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Fw: UFO UpDate: Keel vs. Ufology  Terry Colvin
 Feb 14, 2008 18:32 PST 

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Keel Vs. Ufology

By Jerome Clark

[published in Fortean Times 156 (2002), pp. 39-42]

On March 17, 1969, John A. Keel, occult journalist, composed a
three-page letter to James E. McDonald, atmospheric physicist.
Except for their mutual fascination with the UFO phenomenon and
their outsized personalities, it would be difficult to imagine
two men less alike. Between them they personified the extremes
of 1960s ufology.

One addressing himself almost exclusively to radical ufologists
and Forteans itching for an exciting alternative to the
extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) harked back to the 1940s, to
Richard S. Shaver and N. Meade Layne, and, even earlier, to
classical demonology and supernatural folk belief. The other
allying himself with the most conservative ufologists and
speaking to his fellow scientists and to elite institutions
possessing the wherewithal to fund UFO research and to overcome
entrenched resistance to the phenomenon sought to drag ufology
out of its marginality and to transform it into a branch of
normal science. Barely more than two years later, McDonald would
be dead by his own hand, and Keel would live on to write The
Mothman Prophecies and other books and to remain an active
presence into the 1980s and an enduring influence even now.

It can be fairly said that if McDonald wanted to domesticate
UFOs and place them in the mainstream, Keel preferred them so
wild and woolly that the ETH would pale into banality by
comparison. The whole structure of post-Enlightenment
civilization itself would collapse before Keel's shape-changing
ultraterrestrials demons with a fancy new moniker became a
generally recognized species. In Keel's view, McDonald, an
accomplished and (at least until he took up UFO advocacy) well-
regarded member of the University of Arizona's Institute of
Atmospheric Physics, needed educating and not just about the
supernatural reality underlying UFOs and allegedly related
manifestations: poltergeists, fairies, Sasquatch, Republicans,
in short just about anything else not immediately explainable.
Keel, using a rhetorical technique that over the years would
become wearily familiar, remarked that McDonald suffered from a
regretable [sic] emotionalism & apparent in many of your public

Moreover, Keel observed, You often tend to substitute
speculation for facts. McDonald was associating with the wrong
people, for example the ufologists associated with NICAP
(National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, a
relatively cautious, pro-ETH private group headed by UFO author
and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe). These
sorts were buffs who adopted a conclusion before they had any
evidence. Keel, on the other hand, drew on extensive field
studies and personal experiences, not to mention the valid,
independent studies he had conducted outside the buffery s
sphere of reference. Among other things, he had established
conclusively that known poltergeist cases and known UFO waves &
correlate precisely with each other, thus substantiating Keel s
theory that the poltergeist phenomenon is a UFO effect.

Keel declared that his comprehensive study of all religious
traditions proved divine miracles and UFO contacts also to be
identical at their root. No specifics accompanied these
assertions, though he did urge McDonald to look up recent Keel
articles in such august journals as the pulp cheesecake-and-
adventure magazine Male and Ray Palmer's pulp hollow-earth-
championing Flying Saucers. On the last of his three pages, he
did mention West Virginia contactee Woodrow Derenberger. Highly
qualified psychiatrists had given Derenberger a completely clean
bill of health. Even more revealingly, one of the doctors
involved experienced direct contact himself!

McDonald's restrained response, written on March 24, observes
mildly that you re not in a particularly strong position to
criticize someone like myself for speculating on the UFO
problem. I might tick off, but won't take time to, a pretty long
list of your own speculations that are not well supported in
your writings&. As a matter of fact, it is not your own
speculations that I find disquieting, but your practiced style
of writing as if you had some deep insights into baffling
mysteries that no one else has plumbed.

Writing back with a long letter dated April 2, Keel portrayed
himself as the one man who had broken through all the buffery
myths and nonsense, conducted not just the field work but the
statistical and scientific studies others (such as McDonald, who
had only emotional involvement, or NICAP's obsessive-compulsive
paranoid schizophrenics ) had not even thought to try, and found
a definite conclusion based upon hard facts& The UFOs are
transmogrifications&. The UFO entities are & variations on the
age-old elemental types.

In a much shorter reply McDonald, refusing to rise to the bait,
remarked that Keel simply was not making himself clear. When he
talked about transmogrifications and age-old elemental
phenomena, he wrote, "I simply do not understand you. You just
spin one mystery inside another and never get anything across in
any concrete terms." In a note to himself McDonald was a
compulsive note-taker he said that he was disinclined to engage
in further correspondence.

It was a wise decision. Keel had already declared that the
celebrated scientific method has proven to be totally unworkable
where UFO investigation and interpretation are concerned.[i]
Those who have had access to McDonald's massive UFO files
(housed at the University of Arizona in Tucson) have seen
abundant evidence of his commitment to the scientific
method.[ii] McDonald, alas, merely a passive observer; could
only interview witnesses, weigh testimony, study radar records,
consider alternative explanations for sightings, and all the
rest. Keel, on the other hand, could actually control UFO
events. Once, he claimed, he had conjured up the notion of
gillmen, and not long afterwards according to Keel anyway
someone actually encountered a gillman. Who, where, or when Keel
never let on.

If you believe John Keel, you also believe this:

Supernatural gods (ultraterrestrials, hereafter UTs) once ruled
directly over the earth but then returned to their abode, the
superspectrum (the upper reaches of the electro-magnetic
spectrum ), after human beings began to populate the planet.
Displeased with the intrusion, the UTs engaged in protracted
conflict with Homo sapiens in an effort to resolve this
territorial dispute. (Keel does not explain why such presumably
superior entities would have to wage the dispute over thousands
of years.) The UTs also battled each other, and one group
assumed human form so that it could more easily communicate with
the Neanderthals, whom it sought to enlist in its physical army.
The unintended result was sexual intercourse and the creation of
the human race as we know it.[iii] This produced strange
responses in [the offsprings ] materialized nervous system, Keel
wrote. Emotions were born. Frequencies were changed. The direct
control of the superintelligence was driven from their bodies.
They were trapped on Earth, unable to ascend the electromagnetic
scale and reenter their etheric world. With the loss of control,
they became animals, albeit highly intelligent animals. [iv]

According to Keel, humanity's long interaction with the
supernatural, as well as the timely intervention of enigmatic,
unearthly strangers in the lives of historical personages such
as Thomas Jefferson and Malcolm X, testifies to the continuing
presence of the gods of old, including God, who dwell in the
superspectrum. Its manifestations include UFOs and their
occupants, monsters, demons, angels, poltergeists, ghosts, and
voices in the head.

The Devil's emissaries of yesterday have been replaced by the
mysterious men in black, he stated. The quasi-angels of Biblical
times have become magnificent spacemen. The demons, devils, and
false angels were recognized as liars and plunderers by early
man. The same impostors now appear as long-haired Venusians. [v]

Thus you swallow all but the benign slant of testimony from such
notorious characters as George Adamski, Howard Menger, Aladino
Felix (aka Dino Kraspedon), and Ernest Arthur Bryant (of the
notorious Scoriton episode, in which a reincarnated Adamski
returned via spacecraft to rural Devonshire), all contactees of
the 1950s and 1960s, all of them with at least to other
observers - very serious, some might say fatal, credibility
problems.[vi]And then there's the already-mentioned Woodrow
Derenberger and, on the other side of him, Thomas F. Monteleone.

  From November 1966 until he dropped out of sight a few years
later, Derenberger, a late-middle-aged sewing-machine salesman,
challenged the credulity of even the most slack-jawed with ever
more expansive fables of interactions with space people and of
jaunts to their home planet, Lanulos ( near the Ganymede star
cluster [vii]). Given conservative ufology's antipathy to
contactees, NICAP's Pittsburgh Subcommittee led a remarkably
vigorous, open-minded field investigation into Derenberger s
early claims as they were occurring - or, more accurately,
evolving - until it arrived at the only conclusion possible:
that Derenberger's yarns owed everything to human invention,
nothing to extraterrestrial intervention. A local psychologist
drawn into the probe the one who, Keel told McDonald,
experienced direct contact himself! suffered something of a
breakdown, seeing saucers invisible to other family members,
meanwhile channeling failed prophecies.

Derenberger's tall tales figure largely in Mothman Prophecies
(1975). Keel, who spent time with Derenberger, rejects any
notion that the man was just making it up as he went along. He
also cites as supporting evidence the adventures of a University
of Maryland student, Tom Monteleone, who claimed also to have
met denizens of Lanulos and to have traveled to the home planet,
whose inhabitants cavort about it in the nude. Monteleone
surfaced after he called a Washington, D.C., radio station on
which Derenberger was appearing. As Keel writes in Mothman, Even
Woody was surprised by such direct confirmation of his own
experiences. After meeting Monteleone personally, Keel
determined that Monteleone was privy to subtle details about
such things that only true UT encounterers would know about;
thus, I finally had to conclude Tom was on the level.

Except he wasn't. Monteleone was, one, a psychology major -
that alone ought to have raised a red flag or at least a
Keelian eyebrow - and, two, an aspiring (and later successful)
science-fiction writer. He had conjured up the story on a lark,
as a hoax on a hoaxer. Writing in the May 1979 issue of Omni, he
crowed, I contradicted Mr. Derenberger's story on purpose,
claiming to have seen totally different things on my visit to
Lanulos. But on each occasion, he would give ground, make up a
hasty explanation, and in the end corroborate my own
falsifications. He even claimed to know personally the UFOnaut
who contacted me! [viii]

When these revelations saw print,[ix] Keel did not, no surprise,
graciously concede that all those conservative ufologists buffs
and cultists in Keelian had been right all along. Keel insisted
not only that he had known Monteleone was lying from the start,
but that anybody who read what he had written on the subject
could see that.[x] Well, not so. To the contrary, Keel had been
so wowed by Monteleone's Lanulosian friend Vadig's customary
farewell I ll see you in time that he cited it as evidence that
UFOs come from outside our time frame and [Keel's italics] _from
outside the environment of the known universe_. [xi]

It should be stressed, too, that Keel does not always use the
word hoax as the rest of us do, to denote humans fooling, or
attempting to fool, other humans. In Keelian, hoaxing more often
represents what UTs do to us. Since UTs are virtually all
powerful, they can represent themselves as just about anything.
Consequently, even the most manifestly preposterous encounter
claims are real paranormal events, even if not what they seem to
witnesses. Thus, Adamski and Derenberger are telling the truth
as they saw it; thus, too, the airship inventors of 1896/97 were
disguised UTs (even though practically every sober investigator
of the airship period has deduced that such figures did not
exist outside the fictions of journalist-pranksters). Thus,
anything, and I mean _anything_, goes.

I _have_ a personal history with Keel, whom I have known since
if memory serves early 1967, when Charles Bowen, then editor of
Flying Saucer Review, brought us together. We entered into
correspondence. I was young, impressionable, modestly read,
uncritically minded, and in the fashion of the period
susceptible to paranoia. In Forbidden Science: Journals
1957-1969 (1992) Jacques Vallee records the following from his
entry of April 3, 1969: Don [Hanlon] believes that Jerome Clark,
a young ufologist from Chicago [sic],[xii] has become so
convinced that an extraterrestrial [sic] invasion was imminent
that he has been driven close to a breakdown.

Well, not quite - in April 1969 I was more upset about a break-
up with a girl friend than about invading UTs - but it is
certainly true that I suffered both an unhealthy degree of
fright and an overblown imagination. I was hardly alone.
Earlier, in December 1967, I had visited Keel at his Manhattan
apartment, where he and a young couple caught up in the
excitement were trying on gas masks, anticipating an imminent UT
strike on New York City. Reading the correspondence I had with
Keel and others back then, I can only cringe at the youthful
folly painfully in evidence. At least, I suppose I could say in
my defense, I had the excuse of being rather younger than Keel.

In any event, I grew up, and away from Keel, though once he had
confided his hope that one day I would be the next generation's
John A. Keel. Though I had thought the parting was amicable, I
was wrong. As late as the 1990s, long after our personal
interaction consisted in its entirety of no more than the rare
pleasant note and the even rarer crossing of paths, he was madly
spreading slanders whose subject was lapsed Keelist Jerome
Clark. When at last I confronted Keel on the matter, he replied
that he was only pointing out the obvious, which is that I...
"live in a world of paranoid conspiracies and illiterate
misconceptions. To curb this you may need extensive
psychotherapy, coupled with drug treatment. You are ill and have
been haunted by this illness all your life." And so on. In
short, the usual charming way of dispatching critics: they say
those things because they're crazy, in the most clinical sense
of the adjective. For good measure, he added the to-me-amusing
observation that I have fallen for hoax after hoax. [xiii]

None of this matters matter much, and my annoyance over this
strange little episode passed quickly. Still, besides
demonstrating Keel's often-shown preference for vituperation
over reasoned discourse, it underscores his crankiness, in both
senses of the word. It's not that Keel will not lightly abide
fools; it's _colleagues_ he objects to. And come to think of it,
why given his medieval-demonologist outlook, his relentless
credulity, his charm-challenged anti-intellectualism, and, well,
his bad manners - would anybody _want_ to be a colleague of

Contrary to general impression, which is wont to credit him with
a more creative imagination than he in fact has, he is not a
particularly original thinker. His mentor Meade Layne, founder
of the occultish (the uncharitable would say crackpotish)
Borderland Sciences Research Associates, got many of his ideas
from medium Mark Probert, who channeled teachings from, among
others, a 500,000-year-old Tibetan.[xiv] If this is your idea of
a reliable source of information, God bless you, but I suspect
most of you would elect to look elsewhere. Layne, I might
mention, thought the etherians UTs were a generally benign lot.
It was Trevor James Constable, a student of Layne s, who first
discerned the dark reality beneath the sunny exterior: The
spacemen finally begin to emerge as coteries of unethical
invisibles, exerting a psychic despotism over innocent and well-
meaning people. [xv]

But Keel has been more widely read, and it is largely through
him that ufologists and Forteans, or at least some of them, have
plunged into the thickets of occultism and obscurantism, into a
realm where words like elemental and superspectrum and
ultraterrestrial and transmogrification are actually supposed to
_mean_ something.[xvi] Into, in other words, a domain of
incoherent theory and dubious data and, finally, numbing
irrelevance. If Keel were a humorist like Charles Fort rather
than a windmill-tilter like Tiffany Thayer,[xvii] one could
smile and shrug it off as an ongoing, offbeat joke. No Fortean,
to my knowledge, has ever championed Fort's sky islands or
Ambrose-collectors, knowing that Fort wasn't championing them,
either. But Keel is deadly, gloomily, blusteringly, spittle-
spewingly in earnest. Though usually politer and calmer about
it, so are the legions of acolytes who since then have dropped a
ton of Keelist doctrine on all our heads.

Let me close, however, on a mostly positive note. To the best of
my recollection, I have been in Keel's company three times,
possibly four. Even with that limited exposure, I think I can
safely testify that there are few more entertaining dinner
companions. Though it's hardly something one would infer from
his writing public or private, in restaurants he has a dazzling
and wicked sense of humor. I also think Mothman Prophecies is a
hugely fun book, even if there are whole chunks of it no
sensible human would take seriously for a nanosecond. I hope
that the movie based on it is a huge success and that Keel makes
a ton of money from it. He deserves to retire in peace. And, if
the truth be told, the rest of us deserve to be left in the
peace of Keel's retirement.

i. A New Approach to UFO Witnesses, Flying Saucer Review,
May/June 1968.

ii. As well as McDonald's correspondence with a dizzying range
of UFO personalities, from the sane to the certifiable.

iii It is surely pointless to mention here that no living
physical anthropologist believes that Neanderthals were the
ancestors of Homo sapiens.

iv. Our Haunted Planet (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications,

v. UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons,

vi. Keel's explanation for conservative ufologists rejection of
claims like these is characteristically ad hominem. In The
Flying Saucer Subculture, Journal of Popular Culture 8 (1975),
he writes, Interestingly, the hard-core believer [sic] & tends
to be over-skeptical & and has an extremely suspicious nature,
perhaps because he/she has created an imaginary self-image and
constructed the necessary lies to maintain it. Thus they tend to
believe that everyone else shares these personality flaws. They
often project or transfer their own problems to the UFO
witnesses they interview, and many sincere percipients and
contactees have been branded liars by UFO enthusiasts who
thought they detected their own behavioral problems in them.

vii. Ganymede, of course, is usually thought to be a moon of

viii. Monteleone has his own credibility problems. The Omni
confession, devoted chiefly to the ridicule of those foolish
enough to believe him, gives the impression that his role as
hoaxer was brief and limited. In fact, as late as January 1970,
he was making public appearances. In an August 11, 1970, letter
to Keel, he stated that the experiences I had with Vadig [his
contact from Lanulos] were completely true. This was, of course,
long after he had made whatever point he originally intended to

ix. Not only in Omni but in a better (and more restrained) piece
by Karl T. Pflock; see Anatomy of a UFO Hoax, Fate, November

x. For example, see Mark Opsasnick's amusing account in Strange
Magazine (Spring 1995). Confronting Keel on his curious
assertion that he d always known Monteleone was a fraud,
Opsasnick asked, reasonably enough, why, knowing as much, he had
still chosen to present it in Mothman Prophecies. Keel snapped,
The chapter is about hoaxes! Read the whole chapter! Don't read
one sentence! The whole book says it's all a crock of shit!
Opsasnick notes, I decided to leave it at that. I reread the
chapter&. It is not about hoaxes. I could only hope that Keel s
statement the published word doesn't mean anything applies only
to this chapter.

xi. The Time Cycle Factor, Flying Saucer Review, May/June 1969.

xii If it matters, I was living in Moorhead, Minnesota, at the

xiii. Letter dated March 27, 1996.

xiv. See, for example, Layne's Mark Probert, Baffling San Diego
Medium, Fate, May 1949.

xv. Scientists, Contactees and Equilibrium, Flying Saucer
Review, January/February 1960.

xvi. As veteran ufologist Richard Hall once wittily observed
(MUFON UFO Journal, August 1977), for all the meaning terms such
as these and extra-dimensional, psychical, Magonia, and the like
bear, one might as well say that UFOs emanate from the
chronosynclastic infindibulum.

xvii. The late James Blish once wrote of Thayer, founder of the
Fortean Society, that he advocated almost every imaginable crazy
belief. At bottom, he added, every one of these beliefs & turned
out to rest on some form of personal devil theory. Cited in
Damon Knight's Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1970).

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Terry W. Colvin
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