A Spooky True Story for Halloween with a Hertfordshire link

A short article by Daisy Butcher

‘The Death of Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario in 1929′

Marie Emily ‘Netta’ Fornario was born in 1897 in Cairo to an Italian doctor and English mother. Her mother died while she was still an infant so her maternal grandparents raised her in England. In 1922, despite spending her youth in Italy, she struggled to put down roots and eventually returned to Britain. She lived in the town of Bishop Stortford in Hertfordshire, which was a known occultist hangout at the time. Bishop Stortford was home of ‘The Grange’, an institute run by the prominent occultist and freemason, Theodore Moriarty. Netta was also said to have been initiated into the secretive order, ‘Alpha et Omega Temple’, which was a branch of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Members of the order were devoted to Hermetic magical study and traditions and even boasted famous members such as W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley.

In 1929 Netta planned a trip to the Scottish Island of Iona as she was drawn by its mystical past and she believed she had lived there in a past life. Her aim was to contact the island’s fairies/ancient spirits. Once she arrived in Iona, she stayed with Mrs Macrae in the village of Traymore. During her stay they would have long talks about mystical phenomenon and Netta would share her knowledge of the occult in exchange for tales of Hebridean folklore. Netta was known to fall into trances that would last a week at a time and became increasingly obsessed with contacting the spirits. Netta was believed to have an ability to connect with supernatural energies and had an advanced knowledge of Greey Ray Elementals (a type of fairy) and she was also told to be sensitive to other dimensions using her third eye. She would often go missing for long periods while walking the beaches and moors in her attempts to channel the island’s energy and reach out to the other side. Soon, she began to speak of visions and messages from the beyond and her host and fellow travellers became concerned about her.

On the fateful morning of the 17th of November 1929 Netta seemed out of sorts and frantic. She urgently wanted to return to London, muttering that she was being disturbed telepathically. She talked of a boat sailing across the sky and messages from another dimension. Unfortunately, she was unable to leave the island that day as there were no ferries returning to the mainland, so she was forced to stay the night. She was mysteriously missing the next morning, however, on the 18th of November 1929.

As more time passed, a search party was sent out to look for any sign of Netta on the island. After two days and no luck, they searched Sithean Mor, or Fairy Hill, near The Machair. This was an area of interest to Netta, and she had spent time there trying to contact the spirits. She was found strewn across the top of the grassy mound wearing only a large black cloak and completely lifeless. Her only belongings at the time of her death was a blackened silver cross worn around her neck and a small silver dagger. Carved into the grass turf under her body was a large cross shape which seemed to have been made in a desperate hurry. Her body was also covered with scratches; the soles of her feet were damaged and bloody as though she had been running barefoot for her life. These mysterious elements about her death are coupled with the location of The Fairy Hill where she lay, which was thought to be a gateway linking the magic dimension to the human realm. It is thought that Netta believed her life was in danger and she was frantically trying to defend herself from this imaginary assailant in her final moments. Her face was distorted with terror and she was, in fact, scared to death. Her cause of death was documented as ‘exposure to the elements’ and she was later buried on the island at St Oran’s Chapel Cemetery.

Was Netta a victim of her own paranoid delusions? Did her obsession with black magic and the occult prove fatal? Or did she succeed in reaching out and travelling to another dimension?

Further Reading:

A Review of the Opera ‘The Immortal Hour’ by Netta Fornario, dismissing the occult elements: https://www.servantsofthelight.org/knowledge/the-immortal-hour/

Podcast ‘Opening the Gate’ http://www.unexplainedpodcast.com/episode-1-opening-the-gate

Adams, P., Ghosts & Gallows: True Stories Of Crime And The Paranormal (The History Press: Gloucestershire, 2012)

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