Friday, May 21, 2010

The Mark of the Beast

Previously on 'Terra Umbra' : - Spanish film maker Nacho Cerda joins the team on a visit to Rennes-les-Chateau where a series of strange 'coincidences' cast a disturbing new light on the 'bloodline' conspiracy and the identity of the so-called 'black magician' prowling the Zone...

The Zone – May 2010

The three saints of ice have finally packed their bags and headed south. The first breath of summer has touched the high pastures of the Ariege and the fallen trees, downed by the freak storm a couple of weeks ago ( * see previous 'blog ) have been dragged away and cut up for firewood. The cavaliers des faidits Cathare have already left on their yearly trek from Montsegur to Mirepoix and the crème de la crème of the European film industry, their stars, producers, entertainment lawyers and various hangers on have descended locust like on the French Riviera to bask in the gaudy, reflected light of the Cannes festival where lies are bought and sold by the yard like roughspun cloth. The assembled glitterati have little idea that behind the gleaming facade of the croisette another world awaits – an older, darker world where the fairytales of the horror movie business still have very real currency.

A mere two hours from downtown Cannes the tiny village of Rennes les Chateau stirs in May sunshine, awakening from its winter hibernation to shake off the cobwebs and set out its equally dubious wares. Ever since the emergence of the 'sacred bloodline' theory outlined in books such as 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' and 'The DaVinci Code', Rennes has found itself at the centre of a labyrinth of hoaxes and conspiracy theories that continues to ramify to this day.

“These people here, they're like extras in a Mario Bava movie” whispered Nacho, leaning a little closer to Miss Scarlett, eyes casting nervously from side to side at the other denizens of Le Jardin, the outdoor cafe next to Sauniere's domain and the customary meeting place for local mystery hunters. Henry Lincoln had settled in his usual corner with a group of anxious looking pilgrims starting to gather around him eagerly clutching copies off his latest book.

“Just another day on the devil's chessboard.” Miss Scarlett returned Henry's good natured wave.
“But this place is really nice,” said Nacho, relaxing a little in the meridianal sunshine. “At least the locals seem friendly enough.”

“You don't know Rennes,” muttered Miss Scarlett, toying with her sunglasses.

Nacho had driven up from Barcelona to discuss a new feature project only to find himself caught up in a real life supernatural narrative that might have sprung from the plot line of one of his own movies. We had last worked together in 2006 on the screenplay for Nacho's directorial feature debut 'Los Abandonados/ The Abandoned' a supernatural thriller concerning an American film producer who encounters her own ghostly doppelganger haunting a time warped farmhouse somewhere deep in the Russian countryside.

As above, so below: Nacho Cerda directs Anastasia Hille and Karel Roden in 'The Abandoned'( 2007 )described by as the 'scariest movie in years'

'The Abandoned' opened wide in theatres all across the States and has since found an appreciative audience among genre fans on both sides of the Atlantic but Nacho and I, while proud of what we had accomplished under the circumstances, remained only too aware of the many compromises we had been forced to make during the project's long and at times painful gestation. This time around we were both determined to retain creative control over our work and craft a terrifying new vision worthy of our mutual talents.

In any event it was a pleasure to see my old comrade again and to find that despite all the water that had gone under the bridge Nacho hadn't changed one bit with all his familiar enthusiasms and obsessions still firmly in place. Miss Scarlett and myself, in turn, took no small pleasure in showing him around the Zone and introducing him to some of its myriad attendant mysteries. Nacho had blown into town the day after the feast of Saint Servais, the last of the 'three saints of Ice' ( * see previous 'blog entry ) and scaled the pog of Montsegur for the first time the following morning.

The walls of the keep were still drying out after the rains that have saturated the area for the last fortnight or so and we watched from the ramparts as the leaden skies finally began to clear over, the hazy, scarcely created landscape of the Zone unfurling itself slowly before our eyes, the misty treetops rolling away and away, seemingly to the very ends of the earth itself. For now at least the castle's weird energies lay dormant and the courtyard and adjoining tower room that had been the setting of so many wonders, terrors and strange encounters over the years gone by seemed no more imposing than any other ancient monument. We completed a circuit of the ruins before leaving the mountaintop to the first straggling tourists of the season and starting back down into the world in search of a hot cup of coffee and a goat's cheese salad.

The next stop on the magical, mystery tour was, quite naturally, the Rennes plateau where a series of unsettling surprises lay in store. The Aude valley was a few degrees warmer than the Ariege albeit a good deal windier and we watched from the Belvedere as the shadows of the clouds scudded across the undulating panoramic landscape that remained every bit as impressive as the day I first set eyes on it more than two decades ago.

“It's like a movie set,” Nacho took in the mock-gothic edifice of the Tour Magdala, his mind working overtime as usual, setting up potential shots and laying out invisible dolly tracks as if on a location recce for a sinister, untitled drama that was somehow writing itself as we walked.

The sky darkened as we left the museum, a malignant early summer squall blowing in from the west, a grey sheet of stinging rain following a moment later. We took the winding trail down from the plateau to find shelter in the home of one of our friends, the hermit of the 'River of Colours'.

A cauldron simmered on a distinctly medieval looking hearth whose embers cast a faint, ruddy glow across the cottage's one room living area, its walls and shelves crammed with maps, hand written grimoires, dismembered barbie dolls and lovingly hoarded movie memorabilia. Nacho settled himself into a chair beside the fire while we chatted with our friend about how cold and long the winter had been, the coldest apparently since 1938 although he insisted that '84 had been even worse.

Then Nacho spotted an unused cinema ticket pinned above the hearth.

“You're going to freak out when you see this” he said, shaking his head in disbelief .

The ticket was for a screening of our old buddy Karim Hussain's 'La Belle Bete' which we had attended at the Sitges film festival in southern Spain some three years previously. Karim had been the first writer to work on Nacho's 'Los Abandonados', originating the screenplay that I'd overhauled during the frantic shoot in Bulgaria and the project's typically tempestuous post-production back in Barcelona. A dog eared business card was tucked against the wall beside it bearing the name and telephone number of 'Fangoria' magazine's former editor Tony Timpone.

“But how is this possible?” Nacho looked dumbfounded.

“I found it in a bottle out by the stone ring,” said the hermit.”Somebody must have left it for me. I don't know why.”

“Our friend is a big horror movie fan,” I offered, as if this were somehow an explanation in itself. Retrieving a copy of David Schmoeller's 1979 0pus 'Tourist Trap' from amidst the detritus of DVD's strewn among the doll parts Nacho immediately came across another disc slipped into its sleeve – a French language dub of my very own 'Dust Devil'.

“Damn. I wasn't expecting to see that here...”

“Where else but in Rennes?” mused Miss Scarlett, drawing our host's attention to the disc's credits.

“You made this?” It was the hermit's turn to look surprised as he took on board the bizarre fact that I was the writer director of the film he had only just watched. “I like this film very much!”

“Yeah. I made it all right...” I narrowed my eyes trying to puzzle out the different coincidences and connections. It was so typical of Rennes where people either seemed to be constantly burying and hiding things before leaving behind flamboyant, tell-tale clues.

In the last year there had been a rash of incidents where graffiti has mysteriously appeared on the crosses in the locality. Someone was changing the 'N' in 'INRI', the inscription exoterically to mean 'Jesus of Nazareth - King of the Jews' or esoterically 'Igne Natura Renovatur Integra' ( 'through fire nature is reborn whole' ), to the runic symbol of 'dagaz' ( above ) – the glorious light of the creator. A host of rumours surrounded the mysterious author of these ad hoc insignia. Some believed it was the work of a 'black magician' seeking to subtly manipulate the hypothetical grids of telluric energy running through the area to his ( or her ) own nefarious ends. Others hinted darkly that it might be somehow linked to the resurgence of the movement known as the 'Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple' ( or 'O.T.S' ) in the Rennes region.

The 'O.T.S' was founded in 1952 by the French author Jacques Breyer who based his plans for the Order upon the modern myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar. The Orders aims were apparently to prepare humanity for the Second Coming of Christ as a 'solar god-king'. The movement's activities were a mix of early Protestant Christianity mixed with New Age philosophy , using adapted Masonic rituals as well as drawing inspiration for its teachings from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the British occultist Aleister Crowley who headed the Order of Oriental Templars ( OTO ).

The movement was revived in Geneva in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret and lodges were established in Quebec as well as in France, Austria, Switzerland and Martinique, attracting a number of wealthy and influential members, including Princess Grace of Monaco who was reputedly initiated into the movement shortly before her death. The group's initiatory ceremonies included expensive purchases, jewellery, costumes, regalia and the payment of initiation fees. During ceremonies members wore crusader-type robes and were to hold in awe a sword which Di Mambro claimed was an authentic Templar artefact, given to him in a previous incarnation a thousand years ago.

In October 1994 Tony Dutoit's infant son, Emmanuel Dutoit, aged three months, was killed at the group's centre in Morin Heights, Quebec. The baby had been stabbed repeatedly with a wooden stake. It is believed that Di Mambro ordered the murder, because he had identified the baby as the Anti-Christ whom he believed had been born into the order to prevent him from succeeding in his spiritual aims. A few days later, Di Mambro and twelve followers performed a ritual last supper before embarking of a spate of simultanious murders and mass suicides in Switzerland, and Quebec — 15 inner circle members committed suicide with poison, 30 were killed by bullets or smothering, and 8 others were killed by other causes. Many of the bodies when found were drugged, possibly to prevent the members from objecting. The buildings were then set on fire by timer devices, purportedly as one last symbol of the group's purification. 48 human beings perished in the wholesale slaughter that took place in Sion, Switzerland, where a number of the dead were found in a secret underground chapel lined with mirrors and other items of Templar symbolism. The bodies were dressed in the order's ceremonial robes and laid out in a circle with their feet together and their heads outward. Most of the dead had had plastic bags tied over their faces before being shot in the head. It is believed that the plastic bags were a symbol of the ecological disaster that would befall the human race after the OTS members moved on to Sirius. Farewell letters left by the deceased cult members stated that they believed they were leaving to escape the "hypocrisies and oppression of this world."

A mayor, a journalist, a civil servant and a sales manager were among the victims in Switzerland and records seized by the Quebec police showed that some members had personally donated over $1 million to the group's leader Joseph Di Mambro. There was also another attempted mass suicide of the remaining members which was thwarted in the late 1990s. All the suicide/murders and attempts occurred around the dates of the equinoxes and solstices in accordance with the beliefs of the group. In 1997 a small house exploded into flames in Saint-Casimir, Quebec, leaving behind a further five charred bodies for the police to pull from the rubble. Three teenagers aged 13, 14 and 16, the children of one of the couples that died in the fire, were discovered in a shed behind the house, alive but heavily drugged.

Michael Tabachnik an internationally renowned Swiss musician and conductor, was arrested as a leader of the Solar Temple in the late 1990s and indicted for "participation in a criminal organization," and murder. He came to trial in Grenoble, France during the spring of 2001 and was acquitted. French prosecutors appealed the verdict and an appellate court ordered a second trial beginning on October 24, 2006. He was again cleared less than two months later on December 20 and rumours began to circulate shortly afterwards that the movement had joined forces with the OTO in the Rennes area where they have apparently tried to seize control of several properties in including an abandoned hotel and stables overlooking the plateau where I had lodged on my first visit to the Zone.

The recent plague esoteric graffiti that has begun to crop up in the area first came to our attention in the spring of 2008 when Miss Scarlett and myself noticed a curious geometric sign cut into a rock just below the summit of Mount Bugarach.


At the time we took it as a good omen, having already chosen the symbol - the eight pointed 'Star of Isis' or 'Rosette of Innana' - as the principal leitmotif around which the 'TERRA UMBRA' site and its attendant portals are designed...


Approximately twelve months later I noticed that an identical sigil had been freshly cut into the back of the Devil's Armchair in Rennes les Bains...


At face value this would seem logical enough. The seat, carved out of a boulder in an isolated glade near the source of the Madeleine, has after all been frequently referred to in modern day guide books as the 'Throne of Isis'. There is however little evidence to suggest that this appellation predates the publication of a very weird little book entitled 'GENISIS' ( 1985 ) in which the retired British surveyor and cartographer David Wood attempted to transpose the iconography of the Egyptian creation myth to the Zone's topography. Mount Bugarach and the Devil's Armchair both play a significant role in Wood's byzantine calculations which make great play out of the pattern of the tiles found on the floor of Boudet's church in Rennes les Bains - a familiar eight pointed configuration that the author rather melodramatically dubs the 'Sigil of the Beast'.


Despite our best efforts none of us here at Shadow Theatre HQ can find any existing esoteric rationale behind Wood's conflation of the 'Star of Isis' with the so-called sign of the Beast outside of his own fanciful private cosmology. Mount Bugarach seems particularly dear to the author's heart, forming one of the cardinal points on his eponymous pentagram and according to our friend, the hermit of the 'River of Colours' an identical 'octogram' has recently turned up carved into a rock near Peyrolles, the head of the vague squiggly shaped formation identified by Wood as 'Le Serpent Rouge.'


Wood seems intent on trying to define some abstract ( and at times rather graphically Freudian ) notion of the 'Goddess' through the rules and measures of conventional geometry to arrive at a sort of 'divinity by numbers'. His work, fuelled by what might be described as 'cartoerotic' mania, helped establish the notion of the Rennes pentagram back in the eighties and has undeniably helped shape our modern perception of the so-called 'mystery'. It appears however that someone is now deliberately trying to change the facts on the ground to fit the specifics of Wood's theory. According to the rumours one of Wood's former associates was apparently behind the recent outbreak of unprovoked sigil carving, possibly in an attempt to set up another phony twist in the mystery.

On our last visit to the grotto of Saint Antoine in Galamus gorge we couldn't help noticing that someone had tampered with the puzzle box, altering the 'N' to form another 'dagaz' rune.


Monsieur 'X' was at work again...


Our hermit friend smiled knowingly, “ That's him. He's been very busy. You can always tell his work, he the one who changes the N in INRI, to make the rune dagaz for day. He is very clever and he has been using this shape.” He quickly sketched out the star of Isis.

“He's the one who's been carving those! First on Bugarach. Then the Devil's Armchair. He seems to be marking out all the points on the pentagram from 'Genisis'...”

“Yes, that's the book that he is working from.”

“But why? To rewrite the mythology? To make the mystery fit?”

“It is the mark of the beast.”


“You must understand there are people here, very well connected and powerful people from the O.T.O and the O.T.S, who have come together to make their own cult. They would like to take over this place and use it for their own purposes...”


“There's a lot of bodies around here...”

Nacho had been listening intently, “I told you this place was like living in an Mario Bava movie.”

The rain had stopped . Digging through a pile of horror magazines our hermit friend retrieved an old issue of the French genre periodical 'Mad Movies' carrying a cover story on 'los Abandonados/The Abandoned' ( 2006 ) which Nacho duly signed for him. The fact that he just happened to have a copy on hand no longer surprised us. On departure our friend pressed a copy of 2008 pseudodocumentary entitled 'BLOODLINE' into our hands and we promised to take a look at it before returning it to him the next time he came up to Montsegur, the fact that Karim Hussein's initial draft for Nacho's 'Los Abandonados' was itself provisionally entitled 'BLOODLINE' just one more 'coincidence' in a seemingly endless chain of baffling synchronicity. Typical, really. Pure essence of Rennes.

Bruce Burgess's film purports to follow the real life escapades of self proclaimed 'tomb raider' Ben Hammot as he unearths a series of bottles buried at strategic locations in the Rennes area which apparently contain coded parchments written by Berenger Sauniere himself, a string of clues that are ultimately supposed to point the way to the tomb of Mary Magdalene. We couldn't help noticing the by now all too familiar 'dagaz' rune appeared on several of the parchments. The scrolls in question, in all honesty, didn't appear particularly old. Moreover one of the key clues in the 'Bloodline' scavenger hunt revolves around a chest containing a handful of old coins and other sacred relics unearthed from the floor of the 'Grotto of the Magdalene', a location already extensively excavated by numerous treasure hunters back in the eighties and early nineties, myself included. ( * see 'LACHRYMAE – Chapter 15: All roads lead to Rennes - )

Below: Self in the Villa Bethanie - photograph by Nacho Cerda

“Looks like Monsieur 'X' has been keeping busy,” Miss Scarlett narrowed her eyes, hitting the pause button.

“Yeah, but what does he want? What does he hope to gain from all this?”

“I don't know. Maybe he's working for the Tourist board. I mean how else did they get the keys to the church?”

I thought it over for a moment. It wouldn't be the first time a minister of tourism had been caught burying ancient artefacts in the Rennes area. Antonin Gadal ( below ) was apparently caught doing precisely that in the early part of the twentieth century – buying up jade Egyptians ornaments at museum auctions and secreting them in the caves of the Lombrive to be publicly exhumed at a later date.

“Probably just trying to rewrite history or get a publishing deal. Like everyone else.”

“It'd take more than one person to pull off something that elaborate.”

“It wouldn't be the first secret society to try and capitalize on the success of the 'DaVinci Code'. Remember how Opus Dei's membership sky rocketed after the film's initial release? When was this thing released anyhow?"

I keyed in the film's title, checking the internet database. “2008”

“There you go. Dan Brown meets the Santilli Roswell autopsy footage”

“Yeah. But something about it still doesn't add up.” I frowned, turning the disc in my hands. “I mean secret societies don't generally feel the need to advertise and only the film makers stand to reap any benefit.from the disc itself. The only reason to deliberately lay a false trail would be to either hide something in plain sight or take the heat off whatever's really going on.”

“So, what is going on?”

“I dunno. We'll just have to wait and see what else Monsieur 'X' has up his sleeve.” I crossed to the window, looking out over the darkened treetops. It had been a weird enough run of events but then nothing is ever really too weird for Rennes, where 'coincidences' are commonplace and conspiracies a way of life. Somewhere out in the dark an owl hooted as if in agreement. “My guess is we'll find out soon enough...”

Miss Scarlett was busy rummaging through the numerous shelves of the library. “Where's that Best of Bava box kit? And where the hell is the other bag of popcorn?”

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Three Saints of Ice

Previously on 'Terra Umbra' - the team experiences unexpected temporal phenomena during a nocturnal vigil in the heart of the mountain. Meanwhile, a freak storm closes the pass, cutting off all communication with the village...

Montsegur – April 28 - 2010

From the private journal of Scarlett Amaris

Finding our way down the darkened path was not so easy. The moonlight streaming through the dense branches made the terrain seem strangely altered and not a little confusing. We descended slowly and carefully before parting the shadowy branches to find ourselves once more at the 'roc du coeur'.

As above: Moon rise over the summit of Bidorta - April 28 - 9.30 pm
So below: Hare Moon over Montsegur -April 29 - 3.00 am

The dead do not rest so easily here and it was the first time in a very long while that I have actually felt fear on the mountain. There was a desolate blackness in that space between the two rocks which during the day had seemed so powerful and holy. I hung back for a moment, not wanting to come into contact with whatever was waiting there. Closing my eyes I crossed through and quickly scrambled up the boulders on the other side to higher ground. We situated ourselves on the highest rock and lit a few candles. Even those small flickers of light could not ease the sense of anxiety that was plaguing me, the need to flee and run back to the safety of the castle.

A thousand ambivalent eyes watched us from the shadows. There were scuffling noises and then the sound of footsteps running away ( two feet – not four although I tried to rationalize it as some kind of animal at first). A branch snapped loudly nearby and then I heard the footsteps running again. Richard went back into the place between the rocks to investigate and I elected to stay and watch the gear on the vantage point. The moon was steadily climbing towards the other side of the mountain and I mused on how difficult it was going to be to find our way back through the dense forest, over the spiny defences to the chateau. It had been my idea to come here on the full moon, and irrationally at that moment I wished that I was anywhere else. It wasn't that I was scared that something truly bad would happen, or that I would be faced with some supernatural phenomena but rather it was knowing that something breathed there, something so old and forgotten that it could not take shape in my mind...

Richard appeared from the darkness.

“All quiet”

“Do you get the feeling that there is something here that might be better left alone..?”

“Whatever the hell it is, it's gone now. At least for the moment ...”

Realizing that the moon was over the castle we started back up the pog. I clambered up the narrow, all but invisible path as quickly as possible and never once glanced back, keeping my eyes glued firmly on the rocky trail in front of me. It was only when I reached the ruined dwellings just above the treeline that I felt I could breathe again.

The courtyard was filled with brilliant moonlight. I walked through the door into this transformed kingdom to come into direct contact with a strangely warm patch of air. It was tactile enough to be able to feel around the edges of it. I stepped away as Richard came through the door and ran smack into the same thing, raising his hand in wonder.

“Can you feel this?”

“I know, I did the exact same thing. It seems to stop over here...”

Other people had described this exact same phenomena before, but this was the first time that I had experienced it. At first I thought that it was something to do with the stones in the keep, but as we wandered away from the walls, we keep running into these tropical 'window area's' approximately every five feet or so which gave a new meaning to playing the game 'hot' and 'cold'. Then the whispering began. It's was a young woman's voice who was speaking very rapidly. We both turned our heads towards the dunjeon room where it seemed to be coming from. It wasn't loud enough to discern any words and the sound rose and fell as if carried by a non-existent wind.

The voice was oddly reassuring. Despite everything we somehow belonged there, safe and secure in the darkness of the early thirteenth century. Whoever she was that whispered to us from the shadows of the castle walls seemed to co-exist with us, with our time and our world. Perhaps on some level she was still human, just as we are but whatever lives beneath the 'Roc du Coer' is dead or perhaps was never alive to begin with. Perhaps it was a place where people went when they were sick, or where they went to die, to become part of the mountain. After we found the path up the sheer face of the pog and that strange, silent avenue of stones we all experienced disorientating and at times disturbing dreams. It was nothing that we could readily see with our naked eyes or apprehend with our waking senses but I think we all felt it in our hearts...

Extracts from private weblog of Richard Stanley

Montsegur – May 1 - 2010

One world and then another, running like the frames in a strip of film or the links in an endless chain. One world treading on the heels of another world that plods just ahead like two dogs walking in each other's tracks in the snow. Like a long, endless row of ball bearings running down a groove, almost touching but not quite. One world's tomorrow, another world's today. And yesterday is tomorrow and the future is the past. Except, according to Dr. Stephen Hawking, there is no past, at least no past that we can reach, save for the figment of remembrance that flits like an eager, night-winged, bat in the fading shadows of our minds.

It's enough, I suppose, that Dr, Hawking reversed his thinking to admit the possibility of time travel to begin with, although he currently subscribes to the notion that time only flows one way, which explains why our paradigm is not already overrun by chrononauts from the future, neatly sidestepping the paradoxical possibility of changing the present by physically interfering with the past and altering the flow of events at source. Na Esclamonda and the castle's other defenders might be able to reach out to us through the mists of time, but, according to the good doctor, we cannot reach back to help them. We cannot step across that invisible line that separates one world from the next.

It has been seven hundred and seventy-seven years since the fall of Montsegur. Seven hundred and seventy-seven worlds stepping in one another's tracks. Although, it would be more than that, if I understand Dr. Hawking's words correctly. A world a day three hundred and sixty-five times seven hundred and seventy-seven. Or maybe one world a minute, or even one world a second. A second is a thick thing, thick enough to separate two worlds. Three hundred and sixty-five times seven hundred and seventy-seven times twenty-four times sixty times sixty. And yet, somewhere in time she lives. Somewhere a field of daisies raise their heads to the bright, spring sunshine. Na Esclarmonda lives and the beautiful Pelegrina de Bruniquel still walks between the rows of her vegetable patch with her water can in hand, somewhere just beyond our sense's further wall...

Once upon a time Bel fires, named in honour of the Gaulish deities Belenos ( 'bright one' ) and his consort Belisama or Belisenna, would have been lit on every high hill in the land on May eve to mark the 'cross-quarter day', the mid-point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice when the herds of livestock were driven out to their summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. Accordingly on Walpurgisnacht we made our way to the highest vista in the village, a forbidding crag known as 'Hannibal's Point' where the famed Carthaginian general and his retinue of elephants is said to have crossed the mountains in days of old. A few minutes before the witching hour a strange, half luminous fog rolled in across the rooftops, filling the valley below like a bowl of dry ice in a black metal music video. Within seconds the landscape seemed utterly transformed, the outlines of the trees and buildings becoming vague and dreamlike, their distant lights splintering into murky, prismatic beams.

For a while we stood stock still, gazing in wonder at the etherial panorama that unfurled before us. Then a cold wind blew in from the high pastures of the Thabor and we recalled Our Lady of the Snows and the story of the 'Three Saints of Ice' or 'Seins de Glace'.

The first of the triad, Saint Mamert was an obscure Viennese archbishop who died in 475 whilst St. Pancras, the best known of the three, was a Roman martyr, beheaded in the year 304 for his Christian beliefs when he was a mere fourteen years of age and who is accordingly celebrated as a saint for children as well as the namesake of one of London's largest and busiest railway terminals. The martyr's body was apparently covered in balsam before being interred in a sepulcher in the catacombs of Rome while his head was placed in a reliquary that still exists today in the basilica of San Pancrazio.

Along with Saint Servais or Servatius ( above ), the first bishop of Maastricht who brought Christianity to the Low Countries after ordering a church to be built over a Roman temple to Fortuna and Jupiter, the trio are jointly known as the 'Ice Saints' whose feast days fall respectively on the 11th, 12th and 13th of May, or at least they did until the Catholic church supposedly disavowed them for being a little too pagan. Their reign coincides with what is commonly known as the 'Pink Moon' or 'lune rousse', a word derived from “roussir” which means to turn brown, marking a period when nocturnal temperatures can plummet, spelling death to seedlings and fragile young plants.

Above: Self with Beltane Fire Society founder Mark Oxbrow - circa 1995

Back in the day when I was still dressing up as a orc and designing and executing pyrotechnic displays for the Beltane Fire Society whose yearly gatherings on Edinburgh's Carlton hill involved a good three hundred scantily clad or near naked performers, drawing crowds of fifteen thousand or more, we used to take pride in the fact that our May eve celebrations were never derailed by rain or wind whereas the Druid's solstice sun wheel ceremony at Stonehenge was habitually drenched despite taking place a lot further south and a good two months later in the calender. Mother Nature always seemed to provide the Beltane crew with an appropriate weather window, a brief respite from the cold ( described by American horror author Stephen King as a 'strawberry spring', a 'false spring' or 'lying spring' ) before turning nasty again and blasting the very buds from the trees. At the time we kidded ourselves into believing that perhaps we were doing something right and our gaudy offerings had been accepted by the goddess but the sad wisdom that comes with age tells me that the clement conditions we experienced year after year had more to do with our fortuitous timing in relationship to the earth’s annual orbital trajectory which passes thereafter through a thick band of cosmic dust that may or may not be left over from the formation of the planets, rather than any hypothetical divine blessing.

Shortly after midnight we began to feel the first drops of rain against our faces and by dawn it had become a downpour. Yet despite the abrupt turn in the weather we were far from being the only celebrants abroad that night. In the cold light of day we came across a damp ring of embers beside the crossroads at Morenci, in the shade of the jagged rock known as 'Dentilhero', the natural spur that crowns the forested crest that rises to the northeast of the pog, which, in all probability, served in ancient times as a place of worship dedicated to the sun god Belenos himself. ( * see 'The Hand of Morenci' ) By the time we reached the hilltop whoever had lit the fire was long gone and we couldn't help wondering whether or not similar beacons had blazed atop Cardou, Canigou, Bugarach and Bidorta. The Beltane fog had simply been too thick for us to be able to see anything beyond the immediate confines of our valley.

Last week we were happily basking in the full heat of the Meridianal sun and have the tan lines to prove it but by this morning the snow outside our front door lay a good two feet deep and is still falling thick and fast as I write. The trees, already laden with their spring leaves, can scarcely bear the weight of the gathering snow and seem to be taking nose dives left, right and centre. While strolling in the fields above the Lasset this morning we watched as one of the listing trunks gave way and fell heavily across the path not a hundred yards from us as if it had been torn from its roots by some invisible behemoth. Another tree toppled across the power lines, abruptly plunging the entire village into freezing blackness.

As above: Miss Scarlett and Jericho - the secret ruler of Montsegur

So below: All work and no play makes Richard a dull boy...

Both the cell and land lines have been cut and we spent much of the afternoon crouched beside Madame Couquet's hearth, warming ourselves by the light of a dismembered chair and a couple of logs dragged up from the store room. After spending most of my life wishing I were back in the dark ages it comes as a bracing reminder of just how brutal life can be without the creature comforts of the 21st century. The wind races in the eaves and a shingle rattles as the wind marches across the roof with tripping, dancing feet. The pass is closed and we huddle closer to the embers as the fireplace talks with its sooty throat of other days, of other folk and other winds while outside the streets of Montsegur lie silent, wrapped in the chilly, choking embrace of the three Saints of Ice...

To be continued...