I am fascinated by Keel’s books because I am fascinated by Keel. When it comes to believing, Keel veers from the standard set of UFO beliefs (“flying saucers from outer space”) and goes into what I would call an “everything that fits” belief system: paranormal, religious, technological, conspiracy theories, all part of his explanations of the UFO phenomenon.
“. . . ‘illusion-prone spirits’ are responsible for nearly all of the UFO appearances and manipulations. The flying saucers do not come from some Buck Rogers-type civilization on some distant planet. They are our next-door neighbors, part of another space-time continuum where life, matter, and energy are radically different from ours.” [Page 273. Note, all page numbers are from the Manor House edition of the book.]
“With very few exceptions, no two UFO photographs are alike. I have received hundreds in the mail and have been shown hundreds more in my travels. I have yet to personally handle two exactly similar photos taken in two different areas . . . I have rarely heard two independent witnesses describe separate seemingly solid ‘hard’ objects in the same terms . . . There seem to be as many different kinds of objects as there are witnesses. Yet I have managed to reassure myself again and again that the witnesses were reliable and were describing the objects to the best of their abilities.” [Emphasis mine. The “abilities” of witnesses has been a subject for study for decades, and witnessing is a highly subjective thing.]
“. . . we must assume that UFOs come in myriad sizes and shapes. Or no real shapes at all . . . if the phenomenon has built-in discrepancies, then no one will take it seriously.”
Back to Keel:
“In other words, we have thousands upon thousands of UFO sightings which force two unacceptable answers upon us:
“1. All the witnesses were mistaken or lying.
“2. Some tremendous unknown civilization is exerting an all-out effort to manufacture thousands of different types of UFOs and is sending all of them to our planet.
“I think that some ‘hard’ objects definitely exist as Temporary Transmogrifications. They are disk-shaped and cigar-shaped. They leave indentations in the ground when they land. Witnesses have touched them and have even been inside of them. These hard objects are decoys, just as the dirigibles and ghost planes of yesteryear may have been decoys to cover the activities of the multitudinous soft objects. They hold one of the keys to the mystery.
“There are countless sightings of objects which changed size and shape in front of the viewers or split into different smaller objects, each going off in a different direction . . . Over and over again witnesses have told me in hushed tones, ‘You know, I don’t think that thing I saw was mechanical at all. I got the distinct impression it was alive.’.”
In Keel’s hypothesis, they were controlled by these beings from another dimension, time and space. They made them to look like objects we would be familiar with. Keel describes these entities as “ultraterrestrials,” creating objects that would be familiar to people of the era. In Biblical days they would be seen as flying chariots, for instance.
Yet he ends the chapter from which I have quoted by saying, “It’s a mixed bag. You can take your choice. Every belief can be supported to some degree, but in the final analysis, when you review all of the evidence, none of them can be completely proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” [Pages 130-132.]
While Keel isn’t willing to admit the stories are probably fakes, or at least misinterpretations of evidence, he does say they would be impossible to prove.
Many things that fit into Keel’s own criteria for the entities fooling humans are part and parcel of the larger UFO picture. Even spiritualism is worked in. Although he believes many mediums are fakes, Keel didn’t equivocate when telling of certain spiritualists or mediums he believes are not. He then goes on to tell us stories of “little people” (including some bat people — holy Weekly World News!), and even a famous case studied by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Cottingley Fairies. In a paragraph which begins with a rhetorical question, Keel asks why these entities have not been photographed, he answers himself with, “They have. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle performed a lengthy investigation into one set of photos of fairies taken in England by a couple of children. Apparently they were authentic.” [Page 215.]
Besides that gullibility, Keel teases us with stories that set up a tantalizing premise, but go nowhere:
“. . . after I had launched my full-time UFO investigating effort in 1966, the phenomenon had zeroed in on me . . . My telephone ran amok first, with mysterious strangers calling day and night to deliver bizarre messages ‘from the space people.’ Then I was catapulted into the dreamlike fantasy world of demonology. I kept rendezvous with black Cadillacs on Long Island, and when I tried to pursue them, they would disappear impossibly on dead-end roads. Throughout 1967 I was called out in the middle of the night to go on silly wild-goose chases and try to affect ‘rescues’ of troubled contactees.”
“More than once I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself unable to move, with a huge, dark apparition standing over me.” (Page 255.)What!? A “huge, dark apparition”? And what did said apparition do? We aren’t told. Keel just drops it there, with no explanation, not even telling us what he thought it might represent. Since he survived to write of it, obviously it did nothing. Perhaps the fact that he woke up to find the apparition looming over him might indicate it was a nightmare? After all, someone with all of that adventure in his life must have a mind whirling like a centrifuge, even in sleep.
Another of those tantalizing tales that go nowhere is this one:
“When a UFO would land on an isolated farm and the ufonaut would visit a contactee, he or she would call me immediately and I would actually converse with the entity by telephone, sometimes for hours. It all sounds ridiculous now, but it happened.” [Page 256.]
Finally, on another personal note, I find Keel’s view of religion and stories that come from religions interesting. He tells of the “visions” of Fatima and Lourdes as if they really happened, and the story of Joseph Smith and his “first vision” as being a real occurrence. In Keel’s versions, though, the visions were not holy beings descended from heaven, but ultraterrestrials out to trick humans. To what end? We don’t know, and at least Keel admits that.
My impressions from reading Keel’s books (not only this, but his others), is that wherever there are out-of-this-world things happening, they happened to, or because of, Keel. These books are all about Keel. What was it about him that made him a magnet for these ultraterrestrials, with their looming dark apparitions or mysterious phone calls from entities in the middle of the night?
My suspicion is that Keel, if not making it up, was at least hallucinating parts of it, and in the ways of all humans from birth, was connecting the dots of otherwise unrelated subjects. His brain came up with a complex cosmology of his own devising.
Does anyone else accept these stories at face value? Did cults spring up around Keel like they did around Joseph Smith and the original Mormon Church, or flying saucer contactees like George Adamski? In reading various versions of Keel’s life I don’t see that. So we might say that Keel was that proverbial prophet crying out in the wilderness. He told us what he thought, and what he “witnessed,” but it wasn’t enough to build a large, self-serving organization of devotees and true believers.
In The Encyclopedia of Alien Encounters by Alan Baker, published in 2000 when Keel was still living, the entry “John Alva Keel” in part says:
“In spite of his eccentricities, Keel has contributed an enormous amount to the study of anomalous phenomena, and while he still belongs firmly at the outlandish fringes of ufology, his bizarre speculations have at least opened the minds of some to the possibility that UFOs and associated phenomena may represent a more complex reality than is generally supposed. As Jerome Clark states:
“Even his admirers were sometimes willing to acknowledge . . . that his conclusions outdistanced his evidence by some considerable margin, that his historical, psychological, and social analysis was amateurish, that the extreme kinds of experiential claims on which he was fixated were hardly characteristic of the UFO phenomenon as a whole, and that his speculations were laced with paranoia. Yet no one denied that as a teller of scary stories he could be wonderfully entertaining.”
John A. Keel, 1992.