Wednesday, August 7, 2019

John A. Keel: The Man,The Myths, and The Ongoing Mysteries

When Anders Liljegren, Kjell Jonsson and I founded, what was later to become, Archives for the Unexplained (AFU) in 1973 much of our ideological inspiration came from the writings of John A. Keel. His iconoclastic and heretical books coupled with a wonderful Fortean humour influenced a whole generation of ufologists. Keel was an intellectual challenge to the UFO community of the 1960s and 70s with his brilliant criticism of the then dominant ET theory. Finally we have an in-depth biography of this legendary pioneer. As longtime researcher, author and editor of Alternate Perceptions Magazine Brent Raynes is eminently qualified for  this task. John A. Keel: The Man, Myths and Mysteries is more than an ordinary biography as the author present a treasure trove of new data, experiences and interviews all relating to Keel and his ideas.

Now and then on this strange planet we are stranded on comes a man or woman whos life and ideas challenge a whole generation. They are true pioneers, making their own waves in the ocean of mainstream authors, researchers and philosophers. Such a man was John A. Keel. He introduced himself as a ”professional cliffhanger” in chapter one of his first book Jadoo, published in 1957. That his life would be radically different than his workmates in the 1950s, at the American Forces Network in Frankfurt, Germany is clearly evident in this quote: "I wanted to see Timbuctu and Baghdad, not Stuttgart and Mannheim. I wanted to walk among the ruins of temples, not factories. I wanted to dig into the dark secrets of Egypt and India and write about jadoo instead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."

When Brent Raynes announced he was writing a book about John Keel I was delighted and provided Brent with documents, photos and reminiscenses of Keel´s visit in Sweden 1976. The front cover photo is actually part of a photo from Sweden, taken by former UFO-Sweden board member Karl-Olof Pettersson on October 16, 1976. Brent has also included the interview Anders Liljegren and I made with Swedish Mothman investigator Åke Franzén, May 19, 1973 and further data in chapter Seven, John Keel and Swedish Ufology.

Original photo used as front cover

Just when I started reading the foreword by author and investigator of paranormal phenomena Rosemary Ellen Guiley I was reached by the sad news of her untimely death. It felt like a bizarre form of synchronicity. This 315 page book has eighteen chapters filled with a wealth of data from the life of John Keel coupled with cases documented by Brent Raynes and other UFO and Fortean investigators. Some of them well known to Keel aficionados but also many encounters and stories, to my knowledge, not published before. I was not aware of that John Keel had received two honorary doctorate degrees in herpetology and archeology or that much of his full-time field investigations in the 1960s was financed by his 1966 novel The Fickle Finger of Fate, that sold over 800,000 copies. Fans of John Keel can also find lots of interesting data on Doug Skinner´ s excellent website.

Brent Raynes

Very appropriate Brent Raynes devotes chapter 13 to the enigmatic MIB – Men In Black, presenting many cases involving these not too charming gentlemen from the twilight zone. John Keel was deeply intrigued by this enigma of the threatening and spooky individuals who often appeared to be quite physical and real only to suddenly disappear into thin air in front of bewildered witnesses. Brent Raynes narrates the remarkable MIB encounter Keel disclosed to fellow investigator Brad Steiger in 1967. One night three men suddenly manifested or materialized in Keel´s apartment threatening him to cease all UFO research. After about a half hour of intimidation one of the men asked if Keel wanted a demonstration of their abilities. He then went to the kitchen sink and fetched a bottle of bleach. In turn the trio took several swallows of the deadly liquid from the bottle until it was empty. I learned of this ”confidential encounter” in a email from Brad Steiger 2013 but had hoped that Brent Raynes had made a follow up. Unfortunately there is no more data in his book and I am not aware of anyone who know more about this MIB encounter.

Swedish Mothman investigator Åke Franzén reading The Mothman Prophecies 1978

In the public mind John Keel is usually associated with Mothman, because of the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere. But Mothman or other winged monsters have been observed not only in West Virginia and Brent Raynes documents several cases from around the Unites States. Madeline Teagle, a UFO contactee from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio witnessed four ”half bird, half human” beings that appeared during a rain dance ceremony performed by a shaman.

As there are very few ufologists and cryptozoologists who are connoisseurs of the Esoteric Tradition they have probably missed a very fascinating account by the clairvoyant theosophist Geoffrey Hodson. In April 1922 he observed several sylphs or air-spirits: ”Watching the approach across the valley of some dense storm-clouds, the presence was observed of a number of bird-like air-spirits travelling swiftly in front of the approaching clouds. Many of them are dark and unpleasant to look upon – slightly reminiscent of bats… Their faces are human and well formed, their expression is unpleasant; the rest of the body is not fully formed, and they rather resemble birds with human faces… They utter a weird shrieking noise, and occasionally shoot almost vertically upwards into and beyond the clouds… It is evident that there are many different species of storm-sylphs, varying in size, power, and evolutionary position.” (Geoffrey Hodson, Fairies at Work and at Play, pp. 84-85).

During his extensive field investigations in some 20 states Keel interviewed more than 200 contactees, cases that most of the ”scientific” ufologists ignored or dismissed without investigation. Open minded contactee research was not regarded as scientifically respectable by organizations like APRO and NICAP. Swedish UFO research pioneer and APRO representative K. Gösta Rehn regarded the theories of John Keel and Jacques Vallee as "a terrible blind alley". This ideological trend began to change in the 1970s with the books and theories of John Keel. Based on years of field investigation he concluded that the contactee enigma was far more complicated and intriguing than a simple black and white issue. In a letter to Brent Raynes 1970 Keel even defended the controversial contactee George Adamski: ”When I got into the business publicly in 1966, I was immediately appalled byt the utter irresponsibility of the UFO groups… I reviewed all the UFO zines of the past twenty years that I could locate. Keyhoe´s attacks on Adamski, for example, were emotional, groundless and slanderous.”

John Keel in Sweden with girl friend, Oct 17, 1976

After a lifetime of travel, field investigation and study of UFO, Fortean and paranormal phenomena Keel reached the conclusion shared today by many researchers into these areas: we live in a multiverse inhabited by a variety of diverse intelligences. He usually referred to these intelligences as ultraterrestrials or elementals and their emergence into our reality as transmogrifications, another word for materializations. Although this was Keel´s favourite theory he was open to other explanations. Brent Raynes mention Keel´s column in Fate Magazine, Beyond the Known, April 2002 where he stated: ”With me, the ultraterrestrials were only one possible explanation of certain weird phenomena. I never actually said that it was the only true solution to anything – just speculation.”

It is only human and natural that error and mistakes are made during a lifetime of research and writing. Keel of course was not perfect or always reliable. In chapter four, Keel´s Ups and Downs, Brent Raynes present the Tom Menteleone case, a 21-year old psychology major who told of having met the same aliens as West Virginia contactee Woodrow Derenberger. The story was a hoax but Keel was taken in by Menteleone´s claims. Two critics that are not mentioned in the book are Lucius Farish and Riley Crabb. In the Nov-Dec. 1973 issue of Caveat Emptor ufologist Lucius Farish wrote an article, On Maintaining an Even Keel, presenting data which indicated the Keel was not always realiable when it came to source studies.

Criticism of a different kind was given by Riley Crabb, director of Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (BSRF) 1959-1985. I corresponded for several years with Riley Crabb and expressed my admiration for John Keel. But here our opinions clashed. In a letter to me March 23, 1980 Crabb writes: "John Keel has been discussed at length in the Journal in the past. He is a wilderness crying for a voice, and I´ve told him so. His writings, like those of Jacques Vallee, leave one hopeless. Their general conclusion is that the Flying Saucer phenomenon is beyond understanding; it´s the creation of malevolent forces here on the earth; there´s nothing we can do about it... There is no inspirational lift from Keel and Vallee, and there can´t be because the two men aren´t even metaphysical kindergartners, they are metaphysical illiterates." This in my opinion was a very onesided view of Keel´s  groundbreaking research and writings and I was surprised that an competent esotericist like Riley Crabb couldn´t see that Keel´s writings expanded our horizon and looked beyond the materialist/reductionist interpretation of the UFO phenomenon?

In the final chapter eighteen, What Next?, Brent Raynes try to come to grips with what Keel actually believed about all the phenomena he investigated, his Theory of Everything. Not an easy task because of the enormous amount of articles and interviews aviable. You can find support for just about any theory in the voluminous writings of Keel as he often speculated in different directions. He was mostly pessimistic and often referred to the phenomena as demonic and destructive to mankind. ”I have no theory. We just don´t know, and we never will” he wrote in the Fate column April 2002. A somewhat more hopeful tone was given in his last book The Eighth Tower (1975): "Today many scientific disciplines are moving in the same direction, not realizing they are mapping a very old country. In a few years, perhaps even in our own lifetime, all sciences will suddenly converge at a single point, and the mysteries of the superspectrum will unravel in our hands."

If John Keel, as Riley Crabb stated, had discovered the Esoteric Tradition he could very well have developed a more optimistic view of paranormal phenomena and their implications. But in spite of his demonology theories he had a wonderful humour and an iconoclastic way of writing that is truly inspiring. When he visited Sweden in 1976 and I had the good fortune of meeting him for a long and interesting chat, he signed my copy of Operation Trojan Horse with the words: "The secret to the UFOs is on page 321." The book ends on page 320. That´s John Keel.

John A. Keel: The Man, The Myths, and The Ongoing Mysteries is an eminent tribute to a pioneer researcher, a fine contribution to the UFO literature. Experienced ufologists and forteans will not be disappointed as they will find a lot of new data and cases. The only thing missing is an index but perhaps that can be added in a new edition. Brent Raynes´ book is definitely must reading for all fans of Keel and the mysteries of our world.