Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, July 2022
Processions of the Damned – Part One
by: Brent Raynes
Illustration from John Keel’s Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970).
One of Charles Fort's first books (out of four), all dedicated to strange phenomena, was entitled The Book of the Damned.
Published in 1919, he chose that title because anything that might orbit outside the sphere of what was deemed proper science and acceptable academia would likely and unceremoniously be damned. “By the damned, I mean excluded,” Fort explained. “We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.” It could be unexplained lights in the sky, unusual instances of fish, ice, rocks and other odd things falling out of the sky, Chinese seals in Ireland, and many other oddball odds and ends.
John Keel identified himself more with Forteans [people who studied a wide-range of unexplained occurrences] than ufologists [who traditionally study just UFO data]. However, Keel felt that the UFO subject was vastly more complex, with many more moving parts, than the UFO mainstream identified with. But he found it wasn’t easy introducing that expanded perspective to the UFO field. He quipped, "UFO audiences are often very hostile. That's their nature. But Forteans are much more congenial." In a personal conversation with me, he added, "They're always terribly disappointed with my talks because I'm not confirming any of the crap that they've been fed through the different cult magazines and things. They want to hear conspiracies and stuff like that at these talks." From 1987 until 1994 Keel had established monthly meetings of his own New York Fortean Society at 7 East 30th Street in Manhattan, with speakers like Whitley Streiber, Antonio Huneeus, Zacharia Sitchin, Timothy Beckley, and Michael Grosso, Ph.D. His good friend Doug Skinner, a fellow Fortean himself, told me, "He invited me to some of the FortFests held by the International Fortean Organization down in D.C. area. I contributed some comedy bits to the program, and then started giving talks as well. John was always a magic buff and enjoyed working a card trick into one of the skits we came up with. Those old FortFests were a blast. Where else could you party with Forteans, skeptics, Christians, pagans, cryptozoologists, and occultists? I also had a good time drawing a cartoon for the cover of his booklet The Flying Saucer Subculture, an official publication of the New York Fortean Society. John insisted there had to be a straitjacket and a propeller beanie."
Of the Mothman, UFO, MIB, and Indrid Cold shenanigans that Keel chronicled in West Virginia in the 1960s, he wrote in his The Mothman Prophecies (1975) how "the strange ones" had arrived there in full force. "They trooped down from the hills, along the muddy back roads, up from the winding 'hollers,' like an army of leprechauns seeking impoverished shoemakers. It was open season on the human race and so the ancient procession of the damned marched once more."
Keel was quite adept at creating memorable visuals in our minds.
Truth be told, even though they may be damned, there have been many more such reported processions before and since, but how many people really care and truly give a damn. Certainly, a few of us do comprehend the much wider scope of this complex enigma, even if we do have more questions than answers. I identify with this quote from Nick Redfern's book Contactees (2010): "I'm saying that what happens is controlled by whatever the outside intelligence is that's doing it; and it's not only stranger than we think: it's stranger than we can think. I think whatever the intelligence is it can make us believe whatever it wants - which is what it did with the Contactees. It probably gets a lot of help from our own brains, and our own unconscious expectations, of how it should appear to us, too."
It's certainly not just the physics, what many prefer to simply call the “nuts and bolts” of ufology that needs serious study. Consciousness is the other side of this coin, and I have to agree with the late John Keel that indeed perhaps ufology would have been better served as a branch of parapsychology. And, alas, throw in quantum physics and Keel’s theory of a “superspectrum” embedded within our known electromagnetic spectrum (and isn’t the non-local reality component of quantum theory compatible here?), and there are a lot of very anomalous UFO cases that begin to potentially align with alternative possibilities and theories that exist outside of the mainstream’s ET “nuts and bolts” preferred focus.
I spent a large part of the summer of 1975, traveling from state to state, from Maine to Florida, meeting with many experiencers and researchers. I kept in close touch with New Jersey psychiatrist Dr. Berthold Schwarz who guided me to various places and people along the way, which proved to be of tremendous help. He had for years been a serious researcher in the field of parapsychology when he contributed an article on UFOs instead in Medical Times (October 1968, 96, No. 10) that took him on a bit of a detour, or so he thought at the time. Four of his patients had shared with him four separate instances of alleged UFO experiences, none of which he felt the patient’s psychopathology related to what they had described. To these people their experiences were real, and there were also other witnesses. He had intended for this article to be his swan song from the topic of anomalous experiences, as he had struggled for years to get his articles accepted in medical journals and felt he was pretty much at a standstill.
He intended, as I wrote in the above paragraph, for the Medical Times article to be his swan song. “Enough is enough and I wanted a rest,” he wrote. However, unbeknownst to the good doctor at that time, he was about to embark upon a unique new journey. The case of a New York farmer named Gary Wilcox, who claimed he had communicated telepathically with two alien beings in front of a landed UFO, fell into his lap, and he began an extensive investigation of this case in October 1968, around the same time that he was preparing an article on “UFOs in New Jersey” for the Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey.
So here he was planning to throw in the towel and call it quits, and simply return “to a conventional and uninterrupted psychiatric practice,” when he unexpectedly received a phone call from Paul Harvey, the famous Chicago news commentator, who wanted to know if Dr. Schwarz would be interested in appearing in a TV documentary on UFOs. Well, to make a long story short, Schwarz agreed. Then too around this same time journalist John Keel spotted Schwarz’s Medical Times article, which he forwarded on to Charles Bowen, the then editor of England’s well respected (at least in UFO circles) Flying Saucer Review (FSR), who later reproduced that article in FSR’s special edition Beyond Condon (June 1969), and soon Keel, Charles Bowen, and Keel’s good friend and noted Fortean Ivan Sanderson all became very good friends. “So, any weariness I had in trying to keep up with my UFO researches while also carrying on full-time psychiatric practice was throttled,” he would later write in his book UFO Dynamics: Psychiatric & Psychic Aspects of the UFO Syndrome, Book I (1983). “I husbanded what time was available and culled my energies for the study of UFO landing cases, instances of alleged contact with entities, and various mental and physical effects. The material seemed to be pounding on my door and it hasn’t ceased to this day.”
And so I felt I was in very good company in collaborating with Dr. Schwarz on my field work, knowing of his openness to all of the same Keelian high-strangeness that I was intrigued with as well, and while I didn’t pound on his door, in April 1977, while in New Jersey looking into Bigfoot reports, of all things, and even the Howard Menger contactee case, I did respectfully knock on the door of his Montclair home.
In 1971, when I was a young and wet behind the years nineteen, I had written John Keel for advice on how best to research and investigate the UFO contactee syndrome myself. He wrote: “Essentially, the contactee experience is identical to religious apparition phenomenon and probably is caused by the same factors. It might be best to familiarize yourself with the medical and psychiatric studies of the religious cases before you tackle the UFO variation.” I even purchased a book he had recommended I read on apparitions written by a parapsychologist named G.N.M. Tyrrell. I found Dr. Schwarz frequently encouraged ufologists to also read the noted psychoanalyst and parapsychologist Nandor Fodor’s Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science as it had “numerous accounts of UFO-like data, without the term ‘UFO’”. Needless to say, I purchased a copy of it as well, and it too proved quite helpful in my journey.
And in 1985, it was also my very good fortune to meet up with psychologist and author Dr. Gregory Little, who likewise shared a deep interest in the work and insights of John Keel, and who has worked closely with me through the years to make the online magazine Alternate Perceptions (apmagazine.info) the fine and informative publication that it is (forgive me for bragging a bit), covering the full-spectrum of anomalous phenomena that Keel most certainly approved of early on. I was honored to write the Foreword and Afterword to Greg Little’s books People of the Web (1990) and Grand Illusion (1994), which have recently been republished with some updated 2022 commentary added by him. These books delve into the full spectrum of UFO and numerous aspects that fall under the broad umbrella of the paranormal (i.e., UFO contact cases, Virgin Mary apparitions, near-death experiences, shamanism, and more). And don’t miss his and Andrew Collins’ just released volume Origins of the Gods. It’s an extremely powerful, thorough, and scholarly presentation on a full-spectrum of such thought-provoking data.
Keel valued having the friendship and ear of academic specialists in consciousness and other areas of science, and I soon learned the logic and value of that approach and came to recognize the strong need for multidisciplinary input and research into such a complex and multifaceted field as ufology. What an honor during my extensive UFO-related travels back in the 1970s to have had Dr. Schwarz’s ear, input, and insights; someone who was also venturing deeply down the rabbit hole of the UFO syndrome himself and was willing to direct me to the very doorsteps of major experiencers like Stella Lansing, Geri Wilhelm, Betty Hill, Earl Neff, Jacque Booth, and others.
I have found that there are so many people, so many voices out there, that are seldom really and clearly heard by the mainstream UFO community, with personal accounts of very puzzling anomalies that are so strange the ufologists have often passed over them. But ever so gradually it seems as if maybe this time around (although I’ve been fooled on this score before) a growing number of serious ufologists, academics and scientists are finally taking a much-needed closer look at the bigger UFO picture.
To be continued