Borderlands – the rise and strange glory of the Domaine de la Salz

The source of the Salz river in the Haute Razés has developed a reputation as a ‘window area’ since a rash of alleged sightings and anomalous tape recordings put the remote location on the UFO map in the early nineties. The otherworldly encounters reached their apex with the celebrated mass hysteria outbreak of 2012, when French authorities sealed off the area, declaring a state of martial law in the ‘controlled zone’, fearing a wave of mass suicides and, quite possibly, the arrival of an extraterrestrial ‘mother ship’.

Fondly regarded as the region’s very own ’Skinwaker ranch’, the ‘Domaine’ that stands watch over the headwaters was subsequently repurposed as a conference centre and safe haven for paranormal investigators, conspiracy theorists, truth seekers and treasure hunters. It seemed appropriate enough for a place where the underground stream breaks surface and the walls between worlds are thinner than usual.

For more than a decade, the property’s caretakers, the self-proclaimed ‘Guardians of the Salz’ preserved the Domaine as an island of free thought and old school weirdness in an indifferent world. Now, caught in the culture wars of the early 21st century, sandbagged by bureaucracy and government antipathy, the ‘Guardians’ faced eviction as the mairie of Sougraigne moved to foreclose on the property.

APRIL 30 2022 - the last supper
APRIL 30 2022 – the last supper

I got out of the car and took a deep breath, surveying the domain. It was still early enough in the year to smell the flowers. Indeed it was May eve or ‘Walpurgisnacht’, better known in the neo-pagan calendar as Beltane. The trees surrounding the last house on the left at the top of the river were in full blossom, a flowering canopy all but obscuring the dilapidated building at the end of the narrow track.

The ‘Domaine de la Salz’ had become a home away from home for me during these dangerous days, a bastion against the madness of the world – yet I knew in my heart this might be the last time I set foot on the property.

Judging by the vehicles parked up outside, most of the ’Guardians’ were already in attendance, gathered in their customary seats at the long table in the kitchen dining area. Charybdis, the ginger house cat, the Guardians’ guardian, brushed against my leg, gently purring her welcome. Bracing myself, I started towards the house, reflecting on the complex weave of events that had brought me to this impasse.

JC unfolded himself from the back seat, wordlessly following at a pace. Our former friendship had grown frosty since the attack on the Maison Bethany and his silence made me uneasy.

THe Domaine. Borderlands Salz River

The Domaine commands an impressive view, looking due west towards the Rennes plateau from the head of the Salz valley. The saline river that feeds the ‘Fontaine d’amour and joins the Blanque (White) River at ‘la benetier’ rises from a source just beyond the house, about 3km east of the fabled pic du Bugarach. The area was once the floor of an ancient sea bed and is rich in subterranean salt deposits that lend the river its briny taste, a geological anomaly that has not gone unnoticed by students of alchemy and the phonetic cabbala.

Crystals. Borderlands Salz River

The waters of the Salz are rich in crystals, notably the tiny ‘B-terminus’ formations prized by magic users the world over, coming in two varieties, clear and a delectably rosy shade of otherworldly violet (see above). The surrounding hills are fertile territory for fossil hunters and also yield a curious form of emerald green glass, naturally fused by some immense volcanic heat. The source’s flow, fed by subterranean deposits, contains 60gm per litre of Sodium Chloride, twice more than sea water which contains 25gm or 30gm per litre, salt being a natural commodity in Celtic and Roman times. Peasants continued to use pans to extract the salt through evaporation until the late nineteenth century and were forced to pay an extortionate ‘salt tax’ to local landlords in order to live and work in the stone huts erected along the river banks. By 1842 however this practice had been stamped out and the huts fell into disuse.

The Domaine was constructed to keep watch over the valley and house the local militia who policed the salt tax but after losing its strategic value it passed into private hands. It has consequently been the locus of any number of bizarre and colourful paranormal events but now, 180 years later, the local administration sought to repossess the property.

The Source of the Salz. Borderlands Salz River

As above, so below: The Source of the Salz – the underground stream breaks surface at a site of peculiar magical potency

The Source of the Salz. Borderlands Salz River

It has been 32 years since I first followed the ‘magic’ river to its headwaters, taking the winding road that threads its way upwards through the densely forested hills east of Sougraigne. I was working as a researcher for Britain’s Channel Four television then and having gotten wind of the phenomena allegedly taking place at the Domaine, came in search of a story.

That was how I got to meet the Domaine’s half legendary proprietor, Jean de Rignies.

Jean de Rignies
Jean de Rignies

Jean was an ardent occultist and self confessed sorcerer, a student of Papus who claimed to have made contact with extraterrestrial or ultradimensional beings living within the mountain. His wild eyes and tangled mane of grey hair made him resemble an old testament prophet or some land locked iteration of Coleridge’s ancient mariner, one who has perhaps voyaged too far and seen beyond the limits of our world.

Jean claimed the ‘trouble’ began in the late eighties when rumbling sounds akin to a rotary press or some unidentified machinery were frequently heard in the vicinity of the house. Determined to understand the phenomena, he set up microphones in the Domaine to capture evidence of his claims on Memorex. In the course of his investigations, Jean de Rignies produced several recordings of curious humming, thumping, whirring and droning sounds he insisted were proof extraterrestrial or ultradimensional beings were moving about beneath his floorboards. Shortly before my first visit to the site in the summer of 1990, a sample of those recordings had been played on French national television, establishing the notion in the popular mind that the Bugarach and its surrounding hills concealed a subterranean UFO base.

As a lifelong fan of weird fiction, the thing that really put the hook in me about Jean’s story was its similarity to Lovecraft’s 1930 novella ‘THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS’. Lovecraft’s yarn concerns an elderly farmer in an isolated backwoods location who seeks to draw attention to the alien beings living alongside him by producing a series of cryptic analog recordings that he sends out to baffled journalists. By the time an investigator finally takes the farmer seriously enough to visit the remote location he finds the unwilling contactee has already become an abductee, his consciousness literally downloaded into a recording cylinder.

Certainly de Rignies seemed to be ‘away with the faeries’ and it was easy enough to imagine Lovecraft’s ‘Old Ones’ winging their way over the densely wooded hills. Of course, I had no idea at the time I met this strange hermit that I too should one day be forced to take sanctuary in the Domaine during an apocalyptic onslaught then still many years away.

The Whisperer In Darkness - Comic

Jean de Rignies told me he and his son had found a deep shaft cut into the mountainside not far from the house that they estimated to be over 100m (330 ft) deep. When they dropped a stone into the shaft, they claimed to have heard it strike a metallic surface far below. However, when Jean returned with a group of professional speleologists to explore the shaft, he found all trace of the opening had disappeared.

Jean insisted he had seen a huge triangular object hovering above the Domaine, an event supposedly witnessed by several guests who were present at the time. On another occasion, he claimed an alien craft has actually landed in a field above Sougraigne , producing photographs of a charred circular marking in the grass about 10 cm wide and 14 m diameter. Other photographs showed uniformed gendarmes he claimed had fenced off the landing site with curious multi-coloured tape and collected soil samples. He said there had been several other witnesses to the landing, including a number of Canadians and Belgian tourists who had subsequently been intimidated into keeping their silence by the Préfecture of Carcassonne and forced to leave the country.

I did my best to pitch Jean de Rignies’ experience to Channel Four but the material wasn’t strong enough to convince the commissioning editors of the day. Accordingly his story went untold in the UK media, nor did I return to the Domaine for many years.

Jean de Rignies relates his UFO encounter on France’s Jimmy Guie show.

As above, so below: Salzarama – Jean de Rignies relates his UFO encounter on France’s Jimmy Guie show – and the fate of Lovecraft’s contactee

Jean de Rignies relates his UFO encounter on France’s Jimmy Guie show

Towards the end of his life, Jean’s irregular bulletins from the house on the borderlands became increasingly bizarre, including a report that he had been caught in a ‘time slip’ after leaving a tunnel system he had uncovered in the hills behind his house. He claimed only his ‘presence of mind’ had prevented him from becoming trapped in another time period or slipping into a parallel quantum world.

Tommy Chong

Taking the whole affair full circle, Jean de Rignies’s experiences in the Domaine served as the ’real’ life inspiration for the Tommy Chong character in ‘COLOR OUT OF SPACE’ (2019).

De Rignies’s original analog recordings were subsequently stolen and in an odd parallel, the approximation of his tapes that we’d mixed for ‘COLOR OUT OF SPACE’ were unceremoniously dropped from the soundtrack by SpectreVision who presumably felt we were delving too deeply into ‘illegal areas’ of the sonic spectrum. It is almost as if the algorithm that maintains the matrix is determined to make sure the full force of those original recordings never reaches the public.

De Rignies’s accounts laid the groundwork for the hysteria that gripped the region in 2012, the year the Mayan long count calendar ran out. Somehow the suggestion that extraterrestrial or ultradimensional beings lived beneath the Bugarach met the popular concept that the area would serve as a sanctuary during a coming apocalypse, preserving a seed group of humanity to repopulate the Earth – an idea first pitched by local author Elizabeth van Buren in her book ‘Refuge of the Apocalypse – Rennes-le-Chateau – Doorways to Other Dimensions’ (1986).

Paul’ and friend. Borderlands Salz River
 post card image from the Zone – ‘Paul’ and friend

The Domaine was believed to be a centre of cult activity by former high court judge George Fenech who headed a government body named MIVILUDES (‘Mission interministerielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires’ or ‘Interministerial mission for monitoring and combatting cultic deviance’), hastily put together after the Solar Temple murders shook the nation. Fenech saw the situation in the haute Razés as an opportunity to practise his ‘zero tolerance policy’, invoking the spectres of Waco and Jonestown in official ress releases, creating a climate of fear aimed at manipulating the public into accepting disproportionately heavy handed tactics. Claiming thousands of UFO cultists were converging on the Bugarach, Fenech argued that a state of martial law should be declared in the Zone.

The full extent of what was euphemistically termed ‘Operation Controlled Freedom’ became clear on 6 December 2012 when Fenech’s measures were announced at a raucous public meeting in Rennes-les-Bains. Hundreds of policemen were mobilised and the mountains overflown by military jet fighters and helicopters fitted with state of the art thermal imaging systems. A unit of the Republican Guard was brought in from Paris to patrol the region on horseback and, henceforth, all vehicles entering the ‘controlled zone’ would need to have their passes visibly displayed. Non residents crossing police lines would face strict fines or possible jail terms.

mounted police. Borderlands Salz River

Reporters from papers and services all across the globe flocked to the region in the hope of covering an essentially non-existent story. I was in the Zone at the time, reporting on the affair for ‘The Fortean Times’, the UK’s premier paranormal journal, embracing the opportunity to cover a genuine UFO flap from ground zero. The events of that tumultuous period are too numerous and colourful to be fully recapitulated here. they would probably make for a pretty decent novel. Needless to say the aliens never showed up, nor did I meet a single person in the vicinity who actually believed the world was coming to an end.

As the sands of time ran out, the locals expressed themselves in increasingly outlandish ways. A team of French folk in tin foil hats danced Gangnam style beside the town signpost, which was stolen and replaced four times in the course of the crisis. A sculpture of the mountain lovingly fashioned from mashed potatoes was paraded through the streets and ceremonially eaten in the town square. Even the late great Henry Lincoln showed up to purchase a bottle of ‘End of the World’ wine and grumpily tell the assembled press pack it was all ‘rubbish’ and there was nothing ‘special’ or ‘unusual’ about the area, maintaining, not without reason, that the whole fandango had been concocted by the media.

The day the Mayan calendar ran out. Borderlands Salz River

As above, so below: The day the Mayan calendar ran out – the ‘end of the world’ in Bugarach

The day the Mayan calendar ran out. Borderlands Salz River

Once the due date of December 21 2012 came and went without incident, the flap ran out of steam and both Bugarach and the Domaine faded back into rustic obscurity.

After Jean de Rignies’s passing, control of the Domaine was taken over by a group of local mystery enthusiasts, the original ’Guardians of the Salz’, who faithfully preserved the building and its contents. It was as if the Domaine had been frozen in time, set aside from the world and normal ebb and flow if 21st century Europe. The culture wars moved on to other hot button issues, the ‘X-FILES’ were no longer airing and no-one seemed to care much about ‘contactees’, ‘abductees’ or the ’space brethren’ any more.

Jean’s room

As Above: Jean’s room – preserved much as it was on the day he died. His body was retrieved from the en suite bathroom.
So below: The room where the analog recordings were made

Jean’s room

According to his wishes, de Rignies’s ashes were placed in a shrine on his former property, standing guard over the headwaters of the Salz, a setting as wild and magical as any on this haunted planet.

The Shrine. Borderlands Salz River

As above, so below: – The shrine containing the ashes of the hermit of the Salz, Jean de Rignies.

The Shrine. Borderlands Salz River.

I mouthed a silent prayer for Jean and whatever journey he may be on now and left him to the afternoon silence.

Inside the house the Guardians awaited and there was pressing business to take care of.

Apperitifs had already been poured and the first course of the last dinner at the Domaine de la Salz was about to be served…


This documentary includes some of the original interview footage shot with Jean de Rignies but sadly there are no English language subtitles: –

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Thank you for reading the Richard Stanley blog, Tales from the Zone, a journal that will give outsiders some small insight into our day to day lives in the valleys of French Occitania. Please NOTE these entries are meant to be experienced in order. If you only just found this blog, you can begin reading from the start: Halloween. You can also find Richard Stanley on Twitter, and Facebook. However, Tales from the Zone are only published here.

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