Having finally read previously neglected copy of John Keel’s 1975
fortean classic The Mothman Prophecies, Blather would care to share
with you a smidgen of its worth.
Reading this thoroughly enjoyable book at this late stage has
caused me no real loss either — if I had read it back when I began
delving into murky fortean literature, I may have enjoyed the book
less, as I would have been very conscious of how to deal with the
material therein — after reading it now, it has allowed me to put
many predominant cultural motifs into chronological context and
So what’s it all about? Seen the movie Men In Black, or ever noticed all those eerie West
Virginia episodes of the X-Files? I’m
not a regular viewer of that particular TV programme, but according
to what I’m told, there was episode which mentioned the Mothman,
called Detour. Many of the predominant motifs in The Mothman
Prophecies have leaked into popular culture. This is not to say that
these motifs did not exist before Keel wrote about them, but rather
the book serves to illustrate how they soaked into pop media.
So – what, or who, is the Mothman? For a thirteen month period from
November 1966 until December 1967, the town of Point Pleasant, West
Virginia, USA was seemingly tipped into a state of chaos (or, if you
like, a ‘state o’ chassis!'), overrun by UFOs, poltergeists, Men
in Black in beyond-fashion-clothing driving impeccable old cars and
fake service workers — both groups had dark, sharp features, and
wearing thick soled rubber shoes. If that wasn’t bad enough, a
surrealist abbatoirist left cattle cadavers strewn about the fields
of Point Pleasant.
The appearance of all these phenomena appeared to revolve around
regular sightings of the more fearsome visitor of all – a winged
humanoid that quickly became known as the ‘Mothman’. Mothman tended
to hang about the disused North Power Plant, which was part of the
dormant West Virginia Ordnance Works complex. The area was used
as a shooting range and ‘lovers lane’, and kind of unofficial common.
There were hundreds of alleged witnesses to these phenomena — some
members of the population claimed ‘contact’ with various
extraterrestrial — or, as Keel posits ultra-terrestrial —
It seemed that anyone even peripherally involved was affected, and
Keel, who had arrived from New York to investigate the reports, was
Before long, he was experienced disconcerting sychronicities, such as
many of his ‘contactee’ friends knowing of his future actions
before he had himself decided on them. His phone line became almost
unusable with untraceable interference, tapping, line cutting,
crossed lines, harassments, hoax phone calls and dark photographers
trailing him round Manhattan. . . “Between the IRS, the
phone company. . . and flying saucers I was fast becoming a candidate
for the funny farm”.
Keel received constant precise predictions throughout the 13
months, presumably ‘channelled’ by various contactees. These ‘Mothman
prophesies’ had a nasty habit of being almost right – but not right
enough. The predicted assassination attempt on the pope — followed
by “days of darkness” didn’t happen, instead the pontiff escaped
eradication in the Philippines three years later.
Things finally came to a head during rush hour on Point Pleasant’s
Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River. Keel’s contactees warned
of a nation-wide power outage for December 15th. Instead, the Silver
Bridge crumpled into the river, taking 31 vehicles and 67 people with
it. There were 46 deaths.
The difference between Mothman Prophecies and other ‘casebooks’ of
this ilk is illustrated by Keels good humour (how he kept it I don’t
know), his modesty, and his apparent realisation that he was not in a
position to assume an objective role in documenting the goings-on in
Point Pleasant. He knew that he was too close.
However, I would urge readers to keep their fortean hats secured to
their noggins with a suitable chin-strap. Although Keel’s testimony
is invaluable, one should employ a liberal dash of salt when
considering many of the incidents involved. Keel succeeds in pulling
off a fairly convincing objective analysis of a subjective
experience, but I was left wondering where the objectivity began and
the subjectivity took over.
As Hilary Evans points out in Fortean Times 53:54, “Insofar as Keel
has encouraged serious and thoughtful researchers to extend their
notions of the possible, he can have done nothing but good. Insofar
as has encouraged flightier minds to espouse dubious notions for
which the evidence is less than adequate, he may have done more harm
Nonetheless, if ‘fortean study’ ever becomes an academic science,
The Mothman Prophecies should be prerequisite.
A damned fine book.
Note 1: Occasional Blatherskite Mark Pilkington met and interviewed
John Keel in New York earlier this year. This interview is expected
to appear in the pages of Magonia.
Note 2: See Fortean Times 65:27 for another interview with John Keel.
The Mothman Prophecies
Buy The Mothman Prophecies from the Blather Bookstore
The Guardian: The moth man cometh
With its winged aliens and ghastly premonitions, can The Mothman Prophecies call itself a true story? Paranormal expert Bob Rickard reports
 Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey
Dave (daev) Walsh
June 12th 1998
Mothman and Other Curious Encounters by Loren Coleman