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Gerhard Hallstatt with a rock painting discovered in 1911 by Jean Sibelius. Photo (c) Sebastian Devamitra Porceddu 2012

Gerhard Hallstatt with a rock painting discovered in 1911 by Jean Sibelius.
Photo (c) Sebastian Devamitra Porceddu 2012

Like the music which he composes and records under the name of ”Allerseelen”, Gerhard’s writing does not easily fit any ready-made label or category. While the majority of people are content to travel the iron tracks laid down by their religion, politics, peer pressure, or brand-name culture (no matter that they are always crashing into each other), he follows a mercurial path: quick, elusive, and a little mischievous. When I first met him at a conference in Vienna, I was immediately attracted by his friendly persona and lack of posturing. As I got to know him and his writings better, I admired the way he was following his own star wherever it lead, with no possible financial or professional gain.

– Joscelyn Godwin in his foreword to Gerhard Hallstatt’s Blutleuchte.

It was a December evening in Turku the last year. We sat down at restaurant Koulu, talked and enjoyed some beer and salmiakki shots. Like Joscelyn Godwin, I got an impression that Gerhard was very friendly, not posturing, and he was clearly following his own star. His music, writings, photography and travels had formed a multifaceted living piece of art from well over two decades of pursuing his unique path. I had for some time thought about making an interview with Gerhard and meeting him made me think that it was the right time for it. Gerhard liked the idea and I started to write an interview for him.

In the following interview Gerhard tells about his writings, music, travels, inspirations, panteism, Christianity, mountains, and many other things, such as sauna, Koskenkorva, salmiakki, Pippuriset pääkallot, Santa Lucia and Jean Sibelius.

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For those readers who don’t know you yet, would you give an introduction of yourself – who are you, what have you done and what are you doing nowadays?

I started in my youth recording on old cassette recorders strange music that consisted of loops of kettledrums, violins, metals. I wrote surrealistic poems and texts on loud type-writers and also started at an early age taking photographs. I still have today hundreds of diapositives that I should digitalize one day.

I was very much interested in alchemy, and this fascination inspired all my artistic activities. Still today, twenty years later, I am in some way working very similar although nowadays computers are of course involved. But still today I am recording in a very old-fashioned way, without using a computer programme. The cassettes became CDs, the little photocopied booklets that I did in my youth became printed magazines or books, and the camera I am working now with is a digital one.

I was very much interested in alchemy, and this fascination inspired all my artistic activities.

I myself did not change that much, I do not feel that much different from the time when I was 17. Still today I am full of enthusiasm, full of chaos, and hopefully this will remain like this for the next decades. ”You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star”, like wonderful Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. I see myself nowadays like a kind of troubadour in a telectronic age, spending a lot of time on music, poetry, travelling to present these songs to a smaller or larger audience in various countries – and sometimes I am performing these songs in old castles too. But apart from travelling I also enjoy living in Wien which is definitely one of the most beautiful cities of the world. I did not grow up in Wien. I was born on the country-side, the first large city that I got to know was Berlin, I was staying there some weeks when I was 16. Wien I only got to know when I was 17.

You played live in Finland again, at Tampere, on 7th of December 2012. How was it? It was your second time here, right? How did it differ from your previous gig in Turku in 2007?

Allerseelen live in Moscow 2012. Photo (c) Miss Goodwrong

Allerseelen live in Moscow 2012.
Photo (c) Miss Goodwrong

The live performance in Tampere was our second concert in Finland. The first had taken place in Turku in October 2007. Then the line-up was very different, in Turku there were on stage Marcel P. on bass, Dimo Dimov on drums and I. But as both have been very busy with studies and working, since 2012 the current line-up of Allerseelen is consisting of Christien H. on drums and Noreia on bass. Both concerts were thus quite different.

Some new songs we were performing in December in Tampere for the very first time on stage – and two of these new songs were inspired by my Finland preparations: The song Grünes Licht / Green Light was inspired by magnificent aurora borealis photos. Unfortunately I did not see these wonderful lights when I was in Finland. Hopefully another time. Another song, Neunmondmesser / Nine Moon Knife was partly inspired by the Finnish knife puukko and the Kalevala moment where Kullervo finds a stone in his bread that destroys his only knife. Both songs will be on the next Allerseelen CD Terra Incognita.

On our Tampere guestlist was even Kiira Korpi. Unfortunately she did not show up – it would be great to see her dancing to some of our songs.

You traveled after the concerts in Tampere and Rakvere, Estonia, for some time in Southern Finland – what kind of impressions you got from these places? Where did you go, what were your favorite places, experiences? What was your impression of Finland?

Unfortunately I did not have time to see the paintings of Hugo Simberg in the Tampere cathedral. I like very much some of his works. After our Tampere concert we had to leave really early to travel by bus and ferry-boat and another bus to Rakvere in Estonia. We were performing there the next evening.

After some beautiful days in Rakvere and Tallinn, I returned for two weeks to Finland. It was a wonderful experience. When we performed in Turku in October 2007, I really enjoyed the traditional sauna combined with short baths in the cold sea. Already then I had been looking forward to another visit in Finland, hoping that this would happen again in the cold months of the year. And I had good luck. This December I spent again some time at saunas in various places – and it was wonderful to roll naked in the snow after the sauna.

Santa Lucia procession.Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2012

Santa Lucia procession.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2012

I also saw two beautiful Santa Lucia processions in Turku and Inkoo. I even filmed the Santa Lucia procession in Turku but still have to work on this video. In Turku there were many people watching the procession of Santa Lucia with the burning candles on her head. But in the small church of Inkoo there were not many people.

I was with a friend because I had seen photos of the danse macabre paintings inside this church. We did not know about the Santa Lucia procession there. I was glad to take some beautiful photographs combining lovely young girls with their candles and the kuolemantanssi frescoes.

The fortified island Suomenlinna was very impressive too. This might inspire another Allerseelen song. Some places that I had intended to visit were closed, for example Ainola, the house of Jean Sibelius in Järvenpää, and the wonderful castle Olavinlinna. So there are many reasons to return. Also I really enjoy lakritsi, salmiakki – as sweets as well as alcoholic drinks. Only some days ago I saw a photo of the absinthe spoons that are on display in Jean Sibelius´ house in Järvenpää – I did not know that he was drinking absinthe too. So I have at least a little bit in common with Jean Sibelius.

What have been and are your biggest influences in music, literature, and art in general?

Berlin was maybe the place that changed my life most as there, living for some time in a squat, I got to know the music of Einstürzende Neubauten, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, Abwärts. I was there when I was 16. I was again in Berlin when I was 18 – and then I saw there SPK live which had been a big influence on me together with the industrial music of Throbbing Gristle.

Gerhard Hallstatt, Schwedenhöhlen, Niederösterreich. Photo (c) Zeke Maziur.

Gerhard Hallstatt, Schwedenhöhlen, Niederösterreich. Photo (c) Zeke Maziur.

One of my favourite writer was and is Arthur Rimbaud – his magical symbolism, his travels, the mysteries in his biography, also his sudden and surprising decision to stop writing. When I was 17, I spent some weeks in France, visiting the village where he lived, visiting his tomb and travelling to many other places in France. When I was 19, I was again in Northern France, I saw there Psychic TV live in Rouen.

I am inspired a lot by writers like Antonin Artaud, Hermann Hesse, Ernst Jünger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke. The Industrial Culture Handbook published by Re/Search many years ago was a real book of revelation for me: Suddenly I came across a counter-culture that combined controversial musicians, heretic writers, revolutionary artists, cultural outlaws. I liked and still like very much the art of Man Ray, Edvard Munch, the Pre-Raphaelites, I love films by Jean Cocteau, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Pier Paolo Pasolini. In fact, my artistic pantheon contains of dozens of artists that I might consider as inspirations, masters, muses, and a list would be really long.

How you came up with the names Aorta, Ahnstern and Allerseelen? How they manifest the substance of their vessel and aim – and what are their aims?

I am inspired a lot by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, and I also like very much his words “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.“ So there were many reasons to chose the name Aorta for my record label and also the magazine. Whereas the word heart had been used too often in too kitschy contexts and the concept of blood was too often too strongly connected with destruction and war, the word Aorta still contained some innocence beyond kitschy or romantic visions of love and war.

Drums of Calanda, Spain.Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt

Drums of Calanda, Spain.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt

The name of my book Blutleuchte – which is also the name of a Finnish music project – means Blood Lantern. This title was inspired by the cult of the Blutleuchte that had been founded by Alfred Schuler and some other poets and philosophers around Stefan George in Munich around 1900. They believed in the pagan blood of prechristian antiquity and wanted a pagan renaissance. Alfred Schuler was also a big inspiration for Rainer Maria Rilke.

Ahnstern was an old German word for the planet Saturn, I had discovered this word in a book on runes. I used this name for magazine after I had published twenty issues of Aorta. The record label Steinklang also uses this name as sub-label.

There are many reasons why I chose the name Allerseelen. This name was partly inspired by Georges Bataille, by Pier Paolo Pasolini and especially by the concept of the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico the rites uniting life and death in early November. Only some years ago I found out that very similar traditions also existed in Austria and still exist in Bulgaria.

What it means to be an artist in your case?

Without art, life would really be boring, a waste of time. I have been accustomed for all these years to either working on something in music or poetry or photography. I am lucky that I may combine all these arts in the Allerseelen releases.

Without art, life would really be boring, a waste of time.

Human bones and leaves in a small lake. Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2007.

Human bones and leaves in a small lake.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2007.

I could not even imagine a life without art, without being surrounded by books, paintings, records. If I had to choose between a life without art, without aesthetic addictions, artistic obsessions and a death with art, I definitely would choose this adventurous terra incognita named death. It seems that I have the romantic impression that the realm of death is filled with art, beauty, poetry. In my youth I was also obsessed with death, I was collecting human bones and skulls, and I was fascinated by the stigmata of Catholic visionaries. I wrote about this in my magazine Aorta, these texts were then also published in the book Blutleuchte. This was definitely inspired by blood-stained Catholicism in my childhood, the theatre of cruelty that I got to know in churches and at school.

You have been doing your projects for quite long time already. How your approaches and interests have changed during the years? What subjects you don’t find anymore so important or interesting, what subjects have lately emerged? What subjects have continued to interest you?

If I am in love with something, I may be really stubborn. I still have the same interests that I had in my teenage years: art, occultism, surrealism, symbolism, travelling. In the past some people saw Allerseelen in a political context – but I was never really interested in politics. Politics were only of interest for me when they were connected to art or occultism. Thus I was and am still very interested in the biographies of magical monarchs like Ludwig II from Bavaria or Rudolf II in Prague or Frederick II in Italy.

Les Agudes, Catalunya.Photo (c)Sabinita 2002.

Les Agudes, Catalunya.
Photo (c) Sabinita 2002.

There is a still a lot of fever inside my head and heart, an ardent enthusiasm for utopies and visions. I do not feel adult at all. I am still living in a quite archaic way, surrounded by books, heating with wood. I do not download music, I am not accustomed to read electronic books. I always knew that time is more important than money. An archaic life without many responsibilities, in some way similar maybe to the way of life of E.M. Cioran in Paris, had been my dream when I was 17 – and it became reality. Hopefully this dream still will be reality when I am 71.

I still have the same interests that I had in my teenage years: art, occultism, surrealism, symbolism, travelling. In the past some people saw Allerseelen in a political context – but I was never really interested in politics.

Basically I am interested in things that combine culture and nature, paganism and christianity. I visited cromlechs, dolmens, menhirs in many countries. I have always been fascinated by magical and tragical biographies. This is why I wrote in my magazines and in my book Blutleuchte about visionaries and artists like Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil, Leonora Carrington, Corneliu Codreanu, Otto Rahn, Leni Riefenstahl, Viktor Schauberger, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Karl Maria Wiligut and many others – all their lifes had magical and tragical qualities. All these fascinating and more or less controversial personalities still today are interesting me very much. If I wrote today about these artists and occult or political or ecological visionaries, my texts would definitely be different. But I am not certain to which extent they would be different.

What is or are your own favorite Allerseelen records and why?

I prefer the last two CDs named Hallstatt and Rauhe Schale. Both contain for me very intense memories. My recordings are always very individual and personal, even today when I am working on stage and in studio with various other musicians.

Allerseelen: Hallstatt. Ahnstern/Aorta (2007).

Allerseelen: Hallstatt.
Ahnstern/Aorta (2007).

Allerseelen sometimes have been compared to a group like Laibach – but this only makes sense in a superficial way. Maybe because of some musical elements, maybe because of the use of sometimes dangerous symbols. But Allerseelen never has been a collective, and the Allerseelen lyrics and visions are very subjective. In many ways, the Allerseelen CDs are acoustic diaries. For me they represent microcosms that are manifestations of a certain period of my life with specific experiences and impressions, beautiful ones, powerful ones, sad ones. Each song has a special story that quite often is only known to me.

In many ways, the Allerseelen CDs are acoustic diaries.

I also like the very early Allerseelen recordings that I released on cassettes with dozens of loops that I recorded with a bought violin and kettle-drums that I had stolen from a church. Although usually I am not listening to my own recordings. I love my songs when they are slowly coming into existence, when I feel a certain sacred marriage between rhythms and melodies and lyrics. When a song is finished, I usually stop listening to it. Probably because I already know it too much by heart. The process, the path has always been more important for me than the result, the peak, this is for me as valid in music as in travelling, as in the mountains. If life is the path and death is the peak, I am also definitely more interested into the path.

Blutleuchte is a book of yours that came out the last year. What the book contains? How you got Joscelyn Godwin to write the introduction to it? I remember you mentioned to me in Turku (while having beer and salmiakki shots at Koulu) that he is a friend of yours, do I remember this correctly?

Gerhard Hallstatt: Blutleuchte. Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

Gerhard Hallstatt: Blutleuchte.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

I liked our evening at Koulu in Turku – and I hope to return there soon. Joscelyn Godwin is a real renaissance scholar. He wrote several fascinating books about alchemy, magic, music and various other topics. We know each other for several years. We met various times in Wien, and I also visited him when he lived for some months in Venice. He had been a subscriber of my magazines Aorta and Ahnstern, so he already knew all the texts of the Blutleuchte book before I asked him if he might like to write a foreword. These now completely sold out magazines Aorta and Ahnstern had been bi-lingual magazines in German and English about my experiences, impressions, studies.

Some texts were like travel diaries – I wrote about my travels to little villages in Italy and Spain, about my visits at castles like Montsegur in South France and Castel del Monte in Apulia. Other texts, like small biographies, were the result of patient researches at libraries. I always wrote about artists and visionaries that were fascinating me. And I wrote always also about my own fascination.

So far there are already American and French editions of my book Blutleuchte containing all these texts and I think that in 2014 also German and Spanish editions finally will be available too. I am looking forward to these editions. All of these will be available via my Aorta Mailorder.

You have a strong interest in occult, pagan and folk related subjects. Which one of these describe you the best: an atheist, an agnostic, a pagan? If pagan, what kind of a pagan?

I would call myself a pantheist, and my pantheon is nature, this is why I spend as much time as possible outdoors.

I would call myself a pantheist, and my pantheon is nature, this is why I spend as much time as possible outdoors. I have been interested in a lot of different traditions, alchemy, kabbala, magic, shamanism, tarot. As an artist I always have been considering everything from an aesthetic point of view, and this is valid also for the world of occulture. This is why I may be fascinated as much by a Tibetan painting as by a Catholic fresco, by a rock painting in Finland as much as by a petroglyph in a temple on Malta. I am fascinated by Mithraism and visited various Mithras temples in Austria, Italy, Slovenia. Some weeks ago I visited a very small Mithras grotto close to Dubrovnik in Croatia. But I do not consider myself as follower of Mithras.

What do you think of Christianity and catholicism?

In my pantheism there is also a lot of place for Christian traditions and myths that very often have their roots in pre-christian, pagan traditions – like for example the beautiful Santa Lucia processions in Scandinavia. All Christian plants seem to have pagan roots.

I am a pantheist who is also fascinated by Christian mysticism, I like the writings of Meister Eckehart, of Saint Hildegard. Christianity is fascinating as a strong syncreticism with so many aspects borrowed or stolen from the mysteries of Isis, Cybele, Mithras. Catholicism is a bloody myth – but I still have to meet a Catholic who really believes in the most important dogma that bread is turned into sacred meat, that wine becomes sacred blood. I never met anyone who believed this. I suppose that all over the world there is thus only existing a hard core of maybe only some hundred or thousand real Catholics.

Cocullo, Abruzzi, Italia. Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

Cocullo, Abruzzi, Italia.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

I am fascinated by several Catholic phenomena like stigmata. Years ago I did a lot of research on the stigmatized Therese von Konnersreuth in Bavaria and wrote about this in my book Blutleuchte after a visit in the small village Konnersreuth. In Blutleuchte I also wrote about the bloody Semana Santa drums of Calanda in Spain that Luis Bunuel used as soundtrack for some of his movies. I was two times in Calanda. And also in the small village Cocullo in Italy I was impressed by a nowadays Christian procession with living snakes on San Domenico– this tradition definitely has a pagan, pre-christian root. Maybe soon I will travel there again…

Actually especially Catholicism is a real pantheon and pandemonium with all its Saints, with its colourful hell and more or less pale heaven. In the Kansallismuseo in Helsinki I was incredibly fascinated by a very realistic sculpture of the pagan Lalli who had killed bishop Henrik. The dead bishop was standing on the bloody body of Lalli who had very beautiful eyes and held a book in his hands. I identified immediately with this pagan and his book. Only later I was told details about the life of Lalli.

You have traveled a lot. Where you have been, what traveling means to you – pilgrimages? I recall you have described your travels as ”magical mystery tours”. What places have made the deepest impression on you and why? What are the most special experiences you have had during these travels?

Luckily we have been invited with Allerseelen to perform in a lot of countries in Europe. We also performed in North America and Russia – and I always try to combine these concerts with some explorations of culture and nature in these countries. It would make me sad to visit for example Helsinki just for one night.

Basically I am very curious. So very often I am returning from countries with dozens of wonderful experiences and impressions that may inspire new songs. From Finland and Estonia for example I came back with great Kalevala and Kalevipoeg impressions. I am learning a lot in these concert travels. I got to know new artists, musicians, writers – and I came back also with a lot of lakritsi, salmiakki, strange sweets like Pippuriset Pääkallot and delicious drinks like Leijona Pastilli Shot, Koskenkorva Lakritsi.

Cocullo, Abruzzi, Italia.Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt

Cocullo, Abruzzi, Italia.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt

I had very strange experiences when I travelled in my youth alone to the Italian volcanoes Vesuvio, Etna and Stromboli. I have not yet written about these experiences but will do so one day. I still have my diaries, some photographs and even some super-8 filmings that I took on Etna. I had not been well equipped at all, no good shoes, not enough water, not enough realism. A lot of dangerous things might have happened. Nowadays I would go there again much better prepared – with good maps, with more water – and I would not go there in hot August like I did when I was 18. I did not have enough water when I was on Etna and had already some hallucinations before I finally knew that I had to return to survive. I wounded my foot when I wanted to climb inside the crater of Vesuvio. And on Stromboli strange things happened too.

In these days in Southern Italy and Sicily I had with me Also sprach Zarathustra. In some way I was as crazy as the volcanic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. While I am talking about this, I feel again a very strong desire to leave again for these volcanoes – there are only paths as volcanoes do not have peaks. “For staying is nowhere.” (Rainer Maria Rilke: Duineser Elegien)

You mentioned the castles Montsegur and Castel del Monte. Can you tell us something about them?

Montsegur, Ariege, France. Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

Montsegur, Ariege, France.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt.

Usually the most impressive places are those where I am travelling alone. In this I am very close to the Steppenwolf described by Hermann Hesse in his famous novel. I visited the Cathars´ castle Montsegur in South France two times. The first time it was magical and intense, I had slept outdoors in my sleeping bag for several days, I had walked for hours. It was a real tour de force.

When I arrived in the late afternoon at Montsegur, I was the only visitor. It was raining a bit, and I knew that I would stay there over night. I also spent nights in other castles of the Cathars, these nights at Queribus and Peyrepertuse were intense too. During my second visit on Montsegur I felt like an average tourist as I was not alone. It was the same castle yet it was not the magical Montsegur that I had witnessed in my first visit. I really believe in the well-known saying: The path is more important than the peak.

Usually the most impressive places are those where I am travelling alone.

The next time I will again travel alone to Montsegur to spend there another night. I was visiting the octogonal Castel del Monte in La Puglia, Italy, in a very similar manner, walking for several hours on small roads towards a magical castle that looked from the distance like a white crystal on a hill. When I was going there I did not know where I would stay over night. I did not care as I also had my sleeping bag with me. My travelling then was in some way close to the travels of Arthur Rimbaud. While I am telling this, I feel a strong desire to visit both places again in the same Steppenwolf manner – alone, walking a lot with a backbag filled with a sleeping bag, with maps and books and water and a knife.

Lastly, what about mountains? You often mention mountains in your songs.

Vihren, Pirin, Bulgaria. Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2007.

Vihren, Pirin, Bulgaria.
Photo (c) Gerhard Hallstatt 2007.

Mountains have been very important for me in the last ten years. And usually I like the paths up to the peaks more than the peaks themselves. On the peaks I usually feel a certain emptiness. I felt this emptiness also in the castle Montsegur. ”Six thousand feet beyond man and time” is a good description of Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote about his years close to the wild mountains of Engadin in Switzerland, high above manhood, high above average life.

Julius Evola wrote several essays about this in his Meditations on the Peaks, inspired by his tours on difficult mountains in Austria, Italy, Switzerland. I hope to visit one day the glacier where his ashes are buried.

Some days ago I was sleeping alone in a mountain hut on the mountain Schneeberg in Lower Austria that has a room for emergencies that is always open. On a height of over 2.000 metres, I was drinking Koskenkorva Lakritsi and thinking of my beautiful days in Finland.

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Vielen Dank für das Interview, Gerhard!

There is going to be a review of Gerhard’s book Blutleuchte and Allerseelen’s CD Rauhe Schale in the blog in a near future.

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Related links:

Allerseelen

Gerhard Hallstatt: Blutleuchte

Aorta Mailorder

Gerhard Hallstatt: Blutleuchte + Allerseelen: Dein Herz schlägt aufwärts

Allerseelen: Das Feuer fragt

Allerseelen: Wo ist das Leben

Allerseelen remixed two songs of Agalloch for the Agalloch DoCD / DoLP Whitedivisiongrey:

Allerseelen / Agalloch: Dunkelgraue Stille

Allerseelen / Agalloch: Nur noch Asche
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The following article is published with the kind permission of Alexa MacDermot. Her website White Lady Art – Art for contemporary Dublin can be found from here.

The article is about Irish Swastika reclaimationists Dominick Crowley of My Swastika documentary, Phil Cummins of Traditional World Culture Festival, Boz Mugabe of The Gentle Swastika blog and Trevor McLave of pro Swastika metal band Coldwar. Artist known as Manwoman is also discussed. Photos used in the article are from The Gentle Swastika blog 卐

My Swastika

by Alexa MacDermot

I visited Dominick at his flat in Kilmainham in March 2011, where I learned about what it was to be a Swastika reclaimationist. He is part of a group who call themselves the Gentle Swastika Collective. In Ireland the most prominent reclaimationists include Boz Mugabe, an Irish surrealist artist; Phil Cummins, a tattoo artist in Cork; Trevor McLave, lead singer of the metal/punk rock band “Cold War”; ManWoman, a Canadian artist, poet and writer; and a rock band called “Yurt”. Although Ferank Manseed, a Buddhist tattoo artist, is based in the U.K., he can also be considered a major figure on the Irish reclaimationist scene. Driven by their own artistic goals they each strive to use the tetraskellion in their art, the collective umbrella term for the hundreds of symbols that are known loosely to most people as swastikas.

The Collective has a large following world-wide made up of spiritualists, scientists, artists, and people of a multitude of varying professions, and as Dominick pointed out to me the swastika affects every possible facet of life – from architecture to theology, electronics to history.

Dominick is currently filming and editing footage for his documentary My Swastika, interviewing people from different religions, age groups, and professions about their opinions concerning the reintroduction of the swastika into mainstream society as a peaceful and healing symbol. Dominick, and his Polish fiancée, Kasia, have armed themselves with a library full of reference books with which to argue the positive of every possible argument against the reintroduction of the symbol, and serve to illustrate the reasons they see as the backbone of their project. This academic approach of presenting theories with references has the stamp of Kasia’s higher education background.

Kasia is an archaeologist, and as a scientist this “journey” into an increased awareness and understanding of the symbol is, for her, one of intellectual properties only. With an education and professional life grounded in research and documented fact, Kasia forms the logical and earthly-bound Ying to Dominick’s neo-theological Yang. For Dominick, this is a spiritual journey that came to him as a calling from Swastika itself – he uses the word to describe the spirit of the symbol that embodies it, a presence who speaks to him when meditated upon.

The Gentle Swastika Collective seem to boldly play with fire by publicising their loyalty to a symbol that is for the West very clearly associated in the mainstream psyche with Nazi Germany. When I asked what I supposed to be a constant enquiry into their response to people who might accuse them of Neo-Nazi sympathy, Dominick and Kasia replied they had not yet been asked this. Whether this was due to lack of exposure of the Collective, or a suprising number of unquestioning followers or simply a lack of general interest in the question, they told me they were not at all pro-Nazi, and furthermore that the symbol had been bastardised by Hitler’s Third Reich from its peaceful beginnings.

Anyone who has been to India might recall that the swastika has a multitude of different forms that are represented in art and architecture. Its four-legged wheel is a recurrent symbol of the Hindu faith, in particular “Jainism” meaning the seventh saint, Tirthankara Suparsva. In Hindu “svastika” means lucky or auspicious, and Jain temples and holy books contain this symbol many times over. Although the swastika is an Eastern holy symbol and is acceptable and revered in India, the people of the West are not yet a hundred years past the fall of Hitler’s hold over Europe, and thus the symbol still generates an extreme reaction to those whose families were affected in the Holocaust not so very many generations ago.

Canadian reclaimationist, ManWoman, is someone who is quick to state on his website that he has no desire to undermine or insult those who were personally or indirectly affected by the atrocities performed beneath the symbol in the Nazi camps. But is this avoidable? Certainly one cannot please everyone, but is it simply ‘too soon,’ and if so when would the time be right? Dominick believes that to disgrace the swastika because of the millions who died is unfair to the original meanings behind the symbol.

If that is the reason people would turn away from it then should we also consider other symbols that have heralded armies in fanatical religious wars? Such as the Christian crucifix for example, responsible for the Holy War that waged for nearly two hundred years between Christians and Muslims, pagans, heretics, and anyone else who wasn’t Roman Catholic. Against Hitler’s six year rampage across Europe, the Crusades killed far more people. But the Crusades are no longer present in living history whereas there are still living Holocaust survivors, and hardly-weathered memorials that still retain an acute sense of despair and horror.

Kasia realises that there is no difference in most people’s minds between the word “Hitler” and the symbol of the Nazi hakenkreuz – “hooked cross”. Indeed, the documentary Triumph of the Will (1934) by Leni Riefenstahl, was unable to use a picture of Hitler due to technical faults and substituted a swastika to achieve the same effect in post-production. Despite these vertiginous hurdles the Gentle Swastika Collective wish to reinstate the symbol, and give it a rebirth from the ashes of the Holocaust.

The documentary divides the reclaimationists into three distinct categories, that has defined the symbol in three separate ways in turn. There are those that collect memorabilia from a time when the symbol was accepted by societies in the West, and was used as logos, seen on clothing, jewellery and by businesses that deny ever using it when asked today. For these people the importance of hunting and gathering the symbol in its various forms is of historical and sociological interest. Collections in individuals’ homes across the world are full of swastikas that meant something utterly different in their time, and websites pioneering the Collective are sent photographs of these objects to post up daily. As well as objects, a fascination with swastika tattoos has risen, that leads on to the second group of reclaimationists.

Dominick understands that young people need something to fight for, something to believe in and to defend. A symbol as downtrodden and demonised as the swastika becomes like an empty vessel for people who want to champion freedom of expression, anti-establishment thinking, and to become an activist in defense of perceived injustice. Reclaiming the swastika fills a need to create a backlash against mainstream culture. For this reason we see a huge amount of people within the punk community embracing this movement as it provides a banner under which to march.

Tattoo artist Phil Cummins runs the Traditional Tattoo and World Culture Festival, that has become an unofficial European event that brings reclaimationists together for three days a year in Cobh, Co. Cork. People can roam the fields wearing swastika symbols without fear of

2nd Traditional Tattoo And World Culture Festival, Cobh, Co Cork, Ireland. June 3rd-6th 2011.

reproach, attend spiritual ceremonies that focus on the symbol’s self-affirming aspect, and have hand-poked tattoos of a variety of patterns, including swastikas, that collectively give rise to a sensation of membership. These people feel a keen sense of belonging as they come together at the festival. Ironically, while some devotees have swastikas tattooed on body parts like their arm-pits or feet, the Hindus to whom this symbol is sacred define these areas as unclean, and therefore the tattoo is placed disrespectfully. But many attendees are not Hindu, and have embraced the symbol for their own interpretation. This freedom to do what you want with the symbol is welcomed by those who dislike religious doctrine, and are looking for something that is as inclusive as it is distinct from those who are not as ‘free-thinking’ as them. To follow swastika you can be a rebel and a hippy.

Leading the spiritual aspect of the festival is ‘Manwoman’, who has been called the father of the swastika reclamation. He has embraced the symbol in his life for over fourty years. He is a collector of swastika paraphernalia, educates interested parties about the symbol’s history, and plainly feels a deep spiritual calling to offer the overall negative current opinion about the swastika his own enlightened one. Manwoman is part of the third perceived branch of the reclaimationists, who are less concerned with the physical symbol itself and most connect with the spiritual meaning of swastika. The word itself has the universal meaning of a peaceful attitude towards the whole, with minor variations depending on each culture who uses it: the Hindus translate swastika as ‘peace and unity’, the Indians ‘all well-being’. In fact to use the word ‘swastika’ outside of speaking about the Indian symbol is incorrect. To speak about the tetraskellion in China you would call it ‘wan’, or in Japan it would become ‘manji’. There are hundreds of different tetraskellion symbols and each one has its own particular name, yet they are all associated in the West with Hitler’s atrocities.

If an individual’s aversion to the symbol stems from recent history then it also depends on the surfeit of the symbol within the country they live in. One might conclude automatically that the people of Poland would naturally despise it as an aberration, and the suggestion of reclaiming it as something other than Nazi ideology as amoral and disrespectful. But Dominick found that when interviewing public on the streets of Warsaw – the site of the largest ghetto of Jewish people in Nazi-occupied Europe – they had a more understanding opinion of reintroducing the swastika than he had encountered elsewhere. The documentary puts that down to simple saturation of the symbol throughout people’s lives, and and how it remains a part of the culture even today. People in Poland are more aware of the early history of the swastika than one would expect from a country that suffered so greatly. Rather than rejecting it outright it has been examined, dissected, and sometimes separated completely from its European history.

Some prominent Irish reclaimationists are more inclined towards the idea as a counter-culture, such as artist Boz Mugabe and musician Trevor McLave. The use of the swastika in Mugabe’s art is designed more as a provocation towards curiosity about the symbol, and questioning why it would be placed with such frequency and boldness in his paintings. The subjects of Mugabe’s work are imaginary, mythical and primitive monsters that are placed within dream-like landscapes, and so the occurrence of such a symbol within that context is more easily looked over as idiosyncrasy by a casual observer than it an isolated instance.

‘Cold War’, the band led by McLave, uses the swastika less overtly by occasionally wearing the Gentle Swastika Collective tee-shirt onstage, but he connects with the punk mentality of freedom of expression and supports the idea by attending and playing at the Festival. When asked, they found that pin-pointing the exact reasons behind their support of the reclaim the swastika idea impossible, because the very aspect of

2nd Traditional Tattoo And World Culture Festival, Cobh, Co Cork, Ireland. June 3rd-6th 2011.

the Collective is ever transient and shifting. They might chose to support it, and become part of something that is constantly shifting depending on who is part of the online community, or gathering, or individual polemic. Or they could distance themselves from it and risk a chance to be part of a fascinating discourse about ownership, cultural doctrine, and individual expression. I doubt either Mugabe or McLave feel strongly about outside perceptions of themselves as individuals, or their art and music. However, it may well affect how others see them and be tempted to create a one-sided argument against the decision to be part of it, as all reclaimationists may incur.

Phil Cummins, who organised the second Traditional Tattoo an World Culture Festival in Co. Cork in June this year, feels a passionate spiritual belonging to the swastika and it’s meaning of ‘all well-being’. He has already sacrificed and gained much to this calling, once again asking the question of how far an individual is willing to be dictated by the perceptions of others in the drive and ambition of their lives. Cummins invited Manwoman to Ireland in 2010, which immediately made his ideas and influence more immediate to collectors, punk anti-establishment followers, and spiritualists. The Festival changed the dynamic of the swastika Collective as it gave the online community a chance to come together, exchange ideas, and pushed it from being a commitment on cyber space to a place where rituals, talks and celebrations took place under the flagship of the swastika.

There is a palpable sense of the reclaim the swastika idea gaining momentum, and the My Swastika documentary has recorded the opinions of people from a variety of cultures, ages, and backgrounds to show where it stands today. I visited Dominick again recently and found that his allegiance to the Collective had undergone a shift. I had last heard how he was creating the documentary to challenge views of the swastika and illustrate the difference between Hitler’s bastardised symbol and the one that reflected peace and unity. He filmed the concluding interview for the film in Warsaw’s Polish Hindu Temple, and came away realising that while some may argue championing the swastika as freedom of expression, there runs the danger of doing more damage than good. My Swastika will prove that there is much to be gained from living the peaceful path that the spiritual aspect of swastika asks of its followers, and releasing the self-interest of the individual, to embrace the whole. The final part of the documentary that explores this dichotomy in full is not to be missed.

My Swastika began life as a short film that expanded into a full-length documentary, as Dominick and Kasia excavated a mountain of undocumented facts and prominent people in religious, social and peripheral groups, that enriched the understanding of the project. Reclaiming the swastika as an idea will divide, unite, and at the very least inspire debate, between people from every walk of life. The documentary will premiere at the next Traditional Tattoo and World Culture Festival 卐

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