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Otherworldly Temptation: The Runenberg

“A young hunter was sitting in the heart of the Mountains, in a thoughtful mood, beside his fowling-floor, while the noise of the waters and the woods was sounding through the solitude”. The Runenberg (1804)
by Ludwig Tieck, translated by Thomas Carlyle

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Can a novella, a fairy tale or a poem better grasp the truth behind visionary experience as a witness account of Ufo-encounters or near-death experiences?

Yes, in a certain way fictional literature or art can be a better tool to understand the realms of the Otherworld rather then mere collections of „supernatural events“ or  „scientific“ research of the paranormal.

Otherworldy experience and the influence of the otherworld seems to happen somewhere in between inner and outer experience of reality. It happens in a realm, which is both „subjective“ or „psychological“ and „objective“. It’s paradox. This is what makes research extremely difficult and why there isn’t an entirely convincing theory for example about Ufo-incidents, which cannot be challenged.

In some fiction however we get the right feeling – particularly in literature we find the most convincing accounts of otherwordly encounters, even the supernatural or the question „is it real or not“ is not the primary concern of the creator or writer.

The best works of fiction, music, films and the arts allow us to see reality through a hyperrealistic filter. We see more than usually meets the eye. We get a deeper understanding of reality since what we think is for real is only part of a larger reality. It’s not like our reality is here and the Otherworld is next door. Our world is part of the Otherworld or the invisible world. Art is one possibility to look through a peeping hole into a larger universe.

In the arts the era of Enlightenment was followed by the epoch of Romanticism with many artists having a strong interest in a sinister and phantastic universe: in the 18th century the old folk tales were rediscovered and became part of the „Kunstmärchen“, fairy tales which weren’t supposed to read to little children before they went to bed. They might not as dark as the Gothic novels but the „dark romance“ looked deep in the „dark forests of the human soul“.

One master-storyteller was Ludwig Tieck who wrote a couple of novellas. One of them is called „The Runenberg“, which has even a Lovecraftian feeling.

We meet Christian, a young hunter who recently left his parents and spends most of his time in nature. In the beginning of the story he appears to be in a sad mood. He is homesick. He does something nearly unconsciously which becomes the inciting incident of the story: “Unthinkingly, he pulled a straggling root from the earth; and on the instant, heard, with affright, a stifled moan underground, which winded downwards in doleful tones, and died plaintively away in the deep distance”. The root is an alraune root or mandragola, which has a certain reputation in connection with the magic. Obviously its somehow the “switch” which opens some gate to the otherworld. Later Christian meets a stranger and tells him his life-story.

The stranger listens attentively and makes him aware of “the Runenberg”:

“while they both wandered on through a dark alley of the wood. They now came out into the open country, and the light of the moon, which was standing with its horns over the summit of the hill, saluted them like a friend. In undistinguishable forms, and many separated masses, which the pale gleam again perplexingly combined, lay the cleft mountain-range before them; in the background a steep hill, on the top of which an antique weathered ruin rose ghastly in the white light.

Our roads part here, said the stranger; I am going down into this hollow; there, by that old mine-shaft, is my dwelling: the metal ores are my neighbours; the mine-streams tell me wonders in the night; thither thou canst not follow me. But look, there stands the Runenberg, with its wild ragged walls; how beautiful and alluring the grim old rock looks down on us! Wert thou never there?

Never, said the hunter. Once I heard my old forester relating strange stories of that hill, which I, like a fool, have forgotten; only I remember that my mind that night was full of dread and unearthly notions. I could like to mount the hill some time; for the colours there are of the fairest, the grass must be very green, the world around one very strange; who knows, too, but one might chance to find some curious relic of the ancient time up there?

You could scarcely fail, replied the stranger; whoever knows how to seek, whoever feels his heart drawn towards it with a right inward longing, will find friends of former ages there, and glorious things, and all that he wishes most”.

Again, here we have the “Werifesteria“ element (wandering longingly through the forest in search of mystery).

This is what Christian is really looking for (maybe for a long time) and the stranger’s words become his “call to adventure”.

As we know some calls to adventure are dangerous, and this one is definitely a dangerous one.

Even in the first place what happens seem to be more an erotic fantasy when Christian climbs the mountains, sees a light in the ruins and then a naked beautiful woman which hands him a tablet of stones. Its clearly an apparition and we do not know exactly if it’s a dream or real: “Suddenly he saw a light, which seemed to move within the ruined edifice. He looked towards the gleam; and found that he could see into an ancient spacious hall, strangely decorated, and glittering in manifold splendour, with multitudes of precious stones and crystals, the hues of which played through each other in mysterious changes, as the light moved to and fro; and this was in the hand of a stately female, who kept walking with a thoughtful aspect up and down the apartment. She seemed of a different race from mortals; so large, so strong was her form, so earnest her look; yet the enraptured huntsman thought he had never seen or fancied such surpassing beauty. He trembled, yet secretly wished she might come near the window and observe him. At last she stopped, set down the light on a crystal table, looked aloft, and sang with a piercing voice”

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It’s hard to oversee the similarity between the description of the woman and the entities described by Referend Kirk in “The Secret Commonwealth”. Some elements are even similar to modern descriptions of encounters with humanoid aliens.

The state of mind of Christian after this encounter bears strong similarities of the experience of UFO-abductees or visionary experiences:

„As it were, a dark night, with curtains of cloud, fell down over his soul: he searched for his former feelings, for that inspiration and unutterable love; he looked at the precious tablet, and the sinking moon was imaged in it faint and bluish.

He had still the tablet firmly grasped in his hands when the morning dawned; and he, exhausted, giddy and half-asleep, fell headlong down the precipice.

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The sun shone bright on the face of the stupefied sleeper; and, awakening, he found himself upon a pleasant hill. He looked round, and saw far behind him, and scarce discernible at the extreme horizon, the ruins of the Runenberg; he searched for his tablet, and could find it nowhere. Astonished and perplexed, he tried to gather his thoughts, and connect together his remembrances; but his memory was as if filled with a waste haze, in which vague irrecognisable shapes were wildly jostling to and fro. His whole previous life lay behind him, as in a far distance; the strangest and the commonest were so mingled, that all his efforts could not separate them. After long struggling with himself, he at last concluded that a dream, or sudden madness, had come over him that night; only he could never understand how he had strayed so far into a strange and remote quarter“.

What follows is an account which nearly spans the whole lifetime of Christian after this event. It would be too much to get into all the details of the story but the bottom line is this:

The hero of this story never gets over this otherworldly experience. He is wasted for his lifetime even he lives a normal life for a long time after the event: He marries, has a reunion with his father, has children, becomes a popular farmer and could be happy.

But he never forgets the other „immortal“ realm and when someday again a stranger enters his life he is drawn again towards the mysterious mountain.

In the end he has left his family and lives as a madman in the woods together with a hag, which seems to be the same person as the beauty in the ruin. And it appears that also the stranger and the woman are the same person.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this sinister tale. It fascinated scientists and one thing, which makes it so extraordinary is its ambiguity: W. J. Lillyman, an American literature professor wrote in 1970 (University Of California, Santa Cruz,

MfdU, Vol. 62, No 3, 1970):

„’Der Runenberg’ is a highly equivocal tale, its central ambiguity being whether the forces which the hero encounters on the mountain are daemonic and destructive or whether they represent the real divine, the ultimate truth of existence. This ambiguity is brought about and maintained by several artistic devices: the neutral narrator, the Biblical parallels and allusions, the indecision of the hero, the opposing realms of the organic and inorganic. There are no events in the tale, nor statements made by one or the other of the characters which would prove objectively the validity of one of their views of reality”

This might be the key why this tale is also interesting in terms of how we feel about (real) otherworldly encounters and visionary experience:

In the strongest tales we feel a truth, which is known to mankind since its very beginning.

But there is also an uncertainty and an ambiguity about the status of reality in any account of visionary experience. It is this paradox and even contradictionary feeling that we think this is somehow real but in the same moment we don’t know what’s really going on, that makes the strongest tales or accounts of the supernatural convincing.

Then we have remarkable parallels with typical elements of real accounts of visionary experience and witness reports of modern Ufo-Abductees:

“The tablet” – Jacques Vallee who collected the most convincing reports of Alien encounters often found stories where some sort of items or even bread were given by the aliens (or elves or demons in more ancient stories) which either vanish or changed from something very valuable into something useless. The gold of the otherworld is obviously worthless in our realm (the tablet and even gold appears however again in the novel but the gold is obviously cursed and the tablet has a sinister power, which is also a typical quality of items which have a connection with the other world).

The hero is wasted: this happens in endless accounts of otherworldly encounters and modern stories – these encounter can be very dangerous. Even the witness isn’t dead after such an encounter his life is changed forever, even there is a difference here in this story that the hero is able to successfully lead a life and is not an outsider (like many Ufo abductees), but he is on the list and somehow the otherworldly forces “connect” again with his mind.

The mysterious woman and the strangers as shape shifters – this is also a similarity with many accounts however there is usually not so much interaction.

A subterranean world, cold crystals and minerals, cold light: before the inhabitants of the Otherworld become airborne as aliens in our modern times there is a long tradition of inhabitants of a subterranean other world and here the connection with the otherworldly forces is made through old mines and shafts. A cold and crystal world is often an essential part of descriptions in visionary encounters. Even we might assume that Christian sees “Maja” – a deceptive realm of the other world – this imaginary is archetypical for otherworldly visions.

Furthermore what makes “The Runenberg” outstanding is its description of haunted places. The storyteller knows very well about the archetypes in the forest dark and as an artist he describes the stations of our heroes’ journey sometimes in a way which gives us a cold shiver, somehow his hero seems to have been in the “Mountains of Madness”.

“Let us go, that the shadows of the mountains may be soon out of view; it always makes me sorrowful in the heart to see these wild steep shapes, these horrid chasms, these torrents gurgling down into their caverns. Let us get upon the good, kind, guileless level ground again”.

The mountain puts not only our hero Christian under its magic spell it has power over his family. It shows us how our lives are directed by hidden influences and strong uncontrolled forces – a reality also my movie project deals with.

In Tieck’s story we sense also the Great Old Ones and their influence on Earth and we learn about the secrets in the mountains and deep in the forest dark.

Imagine what kind of rituals must have taken place on that mountain.

The Wood-Woman Christian sees sings:
What can the Ancient keep
That they come not at my call?
The crystal pillars weep,
From the diamonds on the wall
The trickling tear-drops fall;
And within is heard a moan,
A chiding fitful tone:
In these waves of brightness,
Lovely changeful lightness,
Has the Shape been form’d,
By which the soul is charm ‘d,
And the longing heart is warm’d.
Come, ye Spirits, at my call,
Haste ye to the Golden Hall;
Raise, from your abysses gloomy,
Heads that sparkle; faster
Come, ye Ancient Ones, come to me!
Let your power be master
Of the longing hearts and souls,
Where the flood of passion rolls,
Let your power be master!

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