Thursday, May 6, 2010

John Keel and the Mothman Prophecies

On December 15th, 1967 the Silver Bridge that spans the Ohio River and connects Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Gallipolis, Ohio suddenly collapsed, killing 46 people.

For about a year before the collapse of the Silver Bridge, hundreds of sightings of a creature that later came to be known as the Mothman came to the attention of the Mason county police department. The sightings are widely believed to have been warnings of the bridge disaster. To this day legend has it that the Mothman shows up just before a major catastrophe.

Paranormal investigator and professional magician John A Keel collected what he claimed to be a large quantity of first hand accounts of Mothman encounters, then published them in his book The Mothman Prophecies. In 2002 Keel's book was made into a seriously disturbing movie by the same name starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, and Will Patton.

Keel's views on the Mothman are unique and his chronicle controversial. Keel believed that the Mothman encounters were directly related to a rash of UFO sightings occurring in the Mason County area for over a year before the collapse of Silver Bridge.

Keel spent most of his life studying the strong connections between UFO sightings, paranormal phenomena, stage magic, and religious magic, and often implied that all of these were interrelated in a complex fashion that was not easily accessible to the Western mind.

Keel spent time in India and in the Himalayas and witnessed shamans and holy men performing genuine miracles. He was also well-versed in stage magic, and knew how to use deception and perceptual bias to create illusions. His connection with a group of Fortean Times writers made him especially aware of the power of concealment and trickery in the world of occult phenomena and in the problem of studying the occult.

At the same time, Keel believed--in fact, knew first hand--that worlds beyond this one do indeed exist and that through meditation and rigorous training some human beings are able to access and use these other worlds--if the other worlds didn't use them first. Keel was never convinced of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis regarding alien beings and UFOs, and maintained that they were more likely a modern expression of the same forces behind 19th Century Spirtualism. He understood the trickster dimension to these phenomena very well.

Keel and his writer friends were adventurers and pranksters themselves, and often pranked each other. Keel's friend Gray Davis, who also wrote popular articles and books about the paranormal, was famous for setting up elaborate and deliberate hoaxes, often to tease his fringe journalism colleagues.

After the publication of Keel's The Mothman Prophecies, Gray Davis told the Skeptical Inquirer that Keel had written the Mothman accounts up quite differently in personal letters than he did in the published book, suggesting that the information presented in the book was therefore suspect. It is almost impossible to assess  the motives behind Davis's public charge against Keel.

Superficially it would seem that Davis clearly intended to impugn Keel's claims about the Mothman. On the other hand, knowing Davis's love of pranking, it is also quite possible that Keel did not disclose everything to him or did not disclose it honestly, or that Davis's Skeptical Inquirer article was itself meant to gig Keel just for laughs.

Davis himself was a rather suspect character, and he reveled in this side of his personality.

Whatever the case, The Mothman Prophecies is a chilling tale that anyone who has ever picked up a Ouija Board will recognize as at least partially true. Mothman entities differ from those smaller forces attached to a Ouija only in strength and level of terror.

Interestingly, Mothman encounters also frequently tended to leave physical aftereffects consistent with UFO experiences--red eyes, extreme fatigue, altered states of consciousness, psychic ability, strange phone calls made up of static or unrecognizable languages, and the likelihood of further contact. Keel claimed to have extended personal contact by phone with the Mothman, who he said would return and possess those who had seen him. The humans thus possessed had no recollection of these conversations, even though Keel was able to record and capture them.

Mothman sightings and connections have continued unabated since the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge incident in 1967, both around Point Pleasant and in other locations. Several investigators who felt that they were closing in on an explanation for the experiences met with violent accidents or deaths. For a full catalogue, check out Loren Coleman's Mothman Death List.

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