Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Aftermath of Magic III: The Bitter Plains of Apsynthos

"The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter." - Revelation 8:11

 As we have seen in previous entries in this series, places that have known the touch of Magic are strongly linked with the presence of daemons and other such entities of malign and alien origin. Yet the mechanics of these metaphysical transgressions are such that they must necessarily have some human element in their creation. Humans are neither the most powerful entities in this universe (as few metaphysical models would not attest), nor possessed of the greatest wisdom in matters beyond its realms. Their ascendancy over other entities in the Judaeo-Christian scheme is really only a technicality. Yet in the Hazyardian model, their power is singular. Being at once fallen, yet possessed of divine grace, they are imbued with the capacity for 'Un-Creation', which links them to the outer sphere beyond even God's realm [For more on Hazyard's life and metaphysic, see our previous entry on the subject]. Thus, it is only through humans that the necessary link between the material and immaterial plains is made.

Time Immaterial: a study on the theme of 
Transmutation, photographic manipulation 
by Miriam Archer for Occulted Vectors IX.  
February 1987.
Through this interaction of spheres, it is not only possible for extra-dimensional entities to walk abroad on this earth, but also for mortal beings to traverse the immaterial plains by means of spirit flight. We know the names and deeds of various individuals who have attempted such deeds, and still more who are reputed to have tried as much. Very little is known, however, of their methods. The means of these transmaterialisations are secrets learned from dream visions and ancient sources, sciences imparted by denizens of the void, or passed down from ancient authorities. There are few today who boast of such knowledge, who are neither dead nor discredited. Yet in spite of the many implacable mysteries their history holds, it may yet be possible to re-discover these facts through their earthly remains: the aftermath of magic.

This entry, perhaps the last of our series on places affected by residual magic, deals with a place whose location or legacy are not mired in obscurity like so many others. Instead, its mystery endures, safeguarded by the very real and physical dangers that await any who should dare to venture forth and investigate the scene of the event which saw its name enshrined in history. The site is called Chernobyl, and its eerie, dead landscape saw witness to one of the greatest disasters of the 20th Century. Yet its existence has served to give precious clues that might one day bring about a rebirth of ancient occult wisdom. For better or for worse.

The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in April 1986 represents one of the most singularly monolithic events in the history of the later 20th century. The death toll reached into the thousands, as Soviet engineers sacrificed their very lives to avert a still greater disaster. Since then, an area the size of a small country remains almost uninhabitable to human life, and countless citizens of the affected countries are still suffering the after effects of genetic mutations brought about by airborne radiation it brought. The effects were felt on an international scale, as clouds of irradiated gases were released into the sky, to descend across vast swathes of Europe and Asia. At times, it seemed as if World War III might break out at any moment. The events of 1986 would go on to facilitate the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

Chernobyl's 'Liquidator' personnel - the white marks visible 
are where the film has decayed due to the high levels of
radiation present at the time the picture was taken.
However, another story was to emerge from the dust of the disaster - a network of strange fragmentary evidence, all but lost amidst the political turmoil engulfing the globe. The first link in the curious chain of events emerged in the first days following the explosion when an individual, known to the authorities by the name Fabienne Rozarte, was arrested by East Berlin security whilst attempting to cross the border into the West. A French national by his own account (though French authorities later failed to establish his identity), he was seized at the checkpoint when his car was found to be bearing a false license plate. Though carrying nothing to indicate any specific intent to wrongdoing, the contents of his car nonetheless proved so perplexing to security personnel that he was retained for questioning. From what investigators could ascertain, the contents were primarily electronic equipment. Engineers called in from the electronic wing of the Ministry of State Security were able to identify some of the equipment, yet their assembled contents could give little indication as to their ultimate purpose. Rozarte, for his part, was less than obliging when questioned on the matter.

In addition to a multitude of computer parts, there were found components to the receiver and amplified mechanism used in radio telescopes. There was also a rudimentary Geiger-counter apparently assembled from recycled radio parts. This last item would take on ever more worrying implications as news of the events happening in Ukraine would later emerge.

Other items found in his possession were reams of papers, many appended into a collection of books for apparent reference purposes. These volumes were largely plundered from French and Russian libraries, and dating back as early as the 17th Century. The papers themselves thought to be document caches by international spies, or perhaps informers and political activists working from within the Soviet Union. But as these were translated into German, aside from a few oblique technical manuals pertaining to the electronic equipment, it became clear that their contents were very much the same as that of the books – namely treatises on the occult sciences. Something decidedly odd was at work.

Little sense could be made of this vast collection of materials, nor any sound connection made between the documents and the miscellaneous equipment. Further investigation of the materials was cut short, as two pieces emerged from the collection – travel documents indicating a destination in northern Sweden, and a map of the area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Facility. For certain members of the security staff, this confirmed a number of rumours which had reached them from the east, leaving little doubt as to where Rozarte had begun his bizarre pilgrimage.

The Stasi Museum, formerly the headquarters of the East 
German Ministry of State Security.
In an expertly executed piece of late Cold War collaboration, this information was quietly communicated to Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and West German officials. The Swedes had been the first Western nation to detect the dramatically heightened levels of airborne radiation emanating from the USSR, and were taking every new piece of data with the utmost seriousness. Between the Swedish and East German authorities, it was generally deduced that Rozarte was planning to rendezvous with colleagues in some obscure cult, and there participate in a terrorist plot in pursuit of some perverse occult agenda. The searches carried out were as silent as they were ruthlessly thorough. It was supposed that whomever he was seeking to meet would be in possession of a corresponding collection of parts, which when assembled, would serve some malign and catastrophic purpose.

Meanwhile the suspect languished in a cell in the Ruschestraße building, and remained steadfastly silent when questioned. After a week in confinement, it became apparent that his health was in rapid decline, and he was moved to a secure hospital wing, where he was tended for worsening symptoms of a mysterious respiratory condition. Shortly afterwards, his teeth began to fall out and skin peeled from his face and arms in great rifts. This was quickly identified by doctors on site as the manifestation of latent radiation poisoning, whose effects were now at a drastically advanced stage.

It is unclear how this episode concluded, or if anything was done to follow up these discoveries. What information is known survives from the Stasi records archive, large parts of which were destroyed in 1990 with the fall of the Soviet Union and the political upheavals in East Germany. Nevertheless, certain fragments survive, whose contents bear curious suggestions as to Rozarte's true purpose. Within a month of his arrest, Fabienne Rozarte was dead. His silence was maintained until just before his death, when he would utter his final words. The nurse at his bedside possessed a reasonable grasp of French, but nonetheless struggled to make good account of much of what was said:

The forest, distant […] The head, vast, like a great projection hovering. exposed flesh, skinless, hideous. Light, that expression of madness. The face, in the beam, it was him. His soul was gone.
[…] Failed, incomplete […] Only seconds before we had to use the earthing rod […] as if the ground was boiling from below. Then it was gone. Nothing.

It would not be until eight years later that any further data would emerge which would shed more light on this odd episode. Terrorist infiltration as a cause for the disaster at Chernobyl had long been dismissed as a possibility. These were now, after all, the days of Glasnost and Perestroika, and with the USSR's subsequent climate of openness, the failings within the Chernobyl facility were widely publicised. With word of the irresponsible experiments conducted at the plant on that fateful night, and the gross underestimation of its potential effects that cost so many lives, little room was left for suspicion of terrorism, or an Engineers Plot.

Thomas Stiernhelm, photographed for the nwspaper
 Elev Nyheter, c.1993
In 1994, however, a researcher named Thomas Stiernhelm, from the University of Upsalla in Sweden, began researches which would eventually lead him to the scene of the initial spark which set in motion the events of 1986. At the time, Stiernhelm was studying for a PhD in Sociology, with a principle focus on Neo-Millenarian cult activity. It was during these investigations that he would learn of the Venangalian Society. The group was purported to have existed for over four hundred years, but owed much of its preservation to an ancient family of Heidelberg known as the Von Grunstein's. Its greatest period of activity came when the last scion of that family, a Frederick Von Gruenstein living in the U.S., found an audience for its obscure teachings in the new rising climate of nuclear paranoia and extra-terrestrial panic of the 1950s. Beyond its staunch anti-Soviet message, and evocations of a new Pan-European Renaissance, little is known of its teachings. With the death of Frederick, the society had all but disbanded, with many of its adherents finding a new home within the Church of Scientology, and other nascent New-Age movements.

Yet it would retain one staunch adherent, who would carry the Venangalian torch for another generation, and his name was Henri Rozarte. During the events of 1986, Stiernhelm had been posted as a junior technical assistant for the Swedish Säkerhetspolisen security services. Though details of the incident in Berlin were classified, and known only to top officials within the ministry of justice, the name 'Rozarte' (of unusual Greek descent) was one he was instructed to look out for. Rumour would not take long in reaching him of the true basis of their investigation. In light of what would later emerge, connection between the two would become hard to dismiss.

Prior to joining the society, Henri Rozarte had been an engineer working for the US Army telecommunications department, but came to devote almost all his time and resources to his activities with the society. It is unclear exactly what his relationship to Von Gruenstein was, but it is said that underpinning much of the philosophical beliefs of the society were a strange interweaving of obscure and often fallacious scientific principles. Von Gruenstein himself was a physicist, having completed a degree at Leipzig before attempting a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shortly before the beginning of WWII. Together they were rumoured to have conducted strange technological endeavours in the cellars of Von Gruenstein's New England mansion.

Following the dispersal of the society, Henri Rozarte would inherit much of the Von Greunstien fortune, and devoted the remainder of his life to experiment and reflection. In 1967, he would move to France, and there begin work on a book. In doing so, he would do what no head of the Venangalian Society had done in four hundred years, and make their teachings public.

Heidelberg c. 1620, where Josephus Venangalanus is said to
have lived and composed his various works.
The Venangalian society had its roots in the writings of a little known 17th century occultist known as Josephus Venangalanus. His 1610 treatise The Dreamer Wakes told of his spirit journeys taken through the medium of dream. Dreams, he stated, not merely visions limited to the mind of the sleeper, but comprised an analogue for Man's exploration of the universe through philosophy and the occult sciences. In the text, he describes an entity first written of in the (now lost) works of Lady Iphigenia of Thrace known as the Star of Artemisia. The star, often identified with the Wormwood Star in the Revelation of St John, existed as an entity outside of time and space, whose implications within the cosmic philosophy of Venangalanus would be strange and far reaching.

Rendered in meandering poetical prose, with regular invocations of classical figures and emblemata, it has often been identified as a forerunner to the equally mysterious series of Rosicrucian Manifestos, which would emerge only a decade later by a host of elusive authors. Like the manifestos, Rozarte argued, it presents a many layered message, hinting at both secret mechanisms of cosmological science, and an over-arching moral philosophy. On an abstracted moral level, the star represented a divine presence which served as a guiding light in Man's scientific and spiritual endeavours. Yet on a literal level, it served as a pole star, a light by which sorcerers and travellers beyond the void could guide their Geistfleigen or 'spirit flight'.

The Star of Artemisia, as depicted in 
the Cosmologie of Lucenzo Barbarini
Later parts of the treatise speak of a curious ritual that may be undertaken by an 'assemblage of the faithful and enlightened'. This is given only a very sketchy treatment in the text, with greater weight given to the spirits of the participants than the methods of the ritual. Nonetheless, Rozarte was able to tease out numerous (possible) encoded messages and oblique allusions within the text to sufficiently determine that, even if the whole of its method may not be understood from his text alone, Venangalanus was nonetheless privy to its innermost workings.

Despite the obscurity of its actual function, the objective is plain. If enacted according to the precise specifications of its creators, the outcome of this procedure would create 'a most perfect reflection of the Starre known as Artemisia within our terrestrial sphere.' With this created, it would then be possible for a sorcerer to project themselves into the void absolutely. Where before it had been a purely mental mission, limited by a multitude of factors, this procedure would allow them to travel. taking body and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness together. They would thus venture further than any other, and see greater mysteries with the utmost clarity, and thence return to earth enlightened beyond mortal measure. Venangalanus writes of various individuals whom he purports to have made such journeys, and ranks among them Moses, Zoroaster, and Hermes Trismegisthus. Yet if it were ever his intention to become another such fabled traveller, then he would appear to have failed. He would share his fate with dozens of petty alchemists who had preceded him, accidentally self immolating in the dark confines of his own laboratory.

Beyond the discovery of this little known work, Thomas Stiernhelm was to turn up only one other crucial detail in the life of Henri Rozarte. In 1963, he would marry a woman by the name of Natasha, and together they would have a son, whom they named Fabienne.

Despite the trail running cold in France (Fabienne would produce no written account of any attempts to continue his father's work or utilise his inherited ownership of the Venangalian Society), Stiernhelm's efforts would turn up further details to the curious career of Fabienne Rozarte and his connection to the events of 1986.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, many hitherto secret documents were gradually declassified. Vast swathes of the secret service archives were lost, and many papers would only survive in heavily redacted forms, yet many obscure secrets would nonetheless find their way into the hands of historians and researchers. One such article came into the possession of Stiernhelm, flagged up by a colleague working within Ukraine which contained the term Венангалан: Venangalan. The name appears in a letter by an unnamed author and a redacted recipient. Nonetheless, the subjects it describes could be none other than associates of Rozarte. The passage in question reads as follows:

We spent many days in the hills and forests around Pripyat and the facility itself. We have come across countless small hamlets and lonely dwellers in tiny shacks. This is their home, so many refuse to move, even though we stress the dangers of staying. One group we met seem wholly unlike the others. They did not seem to be local, so their attachment to the place is striking. Their accents were varied, and many were literate and spoke with a cultured articulation that suggested they came from Moscow and Kiev. Not that they spoke much. It was clear they had been there for some time, in tents and primitive shelters. They were greatly irradiated, and many were so far gone they could barely speak or stand. Clearly they had been near to the facility at the time of the explosion as they sported great weals and burns. One, a blind heavyset man called Boris appeared to be a leader, but when questioned, seemed always to defer to 'The Frenchman'. This Frenchman was absent, presumably dead like so many of their group, Boris did not say. Like many, he was clearly deranged by radiation, paired with the terrible conditions in which they lived. They rambled endlessly, speaking of hideous things. Their main preoccupation was what they described as the apparition of a 'great misshapen head' that appeared for only a few moments before being 'earthed'.

That afternoon, they took Captain Nikolai Pronin to the scene where this event purportedly took place. Here, we discovered a structure, long since disused, which had once served as an external site connected to the facility. Inside there was evidence of a fire, and a scattering of damaged electrical equipment. It seemed that at the time of the fire, they had been re-routing power from the grid to power some unknown device, now either destroyed or dismantled.

My colleague, Andreas spoke ruefully of the Ilya XIII footage, which we had viewed with equal confusion the previous week. Forthis remark, he was sternly reprimanded by Pronin.

Despite this tantalising suggestion, neither Stiernhelm nor his Russian correspondent could find any trace of the mysterious Ilya XIII footage. Nonetheless, the letter gave him considerable material for reflection, and he would dwell long on its implications. In 1998, four years after the discovery of the letter, he would make his thoughts public. By now, his audience was not the academic circles of Upsallah (he had long since completed his thesis), but a new readership in a small corner of Usenet devoted to Soviet-era conspiracies. He stated:

I believe there is some veracity to those ideas espoused by Venangalan, Rozarte and Von Gruenstein, and others of that crowd. Yet perhaps it is all simply analagous to the true picture of events, a picture to which they were given an all too literal introduction. The formula remains the same: certain terrestrial phenomena have the effect of mirroring the Artemisia Star (or whatever we may call that thing beyond reality). Whether or not the cult of Venangalan were successful in their endeavour we shall not know. Their achievement was to coincide with a more perfect reflection of the Star's true nature: a nuclear explosion, a fundamental un-making of the material order of our cosmos, the very fabric of reality, (for that is what I believe this star to be). Rozart and his ilk would open the gap, or perhaps the gap was due to open at that allotted place and time (after all, it can't be called Chernobyl for nothing!). But whatever it was they bid return was drawn to a much brighter light than their own.

This would be the last Stiernhelm would speak on the subject. His apparent dejection is clear from the rambling tone of this and other entries. Yet his words were to strike a chord with a poster, who dubbed themselves Eldrytch1978. A former AV technician at an archive in Moscow, he descibed a curious piece of video tape turned up some years earlier. Entitled Ilya XIII, it appears to be taken from a camera mounted on an MF-3, a German built robot used by the “Liquidator” crews clearing radioactive materials from areas of the site too dangerous for humans to enter. This and many such robots were never retrieved, as they would gradually break down after time, their internal components irreparably corroded by the extreme quantities of radiation to which they were exposed.

The Sarcophagus - a concrete structure raised in the wake
of the explosion to contain the burning reactor core 
for the decades following the event.
The footage is unclear, plagued by interference, as well as white spots (characteristic of all footage from Chernobyl) where the videotape itself had decayed from airborne radiation. With no accompanying audio track, it shows the robot making its way into the heart of the facility, carrying a large quantity of corrupted material to an area near the reactor core. This area would, in time, be entombed in a great concrete shell, erected to contain the blaze. Yet the last 43 seconds of footage show something wholly unexpected. The camera slowly pans upwards as the robot seemingly loses balance and appears to sink into the floor. Given the structural damage of the plant, this is perhaps not unexpected. What follows is a period of blackness, and then a sudden blaze of strange lights, like illuminated clouds, from which suggestions of more concrete shapes resembling bulbous biological structures momentarily loom into view before passing into darkness. Finally the footage seems to show a blinding light just before descending into static as the feed is severed.

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