John Keel, the Mothman, and weird visitors

As one who’s spent a long time reading books about the UFO phenomena, in my opinion, the bulk of theories lack imagination and are improperly weighted toward anthropomorphism in their efforts to explain the apparent contradiction of the known presented by extraterrestrial beings. Investigator John A. Keel, who died in 2009, best known for his writings on the “Mothman” sightings in West Virginia, and paranormal phenomena generally, was among the first to popularize the idea that many aspects of contemporary humanoid encounters with UFOs are paralleled in ancient folklore and religious encounters. It was he who coined the term “men in black” for the mysterious figures rumored to dissuade UFO witnesses from reporting their sightings, and he suggested a direct relationship between UFOs and psychic phenomena. For years, Keel, Jacques Valee and other early researchers of the phenomenon have noted the extensive similarities between the reports of supposed UFO abductees and the age-old descriptions of being nabbed by little folk or faeries.

Keel’s “The Mothman Prophecies”, available from your own fave local new and used booksellers, incorporates ancient Tibetan lore, witness interviews, his own reasoning power, and conventional science in its author’s explorations of the uncanny events witnessed by several residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in ‘67 and ’68. Keel was a pioneer of modern American Fortean inquiry into things inexplicable by conventional means. The word Fortean is derived from the last name of philosopher Charles Fort who demonstrated, among other things, that a circle may be measured beginning anywhere (i.e. open to interpretation) as can the corpus of opinion about supernatural events, and bears semantic resemblance to the word, “zetetic” (meaning skeptical of all established canons of bias, including one’s own), which I first heard from Robert Anton Wilson.

As a self-styled investigative researcher of the paranormal in the Fortean spirit who writes with witty logic, Keel believes all paranormal phemonena are manifestations of an ultra-terrestrial force that has always been with the human race, and that flying saucers are just the latest version. One among many interesting details left out of the Tommy Lee Jones-Will Smith blockbuster film Men In Black: these original weird visitors wearing black suits, far from impressing one as government agents of any stripe, seemed unfamiliar with the language and customs of their contacts, tended to feature ill-concealed wires running from cuff to sock, and all seemed like ill-prepared foreigners, often stuttering and mispronouncing common phrases, and tended to drive antique cars a la poor camoflage. As government agents would, they seemed intent on censoring witnesses’ reportage of uncanny happenings in the Point Pleasant, including the apparition of a rigid giant bird shape (perhaps the “mothman” referenced in ancient Native myth?) with haunting red eyes which flew straight up rather than flapping its wings or moving with air currents. Of course, it makes sense the government would take steps to quell potential alarm in such a case. By the same token, it’s not entirely far fetched to imagine alien visitors would pose as government agents as a cover for their own research on another species. One idea proposed by Keel is that the phenomena, whatever its explanation, is imitative of human belief by nature, adhering faithfully in both appearance and behavior to whatever the consensus expects from it. To quote Charles Fort, “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?” It goes without saying that the film “Men In Black” starring Will Smith is a far cry from whatever the reality of it all is


A movie called “The Mothman Prophecies” became so popular among American fun feeders upon release that few of that film’s fans are aware of its origin in this excellent book. Such uninformed pikers are often seen complaining on Goodreads on how the book is “nothing like the movie”, as if it were intended as a novelization. Personally speaking, when I first saw the movie version I was literally offended by what had been removed and/or replaced and never made it past the first 45 minutes. Having now seen it twice, I’ll amend my initial reaction and say that those first 45 minutes are very unlike, pure cinematic grist, after which the tale’s main body resumes without significant intrusion until the end.

I imagine Keel was probably pretty pleased, and I hope those royalties bought him a trans mortal grave (fans might get that) and an interstellar wake for his survivors. In addition to The Mothman Prophecies, Keel wrote several other books, some now out of print but many easily found at used bookstores in Denver and elsewhere. His Our Haunted Planet is an excellent record of the contemporary Fortean take on the paranormal, including UFOs and all the mysteries surrounding them. Unlike Communion author Whitley Strieber, who settles on a definite (read literal) interpretation of this particular phenomenon, Keel is broad-minded enough to include all possibilities. This book was published in 1970 (which makes this reporter wonder about all the weirdness there must be that goes unreported these days) was clearly NOT ghost-written by the CIA (unless they’re smarter than I think), is well-written and reads well. His The Eighth Tower, which proposes to pinpoint our position and future destiny in the cosmic scheme, is unsettling, but it’s a thought-provoking work of essential importance to readers interested in the paranormal phenomena surrounding UFO sightings. Keel (1930-2009) clearly leans against a literally extraterrestrial origin for these phenomena, referring instead to speculation about mysterious external control to explain them. He rejected the term ufologist, preferring Fortean, which encompasses a wide range of paranormal subjects, to describe himself.

Another of Keel’s books, Strange Creatures from Time and Space, is probably my favorite. It examines strange apparitions around the planet throughout history, including Mothman, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and countless others, suggesting that unidentified flying objects seen in our skies are manifestations of the same domestic psychic anomaly. The key word there is “psychic”. While Bigfoot researchers like Christopher Noel see the collection of physical evidence in protecting Bigfoot as a natural species, Fortean researchers like Keel theorize that such apparitions may in fact be interdimensional. This would explain the lack of any physical evidence, after centuries of sightings, and the sickening sulfuric smell typically accompanying them, which Keel points out has attended paranormal apparitions all along. In his own words: “I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967 when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs . . . The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs.”


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