The Man Who Re-invented Flying Saucers
and Called Them Rokfogo
by Richard Toronto
there would have been no flying saucers.
It's that simple.”—John A. Keel
I was feeling nostalgic about flying saucers the other day. Flaps and creature sightings used to occupy my thoughts far too many years ago.
So I picked up a copy of John Keel's, Our Haunted Planet.
The last time I did that was 1972, about the time it debuted. I was a big John Keel fan then. His take on the flying saucer enigma jolted my brain into full throttle.
I used to send him stamped, self-addressed envelopes for each new issue of his cut-and-paste fanzine, Anomaly. Keel’s rule was that if you wanted an issue of Anomaly, you had to send him an SASE. When he completed another issue, he pulled the SASEs from his file and mailed Anomaly free of charge. It was his way of cutting out the drudgery of tracking subscribers.
Anomaly was Keel's soapbox for flying saucer musings, announcements, and oddball newspaper clippings sent by fans. It eventually became the model for my own fanzine, Shavertron, which launched in 1979, five years after Anomaly ceased publication.
As with Jacques Vallee and Aimé Michel, John Keel's take on flying saucers was refreshingly different from mainstream UFOlogists of his era. Instead of sitting in his office pounding out hack work, he traveled the country interviewing witnesses of Fortean events. This alone put him head and shoulders above his peers.
He was best known (among other things) for challenging the accepted ET (extraterrestrial) origin of flying saucers. Keel said they were somehow connected to our own planet. He used the term “ultraterrestrial” to describe a secret alien race that has co-existed invisibly with us for eons on our “haunted” planet.
The “haunts,” of course, are the ultraterrestrials. Shaver called them the ray people, but they behaved much the same as Keel's ultraterrestrials.
Keel (and Shaver) claimed this hidden race manipulates human perception and belief, which has spawned what we call religion.
“I do believe there is an occult or metaphysical system of control that affects us all,” Keel said. “The exact nature and purpose of this system is probably indefinable and definitely incomprehensible. To simplify everything in a few words: The intelligence behind this system of control doesn't give a shit about individual human beings.” 1
Shaver, however, disagreed. He said these “things” have been known to focus intently on anyone who “knows too much” about them...humans who become a threat to the system's darkest secrets. That person then becomes a target. Shaver said it happened to him.
“I spent a lot of time re-orienting my thinking...to fit this tremendous new fact—that there was an important part of life which might even rule me and most men and about which I knew nothing at all.... There was a sly perception and reaction going on that was not my own thinking.... Some other mind was getting more and more familiar with mine.” 2
Lest this become too much of a John Keel kumbaya fest, I do have a bone to pick with Keel, a bone so big that even a cosmic Heimlich maneuver from the likes of Mahatma Gandhi will not dislodge it. Keel dismissed the Shaver Mystery and Richard S. Shaver, claiming Shaver was just plain crazy.
This was nothing new. Science fiction fans had been saying the same thing for years, but coming from one of my UFO mentors, it was hard to take. Keel's tiff with the Shaver Mystery reached a crescendo in his essay, "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers," wherein Keel laid out his theory that Ray Palmer and Richard S. Shaver had engineered the greatest myth of the 20th century—flying saucers. Keel put it bluntly...
“If Shaver and Palmer had not existed there would have been no flying saucers. It's that simple.” 3
Yes, Keel was fed up. He decided to give Shaver and Palmer credit for inventing flying saucers, and he presented his case. The Shaver Mystery, he said, was the basis for all flying saucer lore. It sprang from the disturbed mind of Richard S. Shaver, with help from his editor Raymond A. Palmer at the rewrite desk.
Nevertheless, I did not give up on Keel. I went on to interview him for Shavertron’s March 1985 issue. I needed clarification on some of his thinking processes. In our interview he described the Shaver Mystery as, “...just another Devil Theory. There are literally hundreds of Devil Theories, some of them with millions of paranoid adherents.” 4
At first, I thought Keel was referring to the world's religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Did he suspect the Shaver Mystery was a mutant form of religion? Some SM critics suggested just that during the 1940s—that if Shaver played his cards right, he could become the next alternative guru, like science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame.
Doug Skinner, New York lecturer, performer, author, and Keel's longtime friend, tried to help me put the puzzle pieces together:
“I don't know what [Keel] meant by millions of devil [theory] followers,” Skinner said. “He may have meant throughout history, rather than currently. He did often say that he thought that Ufologists and Forteans should read more books about psychiatry, since some accounts (not all) may be due to mental illness.” 5
The Shavertron interview also revealed Keel's displeasure with the current (1985) state of UFOlogy, and how he had fared as an author of flying saucer books. He told me a story about one of his books, Strange Creatures. Timothy Green Beckley (aka Mr. UFO) had recently published a new edition of Strange Creatures, retitled, Strange Mutants.
“Despite Beckley's hype, Strange Mutants sold 51 copies,” Keel said. “FIFTY-ONE COPIES! This, with full-page ads in national tabloids. My best-known UFO book was probably The Mothman Prophesies. It earned a grand total of $202 in royalties from the hardcover and paperback editions combined.” (This was before Keel sold the movie rights to "Mothman" in 2002). “My favorite, Operation Trojan Horse, sold fewer than 3,000 copies in hardcover and never earned a penny for me. Then a crooked paperback house stole it and published it as Why UFOS? without paying me a cent. Most of my UFO articles were given away to magazines like Palmer's Flying Saucers.”6
Doug Skinner again...
“Yes, John and I did discuss Shaver, and I first did my Shaver talk for his New York Fortean Society. I told him about Abraham Merritt's influence on Shaver, for example, which intrigued him. He was appalled that I spent my hard-earned money on a Shaver painting, and on a complete set of 'The Hidden World.' I guess we got along because I had some interest in ufology, mostly as a subculture and belief system, but wasn't a buff myself.”
In re-reading Our Haunted Planet I found myself even more confused by Keel's Shaver bashing when he began to confirm most of the major tenets of the Shaver Mystery. From the criteria Keel laid out in OHP, we should acknowledge Richard Shaver as the first high profile contactee of the pre-flying saucer age, which Shaver pre-dated by nearly a decade. Unhappily, precedents for Shaver's bizarre experiences were unknown in 1935. He was hustled off as a mental case.
the difference between the voices of mental illness
and the telepathic voices in UFO cases.”
--John A. Keel
When Shaver spoke of disembodied voices coming from a secretive group of non-human entities, he was labeled schizophrenic and handed a one way ticket to the laughing farm. He certainly mirrored the psychiatric definition, claiming he heard voices nearly every day of his life. He spoke of beings who used technology that could read his mind and alter his thinking. Psychiatrists eventually called this a symptom of the so-called “influencing machine,” part of the schizophrenic milieu.
But in Our Haunted Planet, Keel states that, “The contactee syndrome is not a form of insanity, but insanity—particularly paranoid schizophrenia—frequently develops after the contacts begin.” 7
Shaver put the insanity issue another way: “[Do] insane people go insane simply because their brain functions too well? Is an insane person only a person whose brain is more active than it should be? Is he using that nine-tenths of his brain that science says is just dormant and waiting for his future evolution into a higher type of creature. Just what is insanity, after all?” 8
Nevertheless, Keel determined Shaver's experience was a Devil Theory wrapped up in a deranged mind burrito, hence, not a true paranormal experience. The rule of thumb seemed to go like this: if Shaver said it, it was a Devil Theory; if someone unconnected with Ray Palmer and the Shaver Mystery said essentially the same thing, it was a contactee/abductee experience. I suppose Keel had to draw the line somewhere--not everyone can be a bonafied contactee.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Keel's standard for separating paranormal experience from insanity piqued my interest. Maybe, as Keel said, none of this will ever be fully understood. But did Keel understand it? He seemed to, but I was not sure. He also said he was, “Not an authority on anything,” a refreshingly candid confession that left the back door open for a quick getaway.
Fast-forward 30+ years. It is now late 2016. Keel merged with another dimension upon his death in 2009. Shaver shed his mortal coil in 1975; Ray Palmer in 1977. Shavertron's final issue rolled off the press in 1992, and a mere three years ago, War Over Lemuria (McFarland & Co. 2013), became the first book by a mainstream publisher to chronicle the true story of Shaver and Palmer and their role as co-founders of the Shaver Mystery. It took nearly 40 years after Shaver's death for a Shaver biography to see print. Time grinds on like a melting glacier sometimes, but when it comes to the Shaver Mystery, movement seems imperceptible.
So why, then, does any of this matter, when everyone that could have cleared up my confusion is dead? Am I splitting hairs at a time when no one cares? Or am I just validating Keel when he said in 1985: “Not only were many of my conclusions accepted in the 1970s, they created a cottage industry of other writers who churned out books that just copied my material.” 8
Good grief. Here I am, using John Keel's ideas in an essay about Richard Shaver and flying saucers. I admit it. And, like Keel, I am not getting paid for writing it, so I give you, free of charge...
Re-invented Flying Saucers
and Called Them Rokfogo
Before the word “contactee” crawled out of the primordial mud of UFOlogy, before flying saucers were called flying saucers, there was something called the Shaver Mystery. It was the 1944 brainstorm of Raymond A. Palmer, then editor of Amazing Stories magazine. Palmer used the paranormal experiences of a Pennsylvania man named Richard Sharpe Shaver, a former landscape foreman, slaughterhouse worker, and line welder at a Ford auto plant, to create a series of sensational science fiction stories. The first installment was, “I Remember Lemuria.”
In time, these stories became famous, though many have called them infamous. The ink was barely dry on the page when critics began their attacks. The Shaver Mystery became the most divisive chapter in science fiction history, pitting fan against fan, straining the credulity of readers around the world. Shaver was a hoaxer, they said, Palmer a charlatan. When it came to light that Shaver had spent a number of years in Michigan state mental hospitals, they added “crazy” to his growing list of brickbats. Not only was Shaver unworthy of consideration, but he was also a threat to our nation's mental health.
Palmer promoted Shaver relentlessly as the “next big wave” in science fiction, which further incensed mainstream science fiction fans. Essentially, the Shaver Mystery was non-fiction science fiction. This is a popular genre today. Whitley Strieber's Communion became a national best seller in 1987 when he revealed his relationship with a mysterious race of non-human beings. Unlike Shaver, no one dragged Strieber off to the nut house. Nor did his readers demand that his editor be fired for promoting a hoax, as sci-fi readers demanded of Shaver's editor. Times, apparently, have changed.
The unrelentingly bad press was not what Shaver had bargained for. He was a quiet man with a vision, a reluctant messiah with a desire to help humanity save itself from a tragic history. Due to his unusual life experience, he had knowledge few others possessed. How he got that knowledge is a familiar story to those who read books by abduction celebrities like Stieber, whose claims are no less fantastic than Shaver's. But in Shaver’s case, he should have kept his mouth shut.
Richard Shaver's nightmare began as a welder at the Ford auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan. He operated an industrial welding gun on the assembly line. It was dangerous and stressful work. As the story goes, he began to hear the voices of fellow workers at distant points around the plant. The very first voice he heard said, “Hey, Joe Raddatz, bring that dolly over here!” Whether this was a gem inserted by Ray Palmer, or it really was the first thing Shaver overheard, we will never know. In time, the voices spiraled into full-blown broadcasts from an unknown source. Eventually the voices caught on that Shaver was listening in. That's when things got ugly. That's when he knew he was being targeted.
No wonder Keel rejected Shaver, it was mental illness, plain and simple. Well, not if we are to believe what we find in John Keel's books.
Writing in Our Haunted Planet, Keel stated that these hidden ultraterrestrials often manifest within strong magnetic fields to reach our world of the senses. “Electromagnetic energy plays a key role in these manifestations,” he said. “We are still learning about it. Our planet may be constantly interchanging energy with some outside force.” 9
Shaver's welding gun pulsed a strong magnetic field during its operation. Once the tormenting voices had zeroed in on him, Shaver said, there was no need for the welding gun. What followed were years of flight to outrun the voices. He abandoned home and family, and he pondered his problem as the voices pursued him. He learned he was not alone; that the voices were an ancient, living curse of humanity.
“The Greeks had fled the invisible pursuit. The Egyptians had fled from similar 'voices'; throughout their long history are endless references. Ancient Ur had known them. Forgotten cities and lost nations had left their tales of similar weird flights, poltergeist wreckages, invisible persecutors. There was a boundless supply of information about them if one dug for it.” 10
He drifted from place to place, staying just long enough to earn a grub stake before moving on ahead of the voices. Finally, things ratcheted up a notch. What happened next is not uncommon in flying saucer abductee lore: Shaver said he was spirited away by a non-human being that materialized before him. Shaver said this occurred while he was incarcerated in a state prison.
He had spent other nights in other jails during the Great Depression, as a vagrant, a hobo, and much later as a runaway from Ypsilanti State Hospital. This time, Shaver said, it was serious. His crime (he never said what) was instigated by ultraterrestrial mind control.
“Suffice it to say that my enforced escapade, which I was blindly urged into by the subtle energy of the telepathy machines and other incomprehensible mechanisms using forces that surface men never heard of, ended with my arrest and sentence to a state prison.” 11
What Shaver was covering up with this story was this: it was not a state prison into which he was placed, it was a state mental hospital.
Shaver's life became a carefully crafted balancing act. He told just enough of his story to get people interested, but withheld vital facts so as to not appear crazier than he already sounded.
As Shaver's biographer, this lack of detail at key moments of his life was frustrating, but familiar. In covering up the fact he had been a mental patient, he left out what “enforced escapade” had put him there in the first place. Details like how it happened, where it happened, who he was with, and even what year it happened, are missing. Instead, Shaver focused on the emotional impact of his experience.
In any case, the luminescent alien female floating in his cell (a projection from the cavern world, he said) offered to help him escape, as long as he agreed to accompany her to a mysterious place to “help her people.” There was an edge of eroticism in Shaver's ensuing relationship with this being, as often occurs in contactee literature. She apparently chose Shaver as her paramour, and they spent many a night together in carnal pleasures, he said.
Shaver called her Nydia in his science fiction stories. He took the name from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's book, The Last Days of Pompeii.
“My arms went about her slender child's form. I leaned my face to those questing lips and learned more about love in two seconds than all the past of my life had taught me.... I knew that I had never really lived until that fierce moment when our love sprang into flaming life.” 13
To reiterate...Shaver's experience in the caverns did not begin as an inmate at a state prison, but as a patient at the Ypsilanti and Ionia State Hospitals. Given a choice between shock therapy, or an adventure with an attractive female offering freedom, the choice was easy. Whoosh—he found himself in a luminous subterranean city with strange beings similar to his paramour. He learned that others of Nydia's kind were called teros.
Teros had been living in the underworld for centuries, as far back as the ancient times when gods ruled Earth. He also learned of the teros' advanced technology, far beyond his comprehension. He set about learning what he could about it, and eventually became fairly adept in its operation, he said.
Many of the teros were blind like Nydia, he said, “The others, strangely enough, had very large eyes, much too large for normal vision, with great black openings in their iris.... Their skins were often light brown; or a paper-like bleached white; or a mottled, strangely lumpy appearance which came of a disease peculiar to the caves.” 14
Teros, then, resembled what have since been described in UFO lore as the swarthy Men in Black, as well as the pale, large-eyed grays. Shaver would later lump all cavern dwellers together and call them ray people, because “...that is the means they use to spy upon surface people and to talk to them, and to perform the many weird things their machines are capable of doing.”
He lived among the teros for several months, possibly a year, learning their culture and technology. Nydia gave him access to their history through ancient relics called Thought Records, historical documents that were input directly into his brain, similar to our virtual reality. Shaver described the thought record “reader” as a giant dentist's chair, “...although the upholstery was missing. She pushed me into it and I was lost in its tremendous size.... There were several flexible metal straps which she fastened about my wrists, waist and neck. Then she took a strange helmet, fastened to a heavy cable, and placed it on my head.
“'Lie back and relax,' [Nydia said.] 'You will soon be another person entirely, in another period of time. Do not let the double sensation of being two people at once worry you; it does not last long....'” 15
This sounds uncannily like a description of an antique electro-shock table. He also learned of the teros’ arch enemy, the deros, and witnessed the two groups in a life and death struggle for superiority of their world, and quite possibly, for our world too.
Somehow, (again, he gave no details) Shaver made his way back to Earth's surface, anxious to talk about his fantastic discovery. Being well read and something of a Bohemian artist and poet, he penned a manifesto titled, “A Warning to Future Man.” He included an alphabet he called Mantong. Shaver said it was the mother tongue of our forgotten ancestors. He developed it, most likely, while in Ionia State Hospital (1938-1943). He was released in 1943, and began to mail his manuscript to every pulp magazine editor listed in The Writers Digest. It was rejected by all but one—Ray Palmer.
Palmer saw something of interest in Shaver’s bizarre story; something he knew would attract new readers to Amazing Stories. It was a story so incredible that it became the foundation of Palmer’s career for years to come. It would also become the seed of what John Keel called the flying saucer mythos, for Shaver's stories included ultraterrestrial craft that looked suspiciously like the flying discs seen in the skies above the USA. The time frame was 1945-47.
The FBI got involved in 1947. The G-men believed Shaver and Palmer were fomenting mass hysteria with their talk of flying discs. Cover-ups, conspiracies, and finally mystery men dressed in black began filtering into what quickly emerged as our modern flying saucer lore, a la the X-Files. Most of it came from Shaver, but some was inserted by Palmer as he rewrote Shaver's manuscripts.
Then things got complicated. Hundreds of witnesses began reporting flying saucers and the creatures associated with them. They sent letters about their sightings to Ray Palmer at Amazing Stories . Palmer was more than happy to publish them, since they corroborated the Shaver Mystery.
So how could the Shaver Mystery be real and a hoax at the same time? Keel theorized that Shaver and Palmer created a point of reference for something that, up until that moment, had no “there” there. In other words, before the Shaver Mystery, there was no explanation for what we now call the flying saucer mythos (though Charles Fort's books laid the ground work for Palmer and Shaver). Basically, the Shaver Mystery became a pot to put the chicken in. It was the Fortean version of "Field of Dreams": “Build it, and They will come,” which suggests the Shaver Mystery became a mask for a strange and even sinister world behind it. Were the flying discs imagined, or were they real? The answer was as hard to pin down as a ping pong ball at a Chinese table tennis match.
Keel made it abundantly clear he did not take Shaver’s claims seriously, being a Devil Theory and all. Hard core science fiction fans did not take Shaver seriously because he was a mental patient and, in their eyes, a lousy writer. Shaver’s most obvious sin appeared to be his collaboration with Ray Palmer, the greatest science fiction promoter (aka charlatan, aka huckster according to critics) of the 20th Century. Palmer came up with the name “Shaver Mystery,” not Shaver. Then he relentlessly promoted Shaver’s ancient alien space opera as a circulation booster.
As Keel saw it, Shaver was a textbook schizophrenic in search of an audience, a garden variety schizophrenic like those who believed mysterious rays were “…ruining their health, causing their plants to die, turning their bread moldy, making their hair and teeth fall out, and broadcasting voices into their heads.” 16
Keel said he discovered Shaver's stories in Amazing at a young age. As a teen in the late 1940s, the Shaver Mystery confused him, it messed with his mind. Years later he would reach conclusions similar to those laid out in the original Shaver Mystery. Does that mean Keel used Shaver's frame of reference (outlined in the Shaver Mystery) to describe the phenomena described in his books?
Curiouser and curiouser.
Nevertheless, Keel's conclusions in Our Haunted Planet were a summary of Shaver's claims within the framework of the Shaver Mystery:
A. There were technologically advanced civilizations during Earth's pre-history that were populated by a race of giants. Due to great natural cataclysms they are now completely forgotten. This was a common theme for both Shaver and Keel.
B. The cataclysms likely came from space, such as an errant celestial body striking Earth, or at least coming close enough to cause cataclysmic mayhem. Keel suggested a comet, as did Immanuel Velikovsky. Shaver said several Moon falls wiped out several civilizations, and that we should expect it to happen again at any time.
C. Keel and Shaver appear to agree that the human race was created by an alien race, either from another planet or dimension. Eventually these beings left the Earth, but continue to control us from afar. The most evil ones, Shaver said, orchestrate our wars for their own entertainment. In fact, said Keel, most of the crazy things happening to us at any given time may well be due to the whims of our former “gods.” Shaver divided them into Titans, Atlans, and Nortans. They became characters in Shaver's pulp fiction yarns for Amazing Stories.
D. Keel and Shaver said that UFOs and their occupants are cut from the same cloth as Fortean events, psychic phenomena, and hallucinations that often accompany appearances of elementals, fairies, elves, and flying saucer pilots. Shaver believed many were projections from the ray people's technology. Keel suggested a super spectrum or parallel universe. Ray Palmer suspected a place called Atmospherea, where spirits of the dead reside, as writ in the OAHSPE bible, which says these spirits are close at hand. Palmer pointed to anomalous radio signals emanating from somewhere above Duluth, Minnesota, as proof.
E. Mind manipulation by ultraterrestrials plays a big part in Keel’s work, as it did in Shaver's. Shaver's ray people behave much like Keel's ultraterrestrials. This is not to say that ultraterrestrials are any more real than Shaver's deros and teros, Keel said. “If you read my books carefully, you will see that ultraterrestrials are a literary device, not a theory. Incidentally, the term ultraterrestrials has been in use for generations.”
Doug Skinner discussed the subject of ultraterrestrials with Keel in person. He explained to me that, “John's use of the ultraterrestrial idea has always seemed a bit vague to me. I do think I know what he means when he says it was literary rather than theoretical. It was a term to describe humanoids from earth, but he didn't theorize much about where they came from, or how they fit into nature. He was working on a UFO dictionary at one point, and left a box of index cards defining many terms in UFOlogy, including those used by Shaver and Barbara O'Brien. So, here's his definition of ultraterrestrial: 'Related to this earth but set apart from it by unusual physical characteristics. Neither superior nor inferior to the human race, but different.' So, at least that's a concise definition.” 17
Since this definition also describes Shaver's ray people, I tried to pin Keel down as far back as our 1985 Shavertron interview. His response:
“I do believe that there is an occult or metaphysical system of control which affects us all. The exact nature and purpose of this system are probably indefinable and certainly incomprehensible. Men have always been aware of it on different levels and have tried to define it—that's what theology is all about—and worship it. To simplify everything in a few words: The intelligence behind this system of control doesn't give a shit about individual human beings. This exposes us to all kinds of manipulations and nonsense from energy forms that have neither intelligence or purpose. They give us witchcraft and Black Magic, Mothmen, Bigfeet, sea serpents, MIBs, etc. thousands of people all over the world have physical experiences with angels every year. There is a scholarly study of these angel cases called aretology. But I'm sure these angels are just variations of the little men that come out of flying saucers and the gigantic, ferocious demons that materialize during magical rites.” 18
And so we find ourselves in a metaphorical lifeboat floating on a metaphorical sea. The point here, as Keel often hammers home, is that this occult, metaphysical system is “probably indefinable and certainly incomprehensible.” But we are no closer to learning how Keel determined Shaver was a nut instead of a victim of a metaphysical system. Maybe it all boils down to hallucination. Is it a kind of magnetic worm hole that ultraterrestrials use to enter our world? Keel said there is no way to tell the difference between the voices heard by a mad man and the telepathic messages from ultraterrestrials. Still, Keel managed to discern the difference with Shaver. How did he do it?
This reminds me of Ray Palmer's carefully guarded FACT, the yardstick he used to determine if someone was telling the truth about their flying saucer experience.
Doug Skinner: “John always spoke well of Palmer, whom he credited with keeping interest alive in ufology and Forteana. I think he dismissed Shaver as a typical case of the Influencing Machine delusion. John's method for assessing contactee claims, at least in the '60s, when he was more active in the field, was to compare stories. If two contactees said they met aliens who needed salt, that was evidence that aliens needed salt. There are problems with that method, of course, because people can have similar delusions or fantasies.” 19
Problems...the main one being that it is 2016, not 1966. In our time, John A. Keel, Richard S. Shaver, and Raymond A. Palmer exist only on the printed page. They cannot clarify their theories, literary devices, delusions, and definitions of the Others whom they all agree, control us from somewhere nearby. My questions, then, will never be fully answered in spite of 70 years of speculation, hand-wringing, and arguing among UFOlogists.
for which there is no external cause.”
Note—Unless noted otherwise, all quotes from here forward are taken from “Medical Aspects of Non-Events,” by John A. Keel, Anomaly 8, 1972 pgs 139-147
Just when I thought there was no resolution to my Keel/Shaver conundrum, I happened upon Anomaly #8.
As I thumbed through the pages, I stopped abruptly on page 139. Here was the pot of gold at the end of the ultraterrestrial rainbow! The title screamed in all caps: MEDICAL ASPECTS OF NON-EVENTS.
Anomaly, as said, was often Keel’s sounding board for ideas, and “Medical Aspects of Non-Events” was one of those moments. As I read on, Keel began to wrestle with the same mysteries I had been pondering. And he was doing it in a focused, orderly way, prioritizing and numbering subjects. The first section was, “Classification of Hallucinations.”
Keel came to realize that Ufologists avoided the word hallucination when referring to the contactee experience because of its association with insanity. Insanity would upset the UFOlogical apple cart by invalidating flying saucers as a “real” phenomenon. Therefore, Keel used the term in the strictest medical sense.
People prone to hallucinations, he said, often have a history of psychic experience as well. Throughout Medical Aspects of Non-Events, Keel referred to data collected from personal interviews with recipients across the United States. He prided himself in his methodolgy and the questions he asked, which often revealed those quirky factoids used in his books.
“The two types of audio hallucinations most frequently reported are the sounds of a baby crying and the sound of an unseen car door slamming,” he explained. (These two sounds have been reported not only by UFO witnesses, he said, but also by ghost and monster victims). “We found that the door slamming phenomenon is universal but is rarely reported in print because few investigators bother to collect the necessary background information from the witnesses.”
Though Keel’s greatest strength as a flying saucer investigator was his prowess as an interviewer, it was his greatest failing in his assessment of Shaver. Why? Because he never interviewed Shaver! Keel, who emphasized the importance of asking the right questions, failed to interview the highest profile case of the pre-flying saucer age. More than likely, he used Shaver's writings in Amazing Stories to form his Devil Theory opinion.
In any case, hearing voices is not all that unusual, Keel went on, because thousands of people have been hearing them for centuries. Psychiatrists call people who hear voices (and then go on to commit crimes in their name) schizophrenic. Clairaudience, the term for auditory hallucination, became part of the UFO experience as early as the 1940s when, said Keel “…Richard Shaver tried to explain that the voices were actually projected by ‘rays’ from the caves of the deros.” Keel also noted that a percipient who hears voices often slips into a trance-like state at the onset of the incident.
“While in a trance, the victim’s consciousness is cut off from reality and his or her mind constructs a false, but seeming genuine reality for the course of the experience, just as conventional schizophrenics withdraw into a reality of their own making.”
I remember the recollection of Ray Palmer’s daughter, Linda, who described Shaver's trance-like state, as strange voices not his own, spoke through him while he lay on the Palmer family sofa. Or Shaver's trance-like state witnessed by Tal Levesque, as Shaver worked on one of his Rokfogo paintings. Shaver said the teros often guided his paintings by sending him "good ray."
Other similarities between Shaver and saucer contactees abound. Said Keel: “Traditionally, the contact experience begins with a visual hallucination which establishes the frame of reference.”
In Shaver’s case, it was the blind tero girl, Nydia, who materialized in his cell. Keel explained further that, “The victims see and converse with an angel…a demon, a spaceman, or even…a large animal of some sort. These entities quickly establish that they know everything about their victim …passing along valid information and advice and creating a solid friendship.”
I sensed that Keel was closing in on the good stuff, the Shaver stuff, and he did: “Once contact is established, the victim can be drawn into a series of complicated adventures. They may be called upon to ‘help’ the space people in various ways, just as the fairies in earlier times often asked for human help.”
Here Nydia’s request of Shaver rings true to Keel’s observation, when she said to Shaver, “You have only to agree to do as I tell you, without argument, for one year. I can free you quickly, and in truth, I need your services.” 20
Thus, Shaver was taken to the realm of the ray people to help them fight the dero. The complexity of Shaver’s experience is well documented in Shaver Mystery lore. His story encompassed thousands of words in Ray Palmer’s pulp magazines.
But as Palmer was winding down the Shaver phenomena at Amazing Stories, a conflict arose. It involved the touchy subject of Shaver’s stay in mental hospitals, which strangely coincided with the time Shaver said he was living with the teros. Palmer claimed (in print) that Shaver had been in a ‘catatonic’ state during the time he was locked up, and that Shaver must have “projected” himself into a lower astral world that he interpreted as caverns of the ray people.
Shaver was rightfully angry at this public revelation without his consent, but as Keel often said, the key to the flying saucer mystery will be found in “...qualified medical studies of the percipients themselves.”
The biggest question from Keel was, “…what really happens to the percipients’ bodies for hours or days when their minds are taking trips?”
Ray Palmer explained Shaver's whereabouts by claiming he lay in a catatonic state in an mental hospital. Palmer said he had copies of Shaver’s medical records, but there is no proof this was the case, nor was there any proof, other than Palmer's statement, of Shaver’s catatonic state.
“Someone trapped into and obsessed by a particular frame of reference can undergo all these experiences and every possible variation,” Keel explained. “They can take imaginary trips to heaven, hell, the caves of the dero, secret underground UFO bases, and other planets. They can become involved in elaborate games with Men In Black types and can experience total distortions of reality.”
So. Did Keel believe Shaver had a true contactee experience? Not if you asked him outright, but it would seem so in “Medical Aspects of Non-Events.” He could not bring himself to admit it elsewhere, due to Shaver’s belief that telepathic machines were watching his every move. Wait a minute! Keel vindicated Shaver's paranoia as well!
“In UFO cases, paranoids are made, not born,” said Keel. “The entities make it very clear that their victim’s every move is observed…. The modus operandi of the ‘spacemen’ and the angels and demons is identical. The UFO lore is clearly based upon classic manifestations [having] no connection with beings from outer space. UFO contactees who hear voices in their heads follow the same patterns found in other frames of reference. Many are driven nuts by the phenomenon, or they fall into the patterns of fanaticism and become UFO evangelists.”
Or, as Keel told Doug Skinner, Shaver was a simple case of the influencing machine in action. Maybe it was the fact that Shaver explained his mind control on machines instead of something less tangible.
Last but not least were Shaver’s highly criticized writings about his erotic dalliances among the ray people. His affair with the tero girl Nydia is a case in point. Shaver's frequent descriptions of sex “stim” rays were part of the ray peoples' technological repertoire. Shaver experienced it first hand, he said, and it was great. Keel lists “alien sex” as part and parcel of the contactee phenomenon, though experiencers rarely report it, he said.
“The sexual aspects of their adventures [are] laundered out…it is easy to dismiss them as lies, and nonsense…. Adequate medical and psychological data is missing from almost all UFO reports.” The contactee experience, said Keel, is much more complex than UFOlogists believe. But one fact and one fact alone is known:
“We are dealing with forces which can alter reality itself and make us see anything, believe anything, and worst of all, do anything.”
So where does that place Shaver in the history of contactees?
Not only did Keel mention Shaver twice in “Medical Aspects of Non-Events,” but he also appeared to take him a tad more seriously than later remarks would have us believe. It was, in fact, Keel’s anti-Shaver bias that hinted at a partial answer to my question: Why did John Keel pigeonhole Shaver’s claims as a Devil Theory?
Keel believed the answer to the “contactee syndrome” (if there is such a term) lay solely in psychological methods, not by documenting flying saucer sightings or interpreting what the “space brothers” or “teros” had to say. If it is a psychological experience, as Keel suspected, it makes sense that a contactee would use his personal frame-of-reference to explain what happened.
The phenomenon operates the same no matter who experiences it; but people experience it differently. In Shaver’s case, he saw a war between forces of good (teros) and evil (deros). Keel’s “Devil Theory.”
In “Medical Aspects of Non-Events,” Keel noted that the similarities between hundreds of contactees were impressive. “…they were experiencing something beyond ordinary schizophrenia. [Their] bond had to be the intelligence or force which was somehow controlling these people.”
This begs the question, what was controlling Shaver? Garden variety schizophrenia, or Keel's hidden metaphysical system? Or both? It may be that Keel dismissed Shaver because of a lack of first hand data about about Shaver’s experience. Like many contactees, Shaver omitted details from his story. Things he either thought unimportant or things he wanted to keep secret. If Keel had applied his A-list of probing questions to Shaver, maybe he would have reconsidered his opinion.
We'll never know.
Palmer and Shaver are still considered the bad boys of science fiction and UFOlogy. To agree with anything they say is tantamount to heresy among today's researchers. No matter how similar Shaver's claims are to post-1945 contactee claims, he is guilty of a hoax, plain and simple. His information is tainted by mental illness. But was Shaver's story any stranger than that of other contactees? Are they all insane?
Shaver never found popular acceptance of his claims, as much as he tried. He knew this was the case as soon as Ray Palmer published “I Remember Lemuria!” in 1945. Science fiction, Shaver said, was not the best venue to showcase his story.
“My writing was much misunderstood,” Shaver opined. “That this race [the ray people]...should have been degraded and ruined by fortune's greatest gifts was not acceptable to the hopeful young minds of the science fiction field.... The teen-age science fiction reader with his limited school-text history could not comprehend the possibility of their existence, let alone accept it. Neither did I expect acceptance; I only tried to tear away the ancient veil.” 21
In his Shavertron interview, John Keel said that he hoped to be remembered not as a flying saucer writer, but as a novelist and a playwright. Sad to say, that never happened. In the long run, neither Shaver nor Keel were happy with the outcome of their life's work.
Unlike Shaver, who “knew the vile truth,” nagging questions remained for Keel. In “Medical Aspects of Non-Events,” he posited two of those questions:
“Are we all biological robots ruled and controlled by some outside force, as the great religions have taught for thousands of years? Or are all of our cults and fringe beliefs based upon the capriciousness of the human mind itself?”
By the time the Shaver Mystery ran its course in Amazing Stories, Shaver had learned a lot about his fellow men. So much so that he decided to drop the Mystery as Ray Palmer had shaped it. He began a new career promoting rocks. He called them Rokfogo (rock books), the artifacts of an ancient super civilization similar to what he described in “A Warning to Future Man.”
With his new Shaver Mystery, he picked up his artist's brush and began to paint, still hoping to impart what he had learned in the caverns. Few could see what Shaver saw in the rocks. People thought him crazy for spending so much time and what little money he had on Rokfogo, but he had fun doing it. Especially without Ray Palmer or John Keel looking over his shoulder.
his input on this article.
Check out Doug's John Keel website.
It's full of material from Keel's files that
few people (other than Keel) have seen!
MORE SHAVER HERE!
1. Keel, John, Shavertron Interview, March 1985
2. Shaver, Richard, A Witch in the Night, The Hidden World vol. A-1 pages 17-19
3. Keel, John, Shavertron Interview, March 1985
4. Skinner, Doug, personal email to author
5. Keel, John, Shavertron Interview, March 1985
7. Skinner, Doug, personal email to author
8. Keel, John, Our Haunted Planet, p106
9. Shaver, Richard, The Tormenting voices, The Hidden World A-1, p26
10. Keel, John, Shavertron Interview 1985.
11. Keel, John, Our Haunted Planet, p85)
12. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A Witch in the Night, vol. A-1 p 20
13. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A-1, Flight Into Futility, ppg 30-31
14. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A-1, I Enter the Caves, p35
15. ibid., p 37
16. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A-1, A Taste of Heaven, p 45)
17. Keel, John, Our Haunted Planet, p106
18. Skinner, Doug, email to author
19. Keel, John, Shavertron Interview, March 1985
20. Skinner, Doug email to author
20. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A-1, Flight Into Futility, p32
21. Shaver, Richard, The Hidden World, A Witch in the Night, vol. A-1, p 21