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