Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Door into Summer...

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

From the private journal of Scarlett Amaris - Montsegur - 21 June 2010

It had been raining for weeks on end, day after day of cold wind and gray skies. Even this late in June, Our Lady of the Snows made a return visit and had been seen creeping stealthily back down the Pic de Saint Barthelemy. Summer seemed like a fantasy, something that we tricked ourselves into believing every morning just to put up with another day of plummeting temperatures. This was surely not the way to celebrate the solstice. Christmas perhaps, but not the supposed midpoint of summer. Glamour and magic are hard pressed to prosper under dankness and frostbite. Still, even in these absolutely wretched conditions, the faithful gathered at the castle in the gloom of the early morning. The icy rain had washed out the pyrotechnic 'spectacle' originally planned for the night before forcing the pilgrims to take refuge in the town hall at Montferrier where the bedraggled survivors had been treated to an impromptu evening of Occitan folk music. Some were brave enough to weather the arctic conditions on the pog itself but we decided to take the darkened path once the wind had dropped in the early morning as the first hint of blue touched the skies.

Storm clouds rolled across the horizon in an endless sea of grey and the bonfire built the night before still stood forlorn and unkindled on the 'camp de cremat'. The first rays of so-called sunlight were all but invisible, diffused through the relentless cloud cover. In the donjon tower room, people gathered from Chile, England, Norway, Germany and other places unknown, praying that the clouds would part and allow a beam or two through. People looked cold and some a little sleepy, but suprisingly no one looked upset or disappointed by the weather. There was a general sense of good feeling all around, of happiness to be in that place for the solstice no matter what happened - a sense that just making the journey there had been enough. Finally, the light did break and for a minute the sun shone through, affording those assembled a brief glimpse of the phenomena that they had come from all four corners of the earth to witness. For a moment those familiar, eerie red beams flickered across the tower walls. Then it was gone as fast as it came, but it was enough to set a collective gasp and murmur rolling through the onlookers.

As above: Solstice light - Approx. 6.00 am (photograph courtesy of Ivan de Castries)
So below: Ivan, Richard and Ivan's brother - June 21 2010

Extracts from Richard Stanley's weblog - Montsegur - June 21 2010

"What are you doing here?" asked the parka clad journalist in broken English, clinging grimly to her note pad as she cast about herself in the early morning light in search of a story. "Are you here for a spiritual reason?"
"I live here." I brushed past her, swinging one leg over the gantry rail before jumping down onto the crowded floor of the tower room where our friend, Ivan, was holding forth to a bemused camera crew from T.F.1.
"Why do you have that cross on your shirt?" asked the interviewer, doggedly shielding his mike from the glacial wind.
"The Cathar cross? It's the symbol of your country", Ivan jabbed the tip of his finger at the emblem. "You should recognize it!"
The journalist nodded along, his confusion deepening. I didn't hear the rest of what Ivan had to say but I appreciated the sentiment. The press pack didn't seem to realize they were no longer in France but standing in the veritable throne room of free Occitania but that didn't really matter. Just being there was all that counted. Above us the last ruddy glow of the 'solstice effect', a curious red square projected against the upper reaches of the donjon wall, flickered and dimmed...

As usual we were the last to leave. None of us really wanted to go back to the world but the weather showed no sign of breaking and Ivan and his bro' were facing a long drive back to Barcelona. We talked of many things as we hit the downward trail, of Otto Rahn and absent friends and of Belibaste, the 'last parfait' who perished at the stake in 1321. Ivan was optimistic that Belibaste's prophecy, that the 'laurel will turn green again' after 700 years would be borne out, that the forces of evil and obscurantism would fail and that there would be a revival of interest in the history of the castle and its all but vanished faith before the anniversary in 2021.
Looking about myself, however, I couldn't help but wonder if we were really all that was left.
The last of the faithful...

As above: The memorial on the 'Camp de Cremat' commemorating the martyrs who were burned here in 1244
So below: The 'Camp de Cremat' or 'field of the Stake' - still ready for bonfire!!!

Montsegur - 22 June 2010

The crowd had thinned to a desultory handful by the following morning. The skies were clear but it was still bracingly cold. There were no journalists or television crews to keep us company this day in the pre-dawn chill and we shifted from foot to foot as we waited, unsure whether anything would really happen. But it did.

And this time it happened in style...

The Keep - 6.05 am

As soon as the sun appeared above the horizon the first rays began to enter the east-facing arrow slits in the lower chamber of the donjon-keep, marking out a rectangle of light on the inner side of the west-facing slit in the opposing wall...

6.06 am

As the sun climbs higher its rays intensify and the fiery colours visible within the West-facing slit deepen...

And brighten...

6.10 am

By now a second rectangle has appeared in the adjacent arrow slit while three squares of light begin to illuminate the upper reaches of the chamber's Western wall...

The castle is orientated towards the four points of the compass and built on such a strange plan that close study has led to the most unusual theories, including the notion that it was once a 'solar temple'. There is no documentary proof however of any connection between Catharism and sun worship any more than there is with the mythical civilization of lost Atlantis. Moreover, the castle we see today cannot be as it was in 1204 when Raymonde de Perelha, at the request of Esclarmonde de Foix, the venerable high priestess of the Cathar faith, fortified the existing ruins of what may have been a former pagan temple.. After the siege of 1244 the castle was given to the de Levis family who used it to garrison their troops, during which time the structure underwent a number of changes. The mysterious 'solar phenomena' have continued to manifest every year however, weather allowing, with stubborn regularity. Indeed, you could practically set your watch by them...

6.13 am

6.15 am

6.20 am

The yearly light show in the keep is one of the only 'supernatural' phenomena on this haunted Earth courteous enough to not only be repeatable, but to stick to a regular schedule. Strangely enough the report filed by the Groupe de Recherches Archeologique de Montsegur et Environs ( GRAME ) who conducted the definitive archeological survey of the area in 1964 - 1976 concludes only that 'the alleged solar phenomena in the donjon tower have not been scientifically documented, witnessed or verified.

After reaching their apogee at approximately 6.20 the lights in the keep began to fade until by 6.30 no trace remained. As the sun climbed higher and the day warmed we started to believe that maybe summer would return ...

As above, so below: The pog - 6.30 am June 22 2010 ( note suitably dove shaped refraction in the camera lens )

June 23

We decided to have a bit of a lie in, leaving the 'scientific documentation' of the solstice effect to other hands. When we finally got back on our feet we heard from someone that we'd been featured in a slot on the evening news.

June 24

It was a glorious morning. The air was warm and still, almost balmy. At approximately 5.45 we heard a curious metallic sound, a low reverberation that seemed to emanate from the Western wall of the donjon-keep. At first we thought we were alone on the pog and that we truly were the 'last of the faithful', but just as the first rays began to pour through the East-facing arrow slits a wizened old man with a grey beard appeared in the doorway of the tower room. He did not return our greeting and watched in silence from the rear of the chamber as the ' solstice effect' began to manifest once more...

By 6.10 am the tableau in the tower room was much as it had been on the days before. Thanks to the clear skies the glowing rectangles that appeared in the West-facing arrow slits were, if anything, brighter and more clearly defined, their colours more vibrant..

6.13 am - June 23 2010

6.15 am

It has been pointed out that the floorplan of the donjon-keep is reminiscent of the design of early pinhole cameras, a principle that was probably put into practise in Roman, Greek and possibly even bronze age temples long before it was first described by rogue Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in his 'Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae' ( 1646 )

As above: Plate showing diagram of a camera obscura from Kircher's 'Big Book of Light and Shadows'
So below: The floorplan of the donjon-keep

All of which is well and good but it doesn't explain why the castle was built that way, nor does it help us understand quite how it manages to split the light into its component colours in order to achieve those Jack-o-lantern oranges and richly infernal reds...

Normally to pull this kind of thing you'd need a prism. So what gives ?

We stood in silence, gazing wide eyed at this ghostly display, knowing that we were receiving a garbled message from the other side of time whose true meaning might never be known to us. Then at approximately 6.20 am the light began to fade...

Jagged shadows encroached on the dimming rectangles, like the slow, closing bars of a portcullis...

By 6.30 am it was all over.

The old man who had watched passively throughout finally broke the silence asking us in halting English whether we had ever been there for the winter solstice when the rising sun shines through the longitudinal arrow slit in the North Eastern wall. I told him we hadn't. Last winter the conditions had been just too darned inclement, even for me. The old dude smiled and silently shook his head, venturing no further comment.

As we made our way from the tower room we felt a hot gust of wind against our faces.

And, just like that, summer began...

We wish to thank long term Shadow Theatre Irregular 'Marcoshark' for his welcome donation of a new Lumix and an accompanying Velbon tripod to the Terra Umbra cause, without which this documentation would not have been possible.

To be continued...