The reason I wrote this article is because we sometimes hear stories that fascinate us.
I was researching myths and legends about the island and I came across an account of a young lady called Netta who was somehow connected to Aleister Crowley and the occult. This is her tale.
Netta Fornario was found dead on the island of Iona on 19th of November 1929, aged 33. Now, it wasn’t as if her body was discovered resting peacefully forevermore in a house, hotel or building. No. She was found dead and naked but for a black cloak, in the middle of a farmer’s field with a knife in one hand. To add further suspicion to the situation, she had seemingly managed to carve a cross into the ground below her. Not your typical everyday death.
From what I have read and what I have gathered from my research, Netta, whose real name was Marie Emily Fornario, was half Italian, half English and was very intelligent. She was an occultist, that’s one thing we are sure of. She was a member of the Alpha et Omega Temple, which was the successor organisation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Founded by the famous occultist Aleister Crowley). She was heavily active in various occult groups and was also suspected of being a Rosicrucian. So, why did she come to Iona? What was her reason for visiting this mysterious and ancient Scottish island?
Iona is a magical and beautiful island, where the monk Columba brought Christianity to Scotland. The island had been visited and used for ceremonial worship long before Christianity arrived. 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 (non-magic folk speak: Faeries). Dion Fortune was a renowned occultist at the time and knew Netta very well. Dion distanced herself from Netta, however, because she was getting too deep into things she could not understand or control.
When Netta arrived on the island most of the summer lodgers were leaving, so she had no problem finding accommodation. From the accounts I have read, she stayed with a family called the Camerons or the MacRaes. Either way, she found lodgings and made her home on Iona. She had brought many items with her, suggesting that she was planning to stay for a long time.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by ☽????????????????????????????????????????☉???????????????????????? ☾ (@franceasca) on
Now I am very open-minded when it comes to explaining unexplainable events but, in all honesty, mental health must be taken into consideration when looking at this case. In 1929 mental health was not greatly understood, and some of the behaviours Netta was displaying may have been due to various health issues. The family she was staying with said she would go into trance-like states, always seem to have a distant look in her eyes and would sometimes speak in incoherent ramblings. Another odd thing Netta’s hosts discovered was that her silver jewellery had turned black. When questioned about this, Netta said her jewellery always did that.
Netta would disappear for hours and hours on end, wandering around the island trying to visit as many of the pre-Christian sites as she could. It was first noticed that something was wrong when Netta sent a very cryptic message to her London housekeeper. It stated that she would not be home anytime soon as she had a terrible case of healing to deal with.
On the 17th of November, the family she was staying with found Netta packing her stuff in an urgent rush to leave the island. She said she was being psychically attacked by several individuals. The family warned Netta that because it was a Sunday no ferries would be able to take her back to the mainland. After a few hours of waiting at the ferry link, she returned much calmer, proclaiming that she no longer wanted to leave.
On the day she tried to leave the island, Netta decided afterwards to go out on one of her many long walks. Her hosts were used to this behaviour, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
On the 18th of November, a member of the family knocked on her bedroom door but received no reply, so decided to enter the room. Her clothes, bed and belongings were all neatly positioned and folded away. Everything looked completely normal.
They went out in search of Netta, but no-one could find her. It wasn’t until the 19th of November that her body was discovered by two local men. She was found between the Machar and Loch Staonaig.
Netta was clearly dead. As mentioned previously, she was naked with just a black cape around her. She was holding a knife in one hand, where she had (we assume) carved a cross into the hillside where she lay. According to some occultists, this is a method used when contacting the faerie realm. Upon first inspection, it looked like she had died from exposure. Some of the reports noted that her feet and toes were cut, which would suggest she was running. But running to where or from what?
St. Columba's Bay, Isle of Iona
According to the reports, the doctor who dealt with the case conceded he could not pinpoint the time of her death, only that it had happened sometime between the 17th and 19th of November. He concluded his report by stating that exposure to the weather had killed her.
I think it's probably time to call Agents Mulder and Scully. I believe there is some truth in Netta’s interests in the occult and her connection to magic. Was she suffering from mental health problems? Maybe. Or perhaps it was a combination of both. Because of where Netta died and the religious implications surrounding the mystery, the story has probably grown many arms and legs throughout the years.
What about her death? Her death is bizarre, without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve been to Iona many times, and there is no way you could go missing on that island for nearly two days with no one finding you, even in 1929. Unless she was killed elsewhere by someone and they moved her body there? Maybe it was a religious man or woman who believed Netta was a witch and took matters into their own hands? There are endless explanations.
Despite the variations of the truth surrounding her death, the fact remains that she was a real person. Her grave is said to be in the churchyard in the village. So, she did exist, and she did die on Iona but how she died is a mystery to this day. Maybe with a bit more research and access to documentation from the time period, further deductions could be made, even without the assistance of Mulder and Scully. Nevertheless, Netta was certainly an enigma and hers is a fantastic story filled with mystery and intrigue.
Dave is one of our finest driver-guides. He's obsessed with the myths and legends of Scotland.