know is that her influence was sweeping on a level that can be equaled by only a few other figures of the 20th century.