Monday, March 31, 2008

Death by Rye Bread

At first glance, the title of this entry might be mistaken for a murder mystery, but indeed, large numbers of people in history were plagued with a host of strange symptoms and died from eating rye bread.

Especially during the Middle Ages, whole populations of towns and regions began manifesting strange symptoms, such as nausea, pain in the limbs, seizures, violent retching, and hallucinations. Their bodies would become grossly deformed. Some would jerk, hop, leap and scream in a wild dance, which would not stop until they collapsed unconscious from exhaustion. Fingers, toes, hands and feet felt as though they were burning with fire, then turned black, became mummified and broke off at the joints.

At the heart of these tragedies was a parasitic fungus which commonly infests rye grain but can also be found in other grains and fodder grasses. The name of it is Claviceps purpurea or ergot (pronounced AIR-got). Ergot is a seed-like fungus which grows within the flower of a host plant. The host is affected by reduced yield and stunted growth, but the real problem arises when ergot infested grain is ingested as food. The deadly syndrome called "ergotism" can devastate and kill humans and animals.

Of course, people in early history had little knowledge of fungi. They knew these symptoms as ignis sacer, "holy fire;" ignis infernalis, "hell's fire;" or "St. Anthony's fire."

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia and MedicineNet, Anthony lived in Egypt around the middle of the third century. He began his ascetic life at age 20 after inheriting his parents property which he gave away in order to devote himself to religious exercises. Anthony completely withdrew from the world and is regarded as the father of Christian Monasticism and the technical religious life in every aspect. His hermetic style became the norm in Northern Egypt. During one period of 20 years, he shut himself up in an old fort and never saw another person. His food was thrown over the wall.

Anthony's life was one long struggle. He had recurrent visions of the devil in the form of wild beasts, women, and soldiers who sometimes beat the saint and left him near death. Those who witnessed these attacks upon him were convinced of their reality. Anthony met every vision with steadfast prayer and penitential acts and these were noteworthy enough to be included as subjects in literature and art. St. Anthony is considered to be the patron saint of lost causes. When all others have failed, he is the one people pray to.

Monks founded the Order of Hospitallers of St. Anthony near Grenoble, France, and it became a center for persons suffering from the disease of ergotism.

In "Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?," Linnda R. Caporael outlines the case against ergot as the catalyst for the Salem Witch trials. The eight girls who were thought to be victims of witchcraft exhibited the same symptoms as those suffering from ergotism.

One of the most famous derivatives of ergot is lysergic acid or LSD. Two Swiss researchers discovered its effects when one accidentally ingested a small quantity and became the first person to go on an "acid trip."

On the plus side, however, Ergot does have some medical benefits. Although it can cause abortions, in small quantities it aids in childbirth. Ergot derivatives are also used to cure migraine headaches.

These days, we know much about this fungus and how to prevent exposure to it. The last outbreak of the disease occurred in 1951 in Pont-St. Esprit, a small town in France. St. Anthony's Fire has finally been extinguished.

For further information, read Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for October, 1999.

Friday, March 28, 2008

This Place is Terrible

One does not normally pour a fortune into building at a location described as "terrible." But one man did, and he inscribed "this place is terrible" on the gate of his church. His name was Fr. Berenger Sauniere. The place is the village of Rennes le Chateau in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in France.

This bizarre story begins with Abbe Antoine Bigou who was the priest in the village a century before Fr. Sauniere arrived in 1885. Abbe Bigou was apparently the one who came into possession of two parchments and hid them in a hollow Visigoth pillar under the altar in the church in Rennes le Chateau. Fr. Sauniere found these parchments during restoration of the church in 1891. Their origins and what is written on them have been the subject of mystery and intrigue ever since, including suspicious deaths of those in possession of them.

Were the parchments merely Latin texts of the Gospels or a code? Translated, one parchment reads: "Shepherdess no temptation that Poussin Tenniers hold the key peace 681 by the cross and this horse of God I complete this daemon of the guardian at noon blue apples."

The other parchment says: "To Dagobert II King and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead."

Seeking the meaning of these words, Fr. Sauniere went to the mayor of Rennes Le Chateau and found that he could not decipher the meaning either. The mayor sent him to the Bishop at Carcassone who was just as puzzled. He sent Sauniere on to Paris where he came into contact with a man named Emile Hoffet. Hoffet was a priest in training as well as an expert in cryptography. While in Paris, Sauniere reportedly had an affair with the opera singer, Emma Calve. Calve and Hoffet circulated in the company of various occult organizations in Paris at that time.

Did Hoffet and Sauniere decipher the parchments? No one knows for sure. Yet upon Sauniere's return to Rennes le Chateau, he found a headstone in the churchyard beside the church that had been erected by Abbe Bigou. The cryptic message on the stone related to the writing on the parchments. Sauniere defaced the stone, removing this public display of the writing. Many have speculated that this action and his strange behavior from that time forward indicated that he did, in fact, discover something for Sauniere suddenly became a very wealthy man. Some believe he may have found treasure from the Merovingians or the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. Others think he may gotten his wealth through the secrets of alchemy or might even have been extorting money from his parishioners through blackmail. The source of his wealth has never been brought to light.

Sauniere began spending large sums of money in the village, and his projects included redesigning the church into a puzzling layout and furnishing it with items having meanings known only to him. For example, his plaques depicting the Stations of the Cross are in backward order with one picture of a child wrapped in Scottish plaid. Pontius Pilate wears a veil. His statues are not according to Catholic tradition either. Joseph and Mary are each holding a Christ child. St. Anthony holds a book. St. Germaine holds roses in her apron, and Magdalene holds a vase. All give the impression that they depict a hidden message not yet deciphered. A statue of a demon called Asmodeus who represents the vice of impurity and is the guardian of hidden treasure stands near the door. Sauniere also built a library and study called the Tour Magdala which hangs over a cliff.

When anyone speaks of Rennes le Chateau, to be sure, the Priory of Zion and the Holy Grail are soon to be mentioned. Some believe there is a link to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. The church of Rennes le Chateau is included with a number of other Cathedrals in that area of France which when connected by straight lines on a map, form a pentagram.

Is the location of Rennes le Chateau really terrible? Is it, as some say, that the Rennes Valley has a message encoded there from a lost race of long ago and may be an opening to Hollow Earth where some of them still dwell? Or as others believe, could it mark the place of a trans-dimensional doorway to another reality?

Perhaps Sauniere's message on the gate of his church was referring to Genesis 28:16-17 where it reads: "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." And he was afraid and said, "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Fr. Sauniere died at the age of 65 of a sudden stroke on January 17, St. Anthony's Day, but a priest from a neighboring parish refused to give him absolution and communion on his deathbed upon hearing his confession. And what of his secret? Enter the housekeeper into the story who is said to have been Sauniere's only confidant. To be sure, a mystery is alive and well at Rennes le Chateau.

Unfortunately, I could only scratch the surface of the mystery in this short article. Be sure and visit the links in my source list below to get the full story.

Rennes le Chateau, the Mystery
Mysteries of Rennes le Chateau
St. Francis of Rome, March 9
Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau
Nicolas Poussin

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strange Disappearances: Here One Minute, Gone the Next

I recall an episode of The Twilight Zone where a little girl tumbles out of bed and falls through a portal into another dimension that had opened up in the wall of her bedroom. Her rescuer reached through and pulled her back. Of course, that is fiction. Or is it? Legend is full of stories just like this where people are here one minute and gone the next, never to be seen or heard of again.

In recent history, science has provided enough evidence of space holes and other dimensions that this Twilight Zone scenario is much more believable. We pretty well accept that a worm hole can lead to either another time or place in the galaxy. Why is it, though, that mankind has suspected this was true even before anyone knew about the science behind it? Probably because history is laced with strange disappearances.

Keep in mind that the following information may or may not be authenticated and all fall into the category of Legend.

Take the case of the Eskimo Village, for example, where the entire population of over 2000 vanished in 1930. A tracker who had been camping in the wilderness returned home to find everyone was gone. The village was still there as if the people could have returned at any moment. Cooking pots simmered on the stoves and rifles and kayaks remained where they always were. Would the whole community have walked away? And why? But there were no tracks leading away from the village and none of the missing tribe could be located anywhere. Only two mysterious clues remained. All the sled dogs were found buried deep in a snow drift in the area. They had all starved to death. Also the graves of the tribe's ancestors had been opened (which would have been extremely difficult with the ground frozen in ice) and the bodies had been removed.

In Bennington, Vermont, during the period of 1920 and 1950, several unexplained disappearances took place. A Mr. Tetford, who lived in the Soldier's Home in Bennington, disappeared from inside a bus where he was sitting with 14 other passengers. They all had seen him sleeping in his seat, but when the bus arrived, Mr. Tetford was nowhere to be found. All his belongings remained as they were, including his bus timetable lying open on the adjoining seat.

Other Bennington disappearances included an 18-year-old student who vanished off a trail in Glastenbury Mountain and an 8-year-old who went missing suddenly off his parent's farm. Neither were ever found.

Dozens of disappearances like these around Bennington caused the area to become known as the Bennington Triangle. Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries, believed this Glastenbury wilderness to be a haunt of evil spirits, and they only used it for a burial ground. According to their legend, this spot was a place where all four winds met and an enchanted stone would swallow anything that passed by. But the strange disappearances in this so-called Bennington Triangle have ceased since the last one in 1950.

One of the most well-known disappearances in history is the case of David Lang. On September 23, 1880, David was walking in a field near his home in Sumner County, Tennessee. He was in full view of his wife and two children. His brother-in-law and a local attorney were approaching nearby in a horse-drawn buggy. Suddenly, David Lang vanished before their very eyes. It was said that a circle marked the spot where he vanished. Nothing would ever grow there and animals and insects avoided going into it. It was also reported that his children claimed to hear their father's voice once when they ventured into the center of the circle.

Another disappearance on the order of David Lang's was reported in "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" written by Ambrose Bierce in 1909. This disappearance occurred in July, 1854, involving Orion Williamson who vanished, like David, while walking across a field.

Quite the reverse of disappearing from our realm is the story of the Green Children of Woolpit who are said to have appeared from somewhere else. Sometime between 1135 A.D. and 1154 A.D., two children were found near a pit at Woolpit, England. Huddled together, the boy and girl were terrified and screamed in an unknown language. Their clothing was made of an unknown material and the children's skin was green. They were taken to the home of Richard de Calne where by trial and error, it was found the only thing they would eat were fresh bean pods which they ate exclusively for quite sometime. However, the boy died soon after they were found. The girl thrived and lost the green hue in her skin when she started eating the local food. She learned English and finally was able to say where she and the boy had come from. She described a land with no sun where the people were all green and lived in perpetual twilight. The two children had heard bells, then found themselves in the pit and emerged into the light of our world. The girl lived long and eventually married, but was never able to explain her origins.

Two accounts of the Green Children of Woolpit were written around 1200 A.D., nearly 60 years after the time it is said to have happened. The names of these writings are 'Historia Rerum Anglicarum' by William of Newburgh, and 'Chronicon Aglicanum' by Ralph of Coggeshall Abbey. These were not eyewitness accounts of the green children but merely included in these collections of stories the authors had heard.

Of course, I cannot fail to mention the most notorious place of disappearances and that is the Bermuda Triangle, an area of 750,000 square miles in a triangle shape from Florida to Bermuda to Puerto Rico and back to Florida. It is said that the first report of a strange occurrence in that place was recorded by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He saw a ball of fire fall into the sea, then his compass did not work properly. Over 50 ships and 20 airplanes have been known to disappear there.

One reference found in the Bible, Acts 8:39-40, could fall into the category of a strange disappearance. Philip may have disappeared from the sight of the eunuch he had just baptized. Then he reappeared at the city of Azotus.

Strange disappearances and appearances are found throughout historical records. Are they based in fact or fiction? Urban legend? Hard to say, but at least the freight train that may be running through your living room in another dimension does not keep you awake.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not Quite Human

Ancient manuscripts of history present us with an obscure and mysterious race of giants, the origins of which may have serious ramifications for the future of humankind. The Bible, the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Genesis Apocryphon all have similar texts on this subject.

In the Bible, these ones are called "nephilim." Other proper names were Rephaim (meaning, "spirits"), Emim (meaning, "proud deserters"), Anakim (a race of hybrids), Zamzummim (meaning, "evil plotters') and Zuzim (meaning, "roaming things"). The oldest belief about their origins is that fallen angels coupled with human women and produced these hybrids.

Genesis 6:1-2 and 4 reads: 1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 that the Sons of God saw the Daughters of Men that they were fair: and they took them wives of all which they chose. 4 There were Giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men; and they bare children to them, the same became mighty-men which were of old, men of renown."

The word "giants" here is written in the Hebrew as Ha-Napiliym and comes from the word "nephiyl" or "nephil," meaning, "to fall."

Theories about the fallen ones are divided into three main categories:

* The Sons of God were fallen angels who bred with human women.
* The Sons of God referred to the sons of Seth who cohabited with the daughters of Cain.
* The Sons of God were the sons of pre-flood rulers or magistrates.

In Chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Enoch, we find:

Chapter 6 - 1 And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto 2 them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men 3 and beget us children.' And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: 'I fear ye will not 4 indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.' And they all answered him and said: 'Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations 5 not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.' Then sware they all together and bound themselves 6 by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn 7 and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, 8 Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.

Chapter 7 - 1 And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms 2 and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they 3 became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed 4 all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against 5 them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and 6 fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.

A bread crumb trail of the belief that those of other dimensions or angels copulated with the human race runs throughout human history. For example, Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies also contain stories of offspring with superhuman abilities and gigantic proportions.

Is it physically possible that fallen angels could come to earth and have children with human women? Scripture speaks of angels having the ability to take human form and even eat. Some people believe that even as far back as the Garden of Eden there might have been more happening than just eating an apple between Eve and the serpent, the result of which resulted in a Reptilian line through Cain.

Others believe that the reason God sent the flood was to destroy not only the bloodlines of these ones but also animals that had been corrupted. The Book of Jasher speaks of the fallen ones mixing animals of one species with another and corrupting all flesh, not only humanity. One wonders where the idea of unicorns and centaurs (half man, half horse) came from. Did fallen angels have anything to do with these?

The Book of Enoch says that fallen angels brought mankind various types of knowledge that were not known up until that time. These included the making of swords and knives, shields and breastplates; the knowledge of metals and the working of them; making bracelets and ornaments and applying makeup; costly stones and coloring tinctures; enchantments and root cuttings; astrology, the constellations and clouds; the signs of the earth, sun and moon.

These ideas seem quite "science fiction" to us, but were accepted as fact by the ancients, including such ones as Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.

This brings an important question to light. If it were possible that angels could leave their established places and come into this world and interbreed with women, might it happen again? After all, angels do not die. If they did such a thing in history, it seems reasonable that the ability is there to do it again.

The Bible indicates that some of the fallen ones are restrained at the present time. In the Bible's Book of Jude, it reads:

(Verse 6) And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

Could history be repeating itself in UFO abductions? Some believe it is, especially since many who report experiencing an abduction have memories of alien medical tests of a sexual nature and even egg and sperm harvesting.

Indeed, some even say that there is a secret underground alien installation at Dulce, New Mexico, where all kinds of genetic testing are taking place on humans and animals. Read this theory at On the other side of the controversy, this site, The Dulce Report, refutes the existence of such an installation.

Many other sites hold to the theory that the Nephilim will return and numerous videos are posted at sites such as YouTube and Google which speculate about it.

What do you think? Is it possible that there were those on earth that were not quite human? If so, could we still have them with us? Could it happen again?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chillingham Castle is not all chill

I held my hand in front of my face in the darkness and marveled that I could not see one detail, not so much as any movement or shadow. My trusty flashlight stood at the ready on the table by the bed in case I had to get up. There I lay in pitch blackness that would normally not be anything out of the ordinary, but I happened to be in a bed in the Lookout apartment at the very top of the northwest tower of Chillingham Castle.

Dubbed the "most haunted castle in England," sightings of various supernatural phenomenon have been reported there. I did not know quite what to expect. Three friends and I had arrived late on this cold night of December, 2002, so late in fact that the main gate was closed. One of my friends banged on the window of the caretaker's house by the gate for several minutes before anyone responded. We received directions on how to go into the grounds via a back road.

The groundskeeper met us at the door and escorted us inside. The steep, circular, rough stone stairway went up and up a long way before we got to our rooms. The groundskeeper helped to get our suitcases up there, otherwise we would have had to take only necessary items in a smaller bag and leave the rest in the car.

Space heaters soon had each of our rooms and the bathroom feeling cozy. The beds were comfortable with lots of warm covers. We were the only visitors staying in the castle that night.

The groundskeeper told us that we could explore some of it, but other areas were off limits because they were protected by alarms. So at 9:00 p.m., we set out to see the open areas which included the courtyard, torture chamber, and dungeon. I must say the atmosphere in the torture chamber was most oppressive, especially toward one end of the building. The Iron Maiden, rack and other instruments of torture are a collection from all over England and brought to Chillingham for display.

The skeleton visible through a grate in the floor of the dungeon may have been left there for effect, but I wish they would give it a proper burial.

I maintain, however, that Chillingham Castle is not all chill. This castle is too lovely to be known only for ghosts, torture and past misery. Information Britain says "situated spectacularly, the castle is the finest example of fortified domestic architecture in the country." The castle grounds include an Elizabethan topiary garden, a private lake, lawns and woodland. Recent restoration has provided seven apartments where people can vacation. Chillingham also hosts weddings!

Owned by the Grey family for over 700 years, the castle is also famous for its wild white cattle, the only such cattle in England. The origin of these cattle remains a mystery. They roam in Chillingham Park in an area of about 300 acres. Their genetic makeup has been found to be unique among western European cattle. A small reserve herd of these animals was started in Scotland after the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 1967. The Chillingham Wild Cattle Association inherited the ownership of the cattle in 1971 upon the death of Lord Tankerville, then owner of Chillingham.

Without a doubt, Chillingham has quite a history. Part of the castle is built over a 7th century abbey, and it has changed little since the 14th century. This has been the site of bloody feuds as well as a place visited by royals.

Since 1536, the castle has undergone reconstruction of one sort or another. In 1956, however, the Historic Buildings Council declared it to be past the stage in which it could be restored. By the time it was sold to Sir Humphrey Wakefield in 1982, the castle was in a sad state. A massive emergency reconstruction program was launched, and Sir Wakefield is responsible for the magnificent building that is open to the public today.

When morning came during our visit, we took the tour of the main parts of the castle some of which house a mini-museum. The rooms are spectacular examples of what we would expect a castle to be. Then we watched deer graze on the lawn from the window of our apartment and on the way out, listened to the groundskeeper explain how he cut the beautiful hedge designs in the garden. In case you are wondering, he measures it by his hip.

Chillingham Castle is well worth seeing. I slept like a log. Don't be put off by its reputation. It is not all chill.

Chillingham Castle is open May through September and all year by arrangement. To find the castle from Wooler on the B6348 or from Alnwick on the B6346, the castle road is located between the A697 and the A1, a few miles southeast of Wooler in Northumberland.

The official website: Chillingham Castle.