The winding banks of the Aude and the sparsely populated countryside that surround its headwaters in the Haut Raze would have offered ample shelter for the Cathars and it is said their faith survived in secret for long years amidst its wild hills and shadowy valleys, even unto the present day. Over the course of the centuries a series of bizarre and fantastical rumors began to accrue about the region and the brooding cone of Mount Bugarach, the dormant volcano that dominates the densely wooded landscape, standing sentinel over Galamus Gorge and the gateway to the Corbieres.

The labyrinthine limestone caverns and smoldering internal fires of the oddly shaped mountain, a have fuelled both the hot springs of Rennes les Bains and the imaginations of countless visitors over the years including the science fiction writer Jules Verne who is said to have holidayed on the volcano's flanks. The celebrated author makes several veiled references to the area in his work, ranging from the subterranean voyages of Journey to the Centre of the Earth and The Black Indies to the alchemical chicanery of Carpathian Castle. The mountain, also known locally as the Pech de Thauze or the 'Crossroads of the Four Winds' provides both the name of one of the lead characters, the flamboyant Captain Bugarach, in Verne's all but unreadable maritime opus Clovis Dardentor and the inspiration for the 'eagle's nest' – the home of Robur the deranged aeronaut in Master of the World.

Over the course of the 20th century the tales of faery's, will o' the whisps’ and woodland elementals gave way to phantom airship sightings and common or garden UFOs. During the late eighties the region was considered a prominent 'window area' and a 24 hour 'skywatch' was established on Laval Dieu, the jagged spine of rocks facing the slumbering volcano. When I first visited the area in the early nineties I was introduced to the occupant of an isolated farmhouse near the headwaters of the River Sals, a wild eyed individual named Jean de Rigney who had been convinced the mountain harboured an underground UFO base and had produced countless fuzzy recordings of what he insisted were extraterrestrials moving about beneath his floorboards. More recently this tendency to blur the lines between ancient history, popular mythology and outright science fiction has been given added impetus by the work of French pseudo historian Michel Lamy who suggests that not only does Mount Bugarach conceal an entrance to the hollow earth and the lost kingdom of Agartha but that Esclarmonde d'Alion and her immortal cohorts are related to Vlad Dracule, the bloodsucking Count of Carpathia and the book they guard, the mythic 'Book of the Seven Seals' is the real life inspiration for American fantasy author H.P.Lovecraft's equally mythical 'Necronomicon’. All of which would be frankly laughable were it not for the unsettling fact that certain elements of these claims actually check out.

Samples of saline water drawn from the stream beside Jean de Rigney's house proved on further analysis to contain unusually high levels of radiation and references to 'earth lights' and hidden underground passageways extend back to well before the 20th century UFO flap. A close reading of Lamy's text indicates that he is cross referencing not so much the work of Lovectraft himself but the George Hay / Colin Wilson hoax Necronomicon first issued in 1978. The provenance of the so-called 'Hay Necronomicon' has been widely discredited, not the least by Colin Wilson himself who admitted to perpetrating the hoax in an article entitled "The Necronomicon, the Origin of a Spoof", which first appeared in Crypt of Cthulhu and was later reprinted in Black Forbidden Things", edited by Lovecraft scholar and enthusiast Robert Price. What Wilson fails to point out is that his 'spoof' seems to have been lifted wholesale from the work of French occultist Eliphas Levi who in turn was drawing upon some of the cornerstone texts of the European esoteric tradition. Certain aspects of the central ritual outlined in the 'Hay Necronomicon' as a method of 'opening the gates' so that the 'Great Old Ones' might return to Earth and complete the 'clearing off' of the human race correspond a little too closely for comfort with the local mythology of the Haut Razes – not the least of these being the 'Crossroads of the Four Winds' itself – the 'Gate of the Winter Wind', 'The Gate of the Summer Wind', 'The Gate of the Rushing Torrents' and 'The Gate of the Whirling Air' closely linked to the four cardinal points and that confounding cabbalistic puzzle box commonly known as the 'Cube of Space'.

It was not until the spring of 2008 that I had the opportunity to return to the area with fellow esoteric scholar and long term Shadow Theatre irregular Miss Scarlett to check out some of the increasingly wild and woolly claims first hand...

Testimony of Scarlett Amaris – Haut Razes - March 2008.

Our very strange journey began from this single phrase, “We might also compare the book closed by the seven seals of the Apocalypse, depicted in the church of Bugarach next to the Grail chalice, to that secret book called the Book of Seals, which was solemnly opened on the Cathar feast day of Bema.“ The phrase appears in a new translation of The Secret Message of Jules Verne by Michel Lamy, which we had picked up the day before in the bookstore in Rennes-le-Chateau.  Considering how close it was to Easter Sunday, which was supposedly around the Cathar holy day of Bema, we decided to take a quick trip and have a look for ourselves.

The village of Bugarach is very small, and lies within the view of the majestic volcano that has been host to so many legends, everything from UFO’s in the 80’s, to death by 'inexplicable dehydration', and instances of people disappearing only to return with their hair bleached completely blond.  We quickly found the church, which was actually open. Stepping inside, the first thing that we noticed was the overwhelming scent of laurel, a well known symbol of the resurgent Cathar faith, which had been reverently laid out on all the various altars. There was only one depiction of Christ in the church which seemed to be dedicated to Mary, or more likely Stella Maris, our lady of the seas. The presence that it gave off was overwhelmingly feminine. We walked straight up to the end altar, which dominated the far side of the building. To our complete surprise a plaque of the grail cup did indeed hang over each door on either side of the altar and next to that, by a couple of stained glass windows in which the faces had been strategically whitened out, were two more plaques portraying the lamb resting on the book of the seven seals. We couldn’t help but notice how the mountain illustrated in the background of the plaque bore more than a slight resemblance to Bugarach, itself. We tried the doors, and had a go at rummaging around the altar, but found nothing else open or hidden in that area

Supposedly the church was built during the Visigoth times, and had originally been a Gallo Celtic fort according to scholar, Louis Fedie. The first mention of the name of Bugarach is in the Charta of the lands of the abbey of Saint Polycarpe dating from the end of the 9th century, where the name appears in the Latinized form, Bugargio. In 1231 we find the form Bugaaragium, which becomes Bigarach in 1500, Bugaraich in 1594, and Beugarach in 1647, until it‘s current fixed form in 1781. Author Michel Lamy claims that Bugarach was given its name around the time of the fall of Montsegur, “the name Bugarach came from the Bulgarian’s, Bogomils, and Boulgres - names given to the Cathar’s.” My personal favorite bit of name calling is a little known local legend that says that there where once two giant gnomes named Bug and Arach. They caused enough mischief to bring down the wrath of the god of Jupiter, who turned them into the mountain of Bugarach, the pech as we know it today.

Further inspection of the church unveiled a few more curious artifacts. There was a statue of the obscure St. Roch, patron saint of the plague, and deference against tempests or storms, who was saved from starving to death in the wilderness in France by the hunting dog of a local nobleman named Gothard, who had a loaf of bread in its mouth. In esoteric lore the symbol of the black dog means a guarded secret. Perhaps that was a “panem supersubstanialem” that he had clutched in his jaws. There was also a stained glass depiction of two men turning on a huge wheel with nine spokes, under a crescent moon. The window immediately brought to mind the wheel of fortune in the tarot deck, but that is the tenth trump in the major arcane. Nine spokes in the wheel would bring us to the ninth trump, the Hermit, which may be oddly appropriate because another source states that the original church was said to have been consecrated to Saint Anthony ( who’s hermitage is just up the road in Galamus Gorge), and there is an ancient traditional festival that is held on Ash Wednesday, where an hermit carries a cross through the center of town in Bugarach, with a horse collar with bells hung on it and pork sausages hanging from the arms of the cross. The pig was sacred to St. Anthony and the horse sacred to Apollo; this could be another instance of a pagan ceremony being transformed miraculously into a Christian one. Just as a side note, the feast of St. Anthony is celebrated on January 17th, which is also known as ’blue apple’ day in Rennes-le-Chateau, and is also the date that Nicolas Flamel supposedly perfected his first alchemical transmutation of mercury into fine silver.

We were quick to notice that there was no holy water in the benetier, nor had there been any in quite some time. As we got ready to leave, we looked at the last darkened room to our left that bore the skull and cross bones gate at the entrance to another tiny altar room. The light was dying and the winter air heavy and grey, so we missed one of the secrets that hides within the walls of the church. A few days later, a friend of our visited the same church, quite by coincidence, on a sunny day, just before sunset. The light streaming through the stained glass windows created the figure of a woman bathed in light in which our friend described as “dancing”. She said that image lasted for quite a few minutes and just how magical that this presence was.

We left Bugarach for a date with the full moon and Easter up on the pog of Montsegur (which ended up being the biggest snowstorm of the year in the Pyrenees, but that is another story). We vowed to return soon to climb the eagle‘s aerie. The next couple of months were full of speculation as we followed the clues in Michel Lamy’s book, watching Master of the World with Vincent Price and a young Charles Bronson in horribly camp costumes, but Vincent’s voice reading Revelations out of the spewing volcano rang more than a few bells. We tried to stumble through Jules Verne’s novel Clovis Dardentor, but neither of us have the French to make it really stick, and to tell the truth, the story isn’t all that engaging. But still the idea of Captain Bugarach intrigued us, “he who was master of the quartering winds“. It was the gate of the four winds from that magical text, the Wilson-Hay-Turner-Langford Necronomicon that generated the most speculation. “To construct the porch through which will manifest those who come from the void, you must erect stones in certain configurations. First you will place the four cardinal stones that will define the direction of the four winds that blow according to the season. Toward the north, place the stone of the great chills that will be the gateway of the winter wind, and you will carve there the emblem of the bull, sign of the earth…” ( see Infernal Grimoires for the full incantation and ritual).

June 2008.

We set out to climb the Pech du Bugarach in the dying light wanting to be up on the crater in the night darkened skies. Bugarach and Montsegur are almost the same height but the climb at Bugarach starts out on much lower plane. Having spent many a sunrise on top of the garrison walls at Montsegur, when the mists stream through the valleys making the different peaks look like the fins on the back of a dragon, many times I have mused that Bugarach would be the dragon’s head and Montsegur the tail, or vice-versa, one a doppelganger of the other. Author Fernand Niel suggests that in 1200 the re-builders of Montsegur would have consciously aligned the fortress to the average position of the sunrise. “The west-east orientation falls on the Pech du Bugarach, apex of the Corbieres with both and altitude (4000 feet) and latitude (42 degrees by 52 degrees) that are quite close to those of Montsegur…To the extent that they closely followed this east-west orientation, they saw the summit of Bugarach standing out at the end of their alignment. Solicited in this way, they would have definitely adopted this reference point offered by nature.” Bugarach falls almost directly east from Montsegur, although trying to get any compass to work properly up on the pog has proven almost impossible.

The path proved quite easy going at first until we hit the forest. The trees were dense and thick and covered the sky above us making the way gloomy and having to cope with brushing through invisible cobwebs strung out between the trees made us more than a little jumpy. The path in the forest lasts for some time and twists and turns. Once we had cleared it the way is straight up. The light was gone by this time and we could make our way by moonlight, but at many turns the landscape would look the same and the path would branch off, we kept wondering if we hadn’t been there before, but just kept choosing the steepest path and taking it. We climbed for hours and the higher that we got the more that we could feel the hum of static electricity in the air. Finally we made it to the edge of the crater and sat down to take in the sights. This was some of the most spectacular and alien country that we had ever seen, like something directly out of a Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith story. We skirted the edge of the crater and saw what looked like someone, or something, standing and watching us from the far side. At first we told ourselves that it was only a tree in the wind, but it seemed to keep moving and some very odd, low noises were coming from inside the mountain. There were no other trees and eventually as we made our way around we lost sight of whatever may have been there.

Sometime around midnight, when we had found a surface flat enough to take a break, we started hearing a strange, electronic, buzzing noise that would go whirring above our heads, like at the beginning of a movie when they test the surround sound. Over and over again they bombarded us and no matter how we tried we never saw just what was making the sound and wondered just what kind of infernal insect would be flying around at such an altitude when there seemed to be no other readily discernable signs of life, and what sort of insect could make such a racket, it sounded more like a swarm. Eventually they backed off and headed god knows where.

The hour grew late and even though we would have like to have spent a couple more days up there exploring the many different sides of the mountain, there was a plane to catch in the morning, so we headed back down. Down proved trickier than up and I’m not convinced that some of the steep paths that we slid and stumbled down weren’t run-off canals from the rain. Both of us were silent as we saw the forest looming ahead, tired and dreading going through those mazes of paths one more time. Somewhere in the middle of it all the torch began to die, quickly we scrambled to change the battery and when the light appeared again, it shined directly on a huge white rock that we had missed on the way up. Etched in the center of this rock was an eight-sided star symbol, about the size of a large hand. The eight-sided star can be attributed to Ishtar, daughter of the moon god Sin. The star (or planet to be correct) of Ishtar is Venus, the light bearer’s star, or Lucifer’s star. The rays of the star of Ishtar represent the complete Venus cycle when it passes through the full evening star / morning star/ evening star pattern fives times during this cycle. I’m not talking about the transit here, which I know forms the shape of a pentagram. Eight years is considered the “great year” or the end of a cycle, where a lamb would be ritually slaughtered, or in some other sources that I have read a human sacrifice. Funnily enough, eight is also the number of infinity, chaos, and the number of the Great Old Ones. I mean, just how many tentacles does Cthulhu supposedly have? The eight-sided star is also the symbol of the galactic cross, and the cyclical cross of Hendaye, or the cross of the Apocalypse featured in Fulcanelli’s Mystery of the Cathedrals ( see Fulcanelli portal for the complete story of the cyclical cross of Hendaye.)

Fatigued as we were, we finally made it back to our hire car. There was a sense of satisfaction for having climbed the beast, but mingled with a feeling of subtle resentment at having to return back to the so-called real world. As we packed up the car, and made ready to leave, suddenly we were assaulted by the weird, electronic buzzing sounds again. Back and forth they invisibly flew over our heads as if to say goodbye, and see you again soon. There was something slightly sinister, and yet at the same time, jovial about them. We stood in amazement, and desperately tried to catch a glimpse of just whatever they might be, they didn’t even show up in the beam of the torch, and that didn’t seem to slow them down any. Soon they were off just as quickly as they had appeared. Perhaps they were some sort of mischievous token of the mystery and just one more reason to return at some near date in the future to explore the terrain further.