The Mysterious Case Of Netta Fornario

  In November of 1929, the naked body of a young woman was discovered on the windswept Scottish isle of Iona. She lay on a cross roughly carved on the ground. In one hand she clutched a knife and another lay nearby. There were few signs of injury to her body. Strangely, the heavy silver crucifix the woman wore had turned black.That woman was Netta Fornario. Her death remains a mystery to this day.  Was she murdered by people offended by her unconventional views? Was her death supernatural or merely the inevitable conclusion of untreated diagnoses.

  Her name was Nora Emily Fornario, although friends called her Netta or Mac. The 33-year-old occultist, who had come over from England some three months prior, with a lifelong fascination with magic. Born in Egypt in 1897 to an Italian father and an English mother, she'd spent her adolescence in Italy before moving to London. The British capital was then experiencing a blossoming of interest in esotericism, occult orders had sprung up all over the area, attracting such high-ranking intelligent agents such as William Butler Yeats and the infamous Aleister Crowley. Netta became a member of the Alpha et Omega offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and an officer in a Co-Masonry lodge in West London (a Freemason lodge that admitted both men and women). Members of many of these orders dedicated themselves to learning ancient magical rites, going into meditative trances, summoning spirits and demons, and participating in intricate ceremonies that could last for days.

  The island of Iona, located in the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland, is said to be one of the spots on Earth where the veil that separates our world from that of the spirits is thinnest. It was a sacred place for the ancient Celts and early Christians alike, being the location where the Celtic Christian illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells was created. Netta reportedly heard about Iona from a story by her favorite author, Fiona Macleod (a pen name for William Sharp), which describes the area around Loch Staonaig as one where the fairies roam free. 

  This sacred Isle is set apart from other earthly sites of spiritual sanctity.  It is generally believed that the archaic rock strata of Iona is some of the oldest on the planet, possibly 1500 million years old, and as such it certainly carries a primeval and powerfully creative energy. Iona had been known by the old gaelic name "Innis nan Druidhneach" which translates as the "Island of the Druids". It appears that Iona was a primary place of learning for the pre-Christian Celtic Druid Magi. It is also believed that Iona once housed an incredible library and held the most extraordinary books known to man. 

  The greatest surviving example from Iona is the Book of Kells, currently at Trinity College, Dublin. The Book of Kells, named after a town in County Meath, it should be called the Book of Iona, as it's thought that it was monks on that remote Scottish island who were the original artists. They were inhabitants of a monastery founded there in the 6th Century by the Irish monk Columba, or Colm Cille as he's known in Irish. In fact, for many centuries the manuscript was believed to be the great Gospel of Columba. But scholars now place the book in a later period and think it was completed by 800 AD. I find it extraordinary that in such a wild place with limited materials that these men were able to create a work of art that is so delicate and ornate. You can imagine the monks inside their beehive-shaped stone huts, battered by sea winds with squawking gulls outside, bent over their painstaking work. The scale and ambition of The Book of Kells is incredible. Written on vellum, it is estimated that the skins of 185 calves were needed for the project. Practically all of the 680 pages are decorated in some way or another. On some pages every corner is filled with the most detailed and beautiful Celtic designs. I could probably go on and on however, back to Netta!

 According to fellow occultist Dion Fortune, the reason Netta was going to Iona was to conduct some deep healing and to study Green Ray Elementals or Faries. Dion Fortune was a renowned occultist at the time and knew Netta very well. Dion had penned many books on the occult and studied under Irish occultist and Free Mason Theodore Moriarty. Moriarty as one of the main authors of a book called "7 Principles of Hermetic Philosophy" which appeared in the Kybalion and several other works.  After his death Dion Fortune placed herself in the position of the leader of his group called "Mystery School." Fortune then went on to write several fictinal books with a main character named Dr. Tavern which was based on Moriarity, who woould carry out exorcisms to protect humans from etheric vampires. Strangely In one of these stories it mimics the death of Netta Fornario years later. Dion distanced herself from Netta, however, because she was getting too deep into things she could not understand or control.

   It is not exactly clear as to why Netta made this journey. However, she packed an extraordinarily large amount of luggage as well as pieces of small furniture, clearly intending to stay in Iona for quite some time. However it is said that Netta told her maid that she was heading to Iona to perform a magical healing ritual and would stay indefinitely. I don't think we will ever know the exact reason. Once on the island, she found lodging at an isolated farm with an older woman named Mrs. MacRae. With her wild dark hair worn in two long braids, clothing inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and extensive silver jewelry, Netta had a distinctively metropolitan look that stuck out in rural Iona. It is also said she arrived with a female friend , however that woman was never identified. MacRae reported that the young woman spent her first few days hold up in her room writing page after page of whats thought to be poetry and wandering the island's beaches and moorlands looking at rocks. She tells Mrs MacRae that she believes she has been to Ione in a past life. At night, she would enter into mystical trances in hopes of contacting Iona’s spiritual realm. Netta told MacRae that she once fell into a trance that lasted an entire week, and should the same happen during her stay, under NO circumstances was a doctor to be called. Netta began to speak of visions, things she had seen in the heavens, and of messages received from the spirit world her speech would become rapid and at times incoherent. 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 even refused to open her curtains because she said she could see the faces of her past patients in the clouds.

  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 jewelry that had once been silver had somehow turned black over night. Whatever was happening it seemed that Netta was getting closer to something.

  MacRae had become used to Netta’s eccentricities, but one Sunday morning in mid-November, she noticed Netta's behavior had become frantic. She had the wide-eyed look of someone who was deeply frightened. Mrs. MacRae noticed that Netta didn't even look like herself, her skin was unnaturally pale as if she had the color scared right out of her, her hair was unkept and frizzy instead of her nomal well maintained braids, but the strangest thing that stands out the most is that Netta’s silver jewelry had mysteriously turned black overnight. Netta explained to Mrs. MacRae that she believed she was being psychically attacked from a distance. That Sunday, Netta told her host of a rudderless boat she saw fly across the sky, and terrifying messages she received from beyond the veil while in trances.

  Netta hurriedly packed up all of her belongings and told Mrs. MacRae that she must leave at once, but ferries to the mainland didn’t run on Sundays because of the sabbath, and Netta was forced to wait for the next morning. She wouldnt hear of it so she took everything she owned even the pieces of furniture she had brought along, she went to the dock and waited in the freezing cold for hours. She then decided to return to Mrs. MacRae's, visibly upset she then silently returned to her room to rest. When she came back out later she seemed calmer, with a look of resignation on her face. She told Mrs. MacRae that she had changed her mind, and would remain on Iona. The next morning came and went, by noon things didnt feel right due to yesterdays strange events, so Mrs MacRae's daughter decided to check in on Netta, she knocked on the door with no answer, she opened the door to an overwhelming smell of burning papers in the fireplace. The papers in the fireplace were unreadable and to badly burned to make out, one of the oil lights was still burning and her bed did not look slept in. All of her belongings were still there including all of her jewlery and yet Netta was nowhere to be found.

  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 search the bays and inlets for any sign of Netta. They searched the rocks and moorlands, yet found nothing, they searched all day and as it began to get to cold and dark they called the seach off for the night. The following day they renewed the search but again they found nothing.

  But then about two and a half miles away from Mrs. MacRae’s cottage, by the side of Loch Staonaig, is the remains of an ancient village in which Netta had expressed interest in visiting. As morning approached, two local men were searching the surrounding area of the ruins when they made a shocking discovery. There lying sprawled face up across the top of a small mound, naked except for a large black cloak with occult writing, was the dead body of Netta Fornario. A heavy blackened silver cross hung about her neck, by her hand lay a small silver dagger, and her limbs were in the shape of a pentagram.

  Underneath her body a large cross shape had been carved into the turf, presumably with the same dagger. Her torso was covered in tiny cat like scratch marks, as if something had clawed her. 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 known as a Fairy mound. The Fairy mound or fort is thought to be secured with Druidic magic and is considered to be a gateway between the realms of magic and the human world. However whats most disturbing was her face, her face had been frozen in an expression of complete terror. 

  Many residents spoke of seeing a tall unidenitified man in a black coat on the day of her disapearance wondering around, others say they saw blue flashing lights around the area in which her body was found. 

  The precise cause of her death proved inconclusive, simply because there were no fatal wounds, some accounts list her cause of death as heart failure and others as exposure to the elements. No one really knows for sure, and in the end they offically list her cause of death as exposure.

  One of the questions surrounding her death is what happened to the large amount of letters that were not burned and were in Netta's possession at the time of her death. Some say it was the poetry she had been working on, while others think it was secrets of the occult. We will never know as all of her belongings were taken to the police station and strangley the letters never reappeared. Along with what ever happened to Netta's close friend that came with her to the Island? 

  A few days after Netta's death the MacRae's built a small memorial for Netta on top of Fairy Hill. There is also a small tombstone in the local cemetery in town, it is unclear if Netta is buried there or was returned to England.

  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? 

  Given the manner in which Netta was found it is probably safe to assume she was attempting some kind of ritual, possibly a kind of astral projection as hypothesized by Dion Fortune. Dion actually went further and accused Moina Mathers, leader of the Alpha et Omega Temple (following her husbands death) of the murder of Netta Fonario through psychic attacks. It is plausible, that Netta was showing signs of a classic psychic attack. The victim can become overwhelmed with fear, which causes a person to remain awake all night (remember Netta used two oil lamps in her room as opposed to the normal one) along with nervous exhaustion and the feeling of being watched by something unseen. Leading up to her death she had complained to the MacRae family that she was under some sort of psychic attack, along with her irratic behavior, one could theorize a psychic attack was happening. That said, Moina certainly couldn’t have physically killed Netta, as Moina had died sixteen months earlier. Dion thought the scratch marks on Netta were similar to those on people she believed had previously been psychically attacked by Moina, although she had not seen them for herself. Or could Netta's be somthing a bit more self induced?

  The question I ask myself is, is it possible that Netta's death had more to do with her own inability to seperate her own world from the spiritual world. This typically is a spiritualists biggest fear when dealing with the astral plain. If they dont have the correct training they could lose track of which world is which. A 2017 study on Buddhist practices states that there can be very serious repercussions for what is called "meditaitve transits." They can induce hyper arousal, fear, panic, insomnia and increased sensory sensitivity. As a result of these practices it can lead to disassociation with their own bodies, meaning that the closer you are to the spiritual world the less connected you become to the physical world. So then the question becomes did Netta induce her own psychological disorder stemming from her practices. As we had seen she did suffer from incoherent speech, hallucinations, and delusions. Due to her suffering these things, it seems like this could have been one of the main reasons for her visit to the Island which was in fact to heal herself, what she didnt realize was the more she visitied the astral plane to heal herself,  unfortunatly the more she would lose touch with her true physical reality.

  However that does not answer the question of how she actually physically died. The answer could lay with sulfur.

  In many mystical practices sulfur is used to draw out negative energy from both the physical and astral planes as well as banish dark spirits. That said if you think you are under any type of spiritual attack it would not be unheard of to use sulfer as a way to protect yourself. 

  The original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, (which Netta was a member of) had a ritual involving sulfur called "The Dark Night Of The Soul" which required its member to move through the deepest darkest parts of their mind and soul. In doing so you will understand those dark places and come to terms with all parts of yourself thereby gaining peace and blance. 

  So was Netta performing this ritual using sulfur powder? No one can truly know for sure however what we do know is that in the presence of sulfer, all silver will tarnish and turn black.  What we do know is that Netta is in a very dark place spiritually, so did Netta strip naked in her room except for her black cloak and jewlery that includes a silver cross necklace,  to perform a cleansing ritual using sulfer to rid herself of the psychic attacks?  Did Netta still feel that the ritual was unsuccessful so she ran to the one place that she thought could help her, that being the Fairy mound? Did Netta succomb to the elements due to her being disoriented from the sulfur dioxide fumes, while being anxious, having visions and hallucinating, she cuts herself with her knife on her torso and  inflicts several small scratches on her body, then cuts out a cross shape in the dirt and lays down on top of it hoping that the ritual would now work and save her. Then could she have had a heart attack, due to the weight of the psychic attack, possibly from her old teacher on the astral plane and dies? Or was she just so out of it she froze to death? Did Netta meet up with someone who belonged to a cult and they poisoned her? Who was that tall man in a dark coat seen that day did he have something to do with her death? What about that female friend that was said to have came to the island with her? What really has me curious is what were those blue lights that were seen around the area her body was found? Could they be fairy lights? 

  A far less exciting explanation is, was Netta suffering from some type of disease that would cause acidosis, specifically diabetes or hypoglycemia. It is noted that when she arrived to the island she was in anything but robust health, her daily walks were no more than 100-200 yards down the beach, she would often spend days in her room without leaving and she would go to bed at night with a glass of orange juice. Along with her silver jewelry had a habit of always turning black, acidosis would most certainly cause silver jewelry to turn black. It could be that she wasn't aware of what was causing her illness and therefore not treating it. Remember Netta was not a fan of doctors and preferred to treat any ailment telepathically. Untreated diabetes would eventually cause her body to go into ketoacidosis leading to death. Alternately, severe hypoglycemia could be brought on by overexercising (her much longer walk/run) and can cause death.

  In truth, it is unlikely we will never really know the full circumstances surrounding her death. Whatever Netta Fornario was aiming to do on her stay on the Island of Iona, her story is a cautionary tale that reminds us to be extremely careful when dealing with the world of faery. Caution is imperative for sanity and safety. Obsession, coupled with an over zealous approach and carelessness, can get you into something you may not be able to get yourself out of.

The story of Netta Fornario’s grim end has in the past regrettably overshadowed one important and lasting contribution that she left for generations to come.

Under the name that DF knew her by, Mac Tyler, she published an enlightening analysis of The Immortal Hour, an opera written by English composer Rutland Boughton from the works of Fiona MacLeod.  It is an operatic faery tale in which magic plays an important role. In the story, the faery folk are anything but the mischievous spirits they are often cast as. Instead they are presented as a powerful and proud race of immortals who are feared by humans for the interference they can bring to mortal lives. The music, together with the words and Netta’s analysis, provide great food for thought and (cautious) adventure.