Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, June 2022
John A Keel and the mainstream of ufology
by: Brent Raynes
Journalist John A. Keel became a very controversial figure in the UFO field. He straddled two worlds in ufology. In one he offered points and observations that couldn't be denied and should have been very helpful to the UFO mainstream. For example, how the UFO community was overlooking many sightings and "flaps" that were potentially caused by barium, sodium and other chemical payloads launched to the edge of space, often by NASA's installation at Wallops Island, Virginia. The luminous displays often were confused by observers who mistook them for being unidentified objects at close-range. Keel speculated how some of our cherished "flying saucer sightings" may be mere "natural gas formations in the upper atmosphere." (1) And dazzling luminous upper atmospheric displays were not all from our Wallops Island either. There were others, including German scientists who had also been (as Keel put it) "lighting up the skies from Scandinavia to Australia...to study the earth's erratic magnetic fields."
In addition to these human-caused atmospheric displays, Keel pointed out other atmospheric phenomena that are odd but obviously natural, like self-luminous gases called noctilucent clouds that orbit the earth at 80 to 500 miles up. They can take on various shapes, from spherical, to spiral to even saw-toothed forms. Russian scientists in the mid-1960s discovered how they reflected radio and TV waves. Then too there's the Air Glow phenomenon, often seen and photographed as spherical in shape, usually reported by astronauts. And then there's ball lightning, which Keel pointed out doesn't always fly sky to ground but sometimes shoots up from ground (or water) into the clouds above. "This lightning-in-reverse could be mistaken for a UFO taking off and disappearing into the sky," Keel speculated (2). In a personal letter from Keel dated June 18, 1970, "Last year a major scientific project to study lightning was launched in, of all places, Socorro, N.M. Seems they have a lot of funny lightning around there." The late James E. McDonald reportedly claimed that a sample of "fused sand" was discreetly removed from the site by the military. It was pointed out that a radiological chemist was working on behalf of the military and found some solid glass-like material "right under the landing site" and that soon after her work was finished she was approached by Air Force personnel who took all her notes and materials and was told not to talk about the matter anymore. And presumably the analysis remains classified. (3)
Furthermore, Keel pointed to serious problems with witness reliability not only with accurately judging distances and altitudes, but also speeds and directions. He wrote: "Early in my own investigations I discovered that the average witness could not even pinpoint true north - even when he or she had lived in the area all their life. ...I have reports by police officers who claimed the object they saw must have been traveling at a speed of at least 2000 mph. One report by an elderly man in Florida claimed he saw an object take off at a speed of 5000 mph! ...estimates of UFO speeds are usually inaccurate and altitude estimates are questionable unless the object appears near something of a known altitude - such as a mountain or a conventional aircraft." (2)
Keel even shared privately with serious ufologists a five page outline for proper report format and questions to ask witnesses. I still have a faded Xerox copy that was shared with me by one of Keel's friends, Richard Hack.
Keel, like Vallee, made clear the importance of getting out into the field and interviewing witnesses firsthand and visiting active locations to best determine what was going on. He very helpfully and kindly gave me advice as a teenaged ufologist on locating and investigating UFO experiencers. In particular, the so-called "contactees," those who had close encounters with alleged "craft" and "occupants." Due to Keel's inspiration and influence, I traveled extensively back in the 1970's meeting with researchers and witnesses up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida, with visits to Pascagoula, Mississippi, Toronto, Canada, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Long Island, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Alabama, ultimately, ending up relocating to Tennessee from Maine.
That's the other world Keel straddled and where he became an extremely controversial figure: the contactee syndrome. While he was heavily focused on the contact cases (be they abductees or contactees) and the "missing time" cases, a couple decades ahead of Budd Hopkins and Whitley Strieber, it was certainly Hopkins and Strieber who really took the field by storm with such accounts in a way that seemed more acceptable and validating to the ET "nuts and bolts" belief driven palates of the UFO mainstream at the time.
Keel didn't conform to the popular party line of beliefs that dominated ufology then (and still continues to maintain a pretty strong hold). Keel instead offered alternative speculations that the UFOs weren't the product of simple "nuts and bolts" ET type technology or physics but rather some complex something embedded within our electromagnetic spectrum (something he nicknamed the "superspectrum"), something that might even possess intelligence and instead of being a carbon-based lifeform like ourselves might even be a plasma-based lifeform (what some have nicknamed "plasmoids"). Might it account for the shape-shifting entities/"craft", going through solid walls, appearing and disappearing? Even entities/craft changing sizes, splitting apart? Two friends and fellow Keelians, Dr. Greg Little and Andrew Collins, have produced a highly thought-provoking, significant book exploring the implications of possible plasma intelligences and quantum physics, plus much more. Entitled Origins of the Gods, Keel's inspirations live on with growing numbers of us today! I contributed a good deal of my time to helping the Dr. Edgar Mitchell Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial and Extraordinary Experiences (FREE) to review its extensive survey of more than three thousand "contactees" for deeper analysis. I even contributed a survey questionnaire for FREE on reported alien devices and wrote a lengthy chapter for their massive volume Beyond UFOs (2018), that dealt heavily with many of Keel's contributions and ideas on Marian apparitions and many other psychic aspects that arise in UFO-type contact situations. [That chapter, by the way, is included in this issue for anyone who has yet to read it, re-entitled "Aliens, Angels, and Archetypes."]
And, furthermore, Keel even ventured into the UFO subculture's forbidden subject matter like the occult and parapsychology, though over time he made his case for many fellow researchers who also noted how UFO experiencers often had unusually high "paranormal" profiles. One time, in an interview with noted ufologist Tim Beckley, Tim congratulated Keel for successfully getting that point across to a global audience, and asked him how it felt. "It's a hollow victory," Keel replied. "We have just opened pandora's box. Instead of solving the mystery, we've created many new ones."
But pandora's box or not, dealing with the psychic elements and more was way overdue. Many researchers early on in the field who strived to be serious and scientific minded focused primarily on the "objects" being reported by presumably credible eyewitnesses, hoping to determine what sort of otherworldly physics and technology was behind their operations.
Certainly, there were some truly dubious contactee sounding tales back in the 1950s that muddied the waters and made ufologists leery of getting involved with what they dismissed as "the lunatic fringe." Stories of benevolent and spiritual minded "Space Brothers" who took the contactees for rides in their saucers to Venus and Saturn and such was a cognitive dissonance for them. One prominent organization named NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) was certainly biased on this matter. "In an effort to downplay the apparently ludicrous claims of the contactees, NICAP made arbitrary rules as to what kind of UFO cases it would 'allow,'" researcher James Moseley once noted. "At first a saucer could come close to the ground, as long as it didn't land; then the unwritten rules were eased so that it would land as long as no one got out; and finally, under continuing pressure from us and from the Phenomenon itself, NICAP was forced to accept the 'little men' stories, though they still rejected the contactees."
Another fallen foot soldier of UFOlogy
William Kent Senter
(September 9, 1953 - May 8, 2022)
Yet another dear friend and foot soldier in the ongoing efforts to solve, or at least try and much better understand the complex, largely inscrutable UFO enigma, sadly left us on Sunday, May 8th. His wife Patty Senter wrote on Facebook, "His cancer had come back accompanied by some other issues and his body was just too weak to fight it anymore. He had been under Hospice Care at home since April 19th. We just held a private service this morning and cremation afterward. He enjoyed our get togethers and conferences so very much and you all meant so much to him. I hope he finds the answers that he was seeking. Please keep him in your prayers. I know my heart is forever broken.
Here is a link to an interview I had the honor and pleasure of doing with William back in 2017: http://apmagazine.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1016
He certainly described some thought-provoking research and had himself undergone some pretty extraordinary firsthand experiences.
1. Anomaly: A Journal of Forteana, Issue No. 7, Fall 1971.
2. Phenomenon: Forty Years of Flying Saucers, edited by John Spencer and Hilary Evens (1988).