Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Interview with author WITCHDOCTOR UTU by Dave Wolff

Interview with author Witchdoctor Utu

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

1 comment:

  1. Great rhythms. We were just talking about this band with Lilith Dorsey on Magick Lab. Can't wait to hear you at Witchsfest