Friday, October 5, 2012


 “When I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed” - H.P. Lovecraft

Some forty kilometers south of Carcassonne, not far from the Narouze gap that separates the eastern Pyrenees from France's central massif, the tiny Languedocian village of Rennes-le-Chateau abides, crouched atop an oddly rounded plateau that rises like a spectral hump from the rolling green and umber fields of the haut Razes. Even from a distance its huddled roofs and narrow windows seem to exude a curious watchfulness as if the village is awaiting fresh blood, fresh prey to fuel the mystery industry that has fed it's civic coffers and provided enough material for a string of international best sellers ranging from Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh's 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL' to Dan Brown's 'DAVINCI CODE'.

It is not my place here to enter into a retelling of the strange saga of the Abbe Berenger Sauniere who,in the dying years of the 19th century allegedly unearthed a mysterious treasure hidden beneath the foundations of his church, a discovery that enriched and blighted his life and which has been driving hordes of grown men and women crazy ever since. Over the course of the last few decades any number of folk have claimed to have 'solved' the Rennes enigma although, oddly enough, no-one has ever been able to definitively prove what Sauniere really found beneath the church or indeed if he really found anything at all. The Ark of the Covenant, a genealogy charting the sacred bloodline of Christ, a space time portal to beyond infinity, even the body of Mary Magdelene or the tomb of Christ Himself have been variously suggested.  Certain iconoclastic souls have insisted that the Abbe's prodigious wealth, can be readily explained through trafficking in masses and extorting donations from wealthy parishioners but this more prosaic view fails to take into account the sheer demoniac fervor of the Abbe's restoration work, the overpowering density of esoteric detail in the design of his domaine and the curious, some would say downright malignant, atmosphere that seems to rise from this isolated hamlet's narrow streets, as if the bedrock of the plateau and  the very gorse and stunted ilex oaks that cling to its tawny flanks  breathe an unsettlingly occult air.

Marcel, the former grave digger, once told me that the real problem with Rennes is that there are 'little people', literally faeries or elementals, living under the plateau that play tricks with people's minds. Other folk, like Uranie, our unit sorcerer, who has lived beneath the plateau himself for a good three decades now, are convinced that the village is built over one of the seven dreaded gateways to hell. In a public spirited gesture Uranie initially tried to alert bypassers to this possibility by pinning boxcovers of Lucio Fulci's 'GATES OF HELL' (1980 ), 'THE BEYOND' (1981 ) and 'ZOMBIE FLESHEATERS' ( under it's French release title 'HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD' ) to the fence bordering his property. In the course of the twenty odd – indeed very odd – years since I first set foot in Rennes I have come to believe there may be some truth to his theory.

Saint John's Night – June 23 2012 - Rennes-le-Chateau

I dunno, man,” Karim shakes his head, gazing at the distant outline of the village, the somber, crumbling ramparts of the Chateau Hautpoul and the castellated, neo-gothic spire of the Tour Magdala that even now seems to oppose the fiery sunset like the jagged teeth of a skeleton key. “There's just something about this place that gives me the vibe every time. Really bad news. Bad News Brown.” Karim bears his teeth at the plateau in a silent snarl. “I can feel it from here.”
Yeah,” I nod slowly. “But it's one hell of a sunset though. And it's ours!”
I return my attention to the Canon C-300 which is currently pointed due west towards Rennes capturing the fading, effervescent light in all its high res, widescreen glory. Behind the plateau flaming, vaporous clouds coil like a nest of multi-hued serpents, twisting, turning and fading slowly into nothing.

As above, so below: The daemon Moag directs...

For once our timing has been impeccable. It probably didn't hurt bringing my personal daemon Moag with us on this leg of the shoot. Certainly I wouldn't have dreamed of taking on Rennes without him. Moag is currently perched in the crook of the stick I carved for him, looking avidly on as Sylvain and Chloe Roberts, the new camera assistant, set up a second angle and Corinne carries the pizzas up from the car to the low hilltop where we have set up for the evening. We're well into the second week of the shoot now and have had quite a day for ourselves. Not only that but the best part of it, Saint John's night, a night of magic and mystery is still ahead of us.

The day got off to an inauspicious start when, despite my best efforts to shoehorn myself into a suitably funereal suit and tie and get over to 'Le Jardin', the thriving esoteric bistro, just across the lane from Sauniere's domain, to meet with one of the surviving authors of 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL', the creator of the original 'DOCTOR WHO' yeti monster, Henry Lincoln himself , we find ourselves given the cold shoulder, having apparently arrived too late and 'missed our chance' despite the fact that we had plainly rolled in with due time to spare. Henry is notorious for playing these sort of games with prospective treasure hunters and mystery hounds who take the trouble to try and seek him out. Setting a possible rendezvous with him for tomorrow we head for Rennes-les-Bains to speak with local author Jeanne d'Aout. We had intended to interview her at a location on the Salz river known as 'le font des Amor' but the Saturday afternoon traffic at what is effectively the local swimming hole is too hectic for our purposes. Instead we repair to a site a short walk from Rennes-les-Bains where a shadowy ring of trees surrounds an ancient source and a curious seat hewn into a boulder commonly known as the 'Devil's Armchair' or the 'Seat of Isis'.

 No-one knows how old this imposing granite throne really is, a few centuries perhaps. The eight pointed star carved on the back of the boulder appeared relatively recently, the product of the same unknown hand that has been carving the 'star of Isis' ( or 'Rosette of Inanna' ) into key points in the local topography ( Bezu, Peyrolles, Bugarach and here in Rennes-les-Bains ) corresponding to the points on the vast natural pentagram described by retired British surveyor David Wood in his 1985 book 'GENISIS'. Wood is just one of many voices over the years to propagate the idea that the area as a vast natural temple built by the Gods rather than by the hands of their human worshippers.

Jeanne is most co-operative telling us at length about her experiences in the area that she views as a sacred valley, a gateway to another plane of consciousness. It is impossible to ignore the talisman about her neck, a replica of the 'Venus of Brassempouy, a neolithic fertility goddess that we photographed only a few days ago among the artefacts in Fabrice Chambon's collection back in Montsegur. Reminding us how our English word 'sorcerer' comes from the French 'sorciere' or one who can divine the future in sources or otherwise draw on the magic of water Jeanne leads us back down to the riverbank, to a place where the old, unpaved road fords the stream and wends its way up through the trees towards a striking natural rock formation known as 'Serbairos' – a name redolent of both the three headed guardian of the gates of hell and Bernadette Soubirous, the young woman who famously saw the apparition of the 'white lady' in the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes in 1858.

Sauniere dreamed of turning Rennes-le-Chateau into another place of pilgrimage and, working single handedly, gathered countless stones from the bed of the River of Colours that he hauled back up the plateau in the stifling heat of the meridianal sun to build a Lourde's grotto outside his church,(above) a construction that has subsequently been all but torn apart by successive waves of treasure hunters trying in vain to second guess the Abbe's motives.

An ancient hermitage overlooks the ford where a large slab of rock bears an enigmatic carving that we have come to know as the 'dragonfly stone'.

As above, so below: The secret of the dragonfly stone

The motif shows two dragonflies, joined at the abdomens as if in the act of mating, their bodies forming a spiral and what appears to be the head of an ankh. Each dragonfly has four wings – adding up to a total of eight – a symbol that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 'The Mother of Toads' segment of 'THE THEATRE BIZARRE' or has been following the ongoing debate over this curious artefact on the 'TERRA UMBRA' facebook page. Once again we find ourselves confronted by the symbol of infinity, of two worlds touching and the stepping stone to carry us across the river. It is no coincidence that this symbol, the figure '8' also appears on the blazon of the Blanchefort family, the noble house that once dominated this area.

The body of each dragonfly is made up of two circles with a cross in between, recalling the phrase 'X marks the spot' and the confluence of two streams. It bears pointing out that one of the key texts associated with the Rennes mystery is a cryptic thirteen stanza poem entitled 'LE SERPENT ROUGE', whose three credited authors are alleged to have perished in a bizarre suicide pact in 1967, the same year the original manuscript was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. This enigmatic text explicitly describes Isis and the Magdalene as two faces of the same timeless divinity, referring to the 'white lady' of the Pyrenees by Her title Notre Dame des Cross. The cross is a sign – analogous to the rune 'Signe' and the constellation Cygnus ( or the 'swan') which includes the Northern Cross, one of the most prominent and instantly recognizable asterisms in the summer and autumn skies. Curiously enough this same rune, SIGNE, is depicted in the lopsided cross held by the statue of John the baptist in the church at Rennes-le-Chateau.

As above: 'By this Sign (SIGNE) you will conquer him'!

The statue of the baptist, which is directly illuminated by the rising sun shining through the church windows on January 17th (a date commemorated locally as 'Blue Apple Day' ) draws our attention to the fact that the confluence of the Blanc ( white ) and the Sals ( salt ) rivers just downstream from the dragonfly stone is known as 'la Benetier' – literally the baptismal font that washes away the sins of all who enter it. Hence it may come as little surprise that tourists and wayfarers in this remote, densely wooded valley have reported seeing the apparition of a white lady riding her spectral steed through the stream or that our friend, Christian Koenig, the owner of Antonin Gadal's former home in Ussat-les-Bains, counts among his most prized possessions an old oil painting showing the blessed Lady standing atop the rock formation that rises just beyond this ford, arms outstretched as if to welcome us into her domain.

Our attempts to commit the dragonfly stone to film this afternoon were nearly thwarted when we arrived at the location to find a traveller family camped at the ford, washing their clothes. The hippies seemed none too pleased to see us, glowering balefully at the crew members as we approached . Evidently we were ruining their rustic idyll but then they were ruining ours, so fair seemed fair. A naked child scuttled across the rocks, grabbing Karim by the hand. Then picking up the wooden staff we had been using as a prop the beastly little urchin proceeded to whack both Karim and Nicholos over the heads with it before he could be dragged away.
Forget peace and love, man,” Karim sighed, doing his best to set up the shot. “These hippies are mean!”
It's not all bad,” I commiserated. “At least they're moving their laundry for us.”
But you don't understand. He gabbed my hand!” Karim shook his head, wiping his hands on his jeans as if he'd been slimed and not for the first time that day I found myself thinking of Fabrice Chambon and what the young archaeologist had told us back on the pog. Once again I cannot escape the impression that we are little more than children ourselves, playing on the outermost threshold of a mystery we can scarcely begin to comprehend.

Having gotten the scene in the can Jeanne took her leave but not before extracting a promise from us that we should go to the street market at Esperaza tomorrow morning. “You won't be disappointed,” she added mysteriously.

We had just parked off on the tar road to Rennes-les-Bains and were trying to set up a shot from the soft shoulder of the imposing rock formation of Serbairous on the other side of the river when a car pulled to a halt beside us. Much to our surprise we realized that the vehicle was driven by Juan Carlos Medina, the director the recent feature film 'PAINLESS' ( 2012 ) and a much admired short 'MAUVAIS JOUR' (2003). I hadn't caught up with Juan Carlos since the festival of the three continents in Nantes some years ago and was just as amazed to see him here on the verge of this particular road to nowhere as he probably was to run into us. Juan Carlos had taken his mother on a day trip to Bugarach, the local UFO hotspot and centre of the running 2012 controversy, and was on his way back to his digs when he caught sight of us. Just one more example of the curious serendipity at work in the Zone. Taking it in our stride we promised to rendezvous with him tomorrow at Sauniere's domain before high tailing it to our next set up.

The light was fading fast, taking on the golden hue of the magic hour and Miss Scarlett recommended we head back towards Rennes to pick out an appropriate hilltop for a time-lapse. And what a time-lapse it was!

When we finally finish up the pizzas and break the set-up we realize we have been on this remote hilltop for a good five hours, but there is little doubt that we have come away with one of the most awesome shots we have committed to film to date. The stars are out now and the lights of Rennes-le-Chateau twinkle malignantly in the distance prompting Karim to suggest we go on a 'creepy crawl' and find out what Saint John's night has in store for us. Unfortunately we do not have any cameras available to us that are capable of genuine night vision but Karim figures he can get a result by opening the 550D up all the way. It is Chloe's first day on the 'Otherworld' team and this sortie into the unknown is accordingly something of a baptism of fire. With Miss Scarlett at the wheel of the interceptor we slip a Fabio Frizzi disc into the stereo and start down the winding, darkened trail towards the waiting plateau.

Sunday – June 24 - Esperaza

The morning is bright and cloudless but we are still feeling a little phased by the time we reach the marketplace, the previous evening's creepy crawl have eaten into our turnaround time. The bazaar that fills the bustling square and sprawls out across the riverbank is a rather more modest affair than the opulently medieval market at Mirepoix where we shot the opening sequence of 'The Mother of Toads', the untidy stalls crammed with farm produce and nondescript bric-a-brac. Failing to find a worthwhile image, we forgo setting up a shot, foraging for coffee and croissants instead.

As we push our way through the cheerful,day lit crowd of Sunday morning shoppers we fall to discussing what went wrong the night before. While the creepy crawl did yield some results of note it also plainly served to demonstrate our technological limitations. Opening up the camera all the way produced suitably spectral images of the streets and buildings, including at least one really nice shot of the well head – Rennes-le-Chateau being built over seven wells, a detail uncomfortably reminiscent of those 'seven dreaded gateways' referenced in the Fulci films - but this technique proved less effective when it came to dealing with the supernatural itself. At one point in the small hours of the morning on the way back towards the bat haunted Tour Magdala, Miss Scarlett had clearly sensed a female presence loitering in the vicinity of Sauniere's greenhouse but without effective night vision we had no way of stripping back the dark or capturing any trace of the phantasmal visitant on the hard drive without recourse to electric light, altogether too blunt a tool to ably explore the borders of the beyond. Given the futility of the situation we decide to forgo further attempts at late night ghost hunting until we can get our hands on the FLIR.

Some believe that it was not the coming of Christianity but the advent of electric light that drove away the pagan spirits, the faeries, elves and other elementals. Those denizens of the otherworld never left however. We simply lost our ability to see them, the ability to see without looking, a skill that involves detaching the vision from the object by focussing beyond it and allowing the mind to rest. On a moonlit night the aim when walking in the dark is not to franticly look for the path but to defocus the eyes and wait for the shape of things to emerge. Rest long enough and the rocks, trees and hedges will slowly reveal themselves. The modern world is filled with noise, artificial light and activity which stimulate the senses rather than allowing them to rest – the very opposite of the state required for seeing.

I am just starting to wonder why on earth Jeanne directed us to come here when I notice a familiar figure standing in front of one of the stalls. Miss Scarlett blinks and Karim comes up short beside me as we recognize the bald, powerfully built figure of the distinctly medieval looking individual who had introduced himself to us in the courtyard of Montsegur on the night of the solstice as Jean-Paul Dernier – the last pope.

As above, so below: The last Pope in action! Jean-Paul Dernier shares one of his Occitan poems...

At our previous meeting he had regaled us at length with his poetry and while Karim instinctively draws back it is clear a second encounter can no longer be avoided. As fate would have it Jean-Paul Dernier is just paying for a choice find at the second hand book stall – a first edition copy of Otto Rahn's ' LA COUR DE LUCIFER'. I mention that I had once counted Rahn's niece among my acquaintances and we fall to talking. He tells us that he needs the book for his research, insisting that we come with him to meet one of his friends and take coffee. This part of the plan at least makes sense to us and before long we find ourselves waiting in the corner of a crowded bistro while the last pope goes in search of his elusive associate.

Okay? So what the hell are we supposed to be doing in this scene?” Karim shifts restlessly, coffee already done.
Let's give him another few minutes. I'm a great believer in serendipity.” I don't have a watch but I know we'll have to be on our way soon if we're going to having any chance of presenting ourselves to Henry Lincoln on time at Le Jardin. “ As Agent Cooper puts it – when two things happen at the same time you always have to pay strict attention.”

The last pope's pal turns out to a burly local named Jules who was born and bred in this village. He seems to have a pretty deep knowledge of the area but no English, pressing Karim once again into the role of reluctant translator.
What's he saying?”
Something about a pagan temple out in the woods.”
A what?”
A temple built by the Gauls or the Druids. Apparently its thousands of years old but no-one else knows it's out there. No-one but Jules anyhow.” Karim raises one eyebrow.
And he wants to take us there?”
Yeah. But he doesn't want to be on camera.”
Well, that's not much use.”
He looks kind of nervous,” observes Miss Scarlett. “ I hope they don't insist on blindfolding us.”
It could be another wild goose chase,” Karim opines.
Yeah. I admit it sounds far fetched but he's obviously a treasure hunter and we need to interview at least one treasure hunter if we're doing a show about Rennes-le-Chateau. It could be amusing if we have this guy talking with his back to the camera.”
And I think your buddy the 'last pope' wants to show us his Grail collection.”
The weirder the better. Tell 'em to bring it on. Let's give 'em two hours. Two hours tomorrow evening. We'll say we have another appointment later so we can cut and run when we've had enough.”

Having set a rendezvous for seven o'clock in the town square we start back towards the interceptor.
We've gotta haul ass,” Miss Scarlett warns. “We're gonna be late.”
I don't know,”Karim shakes his head. “This last pope guy could be a handful. There's violence in the man.”
If it looks like the whole trip's going nowhere we'll turn back. I mean it's worth a shot.”

And we do manage to get one shot on the way out – a wide general view of the main street...

Rennes-le-Chateau - 14. 00 hrs

From the weblog of Scarlett Amaris

I am introduced to Henry Lincoln by author Jeanne D'Aout, who has tried her best to get him to consent to an interview. He doesn't seem to remember that we've been introduced many times before. His answer is a definite no, not exactly what I was hoping to hear. We barter back and forth for a while as he dangles the carrot and then says no again. His timing and delivery are a little theatrical and I get the feeling that he is enjoying this performance very much as I quietly grit my teeth. Deep down I know my first hunch was right and that he won't do the interview, but it isn't in my nature to quit so I try again and again. I think that Henry appreciates my tenacity on some level. We talk about 70's science fiction for a while which seems to surprise him. What he doesn't know is that I'm all too aware of the fact that he is the creator of the 'DOCTOR WHO' Yeti, one of the silliest, yet most beloved creatures to ever hit the boob tube.

After explaining that I didn't exactly read all of his opus, 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL', but only skimmed through it, he laughs and then agrees to tell me anything that I wish to know about the place off camera, so I finally concede and make a hazy date at some future time to continue our conversation. The crew have already moved on and are setting up on the roof of the Tour Magdala, the building that once housed Sauniere's library to interview our friend, the Catalan physicist Artur Sala. (below) I dread having to walk up there and I know they are disappointed with the result, although no one says a word about it. In the end I just have to accept that the documentary will go the way that it is supposed to go and we move on to the next subject at hand.

It is a hot sunny day in Rennes without a cloud in the sky and there isn't much time to feel bad as Artur's interview is fascinating. For him the events in the Zone hint not so much at the emergence of a new religion as the possibility of a new science, the confirmation of ideas first postulated by Tesla and Reich. Time seems to move in fast forward and there is a strange convergence of people just after lunch. First we run into Jaap Rameijer, author and co-owner of 'Les Labadous', Elizabeth van Buren's former property at the base of the Rennes plateau. Jaap has fond memories of Elizabeth who wrote one of the key texts propagating the idea that Rennes-le-Chateau is some kind of 'portal area'. ( 'REFUGE OF THE APOCALYPSE. DOORWAY INTO OTHER DIMENSIONS'. - 1986 ) We have been trying to track Jaap down and our chance meeting in the greenhouse enables the team to confirm an interview with him for tomorrow morning. He is with a group of people visiting the domain for the first time and seems to be excited by the prospect of what we are trying to put together and about being a part of it. Then composer Simon Boswell and his girlfriend, Paula, show up fresh off the plane from London. They are enjoying the halcyon weather and gothic ambience as it has been raining endlessly in Blighty. Juan Carlos Medina appears just after they arrive. Everyone is stuffed into the small greenhouse area outside the Villa Bethany with the Bavaesque stained glass panels and it feels like some kind of strange reunion, with a mass of talented friends from all corners of Europe. As the murmur of conversation and laughter fills the old house it is as if time is turning back on itself, to the days when Sauniere entertained his guests, Jules Verne, Maurice le Blanc, the diva Emma Calve and several members of the Hapsburg dynasty among them, with rum imported specially from Martinique. Karim nicknamed this place 'The Suspiria House' because of it's overblown deco décor but right now it feels like some sort of multi-hued esoteric aquarium populated by some very exotic fish indeed.

I get the impression that the Villa, in it's own weird way, is actually enjoying itself.

Sauniere's Domaine – Rennes-le-Chateau – 16 00 hrs
From the shooting diary of Richard S.

What happened to the sky?”
I step out of the greenhouse to find the domaine suffused in an eerie golden amber light.
It's like someone put a filter on the sun,” Karim gazes bewilderedly at the heavens before reaching for his light meter. “How the hell did it do that?”
I rub my eyes, head still spinning from Artur's interview which touched on some of the wilder shores of quantum physics, including the notion that we could be living inside some form of construct or simulation, an illusory veil drawn over our eyes just like the Cathars always insisted.

Do you think this could be one of those movies where it turns out we've all been dead all along.”
No. That didn't work for the last season of 'Lost'. It ain't gonna work for us. That's about as lame as saying it was all a dream.”
Well it worked in 'NIGHTMARE CITY' “ comments Karim.
No, it didn't,” Miss Scarlett insists. “That's the lamest plot ever. But at least the zombies run fast.”
Karim shrugs, still unable to work out why the light is behaving the way it is.

Wrapping out of the Villa Bethany we head for Rennes-les-Bains in search of some rock carvings that were photographed a little earlier by Ivan de Castries who has been travelling with Artur during this particular tour of the Zone. We fail to find the carvings, but it is cooler down here by the water and the fresh air focusses my thoughts. After dinner in the place of the 'Dieux Rennes' with Simon, Paula and the crew we repair to the hot spring only to accidentally surprise the same hippie family we ran into yesterday at the dragonfly stone. They glare angrily at us as they gather up their clothes, convinced by now that we are somehow persecuting them.

Monday – June 25 – Rennes-le-Chateau
From the shooting diary of Richard S.

The day starts in a most agreeable manner with coffee at Les Labadous as we interview the estate's co-proprietor, Jaap Rameijer,.who enthusiastically shows us his 'orb' collection. The jury is still out as to what exactly 'orbs' really are. Some believe the mysterious blips of light that occasionally turn up on flash photographs are simply digital artefacting, motes of dust, pollen or water droplets kicking back the light whereas others insist they are disembodied entities, literally 'soul packets' and some of the images Jaap shows us are certainly very difficult to adequately explain away. Jaap seems to have a particular gift for capturing these colourful li'l will o'the whisps on film which is scarcely surprising, considering the location of his property.

As above, so below: Miss Scarlett, Richard and Karim at Les labadous (photographs by Jaap Rameijer)

'Les Labadous' lies at a particularly choice location above an old well on the banks of the River of Colours, flanked by Uranie's domain and a densely thicketed gorge thought by many to be a major 'portal area' – either one of the 'seven dreaded gateways' or a 'doorway to another dimension' depending on one's personal inclination, heaven and hell being very much a matter of subjective experience around here. Having lived beneath the Rennes plateau for some years now, Jaap is both a gracious host and a highly entertaining raconteur, regaling us with any number of extraordinary anecdotes about the folk he has encountered here and,most importantly, what he has seen and understood for himself since moving to the Zone. Unfortunately we have to cut our time at Les Labadous a little short in order to rendezvous with climber and caving enthusiast, Jerome Viguier (below ) who wants to tell us about his adventures on the Pic de Bugarach.

After lunch we repair to Sauniere's domain to set up an interview with a local journalist, Andrei Galoup who photographed Francois Mitterrand on the Tour Magdala during the president's visit to Rennes-le-Chateau in 1967 - the same year, strangely enough, that the original manuscript of that pesky poem 'LE SERPENTE ROUGE' was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale.

As above, so below: Francois Mitterand visits the Tour Magdala - an outing that launched his successful 1967 presidential campaign

Monsieur Galoup takes the stories about Mitterand recruiting the support of supernatural agencies, secret societies or even the devil himself,  with a very large pinch of salt, insisting that the former president only stopped off in Rennes to eat a really good cassoulet before continuing on his tour of the South. It does seem a rather numinous coincidence however that the Mitterand administration subsequently criminalized the use of metal detectors in the area and pushed through a plethora of other by-laws to discourage amateur archaeologists and tomb raiders.

Where would the Zone be however without it's treasure hunters? Given the reticence of the GRAME (Groupe des Researches Archaeologique de Montsegur et Environs) and other official bodies to make their findings public it is perhaps inevitable that an ever changing cadre of self-styled stalkers have sprung up over the years to fill the gap and endeavour to find out for themselves what is really going on here.

Jules looks a little nervous when we meet him in the deserted town square . For a moment we think he really is going to insist on blindfolding us, but there are too many crew members to ride in a single vehicle and in the end we opt to follow his car with the van and the interceptor, driving in convoy to a location that I am not at liberty to disclose. Parking up beside a nondescript looking hedgerow we cut down our gear to the minimum so our packs can be as light as possible, having already more or less made up our minds that we are on a wild goose chase.

For once, however, we couldn't be more wrong....

The Zone – 21 00 hrs

Some three and a half hours after following Jules down the winding path through the woods, a trail so narrow it was probably made by animals rather than human beings, we emerge once more into a broad pasture at the edge of the trees, breathless and wide eyed, still trying to make sense of what we have just seen.

As above, so below: Images from the Rennes nemeton - a Druidic sacred site hidden in the woods near Rennes-le-Chateau

 “But I don't understand. How can something like that be possible?” I blinked. The last rays of the setting sun made the field ahead seem golden and translucent as if it were no longer part of the so-called 'real' world.
Apparently it's part of a huge circle of similar constructions spread right across the Zone,” offered Miss Scarlett. ”Remember what he said about Pythagoras?”
No. I mean how come we've never come across a single mention of it before in any of the texts let alone a photograph? It's so close to Rennes but its never been documented? You would've thought mystery hunters had gone over every inch of this bloody place with a fine tooth comb by now. And to have something that blatantly weird and that colossal just sitting there all along?”
Jules did say he was the only one who knew about it,”
Well he's quite obviously sitting on one of the biggest archaeological finds to be made in this area for decades. I mean this is big. It's more than big. It's practically the solution to the whole damn mystery.”
Yeah,” said Miss Scarlett darkly. “But we can't tell anyone. Not yet.”
But we've gotta do something. I mean how many people have written best selling books about this place based on far, far scantier evidence than this? We've got the GPS co-ordinates, right?”
Nicolos nodded, brandishing his cell. “I sent them to Corinne.”
There's no way we can let people know this place's location,” insisted Miss Scarlett. “Not now. Not ever. This place is too sacred. You don't want to turn it into another tourist attraction, another sideshow in the Rennes-le-Chateau esoteric thrill ride. People will find this place if they're meant to.”
I nodded slowly.”Do you think we were meant to? I mean it certainly feels like we got lucky. More than just lucky. If we hadn't run into the last pope at the solstice, or gone to the market...”
Miss Scarlett shrugged.”It all works out the way it's meant to.”
Do you think that place was actually meant for menstruation like he said?”asked Karim, checking the camera to make certain we really had it all on the hard drive.
No. Menstrual blood couldn't make grooves like that. My guess it was for sacrifice,” suggested Miss Scarlett.
And that pool. What the hell was that? You could see by the stonework it was old.”
How old do you think?”
I dunno,” I thought it through for a moment. “Between three to six thousand years. At a guess...”
It's the real deal, “ nodded Miss Scarlett.”It's up to us now to figure out what to do about it.”

Above: Sound man Nicolas Boyer poses with one of the huge mushrooms found near the Rennes nemeton. We fried it up that night and it made for very good eating!

Tuesday – June 26– Rennes-le-Chateau

The change started with Abbe Sauniere.” Alex Painco, the incumbent mayor of Rennes-le-Chateau, chooses his words carefully.”Tens of thousands of people come here every year, looking for answers. We've had films, books, documentaries, you name it. I get letters every month telling me where the treasure is. If I listened to them this village would be full of holes.” 

Monsieur Painco looks past us for a moment, casting his gaze over the narrow, sun drenched street beyond the restaurant where the first tourists of the day are already dribbling past, clutching their cameras and dog eared copies of the various mystery novels and works of pseudo history that have been responsible for enticing them to this remote and somewhat malignant holiday destination. “I've had to deal with people tunnelling under the graveyard. Even one individual who thought he was Jesus Christ showing up at my office to deliver his message.”
What did you do?” asks Miss Scarlett, sipping a glass of the chilled blanquette that the mayor has laid on for our convenience.
I politely showed him the door.” Monsieur Painco responds without blinking. “I hope Rennes continues to attract tourists but preferably more normal ones. I mean we do get normal people as well as strange ones. These days the really strange ones mostly go to Bugarach.”

Making a mental note that Mount Bugarach, the geological anomaly touted as the hot ticket for the coming apocalypse of 2012, is next on our agenda we wrap up our first interview of the day, thanking the mayor for his time. “Aren't you going to ask me where the treasure is?” He smiles, feigning bewilderment.”I brought my maps, my shovels. I was all ready to start digging.” Monsieur Painco had been hoping we'd take lunch in his recently opened restaurant, 'La Reine du Chateau' ( literally 'The Queen of the Castle' – a cute li'l gallic play on words) but we have other plans. Lunch hour is the only time of day when human traffic in the church of the Magdalene thins sufficiently for us to have any chance of wielding a jib arm and we fully intend to use our deal with the mayor to get as much coverage as we can, including the access we have been promised to Sauniere's secret rooms.

This a church!”hisses an irate, red faced Brit, a George cross emblazoned proudly on his baggy tee-shirt, evidently ticked off that a film crew has intruded on his esoteric reverie.
And this is a camera.” I nod towards the rig that has been set up in the aisle to enable Karim to swing the jib. It's hardly a crane but enough at least to get a little movement into the shot and hopefully imbue the locale with a hint of due, daemonaic majesty.

Miss Scarlett manages to reach Uranie on the cell, telling him to meet us at the Tour Magdala while we wait for the mayor's daughter to unlock the secret rooms. It's time we got to the bottom of the long running rumours concerning the gateway to Hell existing beneath the church or the Abbe's domaine. If there really is a 'portal' on this plateau then I am determined to find it. 

The much vaunted 'secret' chambers turn out to be little more than a couple of interconnected broom closets accessed through a door to the right of the altar. The first room had evidently served as a cramped vestry in Sauniere's day and is dominated by a rather gaudy stained glass window depicting Christ on the cross.

As above, so below: Sauniere's secret rooms.

A second, narrower doorway communicates with a lightless, cobweb festooned space immediately behind the 'bull's eye', the round window in the rear of the church that is directly aligned with the angle of the rising sun on the 17th of January.

It is a typically quirky architectural detail but while the hidden rooms tick another couple of boxes regarding the church's alignment, they certainly don't contain any paradigm altering revelations worth writing home about.

We have just re-emerged into the light of day when we run into Corinne, the production manager, who is standing outside the church, nervously clutching a cell phone. She looks pale and more than usually shaken, having just gotten off the line with Fabrice, 'L'AUTRE MONDE's Paris based producer.
There's a problem with Uranie.”
What?” I do a double take, wondering if our sorcerer friend is having car trouble. But the problem runs deeper than that.
Fabrice doesn't want you to interview him.”
What do you mean? Uranie is one of the most important interviewees on this project. The whole 'portal' thing won't make sense without him.”
Fabrice says the mayor called him five minutes ago. He was really pissed and threatened to throw us off the plateau if he caught us talking to that guy.”
That's ridiculous. He can't tell us whom we can and can't talk to. Who does he think he is?”
The mayor. I mean you can talk to Uranie. You just can't talk to him on camera. Certainly not here or in Sauniere's domain. And definitely not in the Tour Magdala.”
But how did he know that?” I am flabbergasted.”I don't recall telling anyone that I wanted to interview Uranie in the Tour Magdala?” In fact I don't recall even mentioning our plans aloud, let alone to Fabrice and the mayor. One of our neo-Cathar friends back in Montsegur, Yves Massat, had told us that there was a portal in the Tour Magdala's winding stairwell and the curious alignment of the tower's embrasures were common knowledge. I had been hoping that Uranie might be able to shed some light on this affair, if not point us in the direction of the portal itself.
Maybe the phone's bugged,” suggests Miss Scarlett.
Either that or one of us is a traitor,” I glance darkly at the other crew members. We have only been on the plateau for a few hours and already a creeping sense of paranoia is setting in.
Someone must have intercepted the phone call,” Miss Scarlett offers.”It's the only answer.”
But that's impossible. Who'd have the technology to do that?”
Just about anyone in this place.” Miss Scarlett nods towards the village's sun drenched rooftops as if any number of unseen onlookers are silently eavesdropping.”This is Rennes, after all.”
I told you this place was cursed,” mutters Karim.

Rennes-le-Chateau – parking lot - 16. 00 hrs

From the weblog of Scarlett Amaris

Uranie arrives in full war paint and I know without looking that he is wearing his favorite black 'Cradle of Filth' t-shirt that sports a semi-naked woman on the cross with fake breasts the size of over inflated volleyballs wearing a bleeding crown of thorns. We tell him what is going on and without hesitation he heads for the entrance of the domain, his keys and shells jingling with every determined step he takes. We have a little pow wow with the rest of the crew and decide to give Uranie a five minute start and to load the equipment quietly as possible over the fence in an half-assed attempt at subterfuge. I elect to stay behind and watch part of the the equipment that might be needed and to wait for Simon and Paula who have woken up late and are on their way to rendezvous with us.

Glancing through the wrought iron railings in the fence, I watch Richard and Karim stroll casually through the gardens and into the mock-gothic tower where Uranie is waiting, pretending to be a tourist. The rest of the crew follow suit, one at a time. I seriously doubt that we are fooling anyone, I think to myself as Simon and Paula walk up, wondering just where the hell everyone is. As I explain the situation I can see Simon's eyes get bigger and more excited by the second. “Really? I love this sort of thing. Do you think they'll be a confrontation? Do you think we'll get kicked out? What do you think they'll do?” he says, looking like a kid that has just snuck into a particularly gory horror movie that he wasn't supposed to see. I just look at him and laugh, shaking my head. “I've got to see this for myself.” And he takes off for the domain at a pretty fast clip just to make sure that he doesn't miss a thing.

Paula and I sit there for a minute in the shade keeping one eye on the Tour, but all seems quiet except for the few tourists milling about.
“Do you think there will be trouble?” Paula asks. It is her first visit to Rennes-le-Chateau and it is already turning into quite an adventure.
“It's a possibility. But the worst they can do is throw us off the plateau and if that's the case than I suggest we start celebrating now. Sparkling?” I hold up a bottle of blanquette.
“Oh, what a fantastic idea.”

The Tour Magdala - 16. 30 hrs

From the shooting diary of Richard S.

If you invoke the devil, he will come.” Uranie grins, looking relaxed and quite at home in the tower room that once served as the Abbe Berenger Sauniere's private library. Reaching into his shoulder bag the sorcerer withdraws a battered copy of the Clavicle of Solomon, opening the grimoire to display its seals to camera.

“With this book we can understand the magical system they were using when Sauniere first designed his domain. One of the goals was about catching spirits. They made different pentacles to control them in different ways, both white and black magic, working with the Enochian tongue, the language of angels...”
And the portal?”
It's right behind you.”
I turn to face the mirror mounted above the hearth.
The mirror you see here is not the original one. The mirror that was placed here back in Sauniere's day was broken – and I was the one that broke it!”
You? But why...” I catch my breath. It's all starting to make a ghastly kind of sense. I can certainly understand now why the mayor hadn't wanted Uranie to set foot in the tower.

It was already cracked before I first came here in the early nineties. The previous tenant of the domain, Henri Buthion, had broken it in half to see if Sauniere had left a message behind it. He was searching for the treasure and had dug up the whole domaine. Then one day his daughters looked in the mirror and saw the devil. They got scared and ended up at my place. They told me about what they had seen and I realized there were certain formulas that would allow his appearance, that would open the gate...”

I step closer, seeing only my own reflection, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the doorway behind me and Simon's puzzled face as he appears breathlessly on the threshold. It seems too simple to be true, that the portal could be right here, under our noses all along, yet it has a certain Cocteauesque logic to it after all. I wonder if there is really a demon behind the glass, staring back at us this very moment and once again feel the giddy sensation of being suspended between two worlds, between 'reality' and its reflection. I reach out, fingertips gently touching the unyielding surface...

Make a wish...”

In our next instalment: - The mystery deepens as Karim is forced to take to the air to fly Uranie's bearings in the microlite and all hell breaks loose in the Grotto of the Magdalene. 
Stay tuned to this channel for the conclusion of  'THE OTHERWORLD - SHOOTING DIARY'...

Monday, July 23, 2012

THE OTHERWORLD - shooting diary part one.

Preface - Notes on an unknown religion
The idea of shooting a feature length documentary on the ongoing developments in the 'Zone', a stretch of densely forested countryside in the heart of the French Pyrenees roughly circumscribed by the château of Montsegur, the Rennes plateau and the ragged cone of Mount Bugarach in the south, has been brewing for some time. In fact the first treatment I wrote on the subject ( under the title 'The Devil's Chessboard ) was submitted to Channel Four Television's religion department twenty-two years ago. At the time we were turned down flat and politely shown the door. When it came to submitting a new treatment to the Pyrenean Film Commission a few weeks ago I found that very little other than the title and the names of some of the interviewees who had sadly passed away in the interim needed to be changed. The proposed subtitle however caused considerable debate.
Karim Hussain, the project's director of photography and a friend and ally of long standing, was strongly in favor of 'notes on a new religion' which he considered to be more direct, more threatening and just plain punchier than 'notes on an unknown religion' . The word 'unknown' carries all kinds of negative connotations putting one in mind of cheesy old television shows and that truly regrettably Amicus anthology with Peter Cushing concerning a global conspiracy mounted by killer cats. I tried to argue that at least 'The Unknown' (1927) was a genuine classic but Karim wasn't buying it. It seems to me that this difference of opinion over the most appropriate subtitle neatly encapsulates the two dominant schools of thought over what has really being going here in this remote European backwater.
The same argument obtains to the former inhabitants of this land, the so-called 'Cathars' and the Albigensian heresy that brought about the fourth crusade. There are those who believe that the 'Cathars' represented an earlier extant form of Christianity similar to the creed practised by John the baptist and the Essenes while other historians insist that it was a more recent theological mutation, influenced by Manicheism and introduced to the south by Bogomil missionaries in the latter part of 12th century.
Since the temporal power of the Catholic church beganto wane at the close of the 19th century an ever increasing number of extremely strange individuals have found themselves drawn to this area and over the course of little more than a hundred years they have produced a vast and ever growing body of written material, much of it extremely fanciful – a trend that may have begun with the publication of Napoleon Peyrat's 'Grande Histoire des Albigeois' in 1875 and which finds its most recent expression in the work of popular authors such as Dan Brown, and Kate Mosse, not to mention our own humble efforts here on Terra Umbra.
It is easy to believe that thanks to a series of unique historical and geographical factors the area , affectionately now known as the 'Zone', has become a kind of black hole in modern day 'consensus' reality where odd beliefs and outlandish conspiracy theories can happily take root and prosper. To an unkind outside observer it may appear to be a sort of outdoor psychiatric hospital where a growing legion of crazy folk spouting deeply weird ideas and theories have influenced both each other's thinking and the paradigms as a whole to the point of creating a new belief system, what, to all intents and purposes, amounts to a 'new religion', a woolly, uncodified 'pseudo religion based on pseudo history that bears little or no relationship to the actual past and the mysterious, long vanished faith of the 'Cathars'.
In our lengthy investigation of this neck of the woods I have arrived at a rather different conclusion. When you take time out to listen to everyone's stories, to hear all points of view a disturbing commonality of experience begins to emerge. There are points on which the opinions of various pilgrims, cranks, cultists, neo-Cathars, pseudo historians, treasure hunters and casual tourists seem to concur as if each one is attempting to approach the same indefinable mystery, each in their own way and words. Once one begins to graph those commonalities a vast outline gradually emerges, like the long hidden remains of some invisible edifice, buried for untold generations . I have come to believe that what we are dealing with here is not a new religion but something ancient and unknown, a force inherent in the land that has been here long years before the Cathars or the Druids, a mystery that has haunted our dreams and belief systems since the dawn of time. The stories heard over the years about the area concealing 'portals' or gateways to other worlds may be fanciful enough but here in the Zone it really does seem as if some other realm of experience overlaps with our own, as if the day to day reality of those who wander into this area is steadily influenced and reshaped by the morphogenetic field of some other time or paradigm, a subtle, insistent signal received by the unconscious mind and either blocked out or re-interpreted in countless individual ways. A dream that always returns, often different in its individual details but always the same in its essential characteristics. The old gods it would seem are stirring in their sleep.
As above: Self and Miss Scarlett shooting 'THE OTHERWORLD' promo during the big freeze of February 2012. So below: The Shadow Theatre interceptor fitted out with the new GoPro in order to serve as the shoot's official camera vehicle. ( both photographs by Gina Varella )
In the summer of 2012 a team was assembled in Montsegur to document that shared dreaming, to test some of the wilder claims made about the area and open a window to the 21st century by bringing cameras and cutting edge thermal technology to the borderland between worlds.
Above: Karim Hussain and yours truly back in action - photograph by Chloe Roberts

Sunday June 10 – Montsegur:
It is the first proper day of work on 'THE OTHERWORLD' and as fitting for the first day of any shoot the turbulent weather that has been building up over the last week finally comes to a head. Although the morning was warm and sunny the day rapidly clouded over and by the time Karim and the project's producer, Fabrice Lambot, of Metaluna Productions, were on their way into the Zone from Toulouse airport the skies had opened in a deluge, with enough wind behind it for the rain to be practically horizontal.
The squall was fortunately short-lived and by midnight the wind had lulled. Making our way to Hannibal's Point, the crag overlooking the gorges of the Carroulet, we set up our first shot by the dim glow of the single mag light available to us. We decided to kick off our exercises with a time-lapse on the T2I-550D exposing one frame every thirty seconds with the shutter open all the way to see what the pog looked like when the moonless darkness was stripped away. With the shutter open this long the night is revealed to be amber, probably a side effect of the ambient light from the village's sodium lamps.
We are now sitting back at base camp with Karim hunched over his key board, cutting together the first test shot and comically lip synching the lyrics from the theme tune to 'EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS' ( 1977 ). “I'm your queen. You're my king. I feel so good now. Like a cloud...”. Moral is good with the team filled with a spirit of bold enthusiasm for the adventure ahead.
Above: Viewing the rushes - photograph by Gina Varella
Monday June 11 – Montsegur / Rennes-le-Chateau:
A gloomy start to the day with the sky leaden and overcast. I rolled out of bed into my black suit and bow tie to rendezvous with Fabrice for a 9:00am meeting with Jean Michel, the mayor of Montsegur. Fabrice was feeling a little delicate as his sleep had been troubled by strange dreams in which he had imagined I was 'some kind of vampire guy' trying to lure him up the pog.
'To be sacrificed?' suggested Miss Scarlett eagerly.
'No. It was more complex than that.' Fabrice blinked, looking slightly phased.
'Those damned apples just aren't ripening fast enough,' suggested Karim, nose still buried in the screen of his laptop as he reviewed the time-lapse shot we took last night, presumably to make sure we hadn't dreamed the thing.
'You don't understand it's always like that the first night I come here. On 'MOTHER OF TOADS' I thought something was shaking the bed. Last night I completely lost track of time. I woke up, thinking it was morning, but it was only 2:30am. Then I was too frightened to go back to sleep for a long time.'
We had just long enough to get caffeinated before rolling into the mayor's office. Jean Michel, a former gendarme turned civic functionary, was his usual truculent self. He's never particularly cheery in the mornings but brightened once a suitable bribe had been settled on. A generous cash donation to the village's civic coffers. As luck would have it we ran into Fabrice Chambon, the local archaeologist in charge of the work at the château, in the atrium. Fabrice had been ducking our mails but after setting his mind at rest about our motives he gladly agreed to a summit meeting tomorrow night at the 'The Smoking Potato' ( 'A la Patate qui Fume' ), the excellent new restaurant in Montsegur that was to become our unofficial headquarters during the shoot.
Above: Rennes-le-Chateau awaits - photograph by Scarlett Amaris
After making a pit stop for more coffee at Shadowtheatre HQ, we pulled Karim out of the shower and high-tailed it to Rennes-le-Chateau to meet with our second mayor of the day, Alexander Painco. While Jean Michel had requested what amounted to a token fee to allegedly be put towards the welfare of the community, Monsieur Painco, who after all was in charge of one of the hottest 'mystery spots' on the planet, was known to be a good deal more ambitious, charging other crews up to a grand a day for the privilege of shooting in the church and Sauniere's domain. We rendezvoused with Peter and Anneke, our friends and local tour leaders, outside the church and proceeded to the town hall. Peter has had innumerable dealing with Alex over the last few years and we were counting on his presence to come up with an acceptable middle ground solution.
Monsieur Painco didn't seem to have any objections to what we were doing, having doubtless heard similar pitches before, although he was clear that he didn't want us to associate Rennes-le-Chateau or himself with the neighbouring village of Bugarach (“I don't want to have anything to do with those people. They're all crazy.”). The village of Bugarach had been in and out of the news over the last year after allegedly becoming the focus of several international UFO cults, who believe the area will offer refuge from a coming apocalypse, apparently scheduled on the winter solstice.
Considering the fact that Rennes-le-Chateau itself is living under a curse, I was quite taken aback by the opprobrium Alex showed towards Bugarach. Eventually a deal was struck with him that included access to the church, the Tour Magdala, the Domain, and Sauniere's secret rooms. To clinch the deal, we had lunch in the mayor's new restaurant, which only opened a few weeks ago, another sign of the booming 'mystery trade' that has transformed Rennes-le-Chateau over the last few years into sort an esoteric Disneyland, a Mecca for slightly deranged New Ager's, conspiracy theorist's, and occult thrill seekers.
After lunch we repaired to the nearest hardware depot to stock up on a few essential supplies before driving back to Montsegur and literally into the teeth of a gathering storm. The weather patterns have been extremely unstable lately, see-sawing from summer sunshine to freezing wintry rain, from one half an hour to the next. While the rain is bad enough, the turbulent winds could be even more of a problem. After an attempt to shoot another time-lapse image on the 550D – this time of the 'white lady' formation on the Mountain de la Frau – was curtailed by incoming rain. We retired to the 'Smoking Potato' for another sit down meal and chilled out by watching old episodes of Nigel Neale's classic QUATERMASS series. With two huge meals a day and all this rain I am worried I'll start putting on weight unless we see some action soon.

Tuesday June 12 – Montsegur – Bugarach
Once again Fabrice informed us that his sleep had been troubled by dreams, this time concerning a mysterious green serpent.
We got an early start, stopping for a coffee and croissant in Quillan before making our way via Puilarens and Galamus Gorge to the 'notorious upside down' mountain. The village of Bugarach, nestled in the mountain's shadow, seemed as sleepy as ever with no sign of the influx of UFO cultists and 2012 doomsday enthusiasts predicted by the media. The mayor, Jean-Pierre de Lord, jovially confirmed that the story had been blown out of all proportion by the press. This seemed a wee bit disingenuous as Monsieur de Lord has been the principal interviewee in pretty much all the reportage that has appeared to date on this nebulous affair. The fact that his office was actively selling postcards depicting flying saucers hovering over the mountain only deepened our suspicions that village's leadership had been secretly promoting the whole 2012 business from the very top.
Above: Mayor Jean-Pierre de Lord poses with one of the postcards available from his office on ABC news
Monsieur de Lord was extremely accommodating, agreeing to an interview and even signing the release form in advance without charging us a dime – a laissez-faire attitude that contrasted sharply with our treatment in Rennes-le-Chateau. He insisted that while the UFO stories may be little more than hype there really was something going on in the area, insisting that we climb to the top of the mountain to 'feel the energy' for ourselves. He also insisted that we get in touch with Jean-Pierre Montes, a local folklorist and expert in secret societies whom I had first interviewed for Channel Four television's religion department on my first trip to the Zone in the summer of 1990. In point of fact Jean-Pierre Montes was the man who had originally tipped me off to the notion that if I could learn 'who held the patent on the calorimeter then I would uncover the true identity of Fulcanelli the master alchemist' – a scrap of information that had later turned out to be very valuable indeed.
Above: Karim and self at work in Bugarach - February 2012 - photograph by Gina Varella
Wending our way through the densely wooded foothills of the haute Razes we stopped to take lunch in Rennes-les-Bains in the 'Place de la Deux Rennes'. Miss Scarlett and Karim ordered the vegetarian choice, the Boudet Burger, which seemed perfectly appropriate while I plumped for the Pizza Reine in honour of the queen of the Zone – or rather the two queens – the 'deux Reine' – the 'black mother' and the 'white lady' who preside over this time warped neck of the woods, over the white and black squares of the devil's chessboard across whose face we find ourselves shifted time and time again like counters.
As above : Karim at work on the devil's chessboard So below: Uranie - the sorceror of the River of Colours ( both photos by Gina Varella )
Taking the back road across the sacred valley to the Rennes plateau we paused at Lavaldieu to inspect the premises and firm up our reservations for later in the shoot before continuing to Uranie's domain at the edge of the River of Colours. Uranie seemed excited by the possibilities presented by the coming shoot and was keen to discuss the precise bearings that would need to be flown in the microlight to chart the Byzantine geographic alignments that make up the so-called 'Rennes pentagram'.
Gusts of wind rippled ominously through the long grass covering the shrines and marker stones surrounding Uranie's property and the afternoon light took on a curious, golden hue as Karim and myself walked through the tracking shot I had in mind for the film's closing sequence, finding a good spot for a jib up when we finally commit this to camera on the afternoon of the 27th. At one point we noticed Fabrice gazing oddly at a green, plastic snake intertwined with the various bits and bobs in one of Uranie's alfresco 'installations'. “That thing was in my dream last night,” Fabrice murmured, but none of us paid too much attention to his words, preoccupied as we were by the work at hand.
A storm had risen once again by the time we returned to Montsegur, making further attempts at time-lapse work impracticable. We rendezvoused with our archaeologist friend Fabrice Chambon, at the 'Smoking Potato' and convened a meeting under the storm lashed awning on the back patio. Fabrice was reassuringly enthusiastic, consenting not only to the proposed interview, but offering to bring various relics from the museum's collection up to the château on the day of the shoot for a li'l on-camera show and tell.
All in all, it would seem that despite the unstable weather patterns 'L'AUTRE MONDE' is off to a flying start!

Wednesday June 13 – Montsegur
This is the painful part of the day,” murmured Dr. Roune as he slid a needle into my gum, doping me up for a double root canal procedure. While this may not have been the most convenient time for minor surgery it was the only appointment I could get and having waited almost a year for treatment it made sense to go ahead with the procedure rather than attempt to reschedule. And painful it was! A small 'blood sacrifice' Karim suggested, for the greater good of the shoot. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon on tranquillizers, sleeping off the procedure while Karim and Fabrice drove to Toulouse to pick up the equipment and rendezvous with Corrine the production manager, and Dave the camera assistant. As fate would have it Karim also shed a little symbolic blood for the production when he tripped over a loose cobblestone in Toulouse and bruised his hand. Hopefully after this the way forward will be a little easier. Certainly none of the interviewee's can be as painful to deal with as the root canal procedure.
The last two members of the team, Francoise the standby sound guy and Sylvain, the local gaffer & grip, who hails from Foix, rolled in under their own steam and by 19:00 hours all the crew members and the equipment were accounted for. Shrugging off the effects of the tranquillizers, I began to prepare my questions for tomorrow.

Thursday June 14 – Montsegur
The first day of principal photography gets off to an ominous start when Jean Michel, the mayor of Montsegur abruptly reverses his decision, refusing to appear on camera and telling us that he cannot authorize us to shoot in the local church without permission from the bishop in charge of the region. Corinne sets about tracking down the bishop while the rest of us drive up to the Taulet to get some general views of the castle. We are still experimenting with the equipment available to us and much of what we shoot here and in the Reboule will almost certainly end up on the cutting room floor.
Worse still – once we do hike up into the Reboule we find that the hidden labyrinth where we shot a scene from 'THE MOTHER OF TOADS' the year before last ( see above ) is simply no longer there. The maze has not only been destroyed but all trace of its existence has been expunged. Even the stones it was built from seem to have been removed from the site. Who would do such a thing and why?
The questions are still going around in my head when we meet up with Thierry Salles at the camp de cremat. Thierry owns the land on which the labyrinth once stood and is as perplexed as us by its destruction. Thierry is a true Montsegurien, a direct descendent of Imbert de Salles the castle garrison's sergeant at arms at the time of the siege and talks simply and directly to our camera about his supernatural experiences on the mountain, relating an account of a time slip that took place when he was a teenager. As the sun settles lower over the Montagne de la Frau ( Occitan for 'Mountain of Fear' ) Thierry raises his guitar and plays a moving, heartfelt rendition of 'La Boier', a haunting thirteenth century troubadour song whose words mask a cryptic double meaning. The scenes with Thierry set the tone for the work ahead and will in all likelihood make the final cut.
Relieved that we have something in the can after all the crew retires to the 'Smoking Potato' . While they bid farewell to Francoise and welcome Nicolas our new soundman to the team Miss Scarlett and myself go in search of a bee gun to smoke out the church tomorrow. Miss Scarlett too has shed a little ritual blood for the cause having stepped on a thorn during the first set-up we shot in the Taulet that went all the way through the sole of her shoe and skewered her heel. Although she is walking with a pronounced limp she is at least still mobile.
Morale remains high.

Friday June 15 – Montsegur
The first interview of the day doesn't start out too promisingly. Our contact, Yves M., who worked on the original excavations conducted at the château by the GRAME ( Groupe des Researches Archaeolique de Montsegur et Environs ) who turned in the official archaeological report on the site proves to be less forthcoming on camera than he was in casual conversation, choosing not to speak openly of his experiences on the mountain. Although slightly frustrating it's understandable as it's impossible to predict how anything that is said on record will be viewed by the outside world who tend to be more than a little sceptical about such matters. Besides, Yves has to live here. It is a problem we know we will come up against again and again on this project.
Yves claims that the GRAME forced him to sign a gag order after working on the site and is concerned by the possibility of legal reprisals if he goes on record about what they found there. It is difficult to understand why the GRAME would want to deliberately cover up certain aspects of their work on the mountain, especially since none of those involved have ever submitted a paper on the subject. What do the members of the GRAME stand to benefit by this obsessive secrecy and why do they have a vested interest in propagating the idea that certain areas of the castle, notably the tower room where the celebrated 'solar phenomena' take place, were constructed more recently than they may in all probability have been? Yves seems to fear reprisal not only from the local authorities but from a higher authority, from the mountain itself. He implies that there has been a deliberate move to obliterate all trace of the past and that to talk about it openly would only run the risk of speeding that process. In the end I have to respect his wishes but cannot help feel the interview is a lost opportunity.
On our return to the village we are mortified to hear from the bishop that the mayor of Montsegur has already briefed him that we should on no account be allowed to photograph the church or its contents. The sense that an official cover up is afoot is growing stronger by the hour but with Fabrice already back in Paris there is little we can do. Once again I find myself wishing I had a more fluent command of French. The lay-out of the church at Montsegur, which houses a black Madonna brought over the mountains by monks from Montserrat, is admittedly pretty unusual, containing astrological symbols and Hebrew characters in its interior décor that mirror, among other things, the 'gate of the Old Ones' from the Colin Wilson/George Hay 'hoax' Necronomicon, but what do the local government officials stand to gain from keeping the church a secret? We have photographed its interior dozens of times before using stills cameras but something about the idea of committing this imagery to film has the community leaders running scared.
We manage to salvage something from the day by shooting Raghnhild and Anna-Mie working with their loom and spinning wheel. The Cathars were weavers after all and the the scene carries a faery tale resonance born out by Ragnhild's interview when she tells us about her reasons for moving to the village and how she heard the mountains literally singing at night,. The footage certainly has an interesting look to it but the business with the bishop has left a bad taste in my mouth. It is obvious that the mayor has set it up in such a way as to try and avoid responsibility for the matter. but I can't help but feel our efforts to penetrate what's really happening in this place are being deliberately and systematically deflected.

Saturday – June 16 – Montsegur
Mother Nature arranges a hot and almost cloudless day for the team's first ascent of the pog and accordingly we are all a little out of breath by the time we reach the castle. Corinne in particular is looking pretty sun struck, having climbed the mountain way too fast. Fabrice Chambon is just finishing up with his last tour group of the day in the courtyard and we wait for him to finish, luxuriating in the shade of the keep's ancient stone walls before setting up his interview.
As above: Karim waits as Nicolas wires Fabrice Chambon for sound ( photo by Sylvain Auge )
So below: The team at work in the castle courtyard ( photoby Sylvain Auge )

On camera Fabrice, who looks like a cross between Tin Tin and a young Anthony Perkins, proves to be a live wire, filling in the official history of the castle, his enthusiasm and love for the site coming across in every word and gesture. He happily regales us with some of his stranger experiences on the mountain where he has had to deal with some pretty curious visitors over the years, ranging from Russian neo-Cathars to Argentinian UFO cults.
She took me by the hand,” Fabrice shakes his head as he recalls one particular cult member. “She kept touching my hands and telling me I was special.”
Above: We set up a time-lapse shot on the castle battlement as dusk creeps up out of the valleys below.The usual postcards one might say. ( photograph by Sylvain Auge )
Arpaix Pereilha and her two sons show up from Lavelanet while we are working and she consents to an interview. Arpaix tells us of her belief that she is the reincarnation of one of the daughters of the former Lord of the castle, Raymond de Pereilha and speaks movingly of her connection to the site.
As above: Karim, self, Miss Scarlett and Sylvain below the north facing tower ( photo by Arpaix Pereilha ) So below: Montsegur at sun down. ( frame grab from the rushes - image by Karim Hussain and Richard S.)
It gets pretty vibey up here at night” I join Karim in the east facing gate, the so-called 'Gate of the Gods' as he stares into the dark, trying to make head or tail of everything he has seen and heard.
It looks like there's something moving over there,” he ventures at length. And it's true. There do seem to be shadowy figures moving about in the remains of the old houses on the eastern flank of the pog. Although you can't quite focus on it there is undeniably some sort of vague activity going on in the blackness.
Do you see that?” Karim turns to Sylvain who has just appeared behind me in the gateway.
What?” Sylvain pauses, squinting into the night and for a moment all three of us stand staring at something none of us can readily define.
Looks like a patch that's sort of defocussed or where the grain is really popped out”, Karim rubs his eyes. “But its definitely moving.”
The illusion seems to fade as we approach it and not for the first time I find myself wishing that we had some sort of night viewing mode on the camera. The FLIR will not be available to us until the last few days of the shoot and once we get our hands on it we'll have to make it count.
The so-called 'supernatural' is surely just an extension of the natural world. To participate in the physical universe even the supernatural must surely exert some form of force or energy and if that energy is in any ways electromagnetic or biochemical the FLIR will surely pick up a trace at least.
Just a trace would be enough.
Above: Frame grab from 'THE OTHERWORLD' ( image by Karim Hussain and R. Stanley )

Sunday – June 17 – Montsegur
The team is feeling pretty worn out after hauling all that gear up and down the pog yesterday so we decide to opt for an easier day. Sticking close to the village we ask Patsy the resident speleologist to take us to one of the local caves, one that he promises will be “tres facile”. We only realize later that although it is not that far to go as the bird flies this does not mean that the way will be necessarily easy. The crew's faces fall as they take in the waterproof, all-terrain jump suit that Patsy unpacks from the boot of his car.
Parking up in the gorges of the Caroulet we follow Patsy through a hole in an ancient fence, following the winding trail through a glen that has become an illegal fly tip, a festering slew of kitchen waste, discarded household appliances and fly blown plastic effectively robbing this neck of the woods of any elder magic that may once have clung to it. Beyond the glen the path climbs vertiginously up the base of the Roc de la Mousse ( 'Rock of Shadows' in Occitan ) and we soon find ourselves grabbing at branches and scrabbling for purchase on the rough, steeply sloping terrain. After last night's descent of the pog in pre-dawn darkness our collective calves and thighs are starting to feel the burn. Just when we are on the verge of calling off the mission and turning back we come up a last rise to find ourselves at the gaping mouth of 'Las Mortes' - the aptly named Cave of the Dead.
'Las Mortes' is a neolithic site, originally excavated by the Abbe Durand, a former priest of Montsegur with a passion for amateur archaeology who conducted the only real digs these gorges below the castle have seen. Among other things he claimed to have found a cave in the pog containing a huge stone table and steps leading deeper into the mountain, a location known as 'Abbe Durand's Cave' that continues to elude modern day researchers seeking to verify the Abbe's claims. Not for the first time the curious notion is raised that the paths and the very features of the landscape have the ability to shift and change if you mention them aloud so that you might never find your way back to the same place again.
It's easy to imagine that some supernatural force guards the lost caves of Montsegur,” Patsy informs us and its certainly easy enough to believe as he guides us through the inky recesses of the 'Cave of the Dead', a system that passes clear through one flank of the Rock of Shadows. Perhaps some things are simply not meant to be seen by by uninitiated eyes, least of all captured on a hard drive. Patsy, who was once a man but changed gender somewhere along the line, is a little taken aback when we ask about the mountain's feminine nature and, for a while at least, we decide to let this matter rest.
Above: The team at the entrance of 'Las Mortes' - ( from left to right ) Self, Sylvain Auge, Karim Hussain, Scarlett Amaris, Nicolas Boyer, David Decottiginies and Corinne Binon ( photo by Patsy Gory )
Returning to the village we wrap up the day with a follow up interview with Fabrice Chambon who displays some of the early thirteenth century artefacts found on the pog. As we are wrapping out of his house my attention is drawn by a display of neolithic fertility goddesses found in the region, prominent among them a tiny but very familiar looking 'white lady' carved from a mammoth's tusk.
Above: The Venus of Brassempouy
When I csually ask about anodd looking stone mounted on a pillar in Fabrice's front garden he tells us that it is one of several that have recently turned up in the vicinity of the pog decorated with a crude sign representing the female reproductive organs. Apparently some maniac has been going around the area carving symbolic vulva's into rocks in much the same manner as someone has etched the eight pointed 'Star of Isis' or 'Roseatte of Innana' into various locations in the landscape surrounding Rennes-le-Chateau and Bugarach, all too often hitting the key points in the vast pentagram described as the 'Vagina of Nut' in David Wood's 1985 book 'GENISIS', an extraordinary work of carto-erotic mania in which a retired British surveyor charted the entire Egyptian creation myth onto the Zone's topography before claiming to reveal the true location of Atlantis. We have previously noted identical graven vulva's carved above a door in Mirepoix cathedral ( not coincidentally perhaps the door facing towards the pog ) and again halfway up the path to the château Another one used to mark a secret pathway just below the donjon-keep but last year it was deliberately sandblasted off the rock by an enraged local who probably has one or two sexual issues of his own.

Monday – June 18 – Montsegur
A little burned out by the breakneck pace of the last 48 hours we resolve that today we really will try and go easy on the crew who are starting to look a\little frazzled.
A 7.00 am call is followed by our first interview at 8.00 am with Richard, the de facto curator of the local museum who regales us at length about the castle's history. Richard, who habitually dresses in white, was at pains to point out that he didn't like the use of the word 'supernatural' in reference to whatever force is at work on the pog. He preferred the term 'spiritual' which is fine by me, although the whole exchange does come across like something out of 'The Wicker Man”. Making such a big deal out of this distinction does seem to be the etymological equivalent of splitting hairs and by constantly emphasising subjective experience and the importance of the individual seeker's spiritual journey tends to duck the issue of the various physical phenomena that have been observed on the mountain over the last many years.
Allowing the crew to break for an early lunch I return to Lavalanet to complete the root canal treatment, the procedure allowing me a little quiet time to mull over the implications raised by our ongoing enquiry. It is evident that we are going to have to up the stakes and box a li'l smarter if the finished film is really going to hit the mark.
As a special treat we take the crew to Madame Couquet's auberge for an aperitif. Madame initially refuses to do an interview. She is a master at playing hard to get but in the end consents, more for old time's sake than anything else as she was one of the original interviewees on 'THE SECRET GLORY' back in 1998 to which 'THE OTHERWORLD' is in all kinds of ways an official sequel. The auberge is, as a great many folk who have stayed there will agree, haunted, being the oldest house in the village but although Madame will admit to the presence of the spooks ( whom she refers to as 'les anciennes' ) off-camera she refuses to go on record about it as she thinks it may be bad for business. She does however share a lovely anecdote about the spiritualistic seances that Rene Nelli held here back in the day and for a moment it really is just like old times. It's warm in the sunshine, sitting quietly at one end of the long table in Madame Couquet's first floor parlour, listening to everyone else talking and laughing and for a moment I half expect Suzy Nelli's voice to come up the stairs, to hear her dog Leika barking in the hall or to see Immo Horn and Otto Rahn step in the door and take off their hats.
Then the anaesthetic starts to wear off, summoning me back to the present.
Above: At Maison Couquet - ( from left to right ) Scarlett Amaris, Sylvain Auge, Karim Hussain, Aimee Couquet, moi, Nicolas Boyer and Dave Decottiginies ( photograph by Corinne Binon )

Tuesday – June 19th – Montsegur
The mountain looks like a woman bending over with her ass in the air,” Christine Autier explains, as if this were obvious.
Uh -huh', Karim gamely turns his eyes towards the cliffs that rise above us, trying in vain to work out what she means.
Christine is the proprietor of a medieval boutique in what you might call the village's high street whom we contacted in the hope of bringing a more feminine perspective to the documentary. She tells us the story of Esclarmonde the immortal chatelaine of the castle, whom she has named her boutique after and painted numerous pictures of during the long, cold winter. Her take on the unprecedented equal rights that women held in the 13thc is interesting, but when asked what is the strangest thing that has ever happened to her in Montsegur, she gets a little flustered. Finally she tells us her belief in reincarnation and how odd it was to her to realize that she had given all of her children medieval names and that she is so attracted to a certain time period. Reincarnation is a theme that we hear again and again living in the village. There are so many visitors believe that they were Cathar's who were burned at the stake, that we've given this a name, 'Montsegur syndrome'. With Christine it may be different though, she was born in this village and her ancestors were the original inhabitants. Those ancestral roots must run deep.
After having spied his white lady collection on Sunday, we go back to Fabrice Chambon's house in the afternoon to talk about the tradition of goddess worship in the Pyrenee's and how it never really went away, but went underground. We tell him a little about our research in drawing a direct correlation from the Venus statues found in the caves, to the domina's that the troubadour's sung and wrote poetry about as the worship of the sophia or divine feminine. Fabrice is very excited when we first propose the idea to him, telling us that this tradition indeed exists, that it is very important but for some reason no one ever seems to talk about it. Fabrice then grabs the ball and runs with it, giving a fantastic spontaneous interview on the subject. The goddess and the grail are one after all and it seems to be the perfect subject to be delving into the day before Midsummer's night.

Summer solstice June 20-21 – Montsegur
From the web-log of Scarlett Amaris
Like mules we trudge all the equipment up the steep path to the castle in preparation for the evening before the summer solstice. It's pretty heavy going, but we all eventually make it safe and sound. Richard and myself are the last ones up and we pass an older man on the path who asks us if we are with the film crew. We tell him yes and he laughs and says that the rest are already at the castle all out of breath. Then he feels the need to tell us that his wife is still up there and that she is a believer. In the next breath he tries to explain that he is an atheist, but the word just won't come out. It's kind of like watching a cat with a hairball in its throat and finally after many tries he finally spits it out. After that he looks kind of sheepish and hurries down the path.
It's so weird the way that people always feel the need to spontaneously share in this place. Happens every time. It's almost like there's truth serum in the ether.” I muse out loud. “It is the other world after all, the normal rules don't apply. Weirder though was the way he couldn't say the word atheist, almost like the mountain wouldn't let him.
I bet he wouldn't have had any problem with the word heretic.” Richard dead pans and we both agree laughing..
Above:: Midsummer sunset - photograph by Scarlett Amaris
The pog is noticeably quieter this year. There's still the various groups of people who stake out their places around the castle, but it's not quite the colorful clash of strange faiths that we've witnessed in years past. The weather is gloriously warm and everything seems set for a perfect night shoot and solstice effect in the morning. Just after dark we set Dave up alone in the tower room to do a two hour time lapse on the T2I. I saunter into the castle courtyard to set-up interviews with our resident sorcerer, Uranie, Catalan artist, Ivan de Castries and Michele Ianella, the medieval sword master. The first fires are lit with Michele being the 'master of the sacred fire' as we sit and roast marshmallows while we talk about potential idea's for subjects and swap pog stories. I feel a slight pang of guilt as I hear Richard and Karim on the other side of the castle yelling out instructions to each other and the rest of the crew as they set up another shot.
Don't let anyone ever tell you that fieldwork isn't a bitch.” I joke with Ivan as I pop another marshmallow onto a stick and into the fire.
As above,so below: Midsummer night in the castle courtyard - Karim and Nicolas set up while I share a smoke with Uranie - the sorceror of the River of Colours ( photographs by Ivan de Castries )
Uranie has driven up all the way from the river of colours to witness his first solstice at Montsegur and he gives an inspired interview on the balancing of the male and female energies, portals and numerous other subjects by fire light which suits him to a tee. I suspect that his interviews will have quite an impact on the wider public and we are all really impressed by what a natural he is on camera.

Midsummer morning – Montsegur - June 21 2012
From the shooting diary of Richard S.
The interviews in the courtyard took a little longer than we had expected, especially when our last subject of the night, a bald, somewhat vulpine looking Occitan nationalist who introduced himself as the 'last pope' proceeded to regale us at length about the fall of Montsegur and the history of the south. Strutting about his camp fire, clad only in a pair of cammo trousers, he looked for all the world like a young Colonel Kurtz or some sort of Cathar Kilgore. He insisted on reading his poetry and by the time we broke away and made it back to the north facing tower it was already somewhere in the small hours of the morning.
Above: Frame grab from 'THE OTHERWORLD' - the image shot from the north facing tower
Dave was perched nervously on the rail of the platform above the tower room floor, keeping an eye on the camera set-up from a safe distance. From here the banter in the courtyard was reduced to an infrequent murmur, the flicker of the camp fires in the long embrasure in the far wall providing the chamber's only lighting.
I heard noises,” Dave stammered, looking a little pale.
What kind of noises?” asked Miss Scarlett. “Whispering?”
Animal noises. I thought they were rats.”
There are no rats up here.”
Maybe toads,” He glanced sheepishly back at the black well of the tower ,grateful that the time had finally come to break the set-up.
As above, so below: The summer solstice at Montsegur - June 21 2012 - photographs by Arpaix Pereilha
As dawn approached the castle began to fill up with travellers, maybe two hundred pilgrims in all, converging on the north facing tower to witness the celebrated 'solar phenomena.' Among them were many familiar faces from the village including Yves, Ragnhild and Thierry. The Goddess saw fit to grace us with a clear, bright morning and ideal viewing conditions. The crowd surged forward, snapping photographs and reaching out to touch the blood red beams formed by the east facing embrasures capturing the light of the rising sun and effectively using the earth's atmosphere as a prism to draw a series of glowing rectangles on the far side of the chamber,a fiery sign that has been repeated year after year since the keep's construction. The phenomenon lasts for a little less than fifteen minutes and can be reliably witnessed for approximately six days on either side of the solstice, weather permitting.
Outside the tower I heard some of the villagers begin to sing in Occitan but I felt the need to linger in the chamber a moment longer. Uranie was standing in front of one of the embrasures, staring east into the gathering light and I knew that all too soon we would follow the way he looked, down from the mountains to where the Rennes plateau awaited. The sun rose higher and before us the landscape unfurled itself from the night mists like a labyrinth still waiting to be walked.
In our next instalment:- Action, gags, mystery and romance.  The team converge for a bizarre moment of truth at the Tour Magdala and much to their surprise stumble onto the true secret of Rennes-le-Chateau.
Part Two of 'THE OTHERWORLD – SHOOTING DIARY' will follow shortly...