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[In Which I Watch] Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World[s] . . . with Arthur C. Clarke

AbjectQuestioner

Low SAN Score
Validated User
Might they think they could expiate a whole society's sins by putting it through a great challenge?
I imagine so, if the conspiracy was large enough. But to my thinking the Cult of Heracles would be a small group . . . little "c" instead of BIG "C."

Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
Episode 6 (October 7, 1980): “Monsters of the Lakes”


So a while ago I was running an occult series of adventures set in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period in the United States, leading up to the Gilded Age. Native American mythology was a theme, with lots of monsters from pre-Colonial times coming back and razing hell, great god-things like the Giant Leech of Tlanus’yǐ, the Piasa, the Underwater Panther, and the Uktena.

I decided Bigfeet - Sasquatches - were the failed attempts by magicians to channel the great Wendigo/Stonecoat cannibal-spirit. But I digress.

As background - mostly for myself, I admit - I purchased a copy of Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth (2001) by Carol Rose, an excellent book for its type primarily because of its superb index which cataloged all the giants, monsters, and dragons by type, region, nationality, and so on, ever so helpfully. I made a spreadsheet and started my own index, trying to come up with my definitive list - an actual definitive definitive list is almost certainly a fool’s errand - of the god-monsters worshipped in the Americas before the coming of the white man (not that the Old World didn’t have its own ancient horrors . . . ).

I began cross-indexing between Bigfoot analogues, Bird Creatures, lumberjack-type Fearsome Critters, Giant Animals, Horned Serpents (a surprising number), Lake Monsters, Man-Eaters, and Ogres, with references to their particular Native American tribes of origin.

I stalled halfway through, I admit. The campaign finished before I finished. I’ll complete the list eventually, though (writing this may prompt me, in fact).

What I had found so far, though, were the intriguing commonalities between lake monsters, which I’ll talk more about in a moment. Clarke - or the producers of Mysterious World - found some, too. From Loch Ness to Lake Okanagan, lake monsters have a lot in common . . . if they exist.

You might anticipate Clarke’s thoughts on the matter.

Honeycombe’s Historical Opening Questions
The first thing the camera shows us is the famous Loch Ness. Honeycombe wastes no time.

“Is there really a monster in Loch Ness?”

That’s as basic as it gets, folks. It’s what we all want to know (and hope is true).

Our view of the famous lake segues into an old black-and-white film. This is also of the lake, and it shows, well, something moving under the water. Some old-fashioned camera operators are also seen, hand cranking their cameras to get them to record. “And does this film, shot in 1936, but lost until today, really show the creature?”

Then, from black-and-white, a color film, showing basically the same thing. “And does this film, shot forty-one years later, mean the monster is still lurking there today? Is that what Alex Campbell has seen more times than anyone else alive?” Campbell is an elderly Scotsman who speaks with such a heavy Scottish accent that my American ears have trouble comprehending him.

He says “something” about the loch and its monster, I presume. The tone, at least, was impressive.

“Mysteries from the files of Arthur C. Clarke . . .”

Commentary
Our series host appears after coming down from his bubble in Sri Lanka. He says, “The monster of Loch Ness is so famous that it has eclipsed all its rivals.”

For a moment, I dared believe he believed. But the SF writer is just being poetic. Clarke mentions that there are fifty-odd other lakes throughout the world that supposedly have monsters in them, and before settling in on the one with Ogopogo - yeah, Ogopogo! - we get a montage of various beliefs and monsters, from Canada to Korea.

Pigs are sacrificed in Sweden to their lake monster.

Religious offerings are made to one in Korea.

There are other tidbits, including a shot of some man driving his car - one of those weird Sixties Amphicars, which are both cars and boats - into the waters of Loch Ness apparently for the purpose of chasing down Nessie. Go Nessie Go! Swim Girl Swim!!

This fun aside, Clarke’s essential skepticism bears mentioning at the start of this commentary, even though these observations I record here he makes occur later in the program:

“I have no doubt that the eyewitnesses have seen and indeed photographed something quite real. But it could have been a school of fish, the wake of a boat, sea birds, a seal . . . many possibilities have been suggested. The trouble is it’s very easy to be mistaken.”

And he demonstrates this with a unique situation that might only occur in Sri Lanka or its environs. Clarke shows us a picture of a long-necked beastie swimming through the water, and it looks for all the world like the Loch Ness Monster of legend. And then he tells us that this is the photograph of an Asian elephant . . . apparently, the elephants of Sri Lanka like to go swimming, and when they raise their trunks out of the water, and their backs are seen surfacing behind, they look like sea serpents. Clarke’s point is that despite the many, many photographs and film footages shown in this program - and there are a lot shown here - and despite the nearly one hundred years of stories concerning the Loch Ness Monster in particular, it’s probably bunk.

He does not believe. He says he does not believe.

Honeycombe takes exception, almost angrily, certainly satirically.

After the observations above with the elephant, our unseen narrator begins the next section saying, But for all that, for half a century the lure of Loch Ness has inspired men to hunt . . .”

I can almost see the producers of the program wincing at the words of their host in Sri Lanka, and then ordering Honeycombe to work around him. If the show becomes an ongoing, subtle war of tone and innuendo between Clarke and Honeycombe, I will be all over that.

******

“Monsters of the Lakes” is mostly about two monsters of the lakes, Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan and Nessie in Loch Ness. There is mention of others - the montage above I referenced - and some commonalities, as I hinted about before, are referenced. Of the various lake monsters from around the world, none apparently are near the equator, at least as referenced in this program. Lake monsters are apparently sub-tropical, temperate beasties. They also have four limbs - this is confirmed, so to speak, by a man named Frank Rieger whose boat rode beside Ogopogo, he claims, for a good twenty minutes or so, giving him and his adult son Jim lots of times to make observations (but, alas, no photographs). The descriptions of lake monsters - the show’s descriptions suggest a single, unknown species - appear uniform: long neck, four limbs, long tail . . . basically, a plesiosaur.

One of the typically murky photographs from underwater show something that looks like a plesiosaur. If you squint.

The most amusing segment of the program concerns a similar witness account made by three Catholic priests sitting in a boat and fishing in Lough Ree, in Scotland. It’s hilarious, especially when Fr. Matthew Burke testifies that he said, “What the hell is that?”

Another goes, “It appears something in the nature of a large serpent,” in Irish brogue.

I fell off my chair.

Tall tale or not - and the archetypal witness testimony from not one, not two, but three priests - it makes a great fish story.

Clarke’s Words of Wisdom
“Frankly,” Clarke says, establishing the last word in the program, though, “I am much more skeptical of lake monsters than of sea monsters. Because lakes, after all, are fairly small bodies of water with plenty of eyewitnesses around them, and if these creatures come up to breathe, then why aren’t they seen more often?”

I may give Clarke static for being such a stick-in-the-mud; but the man has a sense of humor, as established previously. I can cut him a break for that (and because I more or less agree with him, in this instance). He ends the program with a Godzilla joke, of all things.

A Godzilla joke!

“If even the Japanese can’t catch them, can they really exist?”

Mind blown.

Adventure Seed
Clarke’s Words of Wisdom would hold true if a) the lake monsters were air-breathers and b) a natural, living species. If lake monsters were wholly aquatic, like some species of giant eel, for instance, they might be harder to see, especially in the pea-soup waters of Loch Ness.

But, of course, the real fun from the rpg angle is the idea the while the lake monsters do bear similarities between them, they are not natural creatures at all. While one could go all Doctor Who, Zygons, and the Skarasen here, I prefer a more supernatural, magical, occult motif.

Certain lakes throughout the world are haunted by ghostly presences. Their forms are generally serpentine, often with horns. Sometimes they manifest four legs. But they are spirits, not flesh, and ancient peoples worshipped them, as much from fear for their own safety as religious awe.

To use a lake, the lake serpent had to be appeased. Otherwise, it rose from the depths and devoured the primitive rafts and the seaside villages.

And then other peoples came; and the religions changed; and the old beliefs were forgotten. And for a time the lake monsters were apparently fine with that. Maybe they had gone to sleep; maybe some ancient magician had used a comprehensive spell to calm them. But, “[t]hat is not dead which can eternal lie . . . and with strange aeons even death may die.”

In this scenario/campaign frame, the Great Old Ones are not Cthulhu, Hastur, or Yog-Sothoth.

Their names are Ogopogo, Gaasyendietha, Mishipeshu . . . and Nessie.
 

AbjectQuestioner

Low SAN Score
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Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
Episode 7 (October 14, 1980): “The Great Siberian Explosion”


Boom.

And no more Lovecraftian adventure seeds, at least for the rest of this thirteen-episode arc. I found myself getting into a rut. And nothing breaks up a rut better than a good detonation.

Honeycombe’s Less-Than-Explosive Opening Questions
Why less than?

Our narrator didn’t start with a question for once. Maybe he’s breaking his rut, too.

The first thing the camera does is show us a view of Red Square in Moscow. We see the Kremlin, we see snow, we see Russians walking in the snow looking cold. We focus in on one of them, an older gentleman dressed head-to-foot in wool, wearing an ushanka (Russian hat).

Honeycombe: “This Russian in his youth was one of the first men to gaze on the scene of perhaps the most awesome destruction ever wrought on the face of the Earth, and he has lived with the riddles there ever since.”

Our narrator then gives us a short description of the - Ghostbusters dialogue - “The biggest interdimensional cross rip since the Tunguska Blast of 1909” . . . well, actually 1908, one year earlier. And maybe not an interdimensional rip, either, but, certainly, at least, one very big boom.

Notably, Honeycombe tells us the explosion of June 30, 1908 would have been big enough to encompass - and utterly obliterate - the cities of London and New York together.

That’s a big explosion.

“Was it a colossal meteorite?” Honeycombe eventually gets around to his opening rhetoric. “A black hole from interstellar space? An atomic bomb, long before such bombs were invented?”

Pause.

“Could it even have been a spaceship?

“A mystery from the files of Arthur C. Clarke, author of
2001 and inventor of the communications satellite. Now in retreat in Sri Lanka, he ponders the mysteries of this and other worlds.”

Commentary
For the first time in the series run, an episode of Mysterious World focuses but on the one topic, with no subtopics. Another rut is explosively shattered: “The Great Siberian Explosion” is simply about the Great Siberian Explosion. Even the “Monsters of the Deep” episode split its attention between squids, octopuses, and sea serpents.

Because of its narrower focus, too, and the extensive use of old black-and-white footage, this episode also has the most documentary feel to it so far. Much of it concerns Leonid Kulik’s famous expedition to the event site in 1930, which was simply an adventure: building rafts, almost sinking on those rafts because they were top-heavy with horses, eating a dog when the supplies ran low, getting frostbit . . . Kulik and company had a heck of a time getting to Tunguska.

And once they got there, I learned something watching them I hadn’t known before: that the blast site of whatever it was back in 1908 is more or less in the middle of a swamp, which made (and probably still makes) efforts to scrutinize the place even more difficult. Equipment had a tendency to slip into quicksand if you weren’t careful, and you needed to wear something like snowshoes - even though there’s hardly any snow (little precipitation) - in order to move around.

And mosquitos. Lots and lots (and lots) of mosquitos, the situation not helped when later in the episode someone (not) helpfully says that they are mutated mosquitos at that, because of the higher levels of ambient radiation.

So, not only the danger of malaria . . . mutant malaria!

Let’s give a round of applause in appreciation for poor old Leonid Kulik . . . he deserves it.

*****

In addition to the b&w footage, which lends a great deal of authenticity, we get anecdotes of the epic 1930 adventure from Dr. Leonid Krinov (a different Leonid), the man first identified in the episode by Honeycombe’s opening narration. With pictures and stories, Krinov tells us what was found . . . which, forgive me, I shall quote from myself, despite my earlier admonition not to, from the Third Season in Search of episode “The Siberian Fireball,” which premiered two years prior to this one: “. . . lots of trees flattened yet . . . no big meteorite crater is what intrigues the scientific folk most.

“So, to explain this lack of a crater, the big contenders for the Siberian Fireball are

“a) a crumbly meteorite instead of a dense one made of iron;

“b) a comet;

“c) the more “out there” choice, a micro-sized black hole”


This is almost word-for-word the choices Clarke gives us, with the addition of one more, a chunk of antimatter hitting the planet. Our series host then smiled and gave another, more fanciful suggestion . . . a “visitor from space,” the notion of which he found “plausible” yet overly “romantic.”

When Clarke said “visitor,” he meant just that, a crashing spaceship, an idea in the episode supported by a Dr. Alexsei Zolotov - the most archetypal Russian name in the episode - who looked like Brian Blessed - of Flash Gordon and I, Claudius fame, among many others - with his massive beard dyed black.

I mean, Dr. Zolotov looked like he could swallow a bear . . . heck, he WAS a bear.

A note of cynicism: Zolotov looks so much like a caricature of what one assumes a Russian space scientist to look like, the producers (and Clarke, perhaps) reserved the most outlandish of the theories presented to him. Dr. Zolotov’s wild Russian gesticulations do him no favor.

More black-and-white footage from the 1958 expedition is then presented; and then film in color representing the various expeditions which were then - 1980 thereabouts - occurring on a yearly basis. They may still be, for all I know. With helicopters now, getting to Tunguska is less of a massive hassle, it seems. Working in Tunguska’s swamp still proves a major chore, however.

******

So, what happened in 1908?

The reason things like an atomic bomb going off or a spaceship exploding in mid-air are still theories is the level of destruction and the particular pattern that destruction assumed . . . it looks a lot like what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Even the radiation levels are similar. The lack of a crater pretty much rules out a standard meteorite.

Clarke, as others have, argues a comet struck the Earth in Tunguska, or, rather, exploded about five kilometers in the air above the swamp. If it was a comet, according to our host, then this would be the only known example of one striking the Earth. The main argument against the Siberian Fireball being a comet is its lack of velocity . . . comets are astronomically fast, and, according to some experts, if an ordinary comet had hit the planet, with that kind of mass and speed behind it, then I wouldn’t have been around to write this commentary, and you wouldn’t have been around to read it. The Earth would have been reduced to a big dust cloud orbiting between Venus and Mars, or, barring that, the planet might have survived, but we would have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Which, of course, is what makes what Clarke says next deliciously ominous.

Clarke’s Words of Wisdom
“Inevitably, something like Tunguska will happen somewhere on the Earth. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen in the next five minutes.”

He smiles . . . Clarke’s now patented ironic smile.

“I will say it is certain to happen within the next thousand years.” In point of fact, he uses this notion to good effect in his book Rendezvous with Rama (1973). After a particularly bad calamity with a meteorite in the book, a watch is set up, and that watch is what later finds the Rama starship.

“If it does happen fairly soon, and it isn’t too large a comet, it might trigger a thermonuclear war because an explosion like that in any country could easily be mistaken for an attack by ICBMs.

“However, a very large comet wouldn’t leave anyone to worry about it.”


Adventure Seed
I am going to take Clarke’s suggestion as a seed.

I usually GM - I’m a control freak, okay? - but I remember prominently one campaign in which I was only a player, back in the late Eighties . . . Twilight 2000, from Game Designers' Workshop, written by Loren Wiseman, Frank Chadwick, and others. This was the game based more or less on the film Red Dawn (1984) . . . World War III has started, and while some a-bombs have gone off, we’re back to fighting conventionally for the most part.

I loved that game. I played a firebug - a guy with a flamethrower - named Randall Flagg. Yes, I copied the name from Stephen King. I was young and callow. Flagg and his buddies fought their way through Central Europe trying to rejoin their unit, wreaking havoc on the Soviets along the way. If it worked then, it should work now. Per Clarke’s suggestion, a minor comet explodes above either London or New York. Maybe it hits America’s West Coast, between L.A. and San Francisco; either way, the detonation triggers the Big One, finally. The Powers That Be misinterpret the comet collision as an atomic bomb going off, probably a terrorist strike of some sort. Tensions rise, armies are mobilized, and suddenly World War III starts, America vs. Russia, once again. The tensions now are almost to where they were back in the Eighties. One big blast in the wrong place . . . lots of smaller blasts deliberately set off by both sides.

And Randall Flagg gets to burn once more.
 

DMH

Master of Mutant Design
Validated User
Honeycombe: “This Russian in his youth was one of the first men to gaze on the scene of perhaps the most awesome destruction ever wrought on the face of the Earth, and he has lived with the riddles there ever since.”
There is one impact that is even more famous that was a heck of a lot more destructive* and I would think the Early and Late Bombardments would have likely been much more impressive than that. Of course all of those pale compared with the largest impact Earth has ever experienced, the one that formed the Moon. An impact that knocks off a huge chunk of planet is rather more impressive than a bunch of flattened trees.

* Though it didn't kill the dinosaurs. It killed the relatively few that survived the Deccan Traps eruptions.
 

ranson

"Two Sheds"
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I like the Atomic Robo take, which was that Tesla, Charles Fort, and Lovecraft's father teamed up to use the Wardenclyffe death ray to seal up/blast an extradimensional incursion. It later returned through H.P.L's head, both figuratively and literally.
 

Erik Sieurin

Translemurist
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I've never heard of pigs being "sacrificed" to Storsjöodjuret. People have tried to catch it using whole pigs as bait, tho... Huh.
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Notably, Clarke was right. A similar (but smaller) event later happened above a city - a Russian city named Chelyabinsk.

During a snowy morning commute, a light appeared in the sky, bright enough to cast shadows. It moved sideways, leaving a trail of fire behind it. Then it disappeared.

People all across the region looked up and went, "What the-"

That's when the sound arrived, and blew out windows in six cities.

It was a weird sound, like thunder or an artillery barrage. What had happened was a 20 m stony chondrite entered the atmosphere at an angle, heated up, and exploded into fragments about 30 km up. The explosion was smeared out along a motion trail, and was 26-32 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Only its great height attenuated the blast to merely damaging levels.

Nobody died, but many people were injured and thousands of buildings were damaged.

Fragments of the meteorite were recovered. After it exploded, the smaller fragments were slowed by air resistance and fell sedately to the surface. I'm told they might have been quite cool upon arrival, due to pushing through lots of wind.

This occurred on 2013, February 15, a little over six years ago. We have excellent footage from various cameras across the region.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was the largest visitor to Earth since the Tunguska event, if Tunguska was of similar origin. Most people think it was a meteor too - but a much larger meteor.
 

Azimer the Mad

Knight of Chaos
Validated User
As an aside, if anyone wants to visit noted Bigfoot researcher and hunter Grover Krantz, he's currently stationed in the Smithsonian.


On display.

His long-lost cousin, reporter Laura Krantz, discovered Grover's interest and hosted a very good podcast on him and Bigfoot called Wild Thing.

And, in terms of an occult connections between lake monsters, I will repeat the wonderful coincidence that there are apparently dozens of lake monsters reported at approximately the same latitude. Drop that at the table and let your players get paranoid.
 

AbjectQuestioner

Low SAN Score
Validated User
Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
Episode 8 (October 21, 1980): “The Riddle of the Stones”


“What does it have in its pocketses?”

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Honeycombe’s Petrifying Opening Questions
Mysterious World’s camera flies over the Salisbury Plain for a lingering shot of Stonehenge. We circle about the circle of stones and see a group of white-robed worshippers - themselves arranged in a circle - gathered together in some modern druidic ceremony. Honeycombe does his thing:

“Why did the people of prehistoric Britain set up this great stone circle on the Salisbury Plain?”

And he asks the most basic question of all. “What is the meaning of Stonehenge?”

We do a final aerial close-up of the aforementioned site, and then our viewpoint switches to a montage of other stone circles. “Were Britain’s other rings of stone,” Honeycombe continues, “centers of an unknown pagan cult? Were they places of sacrifice and death?”

And I promised no more Lovecraftian adventure seeds this season. Dang it!

Actually, what the stones remind me most is that little-known but wonderful British horror movie Psychomania (1973), which had its own origin story for these frozen circles.

Spoiler: Show


The stone figures are petrified witches. We see a transformation in the course of the film.



Honeycombe, of course, provides a different explanation. “Were they observatories where four thousand years ago astronomers charted the courses of sun, moon, and stars?

“Mysteries from the files of Arthur C. Clarke . . .”


Commentary
This episode breaks some rules. Instead of the traditional shot of Arthur C. Clarke walking along a beach in Sri Lanka, we see him first standing amidst a tightly arranged series of stone columns apparently in a forest somewhere. The stones themselves are so closely aligned they look like a forest, too. We learn later that these are the remnants of the Brazen Palace in the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura. The stone columns - which do bear a strong similarity to the standing stones of Britain - were not intended to, well, “stand” on their own . . . rather, they were put in place as support columns for the Palace of Lovamahapaya.

Yet time and fire has taken away the wood and left only the bare rock.

Clarke makes two points with our glimpse of this site. The first is a contrast with the stones of Britain, which is the subject of the episode. The builders of the Brazen Palace in Sri Lanka left fairly detailed instructions and reasons for why they put their stones up and what their intended purpose was. The reasons for the stones of Britain remain more or less a complete mystery.

Second, with his by-now trademark skepticism, Clarke deflates this mystery: “There’s no doubt that some of these [British] stone circles do have astronomical alignments. This doesn’t mean that their builders were skilled astronomers.” He makes the point that, like at Lovamahapaya, fire and time may have removed other evidentiary traces of what these circles were meant to be.

As I mentioned, without the wood for the palace surrounding it, Lovamahapaya looks like a forest of stone columns. Clarke says the circles of Britain too may have been the centers of towns and market places . . . we simply don’t know.

Our host isn’t altogether cynical, however; and he does - yes, as I said, this episode breaks some rules - later admit Britain’s stones probably were centers of religious worship.

However, Clarke very defiantly dismisses the notion that the druids built Stonehenge and the others. The “latter-day druids” in white we see in our opening shot have about as much of a connection to the builders of Stonehenge as the Battle of Britain does to the Battle of Hastings (our host’s own analogy).

That Stonehenge and Britain’s several hundred other standing-stone sites were centers of some kind of worship is the theory presented in the episode; and this worship likely did have some degree of astronomical knowledge. It’s actually hard to consider the alternative. At one point, we are taken on a tour of an ancient excavation site where prehistoric Britons dug up stone and chalk for their craft. Putting aside for a moment the monumental task then of moving what they had dug up, the excavations left behind are just massive, cuts so deep in the earth that if telephone poles were placed at the bottom of these manmade canyons they would not be visible at the top.

Our main commentator, Dr. Aubrey Burl (more on him in a moment), argues that the extent of this one dig - and there are many others - must have involved “fifty or sixty generations” of people living and dying to accomplish . . . it rather puts the building of Egypt’s pyramids to shame.

And now we focus on the actual moving of these stones . . . the slaughtering of cattle for the necessary leather, the literally hundreds of men necessary for the drag, the fact that even today with heavy machinery putting one of these stones, toppled over in modern times, back up again is a job of several days duration . . . the commitment necessarily argues a religious motivation.

Even Clarke admits to odd feelings.

Clarke’s Words of Wisdom
“The stone circle of the British isles are strange and haunting places. Many of them have precise astronomical alignments which must have required great skill. For others, the geometry is very obscure; we simply don’t understand the motives of their designers.”

*****

While Clarke makes his standard appearances, and Honeycombe narrates, the real host of this episode is an archaeologist, Dr. Aubrey Burl, an acknowledged expert in stone circles. I quote from Wikipedia and The New York Times: “the leading authority on British stone circles.”

At one point, Dr. Burl appears on screen in an honest-to-goodness Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap. He was (and is, he’s still alive as of this writing) the perfect host for this particular program, combining wit, knowledge, and emotion. He, rather than Clarke, ends the episode.

Before he does, Burl and his colleagues examine a host of sites throughout Britain. Stonehenge is the famous one, but it is literally one of hundreds, from Dyce, to Stennes, to Aquothies. In fact, another contrast is made in the episode, this one between Stonehenge and Avebury, a several times more massive series of circles in Wiltshire. A theory is presented that the intricacies of Stonehenge were constructed in an effort to directly compete with the size of Avebury, as they might have been in competition for being the greater showcase and center of religious devotion.

I love the idea: it makes Stonehenge and Avebury the prehistoric equivalents of Disneyland.

An American “school master” Richard Brinckerhoff climbs atop Stonehenge - They let you do that? - and contends that the ring at the top was a catwalk for stellar observation. He points out depressions at the top of the stones where guiding rods could have been placed.

In Ireland, we visit “the oldest building in the world,” Newgrange Tomb in Drogheda, where a Dr. Michael O’Kelley shows us the precisely constructed slit in the structure that allows light from the summer solstice to shine through for precisely seventeen minutes once a year, illuminating a burial site for four adults and a child . . . “to wake the spirits of the dead,” as O’Kelley claims.

Wow.

Burl shows us other stones throughout Britain similarly aligned to natural terrain features and the sun and moon. He calls them “places of dread,” for however much religious devotion almost certainly motivated the size and intricacy of these many structures, fear must have played a major factor as well. The leading authority on British stone circles argues that they were placatory in thought and design, intended to appease the unknown forces of natures and the spirit world.

Love it. Talk about an adventure set-up.

So far, “The Riddle of the Stones” is my favorite episode of the season.

Adventure Seed
Let’s talk about sacred architecture.

The conceit in sacred architecture - in the more outré, occult sense rather than the more socially accepted notion of buildings put up for religious purposes - is that by precisely applying Pythagorean and other magical geometries to their construction, aligning entrances and exits to the terrain and the stars, laying foundations on ley lines and such, sacred sites can be built that have magical properties. The similarity to the stone circles of Britain, and elsewhere, is a snap.

When we look at, say, a place like Notre-Dame (damaged in the recent fire, unfortunately), we can see that its designers built the place deliberately to inspire awe. Occultists suggest that more than emotion can be produced through such a flamboyant use of stone and space.

When we think of someone casting a spell, generally we picture that person waving his or her hands about, muttering some phrase in Latin, and producing a fireball out of bat guano. We don’t generally consider that a building can be a spell . . . that the way it was put up, the direction it faces, the way it aligns to the moon, all may be made for magical purpose . . . probably not to throw a fireball, say, but perhaps to, as Burl puts it, appease supernatural forces in the world.

Or draw them in. If the following sounds a bit like the original Ghostbusters (1984), its writers were thinking along the same lines.

An occultist-architect designs and oversees the construction of a series of houses and office buildings throughout the country. While neither Frank Lloyd Wright nor Howard Roark, his designs are famous and beautiful, and his work was highly in demand, while he was alive. Years after his death investigators start noticing the frequency with which his buildings are haunted by ghosts. They determine - like Ivo Shandor - that our architect built his constructions deliberately to draw ghosts . . . they draw spirits from the countryside, and anyone who dies inside one remains as a ghost (like American Horror Story’s first series).

The adventure/campaign consists of the investigators examining each of these deliberate haunted houses and buildings, exorcising the spirits within, and ultimately determining what sinister goal the occultist-architect had in mind, anywhere from an attempt at immortality to an effort to upset the delicate balance between the world of the living and that of the ancient dead.

That our guy got his start by studying the stones of Britain will be discovered in the investigation, as a bit of flavorful detail.
 

SunlessNick

Mildly Darkened One
Validated User
One site worth adding to the discussion of stone circles is Seahenge, which is of similar design to stone circles, but made of wood - Seahenge was built right on the coast, and has been underwater most of the time, but there's no telling how many (or few) other wooden circles there might have been.

Seahenge is also unusual in that there's a tree stump placed at the centre, but upside down, so the roots are pointing up. One shamany friend of mine is intensely creeped out by it, picturing it as an inverted world tree.
 
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