Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"The Wednesday Phenomenon"

As obsessive-compulsives who actually read every word of my blog (just me, I think) no doubt remember, last month I finally got around to reading John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, inspired in large part by the interesting cover on the copy of the book a library I visited happened to have on its shelves.

Since then, I’ve been on a casual but continuous quest to read as much about the 1966-1967 sightings of the creature popularly called Mothman as I possibly can in an effort to a) find more and more different artistic interpretations of the creature popularly called Mothman and b) figure out just what the hell Keel’s theory regarding the monster, the flying saucers, the men in black and the various strange experiences he chronicled in Mothman Prophecies was actually all is, as the book read like an investigation without a conclusion to me (As I mentioned in that original post, Keel hinted that he had some sort of understanding of it all in Prophecies, but never really shared it in the book).

I’m still tracking down various Keel-written works, but the other day I checked out High Strangeness: UFOs From 1960 through 1979 (The UFO Encyclopedia Volume 3) by Jerome Clark (Omnigraphics Inc.; 1996) because it had a healthy-sized entry on “Mothman and Other Winged Entities” (although it had no drawings save a version of the expected one).

Keel came up quite a bit, not only in the Mothman entry, but throughout the book, and Clark’s summary of Keel’s thinking—and reflections of the latter’s place in ufology in general—were pretty interesting to me. Additionally Clark summarizes Keel’s theories of UFOS and related phenomena pretty clearly, particularly in an entry entitled “Paranormal and Occult Theories About UFOS”.

(The connection to comics is coming up; be patient…or quit reading this post I guess…have you checked Blog@Newsarama yet today?)

Keel believed in a “superspectrum” which was essentially a higher plane of reality, and the beings native to it were “ultraterrestials” who, Clark writes, “cynically manipulate the human race and individual human beings.” They can make humans see whatever they want, and thus toy with humanity.

Writes Clark:
In Keel’s revisionist history ultraterretirals “posing as gods and superkings” once ruled the earth, but when democracy became a force in human affairs, these “gods” and their descendants (royal families whose ancestors had mated with ultraterrestrials in human guise) lost their power and authority. Ever since then the ultraterrestials have waged war on Homo sapiens. They have generated religions, cults and secret societies, intervened in the lives of historical figures (Thomas Jefferson and Malcolm X among others) at crucial moments, and otherwise directed human life to serve their ends. God himself is an ultraterrestrial dwelling in the superspectrum.

I don’t even know how to wrap my head around such a view of the universe, especially since it seems like the only evidence for such a view one could provide would be experiential and not concrete, making a view that can easily be stated and, perhaps by some, believed, but not really argued for.

I was struck—repeatedly, actually—while reading about Keel in this book at how similar he sometimes sounded to Grant Morrison. Not just in the language choices and naming conventions ("Ultraterrestrials from the superspectrum posing as gods and superkings" sure sounds like a snatch of Morrison super-comics dialogue), but also in his idea of higher-dimensional beings influencing us here in the third-embedded-in-a-fourth (Think "Crisis Times Five," or All-Star Superman or Final Crisis or that interview where Morrison claimed to interact with fifth-dimensional beings) and his belief that he could actually control aspects of reality through his own writing (Keel has at least one anecdote in which he could conjure particular types of UFO events simply by making shit up and talking about it, whereas in Invisibles-era interviews Morrison talked about his ability to conjure up real people by creating them first as characters in his work).

Also of note to comics fans is the way Keel’s intellectual predecessor (to use Clark’s term) talked about the superspectrum’s ultraterrestrials, and the way they traveled to our reality. N. Meade Layne had a similar understanding of a higher plane of reality with its own entities, although he called that higher reality “the etheric world” and the entities there “etherians.”

Check out this summary by Clark:
The etheric world coexists with and interpenetrates ours. Like our world, it has stars, planets, and other familiar features which are the etheric analogues of ours. Its inhabitants are human and highly advanced. The etherians, who have our best interests at heart, must lower their “vibrational” rate considerable in order to enter our realm.
Readers of DC comics will note that such terminology echoes the way DC’s multiverse cosmology. The various DC Earths (Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, and so forth) all existed in the same place in space, but vibrated at different frequencies, creating parallel earths—to travel between those earths, The Flash characters would vibrate at different frequencies.
(Above: A one-panel explanation of DC's multiple earths, from 1977's Justice League of America #147 by Paul Levitz, martin Pasko, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin)

Layne didn’t crib this theory from old Gardner Fox JLA/JSA stories, of course. Clark says Layne identified flying saucers as “ether ships” from the etheric realm back in 1947. The “Flash of Two Worlds” story that introduced DC’s dominant use of parallel Earths was published in a 1961 comic book edited by Julius Schwartz and written by Gardner Fox.

Schwartz was extremely active in 20th century literary science fiction circles, publishing one of the first sci-fi fanzines and serving as a literary agent to influential sci-fi writers. Fox was a prolific science-fiction prose writer as well as a prolific comics writer. Certainly ufology would have been something both would have heard quite a bit about over the years.

Hey, you know the difference between professional writing and stuff I write on my blog? In a case of the former, I’d start out any piece with a lede or introduction of some kind. In the case of the latter, I might ramble on at random for 1,000 words before getting to the point, which is referred to in the title of this post.

So, the reason I started typing all this—

John Keel wrote about a trend he referred to as “The Wednesday Phenomenon.” After analyzing close-encounter reports from 1966-68, Keel determined that the “greatest umber of sightings are reported on Wednesday, and then they slowly taper off through the rest of the week.”

In Mothman Prophecies, Keel wrote:
I had collected some seven hundred UFO reports from 1966 and discovered that the greatest number of sightings, 20 percent, took place on Wednesdays.

No one except the U.S. Air Force had attempted even a superficial statistical analysis of UFO sightings before, so my findings were greeted with howls of derision by the scientists who posed as experts on the phenomenon. Then Dr. David Saunders of Colorado University fed several thousand sightings into a computer and found the Wednesday phenomenon remained stable. That day produced the largest number of sightings, well beyond the laws of chance and averages.
According to Clark, Keel also noted in UFOS: Operation Trojan Horse that “psychic and occult events seem to follow the same cycles as the UFO phenomenon.”

Is there anything to that? Clark’s High Strangeness entry on the subject notes that when two other researchers attempted to test the Wednesday phenomenon, they came to different conclusions, and an Allen Hendry noted such studies would be meaningless due to the difficulty of screening out bogus reports from misidentifications.

But Keel himself seemed satisfied with his conclusion that, for whatever reasons, Wednesday is the day when people are most likely to encounter UFOs.

It is also the day on which new comic books go on sale each week.


I don’t know.


Whatever Mothman really was—giant owl, CIA-controlled animatronic puppet, UFO pilot, ultraterrestrial from the superspectrum—its appearance and behavior puts him in the well within the category of "monster."

Perhaps because of that, I find mental images of Mothman behaving in ways more mundane than monstrous sort of hilarious.

The only previous example I had encountered was the one suggested by a line in Keith Phipps' A.V. Club review of the 2002 Mothman Prophecies movie. Summarizing the plot, Phipps wrote, "After making a widower of [Richard] Gere in the film's opening sequence by flying at his car, the Mothman later retreats to more subtle tactics, like prank phone calls."

Reading the book after reading that review, I'd occasionally imagine Mothman as the culprit behind all of the strange stuff Keel described, like making all those weird phone calls, opening Keel's mail, dressing up as men in black, creating UFO hoaxes, etc. I especially like the image of Mothman making prank phone calls though, since he isn't generally reported to have a mouth. Or ears. Or head.

Clark's High Strangeness has a non-Keel account of some Mothman behavior which puts him in another bizarre light.

He reports that in 1976 members of the Ohio UFO Investigators League reinterviewed some Mothman witnesses and came up with some fresh details. They found that Linda Scarberry, one of the original witnesses, had seen Mothman hundreds of times and that, for a period of a few years, Mothman followed them everywhere.

Clark quotes Brent Raynes' 1976 article "West Virginia Revisited" from Ohio Sky Watcher, quoting Scarberry:
We rented an apartment down on 13th Street, and the bedroom window was right off the roof. It was sitting on the roof one night, looking in the window, and by then I was so used to seeing it I just pulled the blinds and went on. I felt kind of sorry for it [because] it gives you the feeling like itw as sitting there wishing i could come in and get warm because it was cold out that night.

A sad, lonely puppy dog version of Mothman that is so ubiquitous that it has become something akin to weird, slightly disturbing furniture in one's life is pretty compelling. (At least read about third- or fourth-hand almost 35 years later, as opposed to being the one seeing a sad, lonely puppy dog version of Mothman following you around and looking in your window all the time).


mordicai said...

Aw man, don't draw sad pictures of the Mothman, it is breaking my heart here.

Jeremy Patrick said...

20% of the sightings appearing on Wednesdays doesn't sound all the unusual to me; since there's seven days in the week, if the sightings were distributed evenly each day would get about 14.3% of the sightings. The difference between 14.3% and 20% over the course of 700 sightings may be statistically significant, but I'd imagine at a relatively marginal degree.

Phillip said...

FWIW, I don't think Wednesday has been new comics day for that long. Maybe only since the mid-eighties?

adam-0oo said...

That last Mothman cartoon killed me! The beat and then the eye appearing again? Aweseome!

billjac said...

I'm catching up on reading your blog and just came across this post. I read Keel before I read anything by Morrison and, if you come at it from that direction, the influence is pretty obvious. But Morrison is more directly influenced, particularly in the Invisibles, by the ideas of Terence McKenna. The 5th-dimensional liquid silver machine-elves with a physical language accessed through drug use is a direct lift from McKenna's work. His book, the Archaic Revival, is worth a read if you don't mind veering away from monsters down the ultraterrestrial rabbit hole.