“Time ain’t what it used to be.”—Yogi Berra (not an actual yogi)
The infamous Men in Black are usually associated with UFOs in general and trying to intimidate UFO witnesses in particular, leading many to conclude that they are government agents of some type who are trying to perpetrate a flying saucer cover-up. Their often bizarre appearance, behavior and manner of speaking notwithstanding, the principle of Occam’s razor would suggest that this is the most logical conclusion. However, this becomes far less plausible when one considers elements of their hijinks which defy such a mundane sort of explanation.
One such mind-bending talent of theirs involves the ability to completely alter the physical surroundings of their target, or at the very least their perception of that reality. Two very impressive instances of this have been documented, but who knows how many other times that it may have happened and the witnesses just kept quiet for fear that people would think that they were losing their minds? You’ll see what I mean.
One case took place in 1980 and involved a young PhD student named Peter Rojcewicz. He was in the library at the University of Pennsylvania reading a book on UFOs that had been recommended by a colleague when he was approached by a man in a black suit who spoke with a “European” accent. The man sat down across from Rojcewicz and asked him about his interest in UFOs. When the student replied that he wasn’t all that interested and was only reading the book at the recommendation of a friend, the man became irate and demanded to know how he could not be interested in the most important events of this century. After Rojcewicz managed to calm the man down, he departed, telling the student to “go well on his purpose.” After he left, Rojcewicz decided to take a little walk to get calm himself after this unsettling encounter, but what he discovered disturbed him even more. He found himself to be inexplicably alone in the building. All of the other students and staff seemed to have vanished. Even more inexplicably, he decided to sit down and continue reading his book in the abandoned library rather than get the hell out of there. When he later got up to have another look around, everything was back to normal.
An even more dramatic case involved a woman named Jane who lived near Mount Misery on Long Island, a perennial hotspot for paranormal activity. In May of 1967, she and her boyfriend experienced what sounds like a classic UFO abduction scenario. They were hit by a beam of bright light while in his car one night, and the next thing they knew, they were driving down another road some distance away with no memory of how they had gotten there. A few days later on May 17, she answered the phone, and a metallic voice which started off by saying that it couldn’t hear her told her to go to a nearby library and find a specific book on Native American history. With no more prompting than that, she did as she was told and went to the library the following morning.
When she got there, the only other person in the building was a librarian who struck her as being very peculiar. She had black hair and eyes and wore a dress that looked like it belonged back in the 1940s. The woman was obviously expecting her and had the book she was told to look for already on her desk. When Jane sat down and opened it to page 42 as she had been instructed on the phone, the print began to get smaller, then larger, and then what was written there transformed into a message that burned itself into her memory. It said “Good morning, friend. You have been selected for many reasons. One is that you are advanced in autosuggestion. Through this science we will make contact. I have messages concerning Earth and its people. The time is set. Fear not…I am a friend. For reasons best known to ourselves you must make your contacts known to one reliable person. To break this code is to break contact. Proof shall be given. Notes must be kept of the suggestion state. Be in peace. [signed] A Pal.”
Jane would encounter the unusual “librarian” several more times in the coming weeks. She also soon the met the “man” from whom the message had come and have some amazing experiences in connection with him, all of which is fascinating, but space precludes going further into it here. Suffice it to say that in their first meeting, he arrived in a black Cadillac and that he had a dark complexion and “Oriental eyes.” He told her that his name was Appell (A Pal).
For those who would like to know more, check out John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, which you really should have done already. In any case, we’ll be getting back to Appell and his eventual enigmatic telephone conversation with Keel toward the end of this piece.
There is an aspect of the Men in Black phenomenon that many are either unaware of or choose to overlook because it does not fit in with their interpretation of the MiB’s identity or objectives. This is their propensity for also paying visits to those involved in the occult. Sometimes this involvement can be something as seemingly harmless as dabbling with a ouija board. In these cases, it isn’t exactly clear what their mission might be. They certainly can’t be telling these people to keep quiet about their UFO sighting since none of them had one. It is worth noting, however, that John Keel believed that the whole menagerie of paranormal events that took place around Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966-67 had somehow come about as the result of someone dabbling in black magic. I’ve never been able to find out why he thought that though.
Another often overlooked facet of the MiB experience is one that comes straight out of folklore. It is their seeming inability to enter a home without being invited. This is, of course, a limitation that constrains vampires according to European legend, and there may be something to it in these cases. Unlike so many other paranormal entities who brazenly invade the homes of their victims, the MiB never just show up inside someone’s house. They usually just knock on people’s doors out of the blue, or occasionally make a preliminary phone call to request a meeting, which is itself a way of finagling an invitation. In some cases, gaining admittance seems to be their only objective, as was the case with the Christiansen’s when their strange visitor claimed to be looking for a missing heir to a large sum of money. That certainly got him invited in, but once he was there, all that he did was ask a lot of pointless questions about the family. He never even mentioned their UFO sighting. Most of our visitors are less creative and simply ask to come in to discuss the person’s UFO sighting. Others seem perfectly content to have their conversation while standing on the doorstep.
Another bizarre type of beings that appear to have this same restriction are the black-eyed children. They are pretty much what their name implies: children with solid black eyes who show up at seemingly random houses, usually late at night, and make no pretense about their objective. They want to come into your home, but they need your consent. Never once have I heard of anyone granting this request, and maybe we never will. Perhaps it’s because these children are so creepy and demonic that they make the Men in Black seem downright amiable by comparison. Or maybe it’s because some poor fools have let them in and were never heard from again. I suppose that’s possible.
These children are also often accompanies by a strong odor of sulfur, which brings us to…
The smell of sulfur has been associated with supernatural beings going back thousands of years. Demons in particular are alleged to give off a sulfurous stench. This becomes intriguing when you note that this same smell is often reported in in all manner of cases of the paranormal. UFOs, ghosts, poltergeists, fairies, and even sometimes cryptids have all been associated with this unpleasant aroma. Some witnesses have also mentioned a noticeable sulfur smell in the presence if the MiB. An ozone smell has likewise been reported in some of these scenarios as well. This is certainly something that bears looking into, so we will.
Most of us are probably familiar with the “rotten egg” smell of sulfur. The smell of ozone might not seem as easily identifiable on the surface, but is actually much more common. Simply put, it’s that scent in the air that tells you that it’s going to rain, even when it sometimes doesn’t. It’s caused by the electricity produced by storm clouds converting normal oxygen (O2) into ozone (O3). Also, it’s hydrogen sulfide (H2S) that smells like rotten eggs, not sulfur. Pure sulfur has virtually no smell at all. This is significant because…
Okay, I don’t know why it’s significant. Nobody seems to have any good ideas about why these various paranormal manifestations would all smell like hydrogen sulfide. The closest anyone has come to developing a theory is based on the assertion by the heretical scientist Immanuel Velikovsky that oxygen is transformed into sulfur by electricity. The amount of energy estimated to be necessary to achieve this is staggering – about two billion volts. The most powerful lightning bolts only have about half that, but some have nevertheless claimed to notice a sulfur smell following a nearby lightning strike. Most authorities insist that these people are mistaking ozone for sulfur, but one of those who made this observation was Benjamin Franklin. One might suspect that in all of his experiments with lightning and electricity that he would know the difference.
Fortunately, ozone is a little more promising. Since this smell is produced by electrical activity screwing with oxygen in the air, we can obviously deduce that it’s caused by an electrical discharge in the vicinity of our mysterious guests. The circumstance under which most people experience an ozone smell in connection to the MiB is after they have just departed in a dramatic fashion.
One example of this occurred when a man who was visited by an MiB at his highrise apartment shut the door after their brief conversation, then decided that he had a few more things to say to his ominous visitor. When he opened the door to go after him, the man was gone despite the fact that there had not been time for him to reach the elevator or the stairwell. All that was left was the familiar aroma of ozone. I previously mentioned the MiB’s habit of literally disappearing around corners, and some of those who have pursued them have also reported finding nothing but this telltale aroma left behind. From such cases, we can hypothesize that electricity is somehow connected to their ability to suddenly vanish.
Okay, I admit that the last sentence was pretty vague, but it’s better than believing that they just vanish into thin air as if they were magical creatures (i.e. demons). They likely just have more advanced technology than we do, and they are able to use it to manipulate incredibly powerful amounts of electricity. That’s probably not news to some of you, but it does make a good segue into our next topic, which is something that would almost certainly require vast amounts of energy: time travel.
One fairly common theory of the origin of UFOs is that they are our descendants traveling here from the future for some reason, the most widely proposed of which is that we have somehow become genetically compromised down the road. This would seem to account for why they would need to travel back to a time before this happened to collect viable sperm and egg samples, which is a frequent procedure reported by abductees. And if this is the case, and the MiB are intimately connected to the UFO phenomenon, then it would seem reasonable to suppose that they are time travelers as well.
Paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren has proposed that this is why they wear black suits and hats. While fashion trends come and go pretty quickly, a man wearing a black suit wouldn’t appear too terribly out of place in any decade going back more than a century. This could explain why their suits are sometimes of a style that has gone out of fashion, but not so much so that it stands out. A black suit is, more or less, a black suit, even if it is a bit out of date. And this does work the other way around as well. John Keel noted with hindsight that, in several MiB cases which he investigated, the suits that the men wore were of a style that would not come into vogue until several years later. In these instances, the MiB were ahead of their time, so to speak. This would also most likely have something to do with why they are sometimes seen driving older model cars which appear to have just been driven off the lot. Apparently, they sometimes bring their cars with them when they jump forward a few years. However, unlike their clothing, this doesn’t seem to work the other way around. I’m not aware of any cases in which they have been seen driving around in what was described as a futuristic-looking vehicle. I guess that a 2014 Escalade would stand out a little more in 1973 than a “fashion faux pas” suit.
So if they are from the future, what are they doing here? It has already been demonstrated that if their actual mission is to silence UFO witnesses, as it appears to be on the surface, then they have failed miserably and yet keep on doing it anyway. This would seem to make their reason for being here an exercise in futility. One might suppose that they would have stopped long ago, but such is the nature of the time travel enigma. It’s possible that, from their perspective, every MiB encounter that has ever happened took place on the same day. You could have a hundred MiB teams each pulling off 10 or 12 short missions in as many hours over any amount of years. One crew could jump back to 1959 to scare the crap out of the Jones family, then hop ahead to 1974 to freak out the Smiths, then bounce back to 1967 to thoroughly confuse the Christiansens and still make it home for dinner.
And if someone from 1,000 years in the future is screwing with the timeline, maybe someone from 10,000 years from now is doing the same thing but in different ways and for very different reasons, which of course was the basic premise of the final season of Fringe, including their own interpretation of the Men in Black. Some think that this may be why some of them are pale and gangly while others are small and have dark complexions and Asian features, although probably not. Both sorts have been reported visiting witnesses together in numerous instances.
Another time related theory is that the Men in Black might be temporal cops, traveling through history trying to fix the problems created by the “alien” time travelers. However, time travel wouldn’t explain why they also sometimes appear in connection with the occult, but if Keel and a few others are right about this, then there could be some kind of occult-time travel-UFO connection. The mind reels at the myriad possibilities and permutations.
This theory would also not necessarily explain their quirky behavior. One might think that experienced, professional time travelers would be far better at blending in than most of these guys. Still, they do manage to fit in well enough that most people just believe that they’re dealing with very odd and unusual human beings…at least most of the time.
Finally and (I think) most importantly, we need to consider the possibility that the MiB do not actually exist as flesh and blood creatures like you and me. Much like their gray alien counterparts, they can appear to be as real and solid as a bowling ball to the forehead at one moment, and as ethereal and noncorporeal as a specter the next. They also give a definite impression of being one-dimensional characters without fully formed identities. They appear just human enough to get by, but not convincingly. They seem to have been created to perform one function, or execute one program, but they have no back-story. Like the cryptids who leave behind no tangible proof of their physicality, they seem to be liminal creatures whose existence is short-lived but highly focused in its intent.
Witness after witness has described their speech as sounding mechanical, monotone and rehearsed, as if they were merely reciting their lines. In fact, according to UFO researcher Gray Barker, who may or may not have encountered these beings himself, the best way to simultaneously derail and demystify them is to make a joke or comment that puts them completely off their script, like an actor whose costar has suddenly started ad-libbing on opening night.
On a more serious and somewhat pitiful note, when John Keel eventually got a phone call from the mysterious Mr. Appell mentioned earlier, it was apparently quite a conversation. Although Keel went into much less detail than I would have liked, his main takeaway from their talk was that there seemed to be nothing that Appell didn’t know, except who or what he was. After months of anger and frustration over all of the nonsense and subterfuge that Appell and his ilk had put him and dozens of contactees through, he actually managed to feel sorry for this misbegotten being who seemed only to be playing his role in some complicated mind game, of which he was far from being the architect.
At one point, Keel began to question whether these beings were even real, self-aware entities or just creations of his own imagination, to which Patrick Harpur later replied in his most impressive book Daimonic Reality that it is not either/or; it is both/and. He and a few others have noted that these beings exhibit the unmistakable qualities of the Trickster archetype that exists both in this world and in some other reality that lurks on the outskirts of our awareness. Harpur goes on to say that the MiB also fall into the category of minor league daimons, but all daimons are also ultimately Tricksters themselves.
And since I’ve tossed around both of these terms from time to time without ever really giving a satisfactory explanation for what either of them actually mean, it occurs to me that this should probably be my next project. Stay tuned. It’s a fairly complicated but thoroughly fascinating subject.
And just in case you’re wondering, the answer is no. None of the MiB have yet bothered to knock on my door to tell me to keep my snide comments about them to myself. Pity. There’s so much that I would like to ask them, most of which I’m fairly certain that they couldn’t answer. But if they were to show up tonight, I would even give them some candy. It is Halloween, after all.