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The Disciples of John Keel

The Disciples of John Keel

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I grew up with a romanticized idea of the life I could lead in pursuits of high strangeness. A flashlight in my hand, walking through a decrepit old manor, the wind howling through cracks and crevices creating a bone chilling soundtrack then suddenly, the sound of a metallic screech! I dart my flashlight towards the sound coming from the rafters and I catch the sight of red glowing eyes looking deep into my soul. So far, I have yet to find myself in this situation, not for lack of trying. Perhaps it was a bit too much Scooby-Doo, Are You Afraid of the Dark, or reruns of Kolchak: The Night Stalker? However, this was one man’s reality. One man peered into the void and the void did more than just peer back, it indoctrinated him into the realms of the weird. This man was John A. Keel.

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Keel was a mover and a shaker in the Fortean world. Upsetting the status quo in the ufological world by rejecting the extraterrestrial hypothesis. He would dive deeper into witness accounts looking for patterns, similarities, and connections to strange phenomena. Often finding himself in his very own episode of the Twilight Zone, Keel would go toe to toe with the MIB, Mothman, prophetic messages, spook lights, and even winged cats (look up Thomas the Cat in association with Keel). Another notch in Keel’s belt is his refusal to stay static in his beliefs, consistently progressing towards breakthrough concepts such as the “superspectrum”. A concept that proposes strange manifestations appearing in our plane of existence come from just outside the visible and audible spectrum of energy. With such a notable career and groundbreaking concepts, it is baffling that Keel faded almost into complete obscurity.

 In early 2002 a film titled “The Mothman Prophecies” (based on Keel’s most notable publication) was released bringing Keel back into the public eye. Shortly thereafter, Keel and the Mothman (in muscular statue form) returned to Point Pleasant, West Virginia and were celebrated. Keel and his adventures would be rediscovered by a new generation of seekers of the strange. Once again, he was back to his media savvy ways and even had an epic interview with the late Art Bell on a classic episode of Coast to Coast AM. Keel would have his renaissance. Unfortunately, it was not long after this professional revitalization that Keel’s health worsened. John Keel passed away on July 3rd, 2009.  The man, the myth, the legend was gone. However, a select few would carry on his torch and dedicate themselves to building upon his concepts, ideas, and techniques. I present you Brent Raynes, Zelia Edgar, and Steve Ward

Brent Raynes is a writer and researcher who had a decades long correspondence with Keel dating back to his teenage years. Raynes was bit by the “UFO bug” shortly after reading “Flying Saucers – Serious Business” by Frank Edwards in 1966. At only fourteen, Raynes had started his own local UFO club, a newsletter, and began corresponding with UFO buffs all over the country. Admittedly, Brent started as a “nuts and bolts” proponent and then discovered articles written by Keel, which began to open him up to new possibilities. Fast forward a few years and Raynes found himself as a board member of a magazine for which Keel was a contributor. With newfound access to Keel, Brent sent him a letter and the two began to share ideas over the years. Keel provided Brent advice on how to research and investigate the contactee phenomenon.

Q & A with Brent Raynes.

Question: What “Keelian” qualities do you carry on in your own research?

Answer: “When investigating UFO cases I strive not to neglect for example any psychic, cryptid, apparitional accounts or any other high-strangeness that may emerge. Don’t assume that those things are outside of your responsibility to investigate and properly document. There are potentially a lot of dots to connect and a multidisciplinary approach to all of this is desperately needed. Keel once even expressed how ufology should be a branch of parapsychology.  

We should record everything the witness claims anomalous happened, including before and after the encounter or episode that initially brought the witness(es) to your attention. Get to know them, find out how what happened may have influenced or changed them in any way, and strive to follow-up again later to see if anything further of interest may have developed.”

 Question: What is your hope for new investigators to take away from Keel’s foundational groundwork? 

Answer: “To carefully research and investigate all of this activity in an objective and thorough way and to not allow preconceived beliefs and judgements to override the critical and responsible work that needs to be conducted. ‘Belief is the enemy’ became his battle cry. Half a century ago Keel called ufology an ‘infant pseudoscience’ and much of what had been published ‘cult literature’

In recent years, I have seen signs that a new generation is emerging – a generation that is questioning and challenging the old status quo that for so long dominated the field. However, we clearly aren’t out of the woods yet.”

          Keel’s influence has certainly made its way to a brand new generation of investigators and researchers. His influence has permeated into numerous documentaries, podcasts, and lectures by investigators born long after Keel’s “boots on the ground” heyday. However, Zelia Edgar may be the rightful heiress to take up the Keel mantle.

          “Somewhere between Mulder’s ‘I want to believe’ and Keel’s ‘belief is the enemy’ we’ll find some common ground” says Zelia Edgar when asked about the current state of investigating anomalous phenomena. Zelia has quite the resume, a former state director for MUFON (Wisconsin), field investigator, forthcoming author, content creator, and a lifelong historian of the strange. Even more impressive, Edgar can claim all these feats as a millennial. Perhaps, making Zelia one of the most important “Keelian” researchers we have today. She is a generational bridge to an investigative rhetoric that cannot be lost. Keel’s tenacity to remain objective in his evaluation of high strangeness is paramount to Zelia’s investigative approach. “Once you pin yourself to a belief or concept, subconsciously you’ll start looking for evidence to support that and biased techniques will develop” states Edgar. This is an investigative approach often thrown out the window in this era’s heavy handed reality television based approach. Millennials and now Gen Z have grown up watching investigators proclaim demon, cryptid, possession, and alien without asking further questions for context. A resounding voice from a younger generation is of the upmost importance to reemphasize Keel’s investigative caliber, that is Zelia through and through.

          Q & A with Zelia Edgar.

Question: Have you ever had your own “John Keel Moment” where you peered into the void and the void possibly peered back?

Answer: I was in my mid to late teens and I had a strange experience. I’ve never had anything like this happen before or since. For several nights there was this weird magenta pillar of light in my room. I knew I was awake; it wasn’t hypnagogia. It got to the point where one night I woke up and it was just there, and it was all I saw. It was a very intense experience. Some years later, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing Keel’s early paranormal experiences. Included was a story about a teenage Keel waking up in the middle of the night and his bedroom was filled with a magenta light. That was one of those moments that caused me to stop for a second. I don’t have a lot of fear with the phenomenon. I find the unexplained very interesting but not very terrifying. But, to hear essentially my experience on a podcast about one of my idols was odd”. (This story legitimately dropped my jaw!)

Question: What do you think separated Keel from other investigators/writers/researchers?

Answer: “One of the things I admire most about Keel is how creative he can be with big concepts. He was willing to step away from the more secure framework and start looking at things from an outside angle. Such as, looking at different things and how they may relate to one another. I think it was very courageous and brave to take the anecdotal tales of individuals and report exactly how they experienced them without omitting details.”

Zelia’s in-depth knowledge of Keel’s concepts and ideas where immedietly apparent to Steve Ward when he witnessed one of Zelia’s lectures at the Van Meter Visitor Festival. He realized she was building upon Keel’s rhetoric before his name was ever spoken in her presentation. The two have shared a bond for all things “Keelian” ever since!

It is appropriate to close out on Steve Ward, one of the most sought-after authorities on John Keel. Steve has appeared in documentaries, podcasts, books, radio, and makes his way on the lecture circuit to discuss high strangeness through a Keel lens. Steve’s interest started with a flap of UFO sightings in March of 1966. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan afforded Ward a front row seat to J. Allen Hynek’s investigations (most notably the infamous “swamp gas” claim) at the behest of future president of the United States, Gerald Ford. Steve fell in love with the idea of “nuts and bolts” craft and visitors from outer space. Shortly thereafter, Ward was a part of UFO clubs, inhaling literature on the subject matter at a rapid rate, and becoming a part of the UFO community. Then, Steve read a book titled UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (now reduced to Operation Trojan Horse). Ward, already familiar with Keel was shocked by the new concepts presented by Keel. “Keel was connecting everything ufos, cryptids, psychic phenomena, and we were kind of bad mouthing it” says Steve. But then Keel’s ideas began to grow on Steve. He recognized how reflective the phenomenon would be throughout history through the lens of those witnessing the events. From the great airships to the flying saucer. Ward began to shift towards a more “Keelian” approach in his own research. Concerned less with what individuals were seeing, but what was the cosmic mechanism behind what is causing anomalous phenomena. Steve now hosts the High Strangeness Factor (podcast) on the Paranormal UK Radio Network where he delves into unexplained mysteries with the inquisitive tenacity of Keel, himself.

Q & A with Steve Ward.

Question: What do you think Keel’s opinion would be on new entities from the internet age (Slenderman, Black Eyed Kids, etc)?

Answer: “They would fit his ideas like a glove. He would just see it as phenomenon giving a slightly different face, but still connected. If the Slenderman reports are true, it showcases that tie to belief systems and human consciousness. You don’t have to believe in demons or demonic forces, but there is an element to the phenomena that does seem to be negative. It may have given rise to our belief systems in demons and so forth. Especially when you look at the black eyed kids and how bad things are supposed to happen just by being in their vicinity. Keel wouldn’t bat an eye. That would fit perfectly in his thinking”.

Question: Could you unpack Keel’s usage of the term “ultraterrestrial”?

Answer: “At times he did talk about it as if it was some kind of energy or intelligence that would react in our time frame that we could experience. He thought that whether it was our collective belief system or some other intelligence, it could physically manifest and leave evidence. Burn marks, footprints, and such in our physical reality. But, it wasn’t permanent. It could vanish.”

I find it extremely compelling that all three of this “Keelian” disiples all came from materialist backgrounds. Raynes and Ward starting off in “nuts and bolts” UFO clubs. And Edgar’s initial fascination with “flesh and blood” cryptozoology, Now, all three share a deeper fascination with the integrated connection the anomalous presents. They continue to carry the torch that John Keel so brilliantly lit decades ago. Belief may be the enemy. But, regarding my belief on these three “Keelians” importance to the field, I find it imperative.

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