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Interview Spirit

Without Blood There Is No Quimbanda: The Work Of NICHOLAJ DE MATTOS FRISVOLD

Between August and October 2018, we had the immense pleasure of having a back-and-forth correspondence with Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold. This was the final interview conducted before we took down the Covenant Magazine in order to revamp and relaunch. With the new site now up, and everything rolled out, the time has come to publish this conversation.

Originally Norwegian born, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold has been a resident of Brazil for over 15 years. A traveler through various traditions and spiritual legacies, Frisvold focuses his energy upon the wisdom found in African and Afro-derived traditions along with what is generally defined as traditional witchcraft in Europe. Over the years he has deeply involved himself with several streams of this wisdom, such as traditional Ifá, Haitian Vodou, Palo Mayombe, Quimbanda and a rich knowledge of witchcraft from diligent commitment and involvement with various recensions of the ‘witches’ way.’ His experiential knowledge is what sets him apart from the mere ethnologist as a living, breathing practitioner. He allows the Westerner a glimpse into these seemingly alien belief systems and traces their origins to lineages that are all singularly extra-human.

Without further ado, we present to you a small insight in to the mind of one of the modern world’s most important occultists.

Greetings Nicholaj! Once again, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We are admirers of your writing, and we’re excited about the chance to ask a few questions.

At the start of most of your books (with extremely notable examples in Exu and Pomba Gira) you often give a detailed anthropological look at the geographical region and the cultural influences on the practice you are going to be speaking on. You often explore etymology, socioeconomic impact, even immigration in how it has come to a fertile ground for the birth of that spiritual tradition. I’d like to start by doing the same thing for yourself. What are the conditions – ancestrally, geographically, and finally spiritually – that gave way to your own being?

That was perceptive of you, and in truth, I do believe that in order to truly understand a phenomena we need to analyse it from any possible angel, whereas geography, language and history along with aesthetics and art are amongst those avenues that will lead to an understanding of the phenomena as more than just in reference to oneself and one’s own culture and believes. We are all a conglomerate of multiple influences and in terms of ancestry it is quite Nordic for the most part. I have been able to trace my ancestry back to around 800 to the dukes of Fyrisvellir at Uppsala  on one side; but on the other there is French, Italian and African ancestry to be found through migration and marriage. Geographically I was born in Norway, lived in Sweden for some time and from age of 15 travelled a lot around the world finding myself chronically restless in Scandinavia until I visited Brazil 16 years ago and finally found the place where it was surprisingly easy to allow myself to root.

Spiritually I will have to say that, looking back, I was somehow always on the search for the quintessence of magic, which led me to investigate and get involved in traditional forms of cult and faith and it was with African faiths, especially Ifá and vodou that I found the quintessence which is also reflected in true witchcraft of land, legacy and blood, a natural and pragmatic spiritual philosophy that don’t make a distinction between the sacred and profane but lifts everything into a field of understanding through the interaction of polarities and nuances. In short, I consider myself as a pragmatic traditionalist that accepts the post-modern reality which translates into always having a secure foundation and the axis in order, but the landscape of experience of observation will always be like my opinions, fluid, dynamic and mutable.

That juxtaposition you present above reminds me of an interesting point brought up by the American author Tamara Siuda in her simply titled, but utterly excellent work “Haitian Vodou”. She reminds the reader that in order to fully understand the diasporic faiths, the European and North American reader must be ready to fully abandon and restructure potentially subliminal influences, personal conjecture, and privilege. I want to ask you what tenets of your faith- your thought process- were most altered in your work with the African/Afro-Latino systems, and in those early, nascent days of work, was there any part of yourself that had to be “immolated”?

Such total abandon is impossible – and I am not sure if it is even desirable to do so – I would advocate a great self-awareness in this case, to realize where you are coming from, what culture you are a product of and from this gain clarity in the same/other dichotomy exercised in your culture. I think if we erase a thinking of hierarchy in terms of better/worse evolved/primitive we enter a field of realized difference where we can enter a culture on its own premises aware of all the bias we bring to this culture by personal history, geography and cultural difference. In this regard and given my personal involvement uncritical cultural appropriation and mindless eclecticism annoys me as much as any other person that committed themselves to truly know and understand these faiths alien to the culture of ones upbringing. In my own case I never felt the occidental culture were particularly evolved, and certainly studying philosophy and anthropology do help one to see that the western  world with its primitive ideas of issues like punishment, crime and illness do not reflect a very advanced culture.

For me it came natural from an early age to focus on how all things were connected and so any culture or faith that aims towards reductionisms and simplification tended to annoy me. Hence with African faiths I found a philosophy and a way of thinking that resonated with my rebellious attitude towards formalism and reductionism. I of course had periods were I tried to conform to ideologies but I always ended up an enfant terrible when I tried to seek conformism. It follows that for me it was largely a homecoming, the arrival to a world view that made sense.

That’s very interesting, and no doubt an answer that will be met with a variety of responses, as the societal climate these days is to be extremely critical of anything that at all attempts to “appropriate” or use a facet of culture not intrinsically one’s own. Let us pay this extremely limiting way of thought no heed and continue to move forward boldly. In your personal work, is there a particular psycopompos figure that has guided you as the paths twist? When it comes to such a prevelent and permeating archetype, do you find syncresis from past spiritual work/systems important or dangerous when approaching a new one?

Oh, I am not advocating uncritical appropriation, I am just stating that an absolute veil free condition is not really a possibility, hence building awareness, respect and purpose as parts of a greater critical thinking becomes more viable, important and interesting.  But sure, let’s move on.

As for the psychopomomp, the go between and mediator in the crossroad of change I must point the finger and say ‘the devil’, this challenging force connected to destiny that we are confronted with at every moment of choice. This guardian of the crossroad of possibility, the lord of the silver key that has taken on a myriad of names, but the mystery is more profound than this as I believe the guardian of the crossroad and your inner daimon must be in resonance and in rapport for true guidance of the spirit host attached to make themselves heard and felt. Even if I can see commonalities between a given force in its different cultural expressions, this must be taken seriously as culture, geography, the legacy of a people informs a cult, deities and ideas in unique and powerful ways that we should respect.

Personally I make a distinction between synthesis and syncretism. Synthesis is a fusion caused by the ethereal, by spirit, it is about matters of resonance and bond moving in proximity with one another moved by magical laws and not imposed upon by shallow, uncritical syncretism based on subjective perception of similitude and difference.

This suppleness that your mentioning- a suggestion that through reasoning and contemplation, a more holistic look at magic and philosophy is possible- reminds me of a passage from your book, Craft Of The Untamed, with which you permission I will quote here-

“The witch is bound to no dogma. This makes them a threat to a Christianity established on doctrine. The witch insists everything in creation has its place. The church insisted on two contrary substances in God and the Devil. The witch strives for synthesis.”

From this point, I want to know your thought on the opposite end of the spectrum- away from synthesis. Many occult teachings, particularly those of the left hand path, have in recent years preached very austere, singular doctrines, which seem to adhere to one fixed set of laws, with little room for the wider, more chaotic approach you advocate. Can you speak to me about this a little?

I am not sure I understand the question completely, but if you are questioning the binary relationship of good and evil in relation to ‘the left hand path’ and its focus on self-becoming I have to say that this is in truth at the heart of the ideal of a ‘person becoming magic’. As we start out understanding the world we see it as a binary, night is different from day and so forth, but at some point the shades of grey should appear and reveal that a simple binary of our experience of the world is too simplistic. Nothing is just good or just evil, it depends on perspective, personal history and placement.  I wouldn’t say I endorse chaos, but I think it is vital to understand that nature is not as kind and predictable as we would like her to be. Hence I am more occupied with the complexities involved in the journey towards self-affirmation. And I must say that the older I get, the more experienced I get the wider the landscape tend to grow, but at the same time in this widening of the landscape it also gets more easy to see and realize yourself.

Perhaps the idea of the world inherited in tantric teachings is clarifying. In tantric sects the world is seen as a web that is ruled by dharma, a great cosmic law, in this web we are all subject to a personal dharma, our personal law, which I believe is revealed through astrology for instance, pointing out our potential and basic essence at birth, our blue print, that is acting within a wider web of possibilities. And I don’t see this in a static way; I see potential acted upon entering into a rhythm of repetition and difference. This translated into teachings and lessons and if we take these lessons we can also be more agile in the world.

The world appears less chaotic and with the increased awareness of the rhythm of the world we can enter into understanding and manipulation of these ‘laws’ and at the same time increase our self-awareness. For me the goal is to be the master of one’s own life, to be vibrantly self-aware, but I don’t think we can achieve this truthfully if we are too immersed in defining the other from the same, rather we need to look for how the web is constructed and what makes part where and how.

You recently announced a 5-day intensive initiatic workshop in to Quimbanda teachings in Brazil, which to the outsider reads as a very fascinating and curious thing. Is this your first time opening your experience in these subjects to the outsider? When did you decide you wanted to pass on your knowledge on the subjects?

We decided that it is better to train well a select few that witnessing all the mess people do due to lack of access. We have of course initiated and trained people in the past, but this is first time gathering a group in this way. So let’s see what comes from this. When it comes to living traditions, like Quimbanda, I have found people to be quite dogmatic and opinionated in defining the right way of doing things. For me that is to do religion, and I am not doing that. When it comes to living traditions, it be Quimbanda, Orisa, Ifá, Palo and so forth there are of course pillars and elements that must be observed, but taking care of the necessary factors we are left with a host of options with the aim of making what we do effective.

It has been two years since the release of “Ifa: A Forest Of Mystery”, and thusly likely enough time for you to get a sense of how the book has been received, not just in writing, but also in its great systemic and linguistic complexity (from the likely viewpoint of the majority of its readership). What are your takeaways in the time since launch, and how has the book been digested compared to the perhaps more (for lack of a better word) accessible and fluid nature of “Pomba Gira” and “Exu”?

This book is the book I am most content with actually. It is a book tying together the philosophy and theology found at the foundation of what constitutes a tradition to be alive. The book has been received with gratitude amongst practitioners, which was truly great to see. I mean, a ‘foreigner’ setting out to present a tradition as rich as Ifá in 400 pages would easily gone to a bad place, but it didn’t, it was a work of love and patience and it is reflected in the reception. So, contrary to Exu and Pomba Gira no voices of dissent have crossed me as far as I have seen at least, not that I really keep much track on what people say and mean about what I am doing thou.

I think by this point I have a little bit of an idea what influences and interests you from the sphere of psychology, spirit, and mythology, but could you enlighten myself and our readers as to what stokes your fire from the world of art? What painters, bands, musicians, and poets do you find yourself drawn to in recent months?

As you are posing this question I have Daniel Melingo on in the background, but with music I am quite diverse. I was brought up on Birthday Party, Psychic TV, Fields of Nephilim, Marc Almond, David Bowie, David Sylvian, Tuxedomoon and all these new wave and dark wave movements in music, currently I do listen to a lot of dark country and cabaret, but I also liked the latest album of The Nationals as much as Rhiannas Anti…. so I am more of a mood listener I think. In general I think music is denigrating lately, it is getting harder and harder to discover good music, like Rykarda Parasol and Chelsea Wolff, so I try to support artists like this so they can keep on making good music…

As for poets, Baudelaire and the Romantic Movement will always stand out, but so does Chares Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Wanda Coleman and Rumi. Currently I am rereading Faulkner, and is simultaneously reading Livingstone’s book about Ingmar Bergman, Al-Alim’s Jinn Sorcery, Cotnoir’s Poetry of Matter and Leitão’s Biblioteca Valencia.

Why don’t we close with you telling us what is on the horizon for Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold?

We, me and my wife, have plans of arranging more workshops, events and such like in our grange. This might also involve me returning to more therapeutic work. I still have a few books up my sleeve, but will try my hand on prose and novels again – after all poetry and novels was what I started out writing, so that will be nice, a return to storytelling.  But there is also another book with Scarlet Imprint on the horizon, which will be announced on the upcoming solstice…


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Interview

WITCHES HAMMER is back from the grave to reclaim the Throne

This summer at Covenant Festival IV in Vancouver BC all hell will break loose. BLASPHEMY, INCANTATION, PROFANATICA, and the like all on the same stage will usher in one of the darkest, most savage events in recent Canadian history.

However, another dimension exists to this gathering that is even more profound. The ancient speed metal gods WITCHES HAMMER will return to the stage for the first time in 29 years. Many know of the band as a pre-cursor to several Ross Bay Cult bands, mainly through re-releases and nostalgic forum posts, but lack a deeper appreciation for the absolute true spirit of uncompromising metal they possessed.

Original guitarist Marco Banco (TYRANTS BLOOD, ex-BLASPHEMY) takes us back to the wild west and reveals a time when the genesis of something exciting was just starting to take off. Listen up and take a history lesson from one of your betters. Soon the next generation will know!

COVENANT: Alright! So we know who you are, most people reading this at least have an idea, and anyone in this city is aware of your impressive resume, but now we’re here to talk about WITCHES HAMMER!

We know that a gang of Delta miscreants started the first speed metal band in Western Canada, but for the uninitiated can you provided a quick blow-by-blow, highlight-reel of the band’s brief history?

MB: Alright. So, a brief history:

There wasn’t a lot of like minded kids into heavy music back in the front early 80’s.

For instance, in my junior high, the kids that were into Judas Priest, Sabbath, KISS, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Saxon, Maiden etc. weren’t down with Motörhead the Sex Pistols, Plasmatics, Cirith Ungol and groups like that. So we started to drift into a micro scene that was our own.

We still all had no out, but the 3 or 4 of us that wanted our own thing started seeking out the strange bands whose albums were being sold in the back of Kerrang, Enfer, and zines like that. Started making our way into the city to the import shops just find something unique, heavier, faster.

That’s how what ended up being the metal scene we all hang in today started.

Just young preteen punks and headbangers looking to carve out our own piece of turf.

When I started playing the stupid guitar, of course I sought out the few and far between to make noise with. It was cool having something not too many people were into. In fact, they hated it. So you know your headed the right way. Steal their Led Zeppelin and Nazareth, cool.

Excellent policy I thought.

When I figured I had enough chops to get a bit more serious, I put an add in the Straight (local arts & culture rag) for people into Motörhead, Exciter, Culprit and stuff like that. The only person that answered was Ray. He and his brother were the coolest guys on the block and just happened to be into all the same shit I was digging.

We called ourselves Death, then Oblivion, then I happened on The Malleus Mallificarum in the school library. So I lifted it and the speed metal scene was on.

COVENANT: At this point WITCHES HAMMER is a band practically revered as mythological among underground cultos. Folks like us (in our late 20’s early 30’s) have only heard rumours and read interview questions of the old days: chaotic house parties, wild violence at gigs, and a forward thinking attitude that seems to be a thing of the past. Can you give us a bit of a glimpse into what harsh METAL looked like in the Vancouver area in the mid 80’s?

MB: The things that are interesting from back in those early days, to me anyway, was that we weren’t clean, old enough, or polished up to be taken seriously by the metal and heavy rock scene.

That was when Helix, pre-glam, Van Halen, Maiden, and Rush were massive. The early eyeliner, hairspray metal days. Those dudes looked at us with our greasy hair, ripped up poor clothes, and just thought we were punks.

We played way too loud and way too fast, so they told us to fuck off and take our punk rock crappy attitude with us.

No problem, I didn’t like those sweet smelling douchebags anyway.

So off we fucked into the dregs of the East end [of the city], and cut our teeth opening up for far superior acts like DOA, Death Sentence, SNFU, The Accused, and Verbal Abuse.

Those cats got it right away, those were the first crossover shows, and those other glammy creeps were out of the picture.

Of course, performing our very first show, my first EVER live show with Exciter, Exodus, Metal Church and Sacred Blade was a huge deal for us, and especially because that was the era where every gig like that was laying a foundation, building on momentum. The Metallica “Ride the Lightning” tour had completed tore the city’s music scene a black hole. What emerged was an army, literally overnight, of people breathing this new found energy: our era, our niche, our generation had its sound and it was profound.

So with that we had our bridge between the outer municipalities and into the city. We hit it hard. The kids started renting halls and putting on wicked sold out shows. We weren’t old enough for the bars; well, we could play the bars with the punk bands back then, but the kids our age couldn’t come to the gigs. So metal shows were underage teenage riots. Thrown at house parties on the weekends and rented skating rinks and halls the next.

That’s where it was at: independent, DYI, very cool, I thought.

 

COVENANT: As the first speed metal band in Vancouver/Western Canada, what kind of challenges did a band like WITCHES HAMMER face in an otherwise barren wasteland of uncompromising heavy metal?

MB: The challenges were; We were really young, uncompromising, and hated authorities, especially promoters. We weren’t really trying to appeal to a larger audience outside of our style. We felt it was necessary to be completely rigid in our approach. Because things were so new, it seemed that if we let up on our ideals, it could be lost with a whisper to sleazy pimps and pushers. So we held on with an iron grip

COVENANT: In that relatively brief career you played with some top-tier legends like Exciter, The Accused, SNFU, Exodus, and Metal Church. What are some of your favourite memories from those old gigs?

MB: Favourite memories for sure were the first 2 shows we performed at:

When we hit the stage to open for the Exciter gig in ’85 that I mentioned, I was 15 years old. So of course this was quite overwhelming, as apart from performing at junior high school events, this was a near capacity crowd of raving denim and leather fire-breathing maniacs!!

Daunting to say the least.

An excellent way to cut our teeth I think. Into the storm head on, whatever happens happens.

The other great memory for me personally, was opening for Death Sentence and Verbal Abuse at John Barleys in the east end. That’s where the crossover style began in Vancouver. The hardcore punks accepted us full on, we really enjoyed that whole complexion and style. Suited us well. That’s where we fit in best at the time. Not to mention, in ’84 and ’85 there weren’t any other speed metal or thrash metal groups around yet.

We were it.  Our niche was bored out into the fabric of the underground music scene.

COVENANT: By the 90’s the band seems to have dissolved fairly unceremoniously (with an unreleased record nonetheless!) What lead to the end of that era and the long dormancy to come?

MB: From 13 to 19 years old, people change a lot. So did all of us. Some of just up and left the province, I joined up with Blasphemy, Mike Death went to Procreation, John onto Armoros and Procreation. Not to mention, we’d run our course at that point.

The scene was dying out. Violence at the shows a year prior was out of control. So for many people, it just wasn’t worth it anymore to bring your girlfriend and buddies out to see a band, and instead just get your teeth knocked in by skinheads or various lunatics that figured the pit was the place to assault anybody without issue. It had to burn out.

The days of sold out underage gigs weekend after weekend from around ’84-’87 were gone at that point.

COVENANT: You have Canadian Speed Metal, Stretching Into Infinity, and Dead Forever which are all postmortem WITCHES HAMMER releases, and seem to get more and more complete with each one. Explain how these compilations/unreleased albums came about. Where was this material hiding all these years? And which one stands as the definitive statement on what the band was all about?

MB: They weren’t really hiding. We just weren’t very approachable or compromising in our self promotion.

We really truly believed rigidly that the DIY underground scene was where it was at. It was an attitude that was really just an aggressive testosterone fueled teenage angst, Fuck the industry, we’ll just steal it, kind of of attitude. That was that.

COVENANT: The return of WITCHES HAMMER is huge! In the past 10 years many bands once-thought gone forever have returned to the stage. Some wildly successfully, and some less so. Personally, what do you hope to achieve by bringing WITCHES HAMMER back from the dead?

MB: I don’t really have any hopes of silly nostalgic reverence. I’m just going to perform as always.

However or whatever goes down is the way it should be. I’m cool with getting John and my music done. It’s cool to jam with Ray. Great performing with the boys. It’s a good time.
We will record these songs. See what’s left over. Hit a few festivals and shows.
That’s about it I figure. See what happens.

COVENANT: We’ll quit living in the past and look towards the future. The time seems right to give a new breed of fans raised on the internet a taste of what was. What forces awoke the slumbering beast that is WITCHES HAMMER? Tell us what is coming next from the band. Can we expect new music? More live appearances?

MB: I despise living in the past. I absolutely cannot stand looking back at past accomplishments. It bores the hell out of me.

This came about because John [original drummer, who died in 1997] and I had written a host of riffs and song we never recorded.

I would have took them with me to the dust if Ray, Yosuke [of Nuclear War Now! Records], Mike Death, and Steve hadn’t convinced me to do this for Big John’s memory. This is a part of his  legacy as the man that helped to create what we call extreme metal in Vancouver

So I would say now that I will light that torch for him

COVENANT: Our thanks to you Marco! Until Covenant IV, we eagerly await to see what you all have up your sleeves. This will be something to behold! Until then please leave us with your final thoughts on the matter …

MB: Thanks for having us guys. Covenant has always been a cool thing since its inception.
We’ll catch you deathbangers, firebreathers, Witches and destroyers in the Covenant pit … into the pentagram!