Free Energy Pioneer: John Worrell Keely

By Theo Paijmans

IllumiNet Press, Lilburn, GA, 1998, 472 pp., paperback, $19.95

Reviewed by Douglas Chapman

Was John Worrell Keely a con man or the user of a special form of power? Whatever one's opinion of him, Paijmans' exhaustive chronicle of the man provides much to think about.

Keely, born 1837, was famous enough in his time to have been known to Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Jules Verne. Science fiction authors other than Verne have also made use of his ideas. Some occultists, including Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, lauded him.

Why the latter? Paijmans is of the opinion that Keely made use of something that had long been "underground": occult technology.

John A. Keel opines in the Introduction that: "He was not a charlatan and swindler. John Keely lived modestly, giving large sums of money to metal-workers, foundries and manufacturers who constructed parts of his machines.... If anything, he was frequently conned out of money by numerous companies and individuals, according to Paijmans' research." Keely's bilked investors did not come to the same conclusion, and the almost unanimous opinion about Keely after his fall was that he was a con man extraordinaire.

This book was, by necessity, limited to certain types of research material. Most sources we have for Keely are not first person, since his own papers apparently no longer exist. The notes for this book cite many news media of the 19th century.

Keely claimed that his research into acoustic physics had commenced before he was ten years old. Around 1865, his "reacting vibratory motor" attracted interest. The Globe motor was shown off in 1871 but was never patented. Keely was guarded about the workings of his motors, and one person who apparently -- according to some claims -- actually saw a secret part declined to be further involved.

Keely's inventions and dealings with the Keely Motor Company are dealt with in detail, including a time in 1888/9 when Keely was jailed for contempt because he would not satisfy the company as to his machines' efficacy. There was a skeptical theory that compressed air was involved in some fakery. As the power he claimed to try to use through elements like water and air was "etheric" force, many may assume his jargon was actually gobbledygook, unless they -- in mystic fashion -- credit the powers of life and mind and will (in modern parlance, the "Force").

Tesla was doubtful: "It is painful to read his [Keely's] theories. Can he have recognized something and yet be utterly incapable of expressing it? This seems impossible for there is no truth which cannot be told in simple language." (Yet the super-rich John Jacob Astor funded Keely far more than he did Tesla.)

Many photographs of Keely's devices adorn the volume. Whether they worked or not, they certainly were and are beautiful. They include the Vibrodyne and Sympathetic Negative Transmitter, the Liberator ("of the sound force from atoms of the atmosphere"), and the Hydro-Vacuo Motor or Engine.

Keely died in 1898, with many wondering if his secrets died with him. Ten years before, in The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky had written: "Keely's discovery would lead to a knowledge of one of the most occult secrets, a secret which can never be allowed to fall into the hands of the masses." In the same book, she commented that Keely "was, and still is, at the threshold of some of the greatest secrets of the Universe; of that chiefly on which is built the whole mystery of psychical forces, and the esoteric significance of the 'Mundane Egg' symbolism." Blavatsky, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and others firmly established the idea of occult technology among those who could accept the idea, and Keely's ideas easily fit into this framework -- and still do. (Though Keely's experiments came later than Bulwer-Lytton's fictional writings about Vril-based technology).

This book reveals much of the dispersal of the occult technology idea, including Rudolph Steiner's oblique comments and warning about what such technology could mean. Machines of this type, once one knew the vibrational curve, could operate with very little human influence upon them; Steiner wrote of the secret societies which might use them to dominate the earth.

What Keely left behind was the subject of much speculation. The aforementioned compressed-air method of fakery was discussed, though no one provided an explanation that quite fit with the apparatus found among his belongings, including a mysterious globe buried beneath the floor in the ground which some thought could withstand extreme air pressures. Other mysterious findings in the place suggested to some a water motor could alternately have been employed.

Other mysteries remain. Chapter 12 covers the 19th-century airship wave, according to this book a possible follow-up to Keely's antigravity ideas.

Whether Keely was a visionary or not, his work calls up vistas that one wishes were real: of a magical technology that allows the mind great power over its environment. Readers, whatever their orientation regarding belief in such a technology, will find this book fascinating, for often differing reasons. They will thank Theo Paijmans for his efforts in uncovering so much useful material.