John Keel and Diabetes

Author’s Note: This is a repost from an earlier version of Dunebat Country on 28 November 2022. Special thanks to The Nerd Party‘s ever-awesome Tristan Riddell for editing this missive.

Suppose you’re even a casual fan of ufology. In that case, your views might have been influenced by a fellow whose name you may not know but whose legacy still haunts the study of UFOs to this day. I first read his works a few scant years after high school. Still, I’d been enough of a fan of paranormal phenomena — and unidentified flying objects in particular — that his words rang with an almost subliminal familiarity. Suppose you’ve seen the Men in Black films, heard of something called the “Mothman” of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, or were a fan of The X-Files. In that case, you’re definitely familiar with those who found inspiration from little-known indie journalist and amateur UFO investigator John Alva Keel.

Long story short: Keel was a largely self-trained wannabe illusionist and a well-traveled indie journo. He was fascinated by the Fortean and wrote about the strange and the bizarre for any oldie pulp rags willing to sell his well-researched yarns. Largely unheard of in mainstream circles, he was a reasonably well-known writer in counter-culture circles when he wasn’t writing the occasional TV script. By the late 1960s, he had taken up ufology — the quasi-academic study of UFOs — full-time and had penned more than a few missives for Flying Saucer Review. He popularized the phrase “Men in Black” in his article “UFO Agents of Terror” for the October 1967 issue of the long-defunct Saga magazine. He made both the Men in Black and the Mothman of Point Pleasant infamous thanks to his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, among other works. A ufologist ahead of his time, Keel — like Project Blue Book astronomers J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée — had abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs after only a year of investigating the phenomenon. The links he discovered between alleged parapsychological phenomenon and UFOs were too great to ignore, as others had done since the onset of the American UFO paradigm in the 1940s. A solid writer with punchy prose, Keel’s books are as haunting as the spooky happenings he investigated. From black-clad creeps to cryptids, Keel had all the paranormal possibilities on lockdown, and all his stories were supposedly real.

The Problem: Proof that all his allegedly true tales are factual has been really hard to come by.

DISCLAIMER: Before I continue, while I cannot state with 100% certainty that I believe in paranormal phenomena like UFOs, ghosts, or cryptids, I can say with absolute certainty that I want to believe. My mind is open to extreme possibilities, and as a religious soul, my heart is open to the spiritual and the supernatural. Still, I must follow the physical evidence where it leads. If the physical evidence disproves a story I wish were true, then I have to follow the evidence.

Most people who’ve read Keel’s books either believe or don’t believe in the phenomena he writes about. While the believers are interesting in their own right, I speak from the perspective of the nonbelievers in this post. Among them, the usual line among nonbelievers is that Keel wrote nothing but bunk — wildly entertaining bunk, but bunk nonetheless — either assisted or assailed by his friend and fellow ufologist, mythmaker Gray Barker. Barker was known to pull practical jokes, especially on other ufologists who might have gotten further in their investigations than him. Some suspect that the stories of the Men in Black that he and Keel peddled in their books were hoaxes Barker masterminded in some way. Some opine that Keel may have either been in on the gag or a willing participant making money off the joke from the start. Others say Keel may have found out later after he experienced the hoaxes himself. Whichever is true, the notion that Keel wrote crap for cash is pervasive among debunkers.

I wish to offer an alternative, yet still likely, scenario for the nonbelievers.

For the sake of argument, assume first that the paranormal phenomena Keel wrote about are not real.

Secondly, consider that Keel genuinely believed in the phenomena he wrote about, even if the phenomena were false.1

How, then, do we account for both statements being true?

It’s too easy, even insulting, to outright dismiss Keel — or other UFO enthusiasts — as being “crazy” or “insane.” I would go so far as to say this is disingenuous and unbefitting to a true debunker striving for scientific accuracy. Merely saying that Keel had an “active imagination” is a polite way of saying the same thing, so I will also avoid that. Instead, I will offer two factual statements. I hope these statements are not deemed insulting or disingenuous for me to make, as I mean no disrespect for Mr. Keel or his writings and investigations. These statements may have a bearing on the nature of John Keel’s work:

  • FIRST STATEMENT: John Keel had diabetes.
  • SECOND STATEMENT: Diabetes can affect the mind in terrible ways.

Regarding the First Statement: Dr. David Clarke — Associate Professor in the Department of Media Arts and Communication, School of Social Sciences, at Sheffield Hallam University, UK — mentions Keel’s diabetes right at the beginning of his obituary for Mr. Keel at The UFO Chronicles website. Keel’s health problems were well known by his fans, as shown by this post at the Cryptozoonews blog and in his biography at the John Keel tribute site. Like many with diabetes, he had cataracts and was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for several years.

Regarding the Second Statement: Diabetes has been a known cause or effect of mental illness for some time now. As this page at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s website illustrates, people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.2 According to an abstract from the National Library of Medicine, “The prevalence of diabetes mellitus is twofold to threefold higher in people with severe mental illness (SMI) than in the general population.” This can include psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. One of those ailments is hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome, which occurs when a diabetic’s blood sugar reaches 600 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher. Hallucinations are one symptom of hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome.

Suppose the second statement applied to Keel during his lifetime. In that case, some of the paranormal occurrences he encountered may have been influenced by diabetes which complicated his later years. As Ebenezer Scrooge once said, all the beyond-the-pale phenomena that Keel encountered throughout his life may have been “more of gravy than grave.”

I understand that some may find these words offensive. I mean no offense whatsoever. I have seen how Type 2 diabetes has affected me. I suffer from Bipolar II, clinical depression, mild OCD, anxiety disorder, mild paranoia, and some schizoid ideology that may include magical thinking. It has colored how I view the world from childhood onward. I may have joined cultish religious movements because my biology affected my psychology. I may have believed in wild conspiracy theories that affected my political beliefs due to how my biology affected my psychology. Diabetes may have robbed me of sanity for decades. It may have affected my religious beliefs and identity, and I had no idea how my blood sugar was influencing my entire being.

I feel I was lied to for years and betrayed by my own body. Could the same thing have happened to the late, great John Keel? Please understand that I mean no insult by these words. I want to believe in what Keel wrote. His novels influenced my young adulthood beliefs and, in part, shaped me into the person I am today. Knowing that he suffered the same affliction I have throughout my adulthood makes me feel linked to someone I once considered a hero in frighteningly eerie ways.

Suppose John Keel’s biology affected his beliefs in the paranormal enough to cause or influence hallucinations. In that case, all of modern ufology — from its creepy cryptids to its menacing Men in Black — could have been the product of a brilliant mind affected by a common, but all too severe, medical disorder.

  1. Objectively speaking, Keel did have witnesses he interviewed about the Mothman and other phenomena who believed in the phenomena he investigated.[]
  2. As a diabetic from a family of diabetics, and as someone afflicted by both depression and anxiety, I can personallyattest to the truth of this statement.[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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