John A. Keel: Demonologist?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 27th, 2006

Artist John Frick (below) of Cumberland, Maryland, stands under his creation, a Mothman replica that hangs from the ceiling of the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Mothman Museum

The belief system that underlies the sidetracking of 1966’s Mothman sightings from cryptozoology into the “dark side” has a lot to do with John A. Keel’s apparent framing of the case. But some folks still don’t get it. Good guy John Frick, a list moderator on the Mothman Lives email list, innocently writes:

As far as Keel being a demonologist. He really isn’t as far as I know. Keel has mentioned that the UFO and MIB phenomena is tied into demonology, but I’ve never read him claim to be an actual demonologist. From all the reading I have done on Keel he seemed to think demons came from the same source as ghosts and UFOs.

Of course, a person’s sense of self is often defined privately, but surely Frick has missed what has been mentioned overtly in the Mothman literature about how Keel has spoken of his belief foundations and how others have written of him, for a long time. Here are a couple things I’ve penned about this question:

“Ufology is just another name for demonology,” John Keel told me, a week before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred just a couple of miles from where he lives.

…as noted in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, page 114, (NY: Paraview, 2002).

John Keel

John A. Keel, in 2002.

And this, related to the notion of Keel’s mental constructs:

Jerome Clark has noted that Keel’s speculations placed him closer to being an occultist, and has written that Keel is “nothing so much as a demonologist.” Clark goes on: “Whereas traditional ufologists took a relatively conservative approach, seeking testimony from trained observers and putting a premium on radar/visual and multiply-witnessed sightings, and viewed exotic claims with suspicion, Keel vigorously championed everything from Mothman to contactees. Many ufologists doubted that the former—a monstrous birdlike entity reported over a several month period by persons living along the Ohio River —had anything to do with UFOs, and they had long ranked the latter (individuals who claimed ongoing communications with friendly extraterrestrials) among the crooked and the crazy. Keel, however, argued that ‘ultraterrestrials’ —supernatural ‘transmogrifications’ of paranormal energy from an unimaginable other reality — have been pestering, frightening, manipulating, and even destroying human beings from the beginning of mankind’s history.”

…as noted in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, pages 118-119, (NY: Paraview, 2002).

The quotations from Jerry Clark (whose birthday happens to be today, November 27th) are to be found in these sources:

Clark, Jerome. “Mothman.” Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena. Detroit: Gale, 1993, pp. 228–231.
—— “Keel, John Alva.” The UFO Encyclopedia 2nd Edition: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Volume 1. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998, pp. 550–552.

Today, Mothman is portrayed in demonological terms, with a sinister intent, as having arms, claws, an insect-like head, self-illuminating red eyes, scary teeth, and moth-like wings – all untruths, all mythical additions, as shown vividly in the statute (below) and mostly in the ceiling Museum Mothman (above), which both haunt Point Pleasant today. Should we be surprised? Mothman has become the spawn of Hell, thanks in large part to the Keelian reworking of the story.

Sci Fi Investigates Mothman

So there will be no misunderstanding: John Keel is a nice guy I call a friend, even if he is a demonologist. This is not about his personality, so much as the way he views his writings and theories. We agree to disagree about how we separately view Mothman, that’s all.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

13 Responses to “John A. Keel: Demonologist?”

  1. fuzzy responds:

    Widely divergent viewpoints from many different viewers with a panoply of experiential histories!

    What a great Blog!

  2. peterbernard responds:

    I once suggested to Keel for various reasons that maybe the occurrences at Point Pleasant had something to do with someone conjuring demons. He acted like I had lost my head, he completely disagreed with me. Not much of a “demonologist.” Aren’t the red eyes reported by witnesses on mothman?

  3. alanborky responds:

    I see what you’re getting at Loren, and you might even be right; but even if John Keel really WAS a demonologist, it remains the case that the discrepant nature of his own particular Mothman experiences, Medieval accounts, say, of experiencing the Demonic, and the bizarre aspects of latter day Cryptozoological and UFO accounts, (each of which often contain a strange intermingling of elements variously interpretable as either abnormally intelligent or verging on the imbecilic, thoroughly rational or thoroughly irrational, helpfully intentioned or misleading to the point of being dangerous, inquisitive or hostile, playfully mischievous or deceptive to the point of being psychotic), are all capable of producing in one the sort of deeply disturbing mental wrench that’d result if evidence started turning up that all the serial killers in the history of the world might actually have been doing what they did because they were the good guys after all.

    John Keel, therefore, may have been pointing out that no matter how much these subjects may RATIONALLY appear to be completely distinct from each other, nevertheless the impression always lingers that behind them all lies the sense of an intelligence so similar and yet so alien to our own that they may in fact have a common source, though whether that source be another planet, another dimension, Heaven or Hell remains to be seen, (though going by my own experiences – which is all that any of us can do in the end – I’d have to plump for something along the lines of presently limited collective human mindsets trying to make sense of Space/Time operations so inconceivable it has yet to even begin dreaming of explanations for them).

  4. daledrinnon responds:

    The more I read about mothman, the more it sounds like some kind of an owl pretty much demonized by witnesses from the onset. Owls are in fact traditionally associated with witches and such.

    I wrote to both Loren Coleman and John Keel circa 2000 via Fate magazine about the idea of creating a role-playing game based on the “Goblin Universe” theory (the parallel-dimensions reading of the term): Keel wrote back to me on the bottom of the same letter in return that if I stole his stuff he would sue me (in a pleasant tone of voice) and went on to ask about the old-fashioned manual typewriter I was using. Needless to say, the game never got off the ground.

  5. Loren Coleman responds:

    And I never received your letter…

  6. cor2879 responds:

    Though I most certainly believe in a spiritual realm (and yes angels and demons), I tend to approach Cryptozoological events from an earthly perspective. A close examination of the Mothman accounts do not, of themselves, yield any leaning to a supernatural explanation to me.

    Much like the Jersey Devil, which often gets classified as supernatural but there is much (speculative) evidence that rather points to a physical animal instead of a true ‘devil’.

    I once tried reading John Keel’s book “The Mothman Prophecies” but I just couldn’t get into it.

  7. Rillo777 responds:

    It’s always good to keep an open mind to all possibilities. But I doubt if any one answer is right for all situations. Each must be analyzed with the human element in mind. Some people are credible and exact in their reporting, others are easily excited and prone to exaggeration whether they realize it or not. It’s tough sometimes to sort them out, but I am certain that there is more going on than most people care to believe.

  8. Lisa62 responds:

    I’ve always thought a demonologist was more in the line of what the Warrens did: going to houses or people being attacked by very evil things. As far as John Keel is concerned, I’ve never quite known what to think of him. I like his work; I’ve read, I think, everything he’s written. But the problem I have with him, unlike Mr. Coleman, who puts down facts in his books, which go in a logical sequence, without a lot of speculation, is that Mr. Keel jumps from thought to thought, from one thing to another. His books are interesting, his ideas are interesting, but I’m always left exhausted after reading one of his books, because there seems to be no logical order behind them..possibly there is to Mr. Keel’s mind, but very confusing to a reader. Sometimes, at the end of his books, I’ve been more confused than at the beginning. I do think there are energy forces that interact with us on our planet at times, we understand so little of the universe, and we always put a nuts and bolts aspect to UFO’s, instead of thinking they might be more like thought projections. I think there might be energy sources that do touch down on Earth and toy with us on occasion. Goodness knows, our planet is ripe for any thing coming around that feeds on strife and confusion. Are these Keel’s ultra terrestrials? I don’t know, but perhaps.

  9. Lisa62 responds:

    By the way, Mr. Coleman, is there a specific point in time you can go to and say, “This is where the Mothman stories started changing?” Was it a gradual evolution? Or did one person change their story, leading to the rest to do the same, in a jump-on-the-bandwagon mentality? Or is just what the public has come to see as the Mothman, leading people, who might have fuzzy memories 40 years after it happened, to think they saw something different too.

  10. daledrinnon responds:

    If I might add a word quickly (no slight on Loren intended) What happened in Mothman sightings as far as Keel’s recounting implies is that there were some initial sightings of something generally referred to as “A Big Bird” and then “Birdman”, but little interest in it until people starting calling it “Mothman” and more sensational rumors began circulating almost immediately. This included several people’s assumption that it was something supernatural (in fact, one of the local guys I meet every now and then at the local pub at the end of my street was in the area at the time and recounts his memory of the bridge collapsing as if it were yesterday. But he does not believe in Mothman.)

  11. truman responds:


    John Keel is the World’s Best UFOlogist: World’s Best Page

    Deciding whether someone is an “-ist”: it is what they DO, not what they say that they are. If he studies demons, then he is a demonlologist, whether he admits to it or not.

  12. truman responds:

    What I ‘posed to do now? I don’t see no “edit” feature!

  13. truman responds:

    o K I’ll give you a nother resample:

    King James I was DEFINITELY a demonlogogist, was ‘e not?

    Yet, if you came up to him in walmart and said, “what do you do?” he would not have replied by saying that he was a demonlologist, but rather that he was king of England and Scotland, nae?

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