Monday, June 26, 2017

Author Interview: UTU WITCHDOCTOR

Interview with author UTU WITCHDOCTOR

Let’s start by discussing your background, your education and experience in your chosen field. What set you on your path and how meaningful have your travels been?
When it comes to a chosen field, it’s a strange one that has me straddling two different paths to a degree. While I have been involved in modern witchcraft since the mid 90s, and still am a part of that movement as a whole, at the same time I have been immersed in the North American conjure and voodoo traditions as well, with the music, magic and travel of the Dragon Ritual Drummers being the bridge that connects the two. The Dragon Ritual Drummers have essentially formed our own esoteric tradition of magic and reverence, focusing on obscure and primal serpentine entities that have been a part of North American lore for thousands of years, that being giant "horned serpents" akin for lack of a better word to dragons. These entities have been at times revered by various Native American nations and as time travelled, relegated by others as "evil", malignant, banished and slayed powers. They were once the epitome of the ancient earth and her cycles, but eventually became the representation of archaic chaos and destruction. Our drum troupe is comprised of members of a local Niagara pagan men’s circle, all our members over the years have come from that lodge, which has been in existence for 21 years, the Dragon Ritual Drummers are at this point a tribal troupe that has been going since the year 2000, albeit only in the last 7 or so years that we have been travelling and performing on an international stage. For us we had decided as a mish mash of tribal drummers, to reach out through magic and rhythm to the giant horned serpent of our region in Niagara that has a legendary if not controversial legacy. Giant horned serpents were once revered in our region by descendants of mound builders, who left their trace from the Ohio River Valley all the way to here in Niagara. However around the mid 1600s, shortly after French colonials arrived, the Iroquois nation routed the local tribe who were neutral in a long standing feud between the Iroquois and Huron nations, hence in history they are referred to as the "Neutral Indians", although they were called by their surrounding tribes the "Onguiaahra", or "Attawandaron". They were entirely routed and destroyed, and common to the conquering Iroquois at that time, the serpent was allegorically slayed by the Iroquois sky god hero in an epic battle at the brink of Niagara Falls, which was the lair of the horned serpent. Many of the regions that were once inhabited by ancient mound builders, eventually had the Iroquois thunder god slaying a giant horned serpent and freeing a human maiden that was its consort. We reached out to that still existent paradigm of power, and the tangible results is a major part of our troupe’s success. We performed a series of small shows to honour the serpent, thought nothing more of it than it being a magic for us to demonstrate some devotion and attention to its legacy, but in short time were invited on twice to the local rock radio station 97.7 Hits FM, a huge listening audience in Southern Ontario. From there in short time again were invited on to three different Television shows as well as a few more performances, we soon recognized we were in the midst of sorcery in motion. We figured lets record a CD, surely that would round out this magic endeavour, buy that only furthered the cause and lore and we are here now, over a decade later in the throes of a career we never thought we would be involved in, well a side career at least. All of our members over the years have adorned themselves with a custom tattoo in the likeness of the serpent, a gauntlet and rite so to speak, it’s our logo and mark of our troupe. Basically we recognize that without the devotion towards that ancient serpentine power, we would never have even began this exotic path of music, magic and travel. We owe everything to that tangible ancient entity, and as crazy as that sounds to many, its reality. We honour it still to this day, every time we travel, whether by car or being flown to as far as Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alberta, we hail our local horned serpent lore and power, it doesn’t get much more Viking that that!
That all being said, there is another spiritual force that we have become synonymous with, and that is the spirit world of North American conjure and voodoo, in particular the spirits of the Underground Railroad. We are based in a town called St Catharine’s in the Niagara region of Ontario, which has a unique legacy in that this where Harriet Tubman, the celebrated conductor of the Underground Railroad (U.G.R.R) brought her particular "track" of freedom to its end. It was here that she lived, prayed and planned out her many trips back and forth during the height of the U.G.R.R. bringing her freedom seekers north of the U.S. border, and something not focused on at all, is just how many of the freedom seekers escaping slavery, as well as Harriet "Mama Moses" herself were involved in root work, conjure and voodoo. These spirits themselves are very tangible and bring a great reward to those that exalt them and their legacy of freedom fighting and justice. Again it sounds crazy to many, but the spirits of the U.G.R.R. are tangible forces, and to shed light upon their legacy is a unique gift that our travel and music is associated with. While we do at times play at large mainstream events that is just about our rhythmic music, many of our performances are at spiritual, pagan, witchcraft or voodoo themed events across North America, so we also facilitate open ceremonies and rituals to connect and celebrate the U.G. R.R. spirit world with the attendees at the festivals we play at, something that has become as popular and desired as our shows, and our shows are totally interactive performances that celebrate the spirit worlds of many legacies housed with in North American voodoo and conjure. So when it comes to our travel, music sales etc., we truly do owe it all to the esoteric nature of our troupes focus. Everywhere we go, preform and travel is an extension of our troupes spiritual practices, its unique and never lost on us, so we keep it all sacred and at the surface. Doesn’t mean we forget that we are essentially Viking across the continent, and we certainly do worship the pantheon of Rock and Roll, so we have a good time doing it and savouring the at times hedonistic antics that a crazy, chaotic tribal drumming circus can bring forth. We live it like its sacred and live it like it could all end tomorrow. What better way to honour the sacred dead than to live a full life for and in honour of them, while drinking from their elixir of reverence, travelling and performing their stories.

What was your inspiration for studying modern witchcraft and voodoo to begin with?
Personally that would be hard to pin down exactly, I was born in Scotland, so in general our culture is very much intertwined with the world of ghosts, witches and spiritualism runs in the family too. As for modern witchcraft it was in my early 20s that I innocently came across an active coven of witches in St. Catharine’s where I had recently moved back in the early 90s. After becoming friends with that coven I eventually followed the gauntlet of entry and trust and became a member. I immersed myself for nearly a decade in that tradition and became clergy in it. It was an occult tradition centered out of Texas and was of a Sumerian flow, magic akin to the ancient Sumerians, which was very different from the Wicca that was more commonly known to many. When it comes to voodoo, that happened again by accident, as a drummer I was intrigued by the service of ritual drums in voodoo, drumming was a big part of the Sumerian tradition too, so eventually I was invited to drum at Santerian ceremonies that were in need of competent drums, and slowly but surely after serving various houses in the general vicinity of where I lived, began to get invites to others a day or so away of a drive, it just snowballed, and myself and a small group followed the trail of manifestation via the drums, which eventually lead me right to a ritual held by Priestess Miriam Chimani and Louis Martine of the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple, that was in 1999, and I have been a member of the temple since the year 2000. Once I met, saw and felt the unique spiritual blessings and tradition of the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple, I knew I had found a place I would be part of for many many years. I still serve the temple, and have also served as an Egungun drummer for Prince Bamidle Bajowa of the Royal House of Rebuja, in Youruba Land Nigeria for many years now. That’s paraphrasing a decade or more but essentially that is how I become immersed and involved in witchcraft and now to a larger degree North American voodoo and Yoruba Ifa. All of it was following the beat of sacred drums and the ritual service of the drum. It has taken myself and members of the Dragon Ritual Drummers to exotic travel and so much gratifying spiritual exchange. I now have my own tradition and temple here in St. Catherine’s to honour and exalt the spirits legacy of the Underground Railroad.

Why do you think the Horned Serpents are regarded as sacred to some cultures and malignant to others?
That’s because the indigenous native religions say so, some of the traditions of various native nations say as much, that they were archaic and evil entitles that meant to harm humanity, others say they were ancient and wise, chaotic and primal yes, but to some they are sacred and still revered. Its complicated for sure, I have befriended many a Native healer, and met many across the continent, some of them when I talk of the horned serpents are open and intrigued at what our band has done as far as working with the one here in Niagara, others offer extreme caution and question why, totally understood as well, it’s not lost on us that we are, and for the most part secretly other than the occasional interview, working with something that is controversial, but as they say you can argue with manifestation, and here we are, our troupe is totally connected to the horned serpent of the waters of Niagara, its reality, albeit one that rightfully challenges the very few. We have been very lucky that far more indigenous healers have offered support in our private workings from afar, offered us blessings as well as medicine and advice so that we can continue to do, all of that is very sacred to us, it means a lot that we receive the blessings and medicine we do from the native healers that offer it to us, because that is not common at all. Other cultures and their views of what ancient giant serpents were, called dragons by many, are not really a problem, those ancient religions are gone, there may be reconstructed versions of them, but dragon veneration will not insult anyone like it can to some of our indigenous peoples here in the Americas. When it comes to dragon veneration, no one takes it to the level of sanctity as the Chimers and Japanese cultures, and so whenever we have interacted with them in ceremony, and we have, they love that we are connected to that ancient power, because to them it’s sacred and celebrated.

What other similarities do you see between witchcraft, Native American lore and voodoo?
The similarities to witchcraft, voodoo and Native American religions are really not that many. Witchcraft is what it is, its magic, and there are vast differences between even numerous witchcraft traditions, whether they be European ones; the older cultural traditions that are intertwined with saints and other Catholic and Christian paradigms, vs the newer or neo pagan traditions such as Wicca, which is goddess oriented and a reconstruction of sorts, with much more emphasis on ancient European pagan lore. Native American religions and spirituality is still intact, has not needed to be reconstructed, and for the most part is practiced by Native Americans and first nations here in Canada. Their spiritual practices have been hyper appropriated by many new age and eclectic workers, which is not a very celebrated reality, depending on whom you ask I suppose. As for voodoo, again a tradition that has many branches and many opinions on who should be involved in them. Voodoo is an African American legacy, part of their experience and various cultural celebrations, albeit many people of non-African heritage these days are involved in it, and again, depending on who you ask is whether that’s a good thing or not. They are all similar in that they can at times be animistic, depending on the tradition, as well as ancestral based, but neo pagans are only recently really getting that part and putting into their practices. One would think they would make great allies, but it’s not always the case. There have always been bridge builders from each that will share and connect with each other, and it’s always great when that happens.

Do you read books on the subjects you have covered up to now? Who are the most knowledgeable authors you have read?
I am not much of a book reader, not anymore although I have a veritable library in my home. I do go through ones colleagues or friends of mine have written or get published, if they have sent or given me one. Those tend to be books on magic, witchcraft, conjure etc. When it comes to giant horned serpents, at least the ones of North American lore, all that information is gleaned from sections of dozens of books on Native American mythology in my library, that and my own general research over the years including time spent with Native medicine people that are familiar with them and or willing to talk about them. For witchcraft and voodoo, I am clergy in those traditions, so I was taught and schooled person to person, there really is no books a person must read, but authors on subjects ranging from magic to the occult, voodoo to root work, there are a few that stand out. For witchcraft; Judika Illes, Raymond Buckland, Silver Raven Wolf and Raven Grimassi are well known and prolific authors on the subjects, from historical to hands on. For voodoo and or root work/conjure; Denise Alvarado, Starr Casas and Louiis Martine have all written a good few books each, again from the historic to hands on. If I read a book, at this point it’s most likely a dry one that is research oriented, or written by a friend, or one that is about some historic rock and roll band or personality, I do like to read about the rock gods.

Does Native American folklore and legend come into your studies? What wisdom have you gained from their parables?
Only as mentioned before in regards to the lore of the horned serpents. Any wisdom I have gained from the Native American or First Nations has been from their healers or teachers, usually in conversation or during a ceremony. And as I mentioned before if it’s about the horned serpents it’s a mixed bag of response, anything else gained is usually of a personal matter that I hold close.

Who are some of the rock and roll personalities you have read about in recent years, and in which books?
The most recent rock and roll bio I read was Ace Frehley's from KISS, of which I am a big fan, at least the little kid in me still is. I always had a fascination with KISS as a youngster, and truth be told our drum troupe sort of emulate them in as much as we can when it comes to stage show. While not in the same universe or budget, we do try to use certain props, fog machines, lights et cetera to enhance the tribal vibe we play, we joke among ourselves for certain events if we should do the "KISS" show or not at some venues. At one of them it’s simply not possible, we play at a fire pit sometimes, other times a great indoor venue with a day to set up. When we were flown down to the Florida Pagan Gathering a couple of years back, we were checking out the stage area that the bands play at, we noticed that the stage was in a weird spot with an empty field behind it, whereas on the other side of the pavilion was a pile of palm trees and this cool weird concrete riser, about four feet in height. We told the guy in charge of set up that we wanted to maybe movie the stage to other side of the pavilion and incorporate that riser and trees... he was not too thrilled, I said to him, "You flew us down here, do want the cool show we can do, or do want the full KISS show?" he laughed and got on the radio and said "We need some guys here to move the stage" and then looked at me said, "obviously we want the KISS show". But I have a huge collection of rock and roll bio books, everything from The Doors to Zeppelin, Beatles to Grateful Dead, Genesis to Hendrix, I love all the salacious stories as well as the rise of a group of nobodies to world renown, always a great tale with many lessons to be gleaned. Not to get too sidetracked but in our modern group of public witches, is a good friend Jason Mankey, who has a whole series of workshops and rituals that are totally about rock and roll and paganism, and how they are interconnected, especially with certain bands that did indeed weld magic or sang about it, pretty cool stuff.

I read about Jason Mankey’s ritual for Jim Morrison; I believe the publication was Metal, Magick & Mythos zine. If you’re familiar with this, what are your thoughts on it?
Yeah Jason Mankey's Jim Morrison ritual. I have participated in it. It’s far from a traditional witchcraft ceremony but cool nonetheless. Guided meditations are not uncommon at neo pagan festivals, most of them being about finding your animal totems, awakening your inner something or other, all respectable in their own right. Some are better than others, so why not have one that is guided by a rock music legend. Jason gave me a copy of the mixed Doors music CD he uses for that guided ritual. Here in Canada when he was doing one I had a broken leg at the time, and had my Jeep down at the fire pit where it was happening, which offered up the much louder stereo for it. I think it’s a great guided mediation/ritual, explores the esoteric nature of the Doors’ music in general, the Dionysian aspect of the Jim Morrison legend, has folks moving about the circle, and while it’s a romantic journey into a strange world, there is a great humour to it all as well. Jason is for sure a fellow rock and roll lover, and again, he connects it to pagan lore, magic and sorcery. It’s a part of rock and roll here in the Americas where it was born. Gotta remember that rock and roll is a fusion of African rhythm and song, with European, in particular Irish and German instrumentation from the fiddle to the accordion. That fusion which birthed jazz is what gave way to rhythm and blues, and much of the early rhythm and blues is steeped in sorcerous lore, from historic players claiming to gain talent in midnight graveyards and remote crossroads; summoning entities to enhance their craft, along with just how much early blues were songs about black cat bones, mojo hands and hoodoo hexes. Magic is a part of the fabric of rock and roll, a huge legacy that is culturally pertinent to America, a unique expression that could have only happened here, and while its soaked in the blood and deplorable legacy of slavery and poor ostracized immigrants, it has become the cultural expression of America, which is now the foundations of pop culture and music worldwide.

If you were ever to base a ritual on a prominent singer, who do you think it would be and why?
Hmmm, well to be honest pop culture magic is not really one of my fortes, but I think Jason Mankey hit a good one with Jim Morrison, despite the hedonism and debauchery associated with Morrison. His lyrics, poetry and philosophies were very much based on the esoteric, ritual and role of the shaman. That being said, legends are leaving us these days at a saddening rate. It’s up to the person to find that link, that passion for the cultural figure, a person so inclined could find a rhyme or reason to do a ritual for everyone from Elvis to Prince, Bowie to Chuck Berry. I don’t talk about it much if ever outside of my inner circle, but I am related, albeit distant but related nonetheless to Bon Scott from ACDC, so maybe one day Ill include him in an ancestral rock and roll rite of some sort. 

Which books by Raymond Buckland have you collected, and how informative would you say they are?
Raymond Buckland, I mentioned him for his sheer prolific legacy of writing books on modern witchcraft since the 80s. For the most part too his books were hands on methods, which was very popular for many. He comes with some controversy as far as some of his historical facts, but many read his books back in the day, and to a degree many new comers still do. A great modern writer of witchcraft is Christopher Penczack. He has written many books, hands of formula galore, and a great guy too, I know him well.

How much controversy regarding historical accuracy has arisen from Buckland’s books on witchcraft?
When it comes to Buckland's books, depending on who you ask is the determination as to how controversial his historic accounts were. He was far from the only author on hands on witchcraft from his day to do so, he just happened to be one of the most popular. For the most part it’s probably a time and era sort of thing. Research capabilities have dramatically changed from the 70s and 80s, history has a way of always being reinterpreted or redefined, so I think it’s more in that vein, as opposed to outright misinformation. There were and still is a lot of myths and misconceptions about European witchcraft and witchcraft in general in many books from hands on to academia. We could fill a book on the topic to be honest. Raymond Buckland is a living legend, I have met him, and he is a humble guy. As time wanders, research and views, some at least, can become obsolete, it’s the same for everything whether its science, history or witchcraft. The hands on work his books entail still holds up in my opinion. He is in a rare club.

Can you think of other examples in which historical facts are refined or rediscovered?
Bear in mind some of these details are still being debated and my opinion, while the opinion of many, would still be argued I suppose by some, but this is an example of a part of witchcraft history that has changed, or been debunked so to speak. In some of the modern witchcraft books of the early 80s and 90s, which were pretty much the only hands on ones available at the time, there was a narrative put forth, in particular by the Gardnerian tradition founders (circa 1950s) that there was an unbroken line of covens and pagan worship in Europe going back hundreds and hundreds of years, in particular in the British Isles right back to the "burning times", the burning times being a purported era of women witches and pagans being exterminated by the "millions" by the Christian overlords of Europe. These narratives are for the most part now debunked, not a popular reality but one none the less. The burning times were not pagan women being rounded up by the millions, most of the witch burnings were for political reasons and land grabs, not to say there were not witches burned at the steak, we know that happened, and happened a lot, they were tortured in all sorts of horrible ways, but it was not "millions", and there was no "pagan faith" still holding out. By medieval times whatever ancient pagan religions that were once in Europe had long since been gone and forgotten. Folk traditions survived, celebrations surrounding solstices and equinoxes etc. still to this day survive, but that was hardly a clandestine intact pagan faith being handed down coven to coven over hundreds and hundreds of years, it simply was not true, and this we now know. As well any of us, myself included that were born in Europe know, “witchcraft" in Europe, survived, or grew out of, aligning much of the cultural folk magics with Catholicism and Protestantism. Witchcraft is magic, magic and witchcraft exists within Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures. So there really wasn't countless covens passing down intact secret European pagan religions and circle casting. The way many modern "wiccans" cast their circle is based upon mysteries from the storied "Order of the Golden Dawn", as well as a host of other Masonic and ceremonial practices, it’s all a great formula, very effective, but a few men started it, combined mysteries in the post Victorian era, it was not secretly handed down as a pagan faith surrounding goddess worship, it just wasn't true, and sadly some of the early writers said it was, a narrative that was furthered for almost two decades till the good ol' internet and modern research became more accessible to the average person. Hasn't really mattered munch, witchcraft adapts, it always has, communities build and new mysteries are formed, formula handed down, witchcraft continues to grow, we cast magic, share and blend mysteries to this day, it’s just done so without having to make up a story in order to justify it. That false narrative gave way to folks claiming that they were the guardians of an ancient family tradition of European traditions surviving a thousand years, it’s kind of funny actually but it happens in all faiths, all circles. Famous Salem witch Laurie Cabot, who came to Salem in the early 70s, to build a modern witchcraft legacy in a town mired in murders in the name of witchcraft, she came there to bring a healing legacy, one that celebrates witchcraft in a place known for its persecution. She did not make up a story of being a descendant of Salem witches, did not make up a story about how she came to be a witch and that legacy is now a multimillion dollar tourist and educational Juggernaut. Whereas a Salem "witch" named "Lori Bruno", who came along after Cabots beginning the community there, has a total fabricated story of being a descendant of historical figures and Sicilian witchcraft going all the way back to medieval times, laughable to most, especially those in our community that are historians, researchers etc. or just people exercising common sense. Thankfully this is rare nowadays in modern witchcraft, not completely eradicated ala Lori Bruno and her made up legacy. Sadly the "community" that exists, if one can say that, among those that practice hoodoo, conjure and root work, is now the new laughable lot where so many out of nowhere claim to be taught by their grandparents some sort of previously unknown conjure by a never before heard of root worker. For the most part these folks both black and white, are combining elements of Santeria, Haitian vodou and many other Caribbean or African based practices into a pot and calling it a handed down hoodoo tradition. Theses crazy claims are called "granny stories" by many, it’s just so senseless. I use myself as an example, while I have been taught, mentored and initiated, my Niagara Voodoo Shrine tradition, practices of working with and exalting Harriet "Mama Moses" Tubman, "Captain" John Brown, Auntie Sojourner Truth and a host of other spirits from the Underground Railroads legacy and lore, there is no mystery, I created that tradition, and have taken nearly seventeen years to exact it to a formula. But I created it, and everyone knows it. Well not everyone evidently, because now supposed "traditional southern conjurers" are emulating some of my work, assuming it’s always been there and so now they incorporate it as something historic, which brings much amusement to many. It’s just human nature I suppose, and I should probably take it as a compliment, and before you ask I will not name who any of these root workers and conjurers are, not now. So long story short, history in the esoteric and occult has always been in flux, always been in motion, but for true workers, true sorcerers it matters not, because at the end of the day each person is their own witch, their own warlock, they decide if what they cast and conjure is effective, and as long as we are honest with ourselves and our peers, it’s all good, and if treated with honesty and if its effective it will be handed down, shared and withstand the test of time.

How long have you known Christopher Penczack and how long has he been publishing?
Christopher Penczak is of my generation, and we have lots of respect for the one or two generations before us that were authors or teachers, but he is a modern day legend in the making. He may not say as much, but you would be hard pressed to find someone in our community that would argue that. I have known Christopher for probably ten years now, and we see each other at many events we both present at, whether in Canada or the U.S., we have hung out and had some great times. I have drummed for some of his unique rituals he facilitates at pagan festivals, he does a good job of incorporating integral witchcraft techniques to his own unique and original mystic approach. He is a mystic, an educator and a great teacher. He has his "Temple of Witchcraft" in New Hampshire, run along with his partner Steve Kenson. My favourite book of his is "The Mighty Dead", for the fact that it’s about working with your ancestors and spirits in general, which is paramount in my opinion. But all his works are good for any person wanting to learn as well as work magic akin to modern witchcraft.

Name some of the events where you and Penczack have appeared together.
I have been at festivals with Christopher Penczak over many years in Canada and the United States. We have been at "Wisteria Summer Solstice Festival" together, the "Festival of the Dead" in Salem, "Hex Fest" in New Orleans, and "Between the Worlds". I’m sure there is a few more but off the top of my head those ones stand out.

How would you describe the festivals where you and Penczack have attended, and the local scenes they are held in?
The festivals I attend are pretty vast in as far as content and energy, some of them are mainstream events whether musical or cultural with large stages, which are great. It’s really fun to play to large crowds and to be ambassadors in a way while performing at them. Others that fall under the "pagan" or "spiritual" are also very different at times depending on the size as well as what state they are in can make a big difference, whether they are in Canada or the U.S. can also make a big difference as well. But when it comes to the "pagan" festivals, despite the differences or nuance they tend to be similar; very open and welcoming to folks, very celebratory, usually in a remote area surrounded by nature. They are mostly a few days of camping, so at times there can be an ethereal vibe and energy. Pagan festivals are not just about music either; there are workshops during the days, rituals at night, and usually a revel fire or communal area to hang out at, that is where there are usually drummers and dancers around the fire at night, a highlight for many in attendance. At night there is usually a show from a pagan musical ensemble or performer. That’s what we are always a part of at any pagan festival that has brought us to their event. The guys from the troupe back me up and I usually facilitate a ritual or ceremony for the attendees to participate in, and it’s almost always a voodoo ritual to honor Harriet "Mama Moses" Tubman and the spirits of the Underground Railroad. A pagan festival is like a gathering of the tribes, many traditions are in attendance by folks that may or may not be practicing witches and is just there for the good time, good energy and open concept. Nothing is perfect, but the pagan festival is a great cultural event, great fun and has a unique way of facilitating revelry as well as hands-on education in various forms of magic and spirituality. All done by headliners, authors and experienced practitioners sharing their way of witchcraft, sorcery etc. As for a local scene, sometimes the festival is run by folks near the area it is being held in, but there is almost always a decent showing to a pagan festival from folks in the surrounding regions. A pagan festival is indeed a timeless event, a neo tribal celebration of the ancient gods, freedom and the joys of being alive.

Do you currently host your own pagan rituals? If so, describe them to the readers.
I do indeed host my own rituals and ceremonies, especially in my general vicinity that includes Ontario, Canada and Western New York. Those are usually ceremonies akin to Underground Railroad conjure and voodoo. They happen at various locations from my home; The Niagara Voodoo Shrine, as well as public parks or privately owned properties that can accommodate them. I also along with a small gang of close friends organize a yearly retreat called "The Canadian Conjuration Camp Out" which is an intimate event for about fifty or so folks. We bring in a couple of presenters each year to teach or share their particular brand of conjure, root work etc. and we hone it to focus on the legacy of Harriet "Mama Moses" Tubman and the spirits of the Underground Railroad, which is our region’s spiritual legacy as it pertains to conjure and root work. This coming one in August will be the fifth year of the camp out.

How do you usually spread word about the Niagara Voodoo Shrine? Do you plan to reach more people or do you prefer to keep the event intimate?
I do both. We, or I, on behalf of the Niagara Voodoo Shrine are often main gusts or presenters at large popular pagan, witchcraft and conjure related events all year. I teach classes and lecture at stores, meet up groups etc. akin to the esoteric, and I try to keep certain events or ceremonies I do intimate. It just all depends, it’s a constant ebb and flow. When it comes to events or workings I do personally, intimate is good, as a guest at other events I have had literally hundreds in attendance, and those are great.

Is writing books on witchcraft and voodoo something you would consider doing? How many could you compile?
I am in the midst right now of finalizing a book actually, about what else; voodoo, root work and conjure for Mama Moses and the spirits of the Underground Railroad. Not only finishing it up, but in talks with a publisher in the hopes to get it out there through a respectable means. It’s a pretty big piece of work as it stands now. It’s a Grimoire of conjures, spell work and formula for working with and exalting the heroic and unique figures that were integral in the Underground Railroad. So it’s a full on formula to interact with and revere as well as commune with those spirits and the blessings they can bestow upon the living. I hope to know soon some actual info on if there is some traction with one publisher of great renown for such subjects. I think I have a few books in me for sure, and this year and next is pretty much about me getting on it and working on them, but I have to get this one done first. Truth be told I did write a drink recipe book a few years ago, but that’s another story for some other time.

How much study and research did you do for information about the Underground Railroad for your events and printed work?
I have been immersed in research and applying formula to the conjure and root work for the spirits of the Underground Railroad since the year 2000. It never stops either, one could spend a lifetime immersed in it, and by the looks of it I will continue to be so. It has taken me to meet and discuss the U.G.R.R. with some of the movements most celebrated academic authors and researchers, albeit what I focus on; voodoo, conjure and root work of the movement and its historical figures not something many of them want to touch, but they for the most part are intrigued at my angles and work, some not so much. The U.G.R.R. is very much associated with Christian values, and the Christian faith has a proprietary stake in its history, and there was indeed a heavy Charlatan foundation to many of its historical figures and those that travelled the roads to freedom, but at the same time, conjure, voodoo and root work was as much a part of the legacy of those that sought their freedom as any other part of the history of the U.G.R.R. The topics of voodoo and conjure are not celebrated subjects at the best of times in academic circles let alone as a focal point of one of North America’s most endearing and historical movements of freedom and justice. So it’s no surprise at all, and nothing that I can control.

What Christian values were associated with the Underground Railroad, going by your research?
The Underground Railroad is completely defined by and associated with Christianity, at least on the surface and narrative presented by academia, for reasons I mentioned. It was indeed the spirituality of many that fled for freedom, as well as many that were the enablers of the movement, Christianity is the ruling religion of the Americas right now, and was even more so in the 1800s. All the spirituals, prayers and figures of the Underground Railroad’s foundations are Christian based. I am just one of those that sheds light upon the fact that while Christian values were indeed a paramount part of the wheel, so too was African spirituality and religion, and in many cases a combination of the two were employed, which is what voodoo, conjure and root work is, also not arguable, just not a topic that is popular in academia when it comes to the Underground Railroad.

How soon do you expect your book to be published? How many publishing companies have you contacted so far?
I hope to have it out to the public as soon as possible, or as soon as such things are possible. It’s kind of complicated; there really isn’t much I can or should say other than I have one in the works, and I’m doing what one does to try to get it out there for folks to read and work with. It’s a hands-on work book, while there is history to a degree in there, it’s also a hands on formula to work with the many spirits of the Underground Railroad.

Do you have ideas in mind for other books once your current project is completed?
I do have a few book ideas in the works, but I don’t want to mention them. I have enough folks nipping at my heels and trying to circumnavigate around me. Just keep your eyes open. Once I get some finalization on the one for the spirits of the Underground Railroad I’ll start going full throttle with a few more.

How would you want to be remembered for your contributions to the world of magic and occultism?
Ha! Not sure what to say about that. I’m hopefully going to be around a good while so who knows what the future has in store or if the "occult" would even care to remember me at all. As it stands now, the Dragon Ritual Drummers have achieved a few milestones. We are the most successful pagan drum troupe ever, not that there are a ton of them out there. But if any of them following, and a few have, they do so following in a few footsteps and a trail or two we have clearly left behind, from music awards to number one on charts for genres we sort of fit into, to getting flown from one end of the continent to another. We blindly set a bar while minding our business and just doing our thing. I suppose my work with the spirits of the Underground Railroad and the conjure and root work surrounding it would be worth a line in my memorandum, but who knows, while life is short it’s also very long. My work here is not even close to being done, and I don’t have the manual, not yet anyway. Hey the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be in NYC in July for "Witch Fest USA", come meet the gang! This will actually be our first official trip to New York City, we start the day of "Witch Fest U.S.A." leading the parade into the event area with none other than legendary NYC witch "Lady Rhea", and then we close out the day with a full show, which we are super excited about. The Saturday of Witch Fest U.S.A. is free, and we plan on shaking the buildings with some tribal thunder.

-Dave Wolff

CD Review: ARS VENIFICIUM The Reign Of The Infernal King

Putting it simply, this album crushes! Being more elaborate, Ars Venificium is the consummate band to greet me on a Sunday morning upon awakening. The band personifies anger, hate, sacrilege, blasphemy, darkness, vengeance and pure unsullied evil to reestablish your predilection for all things that are raw and satanic. The Reign Of The Infernal King is the debut full length from this Belgian black metal band and if you appreciate Marduk, Bestial Warlust, Desaster, Blasphemy and Maniac Butcher it’s recommended listening. This band has been active since 2013, was founded by former members of Belgium’s Eratomania (guitarist Ronarg and vocalist S. who is also the band’s lyricist) released two EPs (2014’s The Abyss, 2015’s The Abyss/Live Recordings) and released a split full length with Finland black metallers Azaghal (The Will, The Power, The Goat) in 2015. A promotional single was released in digital format in 2016 to announce the album’s release. Extinguished Are The Candles Of Holiness is at Bandcamp if you want to go there first. Following a premonitional intro Damnation Of The Soul immediately unleashes a whirlwhind of energy and continues to pummel you with slower breakdowns. Introducing you to an eternity in the underworld, it allows little respite before Fallen To The Realm familiarizes you with the demons in charge of flaying your soul, which they will be doing with earnest throughout the rest of the album. The lead vocals of S. and occasional backing vocals of Ronarg give voice to those demons. Ronarg and guitarist Archcaust likewise know what they’re doing with their instruments. The progressions written and composed by Ronarg can be simplistic when they want to be and display dexterity when they want to, and bassist Lava handles those progressions well. Drummer Norgameus (also of Murder Intentions) delivers every drum hit like a sledgehammer splitting your skull and oozing blood and brain matter. Whoever worked on producing the album got the drum sound just right so the snare hits and fills are clear in showing the direction in which they push the material along. This is a promising debut so contact Immortal Frost to acquire a copy. The run is limited to 1000 CDs, 500 jewel cases, 500 slip cases and 500 12” vinyls, so contact the label if you have an urge for some extreme and impious black metal). -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. Intro
2. Damnation of the Soul
3. Fallen to the Realm
4. Angel of Angels
5. Extinguished Are The Candles Of Holiness
6. Reign in Darkness
7. As Flames Spread Into Chaos
8. Thy Will, My Hands
9. Bringer of Light

Saturday, June 24, 2017

CD Review: CRYPTIC REALMS Enraptured By Horror

Iron Blood & Death Corp / Death in Pieces Records
This release is straight up old-school death metal in the realms of OBITUARY and DEATH. This release has muddy production, but in my mind that is a good thing, as it sounds as if it was produced in the 80's or early 90's. There are eight tracks on this release, and all are great. ''DOOMED CATHEDRALS'' AND ''IN MORTAL DISTRESS'' would have to be two of my favorite tracks on this album. (They are all pretty good, though). I have never heard of this band until today, but I will be sure to check out more stuff by them now that I have heard some of their music. Pure classic death-metal for the win! I highly suggest than you all give this release a listen. Death-metal forever! -Devin Joseph Meaney

Track list:
1. Enraptured by Horror
2. Doomed Cathedrals
3. In Mortal Distress
4. Total Demise
5. Sinister Force Descends
6. Vulgar Exhumation
7. Begging to Be Dead
8. Act of Derangement


From The Vastland began in Tehran, Iran in 2010, the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Sina who relocated to Trondheim, Norway after appearing at the 2013 Inferno Metal Fest. Sina’s project came into existence after the breakup of the Iranian black metal band Sorg Innkallelse who released ten full lengths while active. I remember from documentaries that Iran is not the safest place to start a band in (Sam Dunn’s Global Metal explores this in detail), so it’s always gutsy to play metal in an Islamic country. Chamrosh is the first CD released by Immortal Frost Productions after three full lengths (2011’s Darkness Vs. Light, The Perpetual Battle, 2013’s Kamarikan 2014’s Temple Of Daevas) and an EP (2015’s Blackhearts). Those were handled by Russia’s Satanath Records, the Netherlands’ Non Serviam Records and Norway’s Indie Recordings. According to Facebook the musicians Sina currently works with are Tjalve of Den Saakaldte, Pantheon I, Horizon Ablaze and 1349 on bass and Spektre of Horizon Ablaze and Harm on drums, together with Destructhor (Myrkskog, ex-Morbid Angel) on guitars and Vyl (Keep of Kalessin, Gorgoroth) on drums. Tjalve and Spektre appear as the bassist and drummer here. Immortal Frost released Chamrosh in September 2016 on a limited run of 1000 copies, while the label’s Bandcamp profile is streaming it in full. Sina’s subject matter is based on Zoroastrianism and the mythological legends of Persia and Mesopotamia, offering something new to the themes black metal is known for. I know little about said legends, and there are no lyrics posted at Bandcamp, so for a full understanding of the concept I have to start from the beginning. But taking the lyrics in this direction what should keep them from being lumped in with the clone BM bands trying too hard to be “kvlt.” Not for the fainthearted or the easily disquieted, Chamrosh embrace the grotesque fascination of Mayhem and Satyricon, adding a primal drum sound, shredding vocals, a touch of atmosphere and bleak acoustic sections kindred to DSBM (depressive suicidal black metal). Wizarsh, The Malkusan Witch, Chamrosh and Saurva, Demon Of Hunger are among the best examples of how closely these elements work together. The production is relatively clean and balances the atmosphere with the abrasive vocals, but in some areas it could have been polished a little, such as the drums which also could have used some echo without diminishing their primal urgency. Still the musicianship is relentless and shows the maturity potential of this solo-project-turned-band. This can be a groundbreaking act if they keep at it.
-Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. Wizarsh
2. The Malkusan Witch
3. Kresaspa & Seven Daevas
4. Chamrosh
5. Saurva, Demon Of Hunger
6. I & My Serpents
7. Mardazma

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Video Review: LION’S SHARE Another Desire

Another Desire
Mixed By: Lars Chriss
Mastered by: Mike Lind
Video made by: Paolo Vallegra
The new video by Lion’s Share titled Another Desire has got one hell of a guitar opening! This is the first release since their Dark Hours album back in 2009! Leaving the melodic sound behind, Lion’s Share has adopted the sound and feel of Ronnie James Dio, who they toured with in 2000. It is chalk full of heavy rock.
The video shows a man with a gun and a hand that rises in defense as if to ward off the attack. It is quite clear, at least to me, that they lyrics and the video are telling a story. Depending on your perception of the story it could be about the rage and desire of ending a life or it could even represent the senseless lives lost due to the use of fire arms. Either way- you will not be disappointed!
The lyrics appear in the video and you can find them listed below the video.
The Swedish band really packs a rocking punch with their more than seasoned voices and sound. Boys and girls, they are not your average band!
I give this a 5 out of 5 skull rating! This is a MUST have MUST see and MUST listen to! -Roberta Jean Downing

Video Review: CORRODED Carry Me My Bones

Carry Me My Bones
From their current full length Defcon Zero (Despotz Records)
I like the slow mellow start and how it picks up fast and hard with amazing chords. The lyrics and imagery seem, to me, to tell the story of the burdens of a soldier so far from his home and family brought on by a war that is not his. Corroded is made up of Jens Westin-vocals; guitar, Tomas Andersson-guitar; backing vocals, Bjarne Elvsgard-bass, and Per Solang-drums. They released their debut album Eleven Shades of Black in 2009. Defcon Zero is their first album in five years. Corroded is a hard rock band from Sweden. -Deanna Revis

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tattoo Artist Interview: JONATHAN ZUCHOWSKI

Interview with tattoo artist JONATHAN ZUCHOWSKI

How long has your Facebook community page The Fantasy Art of Jonathan “The Animal” Zuchowski been active? It lists your interests as art, tattooing, storytelling, painting. psychology. theology, chess, astrology, horror stories, horror movies and acting.
It was actually started by an admirer of my work. A young lady by the name of Litio Broie from Madrid, Spain, back in June of 2010. Litio was nice enough to put the site together for me. I have no idea how Facebook works half the time. And the other half, I'm reposting for animals, or trying to piss people off. And yep, all that stuff listed is what I'm into. Oh and I probably forgot to include: working out and playing racquetball. Hey, I'm a Virgo. I like to keep stimulated. 

What kind of fantasy art do you design? Is there a specific subject or time period you are basing your work on?
Really it varies. I just call it "Fantasy Art" but it includes sci-fi, horror, religious mythology, and social parodies. There is no particular ANYTHING. The stuff I paint is the shit that goes on in my head. If I analyze it, it usually turns out to be issues I've had through life. As for time periods- yes everything happens at some point in time. When I paint, I am trying to capture an entire story in one frozen moment of time. That's why I put a ton of details into everything. Keep in mind I picked up the brush after a ten year hiatus. I had come out of two heart surgeries. And was in a state of suicidal depression (this is pretty common with heart patients). I found an old canvas and some paints one day, and started painting. Eight hours later I still hadn't finished the painting and was exhausted from all the focusing. I then realized that the whole time I was directing my attention to my painting, I had forgotten how much my life sucked! So for the next ten years, every painting I did was one more time I didn't commit suicide. I also noticed that for whatever reason I was no longer painting in the impressionistic style but I was working more detailed and was attempting "realism" So basically I was trying to paint fantasy "realistically."

How do you define social parody, and how do you express it through your artwork?
I am making fun of society and its values. In various pieces I often use my characters to make commentary on our world... In "Christmas Eve" I am using the ghost of a forgotten child looking forlornly at the world of the living, who are in celebration. His tombstone says he will always be remembered. But in actuality he is forgotten. In "Christmas Eve Somewhere Else" the ghosts of a homeless girl and her dead infant are still begging, while a lone passerby is too busy to even care or even notice her. The frozen, dead bodies of her and her child are only a few feet away. In "Fallen Angel, The Condemned" a parody of the Pieta is the focus. A badly beaten angel, cradling the dead body of another angel are the focus. Three figures of the church (who resemble the Three Stooges) are standing by as one beats her with a cross while holding her on a leash. In the background another angel has had its wings cut off, and is being tortured while being chained to a cross. Obviously a commentary on religion. These are just a few examples. So interpret them as you will. Everybody sees something different in the same painting.

I have often covered how people use professed religious belief as a weapon. And those pieces you described seem to be a reflection of such people. How much has this mindset been gaining popularity, from what you read in the news?
I would say that mindset isn't GAINING popularity. It's been in force since humans developed the concept of divine beings! There has always been a charlatan out there willing to make empty promises. And there have always been people dumb enough to believe them. If you follow history, there have been periods where various religions called the shots in their neck of the world. Religion and politics are the SAME thing- just another means to control the simple-minded, and weak-willed. What's the difference between a priest and a politician? NOTHING! They both make empty promises to gain your trust. Then when they know they have it, they fuck you over, and make you believe you're being rewarded! They work around the idea of keeping people OUT. And pretending that by joining their particular group, that you are doing the right thing.

Have you been involved in local pagan communities where you live for a long time? Describe the path you have chosen.
I really don't get too involved in any specific organized pagan groups. I love the freedom of coming and going at will. There are a few pagan groups out here in Utah, but while I'm friends with some of the people in them. And respect their views. I usually don't try to belong to any particular group. As Groucho Marx once said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as its member." As for my path? Well let’s just say I'm nihilistic in my approach. If something does not work out for me, I get rid of it, and replace it with something that I think works better. I tend to use the ideas set about by the master of horror, himself- H.P. Lovecraft. The idea of beings able to travel between the multiverse and all dimensions appeals to me. They say we create gods that reflect our personal values. For me, those are entities who have no concern over anyone else's agenda, and are not affected by the laws of physics around them. I love tormenting missionaries, and bible thumpers with extremely detailed attributes of supernatural beings who have already eaten their (for the most part - the Christian god).divine saviors. I play "my dog is bigger." They claim that their god is all powerful, then I come up with an even bigger god who has EATEN their god. And no matter how much they deny it or refuse to accept it, I tell them there is nothing they can do about it. I'll make up a bunch of "facts" to suit the situation to the point where their heads are spinning. For me it’s a psychological game. I love fucking with people. As the Addams Family motto states," We would gladly feast on those who would subdue us." Everyone, and everything has a weakness. And I just try to figure it out and have fun at their expense. I love playing mind games.

Are those games meant to be a deterrent to people who would judge and forcibly convert you?
Most definitely! I love when people think they have all the "answers"- especially when it's about something you can't prove. I know I won't change their minds. But I also know they won't be back!

Which of Lovecraft’s novels have you read several times for their impact? What about the multiverse appeals to you?
My all-time favorites are "The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "The Mountains Of Madness". I'm particularly fond of "The Dunwich Horror". As a child of six, the movie scared me sooo much, I almost died of a heart attack! It wasn't actually the movie itself that scared me. The movie is an "okay" horror film. But the nightmares that it conjured up when I slept are what almost did me in! I think THAT’S the turning point that got me started on Lovecraft. Sadly, I've never been able to reduplicate that level of nightmare intensity again. "Shadow over Innsmouth" - A really cool "coming of age story. With the main character learning that the monsters he was trying to escape from are really his "family. And “The Mountains of Madness" Is a fun story about ancient civilizations hidden away in unexplored areas of the world. Shoggoths are just such fun creatures! They’re basically highly intelligent "blobs". As for the "multiverse" theory... I love the whole idea of alternate possibilities and variations on a theme. Each universe somewhat resembling the next, but with enough variations, that of you go out far enough from your point of origin, you have something totally wild and insane! I also love the idea of moments in time being forever trapped in their moment. Replaying themselves constantly over and over. Much like the "past" that Scrooge visits in "A Christmas Carol" - "These are but shadows of the things that have been,' said the Ghost. `They have no consciousness of us.' Couple that with Yog-SoThoth, an inter-dimensional entity that exists in every moment of every universe of every dimension. Past, present, and future - That's just fun to think about!

What have you read about the Lovecraftian influence in the Necronomicon?
Lovecraft wrote OF a book called the Necronomicon. It never really existed, except when some guy named Simon decided to come up with his own version back in the 70's. H. R. Giger also came up with a wonderfully illustrated book he called "The Necronomicon." And occasionally you'll find someone having put together a version of it. All entertainment. Nothing to take seriously. Unless you're dealing with someone who DOES take it seriously. In which case you might have a psychopath on your hands trying to appease the dark gods in his imagination. I find that human imagination can cause more problems than the powers of nature. I also find it amusing that the rarest book in the entire world, winds up in almost every horror story these days! And somehow, even though it would have been written in ancient Aramaic, people are able to READ IT!

Why do you think there are so many people who believe there is an actual Necronomicon other than the book written by Simon?
People want something to believe in if they're not willing to believe in themselves. Sometimes they want to rebel so much against an established idea (like Christianity or Islam or Judaism) that they will want to believe in an alternate idea. People create gods and religions to suit their own values. Sometimes they claim to have visions, or hear a voice tell them what to do. I usually refer to that as schizophrenic hallucinations. You go out into a desert and fast for 40 days - your brain is gonna start firing off, and you're gonna see, and hear some weird shit! Most people believe in their respective religions because someone told them to. And through conditioning, were trained not to question it. Lots of people are afraid to think for themselves. They don't want the responsibility. And feel threatened if others are not willing to think the same way. With believing in the Necronomicon, I feel these individuals, because they lack control of their own lives, are desiring to be in control of elements out of their reach. Think about this... Do you really want to open up a gateway to a being that regards you as less than an annoying insect?

Anton LaVey stated people create their gods, and should recognize themselves as such.
Civilizations create gods based on the values of that particular culture. You value poetry - you create a god of poetry. You accept death- you create a god of death. You like pizza - you create a god of pizza. You want to see yourself as a "god" - well guess what? In your own private world, YOU ARE! You do everything for your own survival and enjoyment. Your whole world is based on you. You interact with others based on how they make you feel. You have children because you either think it's a good idea… or you don't know how to have sex. (if you DID know how to have sex, you wouldn't have any accidental children!) And when it comes to "established gods" you'll notice that people always tell you what their god expects by citing their own values. That's why "Republican Jesus" doesn't want the poor to get food stamps, or medical help. As for my own personal belief (by the way, I am an ordained atheist minister) I talk about "Selfism." You can't help someone else, unless you can help yourself first. For example... You're in a hospital bed with all your limbs broken, and you're in traction. Your jaws are wired shut because that's broken too (you had a really bad day). You look out the window and see a kid about to step out into traffic, and get hit by a truck. You can't do anything to help the kid, because you can't even help yourself. And by the time a nurse comes to see what's going on with you, the kid is a smear 1/16" high by 200 yards long. So all you can do is focus on your healing. But if you were in normal health, and you saw a kid about to walk out into traffic, you could yell to him to "stop" or pull him back. Thereby helping someone else, because you are in the position to do something about it. And as an atheist minister, I preach that you should take responsibility for your own actions.

Stephen King wrote some Lovecraftian fiction including a short story called Crouch End. Are you familiar with this piece? There are also Lovecraftian elements in novels of his including Needful Things.
I haven't read "Couch End" or "Needful Things." But now that you've mentioned them I'll check them out. I am familiar with "The Mist" and "The Raft". I know King was greatly influenced by Lovecraft. But I'm not too big a fan of King's. It's not that I hate him, or dislike his work. I'm just not a fan.

What other writers do you know of who were influenced to some extent by Lovecraft?
Well of course there is August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Mike Mignola (of "Hellboy" fame), Fritz Leiber, Brian Lumly, And Harold Ramis of "Ghostbusters" fame to name a few.

In what publications have the authors you cited drawn influence from Lovecraft? How much of his influence is there?
Well in Hellboy comics, C'Thulhu and alternate dimensions get referred to quite often throughout the series. If you're looking for specific books - Robert E. Howard's work can be found in "Cthulhu The Mythos and Kindred Horrors". August Derleth's work in "The Trail of Cthulhu" Fritz Leiber can be found in "The Disciples of Cthulhu". Along with a few other writers. And I'd say judging by the titles alone- These stories are extensions and interpretations of Lovecraft's mythos! There are TONS of horror writers out there who are jumping on the "Cthulhu" bandwagon! Even an episode of South Park featured Cthulhu! I'm willing to bet ol' H.P.L. never even realized the stir he was going to make with his stories!

How much of your work did Litio Broie place on your community page? Does she regularly moderate it or is it open to anyone?
Litio has put EVERYTHING on line that I gave her to. And since then I've been doing all the posting. So if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have even tried to post anything on a separate Facebook site. She also does not "moderate" it. It's there, I post. Occasionally people leave comments. That's about the size of it. If anyone wants to hate my work. That's fine. I don't give a shit I paint for ME. Other people just happen to like some of it. I guess it's because they are relating to it in some way, shape, or form. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages for an artist promoting his work on social media?
Well first of all I find social media GREAT for promoting yourself. Years ago I had someone approach me about putting my own site up on the internet. They put together a nice website- cool graphics and all. And they charged me 160 bucks to do it. Do you know how many hits I got on that thing? ZERO! NOTHING! ZIP! ZILCH! When you do something like build a website, and you're a complete unknown, you're basically putting a microscopic piece of plankton out in the world wide web ocean, and hoping someone else sees it. Also I had no control over adding anything, or posting comments on my own work. So when he asked me if I wanted to renew with him, I told the guy don't bother. The advantages of social media are that people are going to be logging onto it almost every day. You're going to have a lot of control over what you post. And it's FREE! And because it's a "social" media, people are going to be getting "friendship" and "like my site" requests all the time. Very minimal effort to promote. Especially if you're like me, and not too obsessed with people seeing your work.

Being that social media has helped you promote online more than websites, how many other networks do you have accounts with? How often are you keeping up with them?
I don't have any other networks that I'm affiliated with. I've had a few offers, but they want me to pay to promote my work. And since I'm perfectly comfortable with how things are, I see no reason to.

Did your interest in art lead to an interest in tattooing? Describe your first job as a professional tattoo artist.
It actually did! For years I had people approaching me about doing some of my paintings as tattoos on them. And because I didn't have the skills to tattoo back then, the person would buy one of my prints for five dollars. And then some tattoo artist would make a couple hundred off of my stuff. What finally happened to get me started in tattooing was I had just been let go from AOL because our site was closing down, and I wasn't about to transfer to the new call-center company that was taking over (I had worked for them prior to AOL, and was well aware of how poorly they treated their employees So no way in hell was I going to work for THEM again!). A friend of mine told me about another friend who owned a tattoo parlor. He set it up for me to come in for an interview. I went in, the guy saw my work, and said "There is absolutely no reason we shouldn't apprentice you!” So with that I started my long journey into the world of tattoo. As for my first "professional" tattoo, it was a simple script style lettering job on the guy's forearm. Before that, I was doing "apprentice work", stuff like simple butterflies, roses, skulls, and lettering.

How long were you tattooing with designs advertised on tattoo shop walls before you started using your own artwork?
I was fortunate to apprentice in a shop that encouraged us to be creative with our pieces. Yes, we will have customers come in with an idea of something they've seen on the internet. And we will adapt it for them. But other than that, we have no "flash" posters on our walls. So basically it was baptism by fire. I was taught to use my creativity right off the bat. We draw and design the piece right in front of you. Everyone at our shop is an artist. You have to be able to think on your feet.

Do you still work at the tattoo shop where you were an apprentice? How much did designing tattoos on the spot help you develop as an artist?
I've stayed with the shop where I was apprenticed. We are ALL artists there. Each one of us has different strengths and opinions. I love the fact that we will pick each other apart when we see something that doesn't seem right. Our shop boss, Dave, is probably the biggest dick you could ever meet. But he would sooner screw himself over first, before fucking anyone else over. He challenges me all the time. He nitpicks on the things I paint and draw. This forces me to work harder at what I do. You don't improve if you are not challenged. I've seen guys who left our shop years ago to become independent artists. Their work is still at the same level as when the left. Am I great? I hope not!! If I become great, it's time to hang up my brushes and machines. I won't be able to grow and improve. No one EVER achieves perfection. We strive for it! And it eludes our grasp every day. And tomorrow, we wake up and try again. And by designing tattoos on the spot, it forces us to think faster. What am I going to do to make that tattoo of a skull stick out from every other tattoo of a skull I've ever done? In our shop you have to have a thick skin. We've had plenty of apprentices who quit because they couldn't handle their work being torn apart. You either improve or get the fuck out. Have my paintings improved from this? I like to think so! I definitely feel more proud of the pieces I'm producing now, when I compare them to work I did a few years ago. But I know I can always take them to that next level!

Would you consider it a feasible idea to have your own tattoo parlor at some point?
I actually was part owner of the shop for four years. It was a pain in the ass. Having to keep after everything and everyone. I don't want to do that level of responsibility again. I just like going in. Getting a chance at being creative. Closing up and going home.

What were your experiences as the co-owner of a tattoo shop like? Was it in the same area where you practice now?
As a co-owner, I was always balancing the budget. Making sure bills got paid on time. Making sure the guys were paying into the shop. Keeping the shop clean. Making sure we always had enough water, towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies calling up clients if their artist wasn't going to be available for them. Having to be aware of everyone in the shop at the same time while I was trying to concentrate on my own work. Tons of little things that all added up to longer hours, with no extra pay. And not only was it in the same area. But it was the same shop (laughs)! I've been with Frankie’s Tattoo Parlor for ten and a half years now. And the shop is eleven years old this November. Seeing as our retirement plan is, "don't plan on retiring", I plan on staying til I die.

Do you promote Frankie’s Tattoo Parlor by spreading fliers or spreading word on the internet?
We promote Frankie's Tattoo by word of mouth. We are the best kept secret of Clearfield, Utah. People come to us because their friends and family come to us. I'm tattooing the grown up kids of some of my original customers. We also post on Facebook. Look for Frankie's Tattoo. We occasionally run specials. Each artist is an independent contractor. So if one guy is running a special, it doesn't apply to the other guys. And we all keep our prices in the same range. So there is no "bidding" about which artist will do it for less.

How many people are on the staff at Frankie’s with you? What are some designs you have inked on your customers lately?
We have six artists and one part-time piercer. Most of the stuff we do is "meat and potatoes" kinda stuff. Things like small roses, names, small kanji symbols. Stuff that we can knock out fairly quickly. Occasionally we'll do a bigger piece. Last week I did a stomach tattoo of Fenris' head with Tyr's arm in his mouth. Took three hours, and the guy says he felt like he did a thousand crunches. I've done a few zombie heads, and various sleeves. Like I always say, "The bigger tattoos get you recognition. The smaller tattoos pay the bills."

What is the strangest request for a tattoo you have gotten from one of your customers? Were you able to design what he had in mind?
I don't consider anything to be "strange." But sometimes customers really don't know what they want. You can tell by how they change their minds every two minutes. In one case, a guy changed his mind I think over fifty times in a space of two hours. I told him to just go home and think about what he really wanted. And when he was ready to come back, we'd (anyone of our guys working in the shop) take care of him. He insisted he had to have a tattoo that night! I told him that if he changed his mind one more time I was going to beat him senseless. He immediately stopped changing his mind and settled on a tattoo... Another instance was where a guy came into the shop and wanted an extremely detailed very large piece of spirals, counter spirals, the universe, a sunrise and a tribal tie in that "looked real, but not too real." on his arm. He then proceeded to tell me he was leaving to go back home that night (I think it was Georgia), and needed EVERYTHING done that night within a space of about four hours. He also wanted to know if I could do it all for $100 dollars. I informed him it might take that long just to get the piece designed, that with the size of it, and detail, we might be looking at least two or three sessions of about two hours each. And I certainly wasn't going to cheat myself by working all those hours for just a $100. He got flustered, the settled on a very nice significantly smaller tribal piece for $100. Another time I had a guy come in and show me a very detailed half sleeve. He wanted me to do his other arm in a half sleeve as well, with an equal amount of detail. I looked over the job, and gave him an estimate of about $400 to $600 (depending how long it would take. He then informed me that his half sleeve only cost him $60. I told him that he should go back to his artist who did his original sleeve, if he was looking for that type of deal. He then informed me that he couldn't, because the other artist was still in prison (which is where he had gotten his half sleeve done). Needless to say he didn't have enough money to get any work done, and left. We’re always very friendly and helpful at our shop. But when someone comes in and tells us they can get a better deal somewhere else, we tell them to go ahead. About 75% of the time they come back. 

How often are you creating new designs to offer prospective customers?
Almost every tattoo we do (even the simple ones) we try to be creative, and take to the "next level." Any tattooist can write a person's name or a row of roman numerals. The trick is figuring out what to do to make it more interesting. And since we don't use any "flash" almost every piece is a new creation.

How do you think you’ll be remembered for your work long after your career?
Seeing as my career will end when I'm dead. I guess you mean long after I'm gone.... I'm pretty sure they will say, "he was a painter who also tattooed." Both my tattooing, and my painting skills have increased significantly over the years at "Frankie's." My boss, Dave, is ALWAYS pushing us, and forcing us to rethink what we're doing. Yes, he can be a total dick when he does that. But the end result is something much better than what we started with. As for my paintings, people are going to probably say what they tell me now. "That it takes forever to see everything that's going on in his work." And that it's loaded with details. Some have told me I'm painting "scenes from movies that haven't been made yet." Or that I'm painting what's in THEIR souls. So I guess that's what they'll probably say too. I'll hope to be remembered as that guy who painted what he wanted, and didn't give a fuck about what the public wanted to see. I'm pretty sure that in a hundred years after my death, when all that's left are the paintings. That people will come up with their own stories if they ever study my work. But then again, all my work might get destroyed after I'm gone. And there will be no records of me, and what I had done. So nothing will have mattered anyway!

-Dave Wolff