Episode One: Opening the Gate
For many our greatest fear is that we are ultimately alone with no explanation as to why we are here. And I don’t just mean in the metaphorical sense, I mean literally that the human race might exist alone as the sole sentient being in the entire universe.
Perhaps in a way to counter this fear we tell stories so that at the least we might share our experience of the world and in some way feel less alone. And sometimes these stories might involve beings and entities from other realms or even from a time before time.
There is certainly a strange comfort in contemplating things beyond our everyday practical experiences. The thought that there are things we don’t yet know or understand, things unseen that might speak of something more. But I often think what if these weren’t just stories, what if we weren’t in fact alone, might that be altogether more terrifying?
And what if all we needed to access these unseen worlds was some kind of gateway. What price might we pay for opening it?
In discussing the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, the author Michel Houellebecq was struck by his utter materialism. You see for Lovecraft, the ultimate horror is not to be found in the psyche, his monsters aren’t manifestations of a suppressed unconscious or malicious supernatural energies. His monsters were independently real. Made of flesh and blood. That we can’t see them doesn’t render them figments of the imagination, it merely suggests they are occupants of another dimension that we are not sufficiently evolved to see.
Indeed, when Lovecraft writes that on completing the repugnant Necronomicon, it’s ill-fated author Abdul-Al-Hazred, was shortly after devoured in broad daylight in a market square in Damascus by invisible monsters.
And if this all sounds a little far fetched, it’s worth bearing in mind the many worlds theory – a leading theory of quantum mechanics widely accepted by some of the finest minds humanity has ever produced. Although the theory has many interpretations it allows for the implication that we are at any one time surrounded by an infinite amount of other dimensions, all stacked up and existing right on top of each other.
It is a theory adopted by some UFOlogists to explain the sighting of UFO’s and Aliens. In answer to the question what possible technology could exist for them to travel across space, defying all concepts of time and space expansion, they might merely reply, perhaps they don’t come from outer space at all.
Interestingly the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley claimed to have made contact with an unearthly being after completing a sacred ritual known as the Amalantrah Working. With it, Crowley claimed to have invoked the spirit of an entity known as Lam. Crowley made a drawing of the entity which, with its large eyes and elongated forehead bears a striking resemblance to the familiar grey Alien of lore. Only this drawing was made in 1918 – a good 30 years before such images entered the public consciousness.
The much-loved thinker and psychonaut Terence McKenna frequently discussed his experiences of taking the drug Dimethyltryptamine also known as DMT. The hallucinogenic is believed to stimulate the pineal gland, a gland at the base of the brain that is considered responsible for near death experiences. It is also thought by some to be the location of the third eye – a sort of biological gateway into other dimensions, or states of consciousness.
On the experience of taking the drug McKenna describes the sensation of being propelled through an unknowable space into a place beyond time only to be greeted by strange looking entities who had been waiting for him all along. He called these beings Clockwork Elves. It is an experience that has been shared by many users of the drug.
Yet for all these different examples, might these entities in fact be the same thing? Perhaps over the years we have just labeled them in different ways sometimes angels, sometimes demons, sprites and aliens and maybe even fairies...
The island of Iona lies just off the Western coast of Scotland. Measuring barely three and a half miles long it is known for its white sandy beaches, and its wild and rugged beauty. It is also known as the final resting place of many ancient Kings of Scotland including Shakespeare’s own Macbeth.
Like many of the Scottish islands, it has a rich history of folklore, paganism and even witchcraft. An island where the past seems forever to lurk in the shadows, it has often been described as a "thin place". A place where Heaven and Earth are thought to be separated by only the finest of veils.
Back in the autumn of 1929, a beautiful young occultist named Netta Fornario told her friends in London that she was planning a trip to the island. Drawn by Iona’s mystical past - she told them that she planned to make contact with the island’s ancient spirits. Netta made it to the island, what exactly she found there we will never know. For less than two months after her arrival, Netta would be found dead, in the most mysterious of circumstances. It is a mystery that remains to this day unexplained.
Norah Emily Fornario, known as Netta to her friends, was born in Cairo in 1896. After the premature death of her mother, she was abandoned by her father and sent to live with her grandfather in London. Her childhood was by all accounts an unhappy one, characterised by a restlessness of spirit and a seemingly unrequited desire to belong.
In 1922, having tried to settle in Italy, Netta returned to the UK, the town of Bishop Stortford in Hertfordshire. The town had recently developed a reputation as somewhat of an occultist hang out being as it was the location of The Grange – an institute run by Irish occultist and prominent Freemason, Theodore Moriarty.
At some point Netta was herself initiated into a secretive magical order known as the Alpha et Omega Temple - a branch of the Order of the Golden Dawn that had remained loyal to its original founder Samuel Mathers.
Members of the Golden Dawn were devoted to the study of Hermetic magic and other esoteric traditions, and counted among them the likes of the poet W. B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley. Followers believed that beyond our world of the senses lay other worlds and entities that we might contact if only we had the requisite knowledge and training. And that in turn with their knowledge, they would gain a better understanding and control of our own world.
By 1929 Netta had moved again, relocating to Richmond in London. There is a photo of her taken around this time showing a striking young woman in a long hand made silken tunic. Her hair is dark and wild and in her eyes one might discern a certain sense of knowing, or perhaps the awareness of something beyond our everyday understanding of things. A few months after this photo was taken, Netta made her journey to the island.
Upon arrival to Iona, Netta took up lodgings with a woman named Mrs. MacRae in the small village of Traymore. Mrs. MacRae, a life long resident of the island, was instantly smitten with her new lodger. Over the coming weeks, Netta would fascinate her host with her knowledge of the occult and her 'mystical practices.' And in return Mrs. MacRae would delight Netta with her tales of mysterious happenings and Hebridean folklore.
By day Netta would roam the beaches and moorlands, then at the coming of night, she would attempt to make contact with the 'spirits' of the island, falling into lengthy trances in order to do so. Netta had confided in Mrs. MacRae that shortly before her visit she had fallen into such a trance that had lasted over a week. She gave express instruction that should she again enter any such state, she should be left alone and that no doctor should be called for. Before long strange things began to occur.
Netta began to speak of visions, things she had seen in the heavens, and of messages received from the spirit world. Her host and fellow lodgers became increasingly concerned for her wellbeing. Suddenly that faraway look in her eyes that had been at first so charming now seemed instead to suggest a sort of madness or maybe even something far worse.
She would often go missing. One time she spent an entire night on the moor after getting lost. Another time, Mrs. MacRae noticed that Netta’s jewellery that had once been silver had somehow turned black over night. Whatever was happening it seemed that Netta was getting closer to something.
On the morning of Sunday 17th November 1929 Mrs. MacRae found Netta unusually restless and agitated. She began packing up all her belongings while muttering to herself that certain people were disturbing her telepathically. She spoke of a mysterious rudderless boat that sailed across the sky and messages she had received from another world.
She had decided to return to London without delay. Unfortunately no boats operated on the island that day and Netta was forced to change her plans. After finally calming she decided to stay after all and promptly retired to bed. The next morning, Netta was nowhere to be seen.
As the hours wore on, and she did not return, the people of the town became alarmed for her safety. They sent out a search party to scour the bays and inlets for any sign of the young woman. They searched the rocks and moorlands, becoming increasingly desperate as the short November day turned steadily to night. After a fruitless search they returned to their beds. The following day they renewed the search – but again they found nothing.
About two and a half miles away from Mrs. MacRae’s cottage, by the side of Loch Staonaig, were the remains of an ancient village in which Netta had expressed interest in visiting. As dawn approached, two local men were searching the surrounds of the ruins when they made a shocking discovery. There lying sprawled across the top of a small mound, naked except for a large black cloak, was the dead body of Netta Fornario. A blackened silver cross hung about her neck and by her hand lay a small silver dagger.
Underneath her body a large cross shape had been carved into the turf, presumably with the same dagger. Her body was covered in unaccountable scratch marks. The soles of her feet were torn and had bled a great deal while her heels remained unscathed. But perhaps strangest of all was the location of her body. Netta had been found lying on top of what is often known as a fairy mound. The Fairy mound or fort is thought to be imbued with Druidic magic and is considered to be a gateway between the realms of magic and our own human world.
The precise cause of her death proved inconclusive, though was later recorded as by death 'exposure to the elements.’ She was 33 years of age.
Needless to say, there has been much speculation about the nature of her death. Had she made her way to this remote spot, in response to some mysterious urge? Had she attempted some sort of magical ritual and merely underestimated the chill of the night? Or was it something else entirely? Had Netta in fact achieved what she had set out to do and opened a door to another world, a world that perhaps she had not been entirely ready to discover?
It has been suggested that the precise reason Netta had travelled to Iona was to perform a ritual to bring peace to a fairy woman who had long ago been burned alive by monks. The monks had been followers of St. Columba who established a monastery on the island in 563AD. It was Columba’s intention to rid the Kingdom of Scotland of its Pagan past in order to replace it with the new face of Christianity.
Further reports from the night of Netta’s death speak of strange blue lights coming from the location of her body and cloaked man seen close to the area. A number of letters of strange character were also believed to have been taken by the police but were never later released.
Had Netta somehow made contact with the fairy woman? Had she somehow burst through into her world but found herself unable to return to our earthly realm?
Perhaps a clue can be found in the writing’s of Fiona Macleod. Macleod was the pseudonym of William Sharp – a Scottish Poet and fellow occultist whom Netta greatly admired. In an article titled Iona, Sharp relates a story from when he lived on the island as a child. He had travelled to his friend Elsie’s house only to be met by her distraught mother. She told him that Elsie had somehow made contact with a Monk from the 7th Century. She believed the monk had been hostile to Elsie. Afraid of what he might do, Elsie was now hiding on the only part of the island that she felt safe – her mother went on:
'The monks are still strong here... except by Staonaig where there's a path that no monk can go. There, in the old days, they burned a woman. But she was not a woman, She was one of the Sorrows of the Sheen, a fairy. It's ill to any that brings harm to ‘them’, That's why the monks are not strong over by Staonaig way.'
Was it solely a coincidence this is where Netta’s body was found?
Netta’s friend and fellow occultist Dion Fortune believed Netta to have had a deep knowledge of Green Ray elementals – an elemental is also known as a fairy, and the Green Ray supposedly the wavelength of energy in which their world operates. Fortune also believed that Netta had a strong pineal sensitivity. The supposed seat of the third eye - our own gateway into other dimensions.
This being same gland so stimulated by DMT as to reveal Clockwork Elves to Terence McKenna. Perhaps it was also this gland that Crowley affected when conducting the Amalantrah Working that revealed to him the strange entity he called Lam? In truth we will never know.
The Friday after Netta was discovered, the islanders laid her body to rest. They placed on top, a rough tombstone etched with the letters M.E.F, for Marie Emily Fornario.
Finally, I want to just draw attention to an essay written by Netta that you can actually find on line. The essay is an attempt by Netta to make clear to people the true meaning of an opera written by her favourite writer Fiona MacLeod. The opera, called The Immortal Hour tells the story of an immortal race of fairies who are feared by humans for the interference they can bring to mortal lives. Reading the essay I was struck by one part in particular, concerning the finale of the opera.
Dalua - an agent of unseen and fateful powers, whose touch brings madness and death to mortals, has stolen the wife of the hero King Eochaid. In a desperate bid to be reunited with his Queen, Eochaid begs of Dalua, ‘My dreams, my dreams, give me my dreams.’
To which Delua replies, ‘There is no dream save this, the dream of death.’
At this point Dalua touches Eochaid and he is instantly removed from this world. As Netta notes, ‘It is the moment implying that death itself is only a dream and that the ultimate reality for Eochaid, lies in the other world, where all life is one Life.’
Had Netta too come to this same realization, that death was merely just a dream?
© Richard MacLean Smith
1. Greene, B. (2004), The Fabric of the Cosmos, USA: Alfred A Knopf
2. Houellebecq, M. (2006), H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, UK: Orion
3. Armstrong, L. (2012), Magical Stories: Lam, USA: Vice, http://www.vice.com/read/magickal-stories-lam
4. Celtic Fire. (2013), A Terrible Case of Healing – the Death of Netta Fornario, View From The Big Hills, http://viewfromthebighills.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/a-terrible-case-of-healing-death-of.html
5. Netta Fornario: Iona’s Occult Mystery, Mysterious Britain, http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/occult/netta-fornario-ionas-occult-mystery.html
6. Fornario, N. The Immortal Hour, Servants of the Light, http://www.servantsofthelight.org/knowledge/the-immortal-hour/
7. Terence McKenna discussing Clockwork Elves: (very poor quality audio)