Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The evidence for there being a large cave or caves on the southwest side of the pog of Montsegur is starting to fall into place. After Miss Scarlett was apparently abducted from the courtyard by someone or something in June 2008 ( * see 'Trail of the White Lady/ 'Midnight in the Well of Souls' for the full story ) she recalls waking to find herself lying in a cave in the side of the mountain, one that had two large stones close to the entrance. Although the experience bore elements of a shamanic journey that is not wholly explainable by the “rational mind” we do not believe that what happened to her that night was a mere 'hallucination' or some trick of the light. Miss Scarlett claims to have been forced to slide a good ten meters or more down a steep incline to escape the grotto and the dried red mud was there for all to see caked on the back of her jeans and heavy leather trenchcoat the next morning.
The black djellaba that Miss Scarlett was clutching when she was first grabbed by the 'barrow wite' or whatever the hell it was that snatched her out of the courtyard was later found halfway up the mountain but our best efforts to retrace her steps to the mouth of the grotto itself have thus far proved strangely fruitless. One might readily assume that the cave itself existed either in some other plane of time, space or consciousness or indeed solely in her mind were it not for the corroborative evidence that we have since gleaned from the inhabitants of the isolated hamlet clinging to the base of the pog.
Much of what we have heard during our time in the area amounts to little more than oral tradition, scraps of verbally transmitted data that can all too easily become confused with myth as they are handed down from one generation to the next. For example one of our most reliable informants, a perfectly level headed young German lady whose name must for now remain a secret, claims to have spoken to an elderly villager who was present when they conducted a dig halfway up the pog in 1897. The labourers apparently unearthed a trench 5-6 meters wide and 3-4 meters deep with two columns and a collapsed arch. Behind it was a tunnel. The man who told the story was in his 70's at the time but was apparently still haunted by the memory of that tunnel mouth although the excavation had been long since been covered over and “no trace of it remains.”
We picked up a very similar story only the other day from another one our friends, Thierry, who can trace his ancestry back the knights involved in the Avignonet raid in 1243 and whose own birthday celebration we attended whilst preparing this 'blog entry. Thierry told us of an encounter with an elderly gent who had apparently wandered into a cave below the castle as a boy and seen a stone altar or table surrounded by a circle of rocks resembling chairs. According to Thierry the memory had stayed with this individual all his life but when he returned to the mountain as an old man no trace of the cave could been found. He complained that the path had been altered and he no longer recognised the lie of the land but Thierry suspected that the venerable gentleman was simply a few cards shy of a full deck at the time and had conflated a vividly imagined recollection of a childhood 'conte' or fairytale with his own remembered experience.
Another equally wild yarn is said to have originated from a former member of a group of amateur spelunkers who once operated in the area and claimed to have found a great cave deep inside the pog, complete with a mysterious subterranean lake. Further crypto-archeological gossip concerns persistent rumours of an entrance to a tunnel leading deeper into the mountain that was unearthed when they built the road to the village but “...they covered it over and didn't want anybody to talk about it...”
That said there seems nary a soul in the settlement who doesn't have an opinion on the matter. One long term pog watcher and ardent Occitan nationalist whom we encountered at Madame Couquet's auberge told us over breakfast that he had entered and explored a cave below the castle that he termed the 'well of the steps'. He claimed it had been easier to access in times gone by and that there was a bottleneck in the tunnel so narrow that only a child or a midget would have any chance of squeezing through. When we asked him to describe the well's location he shied away from answering, claiming that it was 'dangerous' to try and pin things down, suggesting rather fancifully that the precise topography of the pog had a tendency to shift capriciously between one visit and the next. "You can't define it ! Every time you try to define it, it changes..." He confided darkly, as if this were explanation enough. Indeed were he to tell us any more, he hinted, he might find his own way barred the next time he attempted to return to the area. Only the mountain itself apparently or whatever mysterious force is at work in the keep has the power to decide who is allowed through the maze and just how much they are permitted to see at any one time.
Of course our informant was, in this case, in all probability, nuttier than the proverbial wagonload of pralines but considering how far fetched our own experiences on the pog have been over the last few years we're scarcely in a position to be too fussy about who we choose to break bread with. Besides our informants claims, absurd as they may sound, would seem to possess a grain of truth...
In the early 13th century the then head of the Cathar church Guilhabert de Castries wrote to the lord of Montsegur, Raimond de Perelha asking permission for the treasures and records of their faith to be moved to the fortress and its adherents to be allowed to live 'infra-castrum', a term taken by some to literally mean 'beneath the castle' although it is more commonly believed to refer to the small settlement that once existed in the lee of the chateau's walls. Several sources however mention the castle's water supply being drawn from 'underground cisterns' although no sign of such an arrangement has ever been found and the question of quite how the defenders refreshed themselves during the eleven month siege remains a bit of a poser.
A retired member of the former archaeological society of Montsegur who must for now remain anonymous hinted that there was a lot that he and his colleagues in the GRAME ( Groupe de Recherches Archeologiques de Montsegur et Environs ) were forced to leave out from the official record. He claims that the castle foundations go 4.5 meters deeper than anyone is willing to admit and that there are things below. Nonetheless the person responsible for the 'Monuments Historiques' declared emphatically in 1948 that there was nothing under the castle, no cisterns, cellars or caverns, manmade or otherwise.
In the inquisition records however can be found a brief but puzzling reference to the death of one Arnaud Narbona de Carol. He was mortally injured and before dying they took him 'dans la grotte de ce chateau' ( to the cave of the castle ) where two parfaits gave him the consolamentum in the company of 10 others - so we can assume it must have been a reasonably large cave. Again nobody knows where this cave might be and not only don't they know, they say there is no cave, that it was only a “place between two rocks”.
To date only two complete skeletons and three partial ones have been retrieved from the ruins of Montsegur although it is known that many people died during the 40 years of occupation in the 13th century and that in fact many bothers deliberately came to the pog to die. Accordingly we have begun to focus our attention on an area known as 'Prats de la Gleizo' which once existed at the bottom of the pog on the far side of the road from the parking lot. 'Gleizo' is an archaic word for church, a name mentioned in an old diary recently turned up by one of our informants concerning the discovery of several coffins buried in the vicinity.
« ...Du village nous remontons la route jusqu’au col du Tremblement. A mi-côte nous dépassons l’ancienne carrière de plâtre et la mine abandonnée de l’Argentière. Nos yeux se reposent un instant sur la prairie au sud. Un pré longe la route : il fut un cimetière – probablement aux temps féodaux. Naguère encore, en labourant on y trouvait des débris d’ossements, de planches, des clous ; et l’endroit porte le nom de ‘Prats de la Gleizo’ (Les prés de l’église). Il s’agit sans aucun doute de l’emplacement d’un ancien village brûlé lors du siège du château. Plus haut, à droite du col, le lien se nomme ‘La Cave’. Ce nom laisse perplexe. Une grotte naturelle serait-elle à la base de la pyramide rocheuse ? Y aurait on aménagé des magasins et des écuries ? L’entrée en serait-elle reste cachée ? En tout cas, des écuries tout au haut du piton, dans la forteresse ; cela semble improbable... »
From the village we go up the road to Col Earthquake ( or literally the 'trembling col' – the area that constitutes the current parking for the castle – although nobody calls it by this name any more ) Halfway we passed the old lime quarry and the abandoned mine Argentiere. Our eyes rest a moment on the prairie to the south. Along the road there was a cemetery - probably in feudal times. Once again, there was ploughing that had uncovered the remnants of bones, planks, nails, and the place is called 'Prats of Gleizo' (near the church). This is undoubtedly the site of a former village burned during the siege of the castle. To the top right of the neck, the link is called 'The Cave'. This name is perplexing. A natural cave perhaps at the base of the pyramid rock? Where would they have constructed shops and stables ? Would the entrance be hidden? In any case, situating the stables at the top of the peak in the fortress itself would seem unlikely...”
The English is a little tricky in this transcription but you get the idea…
As above, so below...
( ii )
Only the other night we were taking dinner at our landlady's house and talk turned, as it does around here, to the lost caves of Montsegur. Our landlady claimed that her own grandmother had stumbled across just such a cavity beneath the castle, which she had reached via a flight of stairs that, of course, “no longer exist”. She told us that when her grandmother entered the cavern she had found a giant “saucisson”. While the word was immediately recognizable we assumed that we must have misheard her. Wresting control of the dog-eared Franglais dictionary that we carry around like a Bible, our estimable hostess proceeded to look up the word “sausage”, whilst continuing to insist on the literal truth of her story. Apparently her grandmother had found a huge cellar and within the castle's cavernous pantry she had seen an “enormous sausage” - quite literally the 'food of the Gods' you might say.
In these mountains magic and superstition still have common currency and belief in the supernatural and the powers of the 'fee' or faery folk surprisingly widespread. Our landlady's account of a ghostly sausage still hanging in an equally ghostly larder is only marginally more ridiculous than similar friend-of-a-friend reports I picked up in Wales and the West of England concerning children wandering through doors in the hill on midsummer's night to return clutching “strange flowers” in their hands and their heads aspin with weird music or, for that matter, anonymous shepherds blundering across long buried hoards still guarded by sleeping knights. Like Osama bin Laden or King Arthur before him the so-called 'White Lady' of Montsegur and the last of the 'Cathars' are believed to still be concealed within the bosom of the living rock, awaiting the day that the stars come around to their right place so that they might awaken to lead their future kin to freedom.
Above: 'Esclarmonde in her enchanted sleep' - a plate from 'La Legende de Jean de l'Ours ou legende d'Esclarmonde' ( 1936 )
As Arthur is commonly believed to have been borne away to Avalon so Esclarmonde de Montsegur is said to have 'passed alive into the kingdom of heaven' from whence she will return to reign as a sort of 'once and future' queen over her Pyrenean empire after seven centuries have passed and “the Laurel turns green again”. The 'treasure of the ages', be it the 'Holy Grail' or the 'Book of the Seven Seals' which 'will not be opened until judgement day' is quite naturally said to rest beside her.
All this is plainly the stuff of folklore, the archetypal myth of the 'eternal return' writ large, yet the legend is persistent enough to have motivated countless professional and amateur archeologists and spelunkers to scour the cave systems which honeycomb this area, one of the largest limestone regions in Europe, in the hope of finding some trace of the vanished heretics and their ever elusive treasure.
As above, so below: In the footsteps of Otto Rahn
My colleagues and I have followed a trail blazed the enigmatic German-Jewish Grail historian Otto Rahn ( * see 'Terra Umbra/ Journeys 2009 / The Cave of the Hermit' and 'The Secret Glory' ) who plumbed the claustrophobic depths of Fontanet, Bouan, the Lombrives and the grotto of Ornolac in search of a dream and his mentor, Antonin Gadal, the former minister of tourism and one time leader of the European Rosicrucian movement who believed so ardently in the myth that he felt compelled to try and make it a reality by unearthing and exhibiting artefacts, mostly Egyptian tat, jade ornaments that were later found to have been purchased at museum auctions before being deliberately re-buried at the sites in question.
Above: Antonin Gadal displays artefacts allegedly retrieved from the grotto of Lombrives
Below: The fortified grotto of Bouan
The French occult group 'The Polaires' resorted to similar tactics in 1932 when their leader Cesare Accomani ( aka 'Zam Bhotiva' ) stooped to hiding a book of Hindu astrology in the ruins of Montsegur for subsequent re-exhumation after a lengthy, highly publicised and typically fruitless sweep of the surrounding countryside, including extensive digging in the ruins of Lordat and other castles, apparently in the hope of turning up that pesky missing grimoire, the 'Book of the Seven Seals'. Accomani was forced to resign as a result and the bewildered occult lodge he left behind spontaniously imploded not long afterwards.
Otto Rahn makes fun of the Polaires and Engineer Arnaud from Bordeux who saught a material hoard whilst simultaniously suggesting that the true treasure lay hidden in a cave in the forest guarded by poisonous vipers. According to Rahn's 1936 opus 'The Court of Lucifer' -
”...He, who wishes to enter, must present himself there on Palm Sunday, during the priest's mass. At this time only, the stone will draw itself aside, and the serpents will be sleeping. However, tragedy will befall him who has not left by the time the priest pronounces 'misa est'. At the end of the mass, the grotto of the treasure will close in on itself and he who finds himself its prisoner will reap an atrocious death, bitten by serpents suddenly awoken....”
All of which, admittedly sounds a little fanciful, but its hard to ignore the recurrent serpentine symbolism and the correlation between Palm Sunday and the Cathar feast day of Bema, allegedly the only day of the year on which the 'Book of the Seven Seals' could be opened, a festival that according to my associate, Mr.Web, had been incorporated wholesale into the developing faith from a far earlier Manichean tradition. Accordingly I decided to take the laboratory approach and scaled the pog last year in order to present myself at the given time, only to return with little more to show for my efforts other than damp socks and incipient frostbite.
Intriguingly in the very same passage Rahn proceeds to relay a story allegedly told to him by one of the shepherds he meets during his stay in Montsegur in what was presumably the winter of 1932 who insists that his grandfather found an iron ring set into a stone slab somewhere deep in the forest. After failing to lift it Rahn claims the man “rushed back to the village to seek help. But he never found the place again” - which, strangely enough, is almost identical to another friend of a friend account proffered by one of the locals during the writing of this 'blog:-
“...Years ago my grandfather found a rock in the forest behind the castle. There was a ring attached to the slab and a seal cut into the stone. Nobody knows any more where in the forest it is...”
Above: The Grotto of Massabielle
Below: The cavern on the Montagne de la Frau
Another one of our neighbours, a former 'tough guy' from Paris insists that he saw the 'White Lady' with his own eyes, standing in the mouth of a grotto in the 'Montagne de la Frau' overlooking the pog. Her skin glowed as if it were “made of ice”. Like Bernadette Soubirous who encountered a similar presence in the hallowed grotto of Massabielle only a few miles down the pike this big, bear of a man believes that what he saw on the 'Mountain of Fear' was a vision of the virgin, “Marie”. He went to church to pray every day for a month afterwards and claims the event turned his life around, convincing him of the reality of an unseen world.
Lourdes became a place of pilgrimage and our neighbour found God but not all such attempts to plumb the local grottos have proved so beneficial...
As above, so below. The Cave of the Hermit - June 2009
The Swiss customs officer turned amateur archeologist, Daniel Bettex, perished during his attempts to chart a similar network of subterranean passages in Mount Bugarach ( * see 'The Razes Pentagram / The Secret Rapture of Daniel Bettex' ) and our landlady's father, one of the few remaining fluent Occitan speakers in the village along with another local, the son of the esteemed WW2 veteran Guy Puysegur ( who was interviewed for 'The Secret Glory' ) recently found their determined efforts to explore a tunnel on the south side of the pog of Montsegur defeated by the presence of poisonous gas. The cave was a “killer”, they told us, its atmosphere suffused with toxic levels of methane and carbon monoxide, capable not only of putting unwary spelunkers into a coma within a matter of minutes but quite possibly inflammable to boot – all of which only serves to raise further questions. Such potentially fatal pockets of natural gas might well be capable of causing hallucinations or other forms of sensory distortion, possibly even inducing visions of 'Marie'or the 'White Lady', whichever you may prefer. Similar explanations have after all been offered by conventional archeologists to explain the 'Pythean' visions of the oracle at Delphi. Not only that but, as we have already learned ( * see 'The Hand of Morenci' ) the word 'saucisson' has another, more sinister meaning. It is also a colloquial term for a 'fuse', in contemporary 13th century parliance, hinting at a potentially more explosive outcome to the mystery of Montsegur than we might have guessed...
Monday, December 14, 2009
The Hand of Morenci
“When I raise my hand all five beams will stay with you...”
( i )
We came across the road to Morenci quite by accident. We were searching for the Pass de la Portes - the 'place of the doors' or 'pass of the gateways' – a small glen due north of Montsegur where the Cathars were said to have met in secret to exchange supplies, documents and God only knows what else during the siege of 1243-44. This little known site lies at an ancient ford in the river somewhere on the road to the village of Benaix. Just before we reached the remote settlement itself we spotted a signpost for Morenci and being in a devil may care mood decided to give it a go. We had been warned last year that the road was virtually unnavigable and that we would probably ruin our car just trying to get within striking distance. While the way proved steep enough, however, winding vertiginously upwards through the wild, densely forested hills, it was fortunately no match for the newly retuned Shadow Theatre Mark XII Interceptor. Nothing however had quite prepared for what we found at the end of the trail...
I first heard about the 'hand of Morenci' from Madame Couquet all the way back in 1998 during the making of 'The Secret Glory' but had never quite been able to get a fix of the location's whereabouts, nor did I know quite what the 'hand' was at the time or how it tied in with the rest of the story. As Dario Argento succinctly puts it “ film-makers are always rude, tired and in a hurry” and so, for whatever reason, neither myself nor any of the other Shadow Theatre irregulars saw fit to follow through on Madame's Couquet's well intentioned advice, leaving this particular loose end to lie trailing for well over a decade. Her recommendation might have been forgotten entirely had the ardent Occitan nationalist and long term pog watcher Micheau Pierre not come blasting out with the theory one lazy summer evening a solstice or so gone by that “Montsegur is exactly equidistant from Stonehenge and the Externstein and if you draw a straight line from Montsegur, using the cross of Morenci as a marker you will find the true location of Atlantis.” There’s something about twilight that seems to bring out the best in all of Madame Couquet’s regulars.
At the top of the mountain we came to a cross roads and pulled the Interceptor to a halt as we caught our collective breath. Before us stood a spectacular sphinx-like rock formation that cried out for further investigation.
The view from Morenci
Climbing the barely discernable path to the top of the jagged extrusion we were rewarded with a breath taking view of Montsegur looming across the untenanted valley, not that all views of the pog aren't breathtaking, mind you, but its always a treat to see the magic mountain from a fresh angle and this one was particularly choice.
Several years ago four bodies were unearthed on the eastern, sunward side of the strangely squared off rock facing the crossroads, their remains apparently ritually buried with necklaces made of jais ( a jet stone known to the Greeks as the ‘stone of Gagas’) and pierced teeth. Reportedly, the road that leads away from this rock, and down into the valley below, traverses the ancient loam of a vast necropolis although just how much archeological research has really been done in the area is hard to say.
Across the trail, on the other side of the crossroads, perched a top a gently mounded uprising is the cross of Morenci.
A large and expressionless face stares blindly out from the centre of the cross. Directly below this inscrutable countenance appears the figure eight, formed with curiously thick lines. The number eight can allude to infinity or even the departure of man from the natural realm to a supernatural one. The number 1780 is carved towards the base of the cross, apparently dating the monuments erection to the late 18th century. Around this meeting place of sky and earth sits a semi circle of stones so evocative of a place of unknown rites that we couldn't help but wonder if the cross might not have been an attempt to “Christianize” a reputedly or actively pagan place. Later we learned that the cross had been literally carved out of a far larger sandstone boulder that had rested at this spot. The surviving face and the figure of eight or one circle resting atop another are all that remain of the countless ornate carvings that once covered the surface of the stone. Although it is not marked on any existing map local feeling about the monument evidently still runs deep. The cross has been vandalized on several occasions, most notably in March of 1972 when a local hunter blew off part of the face and the lopsided eight with buckshot. Every time the monument has been silently and fastidiously repaired, quite possibly by the same unknown hands that helped erect and maintain the stone altar at Montsegur...
On the north-western side of the crossroads, just down a short path is the Roc of Fougasse. Fairly easy to spot in the winter one can only imagine how hidden and secluded this place must be in the summer. The boulder was much larger than we expected and one of the first things we noticed was that the area below the rock seemed vaguely terraced, its steps a little too regular to be quite in accordance with the surrounding topography.
There is a large circular disc carved atop the rock with deep grooves reminiscent of the grinding stones found at Black Star and Bell Canyons in Orange County, CA. Those stones were made and once used for grinding corn by the Gabrielino and Tongva Indians who chose the locations largely because they were the only areas in the surrounding mountains relatively safe from bears. The circle on the stone at Fougasse is much, much bigger than anything we had come across back in the States although it is curious to note that Fougasse is a type of flat bread, akin to Foccacia, found in depots de pain throughout the region. The term Fougasse also means a type of weapon, an improvised mine apparently constructed by making a hollow in the ground and then filling it with explosives (originally, black powder) and projectiles. The most common type in early use was the stone fougasse, which was simply filled with large rocks, bricks and any other available bits of rubble. When fired, a process which sounds hellaciously dangerous, it would scatter a hail of fast-moving stones across the entire area. The normal method of firing was to use a burning torch or slow match to ignite a saucisson (French for "sausage” ) a cloth or leather tube water-proofed with pitch and filled with black powder, leading to the main charge.
Despite the name however this place seems to have been used for neither bread making nor for weaponry...
( ii ) Transcripts from the Zone - Dec 13 2009
“Maybe they made wine here – like in that Paul Wegener film, The Magician”, Richard muttered, tapping the raised disc with the tip of my boot. “You only see it for a couple of seconds during the bachanale sequence but I seem to recall a bunch of dwarves or trolls pushing something resembling a big ol'millstone to grind out the grapes.”
“This is pretty high up for growing grapes.”
“Yeah. And that was only a movie...” Richard paused, slowly taking in the leafless trees that marched silently away on all sides of us. “Still, this would make one helluva place for a bachanale , wouldn't it ?”
“Why would anyone want to carry fresh produce uphill ? Unless there was already a settlement here ?”
“I get the feeling that this might have been a sacrificial altar. Corny, I know, but just look at the way the ground is terraced. You have to admit it'd make for a pretty decent show.”
“You know, the Druids often sacrificed holy animals on an altar to read the future and if it was a matter of dire importance they’d plunge a dagger into the heart of a man and read the signs depending on how he flailed around in the death throes . I think there’d be some kind of run off system and then they’d catch the blood in a basin below.”
“Like that, you mean ?” Richard indicated a funnel in the lip of the rock. Beneath it a channel had been scoured deep into the stone by untold centuries of erosion.
“That’d take a hell of a lot of blood!”
“Might explain the bone yard at the top of this place.”
We stared in silence at the evidence before us for a minute, contemplating the horrible possibilities. The whole area had grown eerily silent. But this place was not going to give up its secrets that easily. We did our best to conduct a fingertip search of the rock but the unnaturally warm winter had encouraged the thick growth of moss about its base, making it impossible to find any corroborative glyphs or markings, if indeed any existed.
If this was a place of sacrifice, either symbolically or literally, then what deity could possibly have been propitiated here ? Was it part of a solar cult like the altar and the stone pentagram in the Bethlehem Grotto that the modern Rosicrucian movement still use in their initiation rituals or was it a Celtic place of fertility where blood offerings were made to the moon at certain times of the year. Given the area's convoluted history it could hew either way and as tantalizing as these ideas may be, there is no proof to support or confirm either theory.
Above: Solar symbol on carving found at Morenci Below: Steatite vase retrieved from beneath the rock known as Dentilhero
( iii )
Approximately fifty feet southwest of the 'Rock of Fougasse' is a small but very lovely spring. Its easy enough to miss if you don’t know where to look and a little too small for ritually bathing away your sins or ritually bathing anything at all for that matter, although this might add some credence to the Celtic druid hypothesis.
Springs were considered sacred to the druids, not only as a fresh water supply, but as portals to the otherworld. The Devil’s Armchair in Rennes-les-Bains has a similar set up with the strange rock formation, hidden in a grove, near a natural source. The difference is this place seems much, much older.
Above: Spectrometry on the Morenci vase ( ph: Laurent Crassous ) Below: Le Poulet de Morenci
The 'Hand of Morenci', the bizarre relic Madame Couquet tried to tell us about all those years ago, was discovered in a fault near here, beside a rock known as Dentilhero where it was covered by a stone. The artefact is fashioned from soap stone or steatite, a substance primarily composed of talc, which is easy to work with, and was used frequently during the Iron age for the sculpture of ritual objects, and later during the Middle Ages for the manufacture of seals. The hand is large enough to belong to one of the brethren of the 'Giant of Stenay' or, for that matter, Goliath and his Biblical kin. If sculpted to scale the person it was taken from would have been over two meters high. Moreover the carved appendage is notably deformed, missing the upper phalanges on all of its fingers.
While it is possible that the fingers were broken off deliberately or otherwise and the stumps of the phalanges later worn smooth by the passage of untold centuries it would appear at a cursory examination that the 'Hand of Morenci' was deliberately sculpted this way.
Jean Tricoire, the first person to write about the hand claimed to have felt an instinctive repulsion, believing that the greenish reflections in the ancient stone were somehow malefic. Tricoire supposed that the back of the hand, less refined than the palm, and the mutilated digits were deliberately intended to represent a leprous appendage.
Missing fingers have often been equated with various magical practices, malign or otherwise, some of them all too familiar to me. The practice of removing one joint or another from the left or right hand, according to the preferences of the various tribes, was almost universal among the Khoisan bushmen of Southern Africa who traditionally performed the operation with a sharp stone. They believed that by this act of self-mutilation they ensured for themselves a desirable life of feasting and pleasures in the hereafter. The Bushmen have a legend which states that at some undefined spot on the banks of the Orange River there is a place called Too'ga to which they will all go after death.
To ensure their safe journey they cut off the top joint of the little fingers. This serves as their passport through all manner of strange obstacles and difficulties. The ill-advised one who neglects to perform this rite in life is forced to make the passage upside down, travelling all the way to Too'ga on their head instead of their feet. He is beset with tribulations for the entire distance and even upon arrival is given only flies for food, while his wiser companions feast on locusts and honey. As the sangoma, Joe Niemand put it - “There's a whole lotta power in fingers. In knots and knuckles and such...”, a power inextricably linked in old Africa to the timeless rites of magic and the creation of the cave paintings, the elaborate blood murals that could only be drawn when the full moon was at its zenith...
Curiously enough there are a great many paintings in the caverns of the Pyrenees that depict mutilated hands although none so numerous as those that can be found in the grotto of Gargas which contains the prints of some thirty thousand appendages either stencilled in red or black paint or ochre or applied directly from the palm.
As above so below: Los Manos de Gargas
Every one of the outlines found in the cave depths of Gargas is missing an upper phalange in one manner or another. Some are missing a digit from each finger, some only one, but unlike the hand of Morenci, they all have the thumb intact.
It is a gruesome sight to behold and one cannot easily buy into the explanation that they lost the tips of their fingers to frostbite or were simply a large colony of lepers.
( iv )
From Morenci it is possible to follow the trail on foot, down into the valley to the slopes of the pog and beyond although it would undoubtedly be hike of several hours, one small section of the ancient pilgrimage route known as the 'Route of the Bonhomme' or the 'Path of the Grail'. In my heart I yearned to follow it, knowing that other mysteries undoubtedly lay ahead, safely hidden in that arborial fastness from the prying eyes of the uninitiated yet even now the shadows were deepening between the trees, the fading December sun slanting between the trunks.
Working our way back up the incline towards the car we kept our eyes peeled for further signs of terracing. Here and there amidst the undergrowth were what looked like the remains of low, stubby walls and at times we noticed what appeared to be weathered markings, so faint and worn I had to look twice to make certain we weren't imagining them.
As above so below: Vestiges of Massebrac ?
According to an archeologist we spoke to at the small museum in Montsegur there are a wealth of pictoglyphs on the surrounding rocks, including triangles, crosses, cup marks and what might be stylized hoof or clog prints. Some of these markings are said to represent the cycles of the moon and the constellation of Arcturus, or the 'Great Bear', a formation curiously reminiscent of the groundplan of Montsegur. Nearby can be found the remains of an old enclosure, a leaning standing stone, a dolmen table bearing further pediform imprints and other signs of ancient inhabitation. Frequent references appear in the inquisition registers to a castle or fortified settlement that once stood in this area known as Massabrac whose denizens were accused of aiding and abetting the defenders of the Cather citadel. According to the surviving documents “The faithful of Massabrac”, those who were known to have gone to visit the Parfaits at the chateau of Montsegur included one Bernard du Riual, Pierre Laurens and his brothers Raimond Laurens and Pinaut, Raimond Sicre, Raymond Peyre, Pierre Sicre, Arnaud de la Boulbere and Guillaume Guirafieze. Several of these family names appear on the roster of those who later perished during the fall of the castle in 1244 ( see 'The Cathars' / timeline / Appendix A ) and a few, notably Peyre, Sicre and Laurens still have surviving descendants living in the area. All traces of Massabrac have long since been erased from the map, borne away by a tide of blood and ash but as we started back towards the crossroads I couldn't help but wonder if we weren't even now strolling down the main street of that bygone hamlet.
I came to a halt at the top of the rise, filling my lungs with the deep, intoxicating smell of the forest. The rock formation adorning the crown of the hill looked different from this angle. While undeniably striking it came as little surprise to realize that from where I stood the solitary menhir looked for all the world like a thumb and the larger outcrop beyond seemed to make up the remaining four fingers of a granite hand looming impiously from the earth.
I knew that before too long we would be returning to Morenci to follow where it pointed...
Saturday, December 5, 2009
A New Interactive Website Launched