Mothman

Donnie Sergent Jnr and Jeff Wamsley. Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend. Mothman Lives Publishing, 2002.

The film Mothman Prophecies, based on the events in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966-8 has led to a revived interest in the original Mothman story. Here the owners of a record store and website in the town assemble some of the original documents, letters from the witnesses, a taped interview, loads of press clippings, and a number of letters from John Keel.

For those of us a certain age, this is marvelous nostalgia stuff, revisiting a story first encountered in Flying Saucer Review more than 30 years ago. What these documents prove is that John Keel didn't make it up: his writings were based on pre-existing folklore and memorates. That being said it also seems clear from one or two of the letters he wrote that he was beginning to prime the witnesses, the letters containing the same mixture of vaguely ominous suggestions as his articles and books.

Thus the story as given by one of the principle witnesses to the authors may well have been influenced by Keeliana. In this account the encounter with the Mothman is a kind of personal revelation of disquiet, rather like Jerry Clark's encounter with 'The Lady'. To this witness the Mothman is essentially a diversion by 'them' from the activities of the MIB. And the MIB are themselves barely secularized demonic figures. The witness sees them around everywhere, and in a classical Hag experience, an MIB comes into a her house at night, intent on stealing her baby, but his repelled by the crucifix over the crib. Here the MIB are fairies or night witches coming to steal babies, perhaps to leave a changeling in their place. (The baby is at risk because she is so bright and intelligent. According to folklore it is the brightest and the best that they take). With this image of the MIB as baby stealer we are also in the territory of the phantom social workers who try to abduct babies but never succeed, and are never captured or tracked down.

At the centre of this story is the TNT area, which at the time was a disused ordnance depot and TNT manufacturing plant, turned into a run-down wildlife reserve (much cleaned up and improved in recent years). Here farms which had once grew life-giving food were bought up and turned into a place harvesting death and suffering, a place of anti-life. It had become a sort of playground for local youths, for sex and drag racing and such like, a sort of permissive zone outside the town limits. A place where the supernaturals might dwell, like the old abandoned raths in Ireland.

Of course the power of Keel's own Mothman story goes beyond this bare background. Mothman Prophecy seems an ideal post 9/11 story, with its sense of vague menace and apocalyptic imagery of urban breakdown and some coming event of mass destruction. The 'oriental looking' MIB play into Western archetypes of sinister foreigners; today they would be seen as Middle Eastern terrorists. Behind this lay Keel's deeper vision of humankind as the trapped playthings of the creatures of their own imaginings. This dark imagination has not just created the Mothman, the MIB, the other night boggarts, and transformed ambiguous lights in the sky into airships and alien craft, but is the source all of our religious and political ideologies and idolized 'cultures'.

The events around Point Pleasant are seen as metaphors of deeper flaws. Thus the fall of the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge can serve as a metaphor for both the fragility of technocratic civilization, (whose ultimate fall was symbolised by the 'Great Blackout' against which he had begun to urgently prepare) and the failure of bridges of understanding and communication.

This 60's apocalyptic, whether it is Keel's vision of terrorism and urban collapse, Jerry Clark's imagery of the world of daylight reason and common sense being overwhelmed by irrational political and religious ideologies, or James Macdonald's vision of environmental degradation seem to have a haunting, precognitive. quality.  |PR|


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