Upon The Werewolves Part 4

Normally I do my best to avoid winter. I want to avoid the cold and the wet snow that you endlessly have to battle when you’re out and about taking care of business. I can’t stand the treacherous black ice, which will take your feet from under you and make you break several bones as the ground and several parts of you inevitably meet. I much rather prefer being burned by the midday sun, shining in the sky and the hot sand under my worn out feet. I prefer looking at the red and orange sunsets of the desert, while listening to the bugs and birds chirping away at the dying light. But here I am… early in the morning, grasping the sacred elixir of life normal mortals call “coffee”, looking at my boarding pass, which unforgivingly states my date and destination: Feb 8th - Oslo, Norway. I am on my way to spend a weekend in the bold company of Ulvepels - the Norwegian Werewolf Tribe, whom the dear reader might recall from my account on the German trip.

I am quite used to taking a plane and a bus or train to reach my destination, but when you are instructed to take two trains, walk and then take two boats, you know that perhaps you really will end up in the middle of nowhere. But the efficiency of Norwegian public transport (and the comfort!) have to be complimented as without and ounce of trouble the final boat arrives at the pier and I can see two familiar figures standing in anticipation. It is Marius in his signature cowboy hat and Ulvepels cut with Knibbe with his prospect cut and many tattoos which mask any hint of expression on his face.

Greetings, embraces, chatter ensue as we walk towards Marius’ home. Suddenly he asks me the last question I would have expected from an intimidating looking Werewolf:

“Have you ever been to Moomin Land?”

“Pardon..?”

“Yeah! Moomin Land! It’s in Finland right?”

“Can’t say I have.”

Apparently Marius is a huge fan of Moomin, which is a children's book written by a Swedo-Finnish author Tove Jansson.

“Yeah, the first three books are really for children but then it gets really dark and existential! I once went to a Halloween party with my wife, dressed as Morran and just freaked everyone out by staring at them through the windows from outside!”

As we get to Marius’ home we are greeted by his two pitbull terriers Valkyria (Kiri) and Runa and Marius proceeds to showing me his array of Moomin collectables. We agreed that we should hold a moot in Finland and invade Moomin Land at some point. Several adult men in their biker cuts wandering around what is essentially either a kids’ theme park or a point of attraction for Asian tourists. I could only imagine!

After light chatter and catching up to each other's’ lives with a cup of coffee, Ulvepels’ hangout, Henrik arrives. Young man, with a low voice, stern look in his eyes, bald head and a firm handshake.

“Do you speak Norwegian?” he inquiries with a thick Norwegian accent (if you can imagine one). “I am afraid no…”

We load up Henrik’s car to the brim and take whatever space is left to venture out towards the rented hut that is waiting for us somewhere in the middle of a Norwegian forest. It seems however that there are too few of us.

“Oh, the rest will arrive later tonight. It seems everyone got hit with extra work today.” Marius explains.

We drive for about an hour when the road suddenly just ends. No tracks, no signs. Nothing. It seems the weather played its tricks and the road we were supposed to take is blocked so we turn around to find another route. I find out that none from our party have ever actually been to see where the hut is, so we take an infamous detour, finally arriving at some remote homestead where in the field I see just forest and oxen behind fences.

“Where are we?”

“Where are we?”

“Right… It should be this way!” Marius points towards the forest and we take all our hands can carry (still leaving some things in the car for the second trip) and start walking. After walking for 15 minutes we stop as Marius and Henrik look around, slightly confused. We see a hut and walk towards it to see if that is where we need to be. It’s not. The ground is half ice and half water, which didn’t help as we were constantly climbing uphill with each holding several bags and boxes of food, beer, supplies etc. Of course I had a trusty bottle of bourbon on me as well. We stopped once more with no idea where to go next and Marius decides to drop his load in order to scout ahead for any signs of the end destination. Me and Knibbe joke that this is just like a beginning of a bad slasher film. I think it was at this point that we half admitted that we might indeed be lost.

Knibbe thinking about the forthcoming taste of human flesh

Knibbe thinking about the forthcoming taste of human flesh

“Alright then… happy thoughts, guys!” I proclaim taking out a bottle of Jim Beam and passing it around.

Marius comes back and bids us to just keep walking. We pass two small and shaky bridges which are built to cross the furious streams. The warming up of weather has made them extremely active and beautiful in fact. I think to myself that there could be worse places to be lost. It’s wet and cold, but the forest is really pretty indeed and we do have food and bourbon with us. It’s not all that bad. But we would have to decide who gets eaten first…

We stop one last time for a confused look around and Marius goes scouting again. Very soon he returns laughing:

“It’s right fucking there!”

We stopped within 25m of our hut, hidden behind the trees and the rocks.

We settled in and started warming up the hut, which was colder than the outside. Smoke has quickly filled all of the rooms but there was nothing we could do to help that but wait for temperature to rise. We drank a few beers and talked, but soon enough and way before our clothes had a chance to dry we had to go out again to get Marius’ wife Julie, Benjamin and Runa, who eagerly came along for this trip.

Just like us they lost their way in the wet and dark forest so our expedition almost turned into a rescue mission as the roads were in such a condition that it would have been easier to skate on them than to walk and certainly a car could not have made it very well without a few pairs of pushing hands behind it.

Again, we loaded ourselves with food and supplies and made another walk through the forest to the hut. It has warmed up a little. Beers, beef stew which was made by Julie, relieved sighs, laughter… all was good.

Ulvepels Feb 2019 (44 of 61).jpg

The next morning after waking up and eating plenty we began training under Benjamin’s wise council, who is in fact a black belt in karate and besides being the most gentle and friendly person, knows at least ten ways how to stop a threat with his bare hands.

Ben taught us to watch and anticipate the movements of the opponent, taught us to use the whole body to punch through walls and through skulls and there was a fair share of laughter as we played Ulvepels’ favorite game in which two people take a sip of water and hold it in their mouths. The rule is that one must not spit or swallow the water, but it must stay inside the mouth as each in turn punches the other into the stomach. Henrik and Knibbe went against each other and I had Marius against myself. In relatively short time Knibbe proved to be the victor of that pair, but me and Marius kept going at it for a good while. Each punch being harder than the previous one and neither wanting to give up. It was getting hard to breathe as I braced for another impact, then loaded my punch and hit Marius straight into his gut. Back and forward, back and forward. Eventually Marius spits out!

Benjamin’s instructions

Benjamin’s instructions

“I was just about to stop you guys. This was getting dangerous!” said Ben as our relentless sense of competition drove us to hit each other harder and harder.

After a short break and light chatter Ben’s eyes suddenly lit up and he joyfully said in his sort of British accent: “Right! Let me tell you guys how to neutralize threats!”

For some reason I ended up as being the “dummy” for demonstrations and all the possible techniques you could imagine for incapacitating, maiming, neutralizing and eliminating threats were displayed on me. Ben was graceful enough to let me live, though!

With part of today’s violent practices over we settle for a meal and a discussion about the Wolf Cult.

As time has progressed and I have been witnessing it for over a year now in the European theater, it occured to me how awe-inspiring this cabal really is. Of course as Europeans we all have widely different cultural backgrounds, which are all accompanied by various cultural baggage whether we want it or not and we have all our own personal attitudes towards other European cultures and traditions. All of this shows rather clearly when tribes from different nations congregate. The Scandinavians are reserved and it might be hard for a person outside of that particular culture to understand what do the people actually think, when expressing emotions and deep feelings can almost be called a taboo in the north. And you could contrast that with the southern part of Europe - with the French, the Italians, where fiery tempers and a strong need for debates in order to resolve conflicts (rather than a Scandinavian direct to-the-point point approach) are very much present in the cultural milieu. Mix in the proud and unrelenting British strength, a few people with ingrained Slavic insanity and the ever so practical and humorous Germans to this powder barrel of such virtues as strength and honor, and of course there can be many instances where tiniest spark could set everything into a blazing inferno as it has happened before in the rich European history once or twice… However, as I sit and eat the traditional Norwegian lamb dish while washing it down with lager I feel just as at home as I felt each time on my visit to Italy or on my trip to Germany. One cannot wash away the cultural tradition with which each of us has been born, but as we wear our cuts, as we eat together, drink together, try to speak in each others’ languages, ritualize together and laugh at our common sense of humour, it is not “we, the Norwegians” or “we, the Slavs” or “we, the Germans” etc. etc. etc. It is “We! The Werewolves!”

At night we light the ritual fire and I keep all of these thoughts in my mind as I stand there, smelling the smoke and feeling the ash and blood covering my face. But this ritual has one very particular purpose as Knibbe will not be a prospect after this night. He will be a full Ulvepels member if he passes through three trials that is. All of them violent, but I can almost smell how badly he wants it and nothing would stop him from getting his patch.

Knibbe would have to fight first Marius, then me and finally Benjamin in order to retrieve Runes that were were guarding. If he succeeded and brought them back to the fire, he would pass. After Knibbe took Marius’ Rune it was my turn and I stand there filled with fury, shirtless in the night of Norwegian winter waiting for the incoming attack. Knibbe charges towards me and we wrestle as he tries to get past me. I do my best to stop him, but his hunger and thirst for a new patch on his cut is a force of nature and after a short while he throws me out of his way to retrieve the Rune. Even though I was defeated, this time I am happy that I am, for it is an honor to participate in such a personal part of the ritual for Ulvepels and that is one memory I will treasure for a long time!

Knibbe proceeds to have a violent fist fight with Benjamin, but even the black karate belt was no match this time for the freight train that was giving his all to pass the trials. Knibbe succeeded in getting all of the runes and we congratulate him.

We stand around the fire for a while longer, each drinking mead in turn and saying a few words from our hearts. We make boasts and say praise, we thank each other and express thankfulness for being able to experience all of this.

The night is ending and so is this trip. Only one last evening with final beers, shots of bourbon and mandatory tattoos. Knibbe hand pokes a :RAIDO: rune on my hand and as he does it, Benjamin looks at me and with a cheeky smile asks: “Andy! Shall we sing?”

Ulvepels Feb 2019 (25 of 61).jpg

“Ooooh…. I’m a good old rebel

Now that’s just what I am…”

Indeed it’s been a year since I have been to my first Werewolf moot and after each one as I return home I am overcome with the feeling of sadness and longing that we came to endearingly call “The post-moot blues”. Each of these trips is more than just spending a weekend with some good guys. It is more than just “getting away from it all”. Each of these gatherings is a building block, a strike of the hammer into the monument of our way that we are creating. It is not for everyone and it is not easy. It was never meant to be any of those things. It is an act of rebellion and an act of creation. It is how we fuck their world. And no matter where another person enters the Wolf Cult from, no matter what cultural background and baggage there might be, as long as every last one of us agrees on the basic principle of what all of this stands for - at night, in the forests of Germany, the mountains of Italy, through the fjords of Norway, the fields of Britain and the archipelago of Denmark you will hear the echoes of the howls of men turned into Wolves.


Upon my Work

I figured I could share a bit about the way I create my images. The workflow - as it is commonly called. Now it has to be said as the very first thing that I am not the most nerdy or technical kind of guy when it comes to photography. Yes I use histograms, yes I always shoot in manual and RAW… but I have no interest in adjusting the “auto focus micro adjustments” or trying to measure white balance as I go, but we will get to all of these things as we go along.



This text is meant perhaps not so much for professionals as I am sure they have already sufficient knowledge of all the things I want to talk about, but more for an interested hobbyist and a person with a creative and a discerning eye, who would like to know either how to get started with DSLR cameras or perhaps even how to take better photos with their phone for Instagram (although granted I really am not so aware of differences in phone cameras).



Anyhow… without further ado, let’s get going from the very beginning! I will walk through with you from the very first thoughts I have when I take my camera all the way to posting it for public consideration.



First of all let me dedicate a paragraph to saying that if you are an eager hobbyist or you want to get into photography - please, please, please make a small investment into buying an old, manual film camera and a few rolls of film to study. And invest a bit of money to have someone developing those for you. The main problem with modern digital photography is that it is too easy to shoot 10000 photos with only one keeper especially with all the post-processing that has been made so available. Before I ever got myself a digital camera I shot through numerous rolls of film and that has taught me a few valuable lessons, which I want to share first:



  1. Take your time! DSLR has made it very easy to just shoot willy nilly without much consideration, but film teaches you that each of those limited frames is valuable! Especially since in older cameras you really have no idea how your shot will turn out even crop-wise, you really have to stop and think.

  2. Try for the love of god to get it right out of the camera! Post-processing is great, but if you look at my photos for example, I rarely if ever do anything that would not have been possible without the help of a computer. A computer just makes it faster but it should not be the tool you HAVE to rely upon for a good photo. Remember that at the end of the day film will have better quality than digital nine out of ten times. That is just a fact. If you have a minute go and look at photos of Ross Halfin. He doesn’t even know how photoshop works and he only shoots on film. No matter how much you photoshop or edit in other ways, you won’t be able to get same results as him.



Good. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get down to business.



The very very first thing you have to consider when you are grabbing your camera is the light! Light is your medium and the way you are able to produce images. Are you in direct sunlight with harsh shadows? Is it overcast? Are you in the shade but there is sunlight nearby? Are there natural light reflectors such as walls, posters, windows etc. nearby? Do they affect the subject of the photo? When you consider light first, the subsequent works becomes easier. Next thing you want to think about is the temperature of the light. I won’t go too technical on you with that but if you are shooting in RAW format on DSLR the light temperature is easily fixable in editing. But if you are not, take a good care to look at the color of the subject. Let’s say you are shooting a person - does the skin look natural or too blue (in which case the light is cold) or is it too yellow or even reddish (light is too warm). Different sources of light produce different temperatures so keep an eye on them.



At the same time you need to know how your camera and lens act wit the luminosity itself. My regular piece of gear isn’t very good when it gets too dark so I have to be creative with my settings sometimes to take a good shot.



Next bit we already go a bit philosophical. In my images I consider what is happening and is it worth shooting. Being mainly a documentary photographer I always keep a keen eye on what is happening and how people react to what is happening. Sometimes it is necessary for me to be almost invisible so that people are unaware of me taking a photo and sometimes their awareness creates a good effect. A technique I love using, albeit slightly unorthodox, is lining up my shot with all of its technical aspects and commanding my subject to look at me. It often catches them a bit unaware and creates a great dramatic effect like in the photo below:

Eyes of a Wolf.jpg



Here the man was getting a tattoo after what has been a very intense evening and I was just hovering around talking all sorts of bullshit with everyone in the room as I saw the opportunity. I took my good time in getting the settings of my camera right and after that said perhaps even slightly with a rude, commanding tone: “LEO! Look at me!” It’s a dangerous technique, but effect is worth it in my case. It works almost always...



So be aware and LOOK with your eyes and not the camera. But keep the camera at hand and ready! Is the photo worth being taken? Could it be good? Shoot!



After the light and subject are considered it is time to think about the exposure triangle, which consists of aperture (the F stop), shutter speed and ISO-number. Personally I am willing to let shutter speed slide as necessary as long as my aperture and ISO are exactly where I want them to be. Especially with my camera (DMC FZ1000 if you are wondering) large ISO gets VERY grainy. Much grainier than other cameras of same price range. But this is very much manufacturer and model dependent factor. What I would like you to consider the most is the aperture. Large aperture (small F number) means the sensor of the camera will be more widely open so more light gets in. Now this is important: bigger aperture means SHALLOWER depth of field - blurrier background. This effect also called “bokeh” also depends on your focal length but I won’t get into that right now. Plenty of people on the internet can (and have) explain it better that I would be able to in this text. I am trying to keep this short and sweet, but I feel like I am failing…



Aperture also can affect how well your camera’s auto focus will work. Obviously you can always use manual, but in my case I do not always have the time to adjust it manually. Considering my large aperture and auto focus along with situations that demand quick reactions, it is no wonder a lot of my photos might go straight into the bin due to lack of focus…



As a photographer it would be incredibly handy to have a crystal ball to tell you what will happen within the next minute. I urge you to train your mind and your eyes to see beyond the present moment. See the whole situation and see what everyone is doing and THINK how their actions will affect the surroundings. Let’s take an example of a protest for example. Everything is peaceful and you might be shooting the protesters shouting their slogans at the police or whatever… on the corner of your eye you might notice someone loading a home made smoke bomb or some such thing… YOU have to see that before the pacifying police force will see it and react with your camera. Where will it be thrown? Do you need to get out of the line of fire? Where will be a better shot located? Where will the smoke land and where will the wind blow it. Train yourself to be constantly aware of your surroundings like Jason goddamn Bourne!



I firmly believe that you always need to strive for perfection in each shot while also realising that it is impossible to achieve. An ideal situation would be where one shot of one situation is perfect and tells the whole story. I understand that that never happens while we shoot and edit but consider this idea for me: Time is also a great factor in photography. I often revisit shots that I have taken a year ago to edit them again and have a fresh look. Often we push the button in an instinctual manner and our minds can’t always figure why have we done so. Taking a bit of time after the shoot to look at your photos will have an interesting impact on the way you see.



We live in an age where all we do is look down at screens of our phones. I don’t want this to turn into a cliche, but consider right now where you sit. Consider the lines, the light and the colors. Consider the texture of the wall. If you are at the cafe or a bar - look out of the window and consider how people walk past the building. Also consider what reflects from that window. Do this every day with or without your camera on you. Consider the movement of the world around the block where you live and in fact here is a challenge for you! Why don’t you take a week and shoot ONLY around your block? What will you see? How will you see? I am sure that with what I have said you will see many things you haven’t noticed before within 50 meters of where you live.



In order to keep this text a bit shorter I will not write anything on my post-process at this time. If you are intrigued by what I have written and want to comment and enter a discussion, please follow The Bird Projects on Instagram and shoot a comment somewhere down there. I tend to reply to everyone as soon as I can. I want to write another text on post-processing for all you nerds who like that sort of thing, but it might take some time!



Meanwhile please keep creating! Keep recording your stories and those stories that are happening around you!



I will be getting ready for extreme darkness and cold of Finland, while trying to record some of it without any available bloody light…




Upon The Werewolves Part 3

It’s been five months since I have last seen the Werewolves and my pining for the experience has grown to an unsustainable, heavy sensation of missing the community, camaraderie and the profoundness of the rites and conversations.



Just like the last time in May, the warning for the upcoming event came with only two weeks left for preparations. Leonardo, the Alpha of Dire Dogs as my readers may recall, has told me that they would be gathering in the Alps for a moot and I knew I had to be there. The stars aligned rather well this time as I had both time and money for a trip so of course I jumped at the opportunity.



“You will need a sleeping bag the sports equipment and the general stuff. Just like the last time. Will you bring your camera?” Leo asked.

“Of course I will!”

“Oh yes… we will be sleeping outside.”

“Will we have tents or something?” I asked with careful excitement.

“No. Tents are for the weak…”



Fast forward two weeks and it is 4am in Helsinki as I set out on my journey. I was just at work the previous day and didn’t have time to sleep. Long journey ahead with an eight hour overlay in Frankfurt. That’s quite alright - it is a good test of endurance.



After the flights, the small tour of Frankfurt and a night in Milan I take a train to a little town north of Verona. During the ride on the train I see out of the window the mountains rising as eternal, wise giants who have seen both life and death, peace and conflict. Roman troops went by them to conquer new lands north of the empire, Hannibal has crossed these paths to knock on said empire’s gates, the planes of both world wars have surveyed the skies above those tips in search for the enemy. I always had a strong connection to the mountains, even though I am not originally from a mountainous region myself, but there is always something so mystical and eternal about those mighty formations that makes me ponder my own existence, much like the cathedrals of relatively younger religions such as Christianity make their worshiper feel small in front of the divine majesty of the domes and the towers.



“My Heart’s in the Highlands” springs to my mind…



Soon enough I arrive to my destination where I would be met by our host. I walk out of the station and see a familiar cut worn by Davide Morini. The patch of Dire Dogs proudly on his back one can sense an eternal calmness in that man, perhaps or surely even bestowed upon him by years of training in the martial arts and spiritual work he has exalted in around this area, where he lives with his wife Nena.

Davide, Nena and Leo

Davide, Nena and Leo



We get into their car and our drive begins through the town out into the valley where the steep rise, the quick turns and the speed combined with around 35 hours of being awake and airport food, which had god knows what in it, make me a bit car sick. No matter… and no point complaining about such a minuscule thing. As we drive above the valley Davide points to the opposite side and says: “There is my house!” I can’t really see anything… just a mountain covered in the rich green of the forest on top of it… “Right there!” Surely there is indeed a house - in the middle of nothing. Seems completely separated from the world a small, lonely set of small buildings right at the midpoint of the mountain.



As we arrive to our destination I exit the car and I see this vista of mountains, trees, clouds, villages and the town which we left in the distance all illuminated by the Italian sun shining from above. This place is like a dream or a vision I have seen before when I meditated in the peace and quiet of my home. It is exactly like it! I feel I have left the normal world and entered some other dimension, some other plane of life and several complicated emotions rush through my head in a fraction of a second.



Davide shows me around the place, pointing to all surrounding mountain tops, he explains to me: “I have been to the top of each one, I know all of these forests by heart. This is my territory! There is a cave nearby, which is unknown to men and I have found it. It is my place of meditation. We will go there tomorrow.”



Davide and Nena live almost completely in self-sufficiency. They grow vegetables, keep chickens and goats. There are grapes growing all around, which by this time of year are completely over ripened and are sweet beyond any stretch of imagination. I taste one and just can't stop grazing on them through the rest of our whole stay - and I am not the only one. As we go to feed the goats, Davide tells me: “I am just tired of all these games… Why do I have to work for other people waiting for a salary, so I can pay half of it to the government, which does nothing? It’s a stupid game. Here I am free and I can LIVE!” These words resonate with me deeply as the kind of self-sufficiency he has reached is a dream of mine as well and as the location is just like the one I have always imagined as a “perfect place”, I feel the small tingling of a green eyed monster rising inside of me. Understandable of course and in spite of it I primarily feel nothing but the utmost respect for what I see they have managed to accomplish. The surroundings of their home is decorated with animal skulls, bones and runes. I sit down on one of the benches overlooking the valley and try to soak it all in as Nena comes to me and with a reassuring smile says: “Breathe!”



It doesn’t take long before the first group arrives. It is Leo, Vetrar, Darko and Leo’s girlfriend Gaia. We greet each other with warm smiles and embraces and I recognize that I have known these people for just under a year, but in this time we have grown to be friends and I trust them, as I feel they trust me. Especially with Darko I have been talking almost every day as he has been my strength coach and he compliments me that I have changed visibly since we last saw in May. I am quite happy for living up to the expectations as the time between our meetings has been turbulent for me with several changes, challenges and obstacles, but one of the very basic credos of Operation Werewolf is to overcome and rise, and I have done that to the best of my ability so far.



As we settle down outside to rest and take in the sun we exchange gifts between each other. Patches, pins, necklaces… My gift to the guys was something specifically shamanic and Finnish - a ground up reindeer horn, which was used as a supplement for male potency and virility. As it is Leo’s birthday during this weekend I make a joke: “You know, you are getting old, so you will need this soon!”

Darko gives me a statue of Svetovid he brought from Serbia.

We converse, share stories and I take time to educate Vetrar and Darko on peculiarities of Finnish language:



“Do you know you can have a whole conversation in Finnish with just two letters?”

“Bullshit!” Vetrar retorts.

But I continue:

“Kokoo koko kokko kokoon.

Koko kokkoko?

Koko kokko!”



They stand in amazement and I spare them this time from explaining that the words “kuusi palaa” can have at least six or seven different meanings which have almost no relation to each other. Or how do you translate such a word as “juoksentelisinkohan”(should I go out and run around without a purpose)? Perhaps my Finnish readers will understand the joke… Anyhow because of that for the rest of the trip I could always hear “kokokokokoko” being thrown out at my general direction. It didn’t help my case at all that I have also told them a story from Finnish tradition about Sauna Elves, who prove themselves to be rather vicious in case one is misbehaving in a sauna. The story goes that if one goes to a sauna, which is a rather sacred place in Finnish culture and for example farts in there or has sex, the sauna elf will come around your bed while you sleep, skin you alive and hang your skin to dry out at the door of the sauna. This story used to be frequently told to children… Needless to say, from that moment on I was referred to as a sauna elf during our moot and it is something I feel I will have to live with for a long time.

Vetrar, Darko and Leo

Vetrar, Darko and Leo



Our little moment of grazing on grapes and bullshitting about the gory sauna elves was interrupted by Davide summoning us to take a hike with him in the nearby woods. I grab my camera and we set off walking through the wilderness for a while before we arrive to a spectacular sight. It is something one sees only in romantic paintings of the 19th century, or a CGI ridden films of modern times, the colors, the smell, the texture of everything around us felt quite unreal as we approached a waterfall and a reservoir below it. All of us quiet down as the beauty of that place consumes us. All of us choose a rock to sit on as Davide takes out a singing bowl and starts striking it. The sound penetrates the wilderness and my mind as well. Within my own spiritual path I am quite unused to meditate with other people around me but I do my best, listening to the sound of the magnificent waterfall and the bowl. With the corner of my eye I spot Leo taking out a knife and letting some blood out of his arm. On the other side Vetrar leans down to the water and seems to almost baptize his cut with those waters.



The whole place has an aura of sacredness. Something eternal, something that surpasses our understanding, something that is much bigger than any human that has ever walked upon this earth. This water falling down with fury and grace has seen more revolutions of The Earth than our puny race and it has been feeding the earth around for far longer than we have been experiencing it. I feel (but that might be quite my own subjective experience) that we are honoring that fact.

Vetrar the Shaman

Vetrar the Shaman



For myself there is an urge to go and swim in these waters, however I refrain from it. Instead I have to contain myself with just dipping my hands in, drinking it, washing my torso with it thinking about Odin, who had to sacrifice his eye in order to drink from the well of wisdom.

Meditation by the water

Meditation by the water




At last the last attendees arrive, a couple of hangouts and Dire Dogs prospect, Samuel. For the rest of the day we spend our time talking, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the views provided by Davide’s and Nena’s front yard.




Next day after we wake up and eat breakfast of bread and eggs, we set out for training that consisted out of running through the mountainous terrain with frequent stops for calisthenics. I felt rather happy with myself for being in a good shape, but some members of our congregation didn’t enjoy the same success. The terrain wasn’t of the easiest kind with steep rises, rocks, branches and what not constantly being tangled at our feet. After a we arrive back to the house and take a moment to drink water and breathe it is already time to head back out for the very meat of this weekend - the fighting.




Before this journey I have joked with Vetrar that I do need a rematch with him after he has absolutely destroyed me in Germany and even though I have not had the time to train in the martial arts, I have indeed become stronger and more resilient.




After a brief explanation by Davide and Leo that bare knuckle fighting the very essence of Dire Dogs we begin training in some simple attacking and blocking techniques. We switch partners often and there is great atmosphere of joy in this activity - how could it be any other way?




After the training is done we form a ring to in the usual tradition and Davide takes out his shaman drum to beat as each of us challenges a partner for a fight in our own respective turn.




I fight Vetrar, against whom I feel this time the fight went better, but he still had the upper hand. It was a good fight and he joyfully tells me: “Well… It is 2-0 for me now!”

Finally I get to fight against Leo as well - a fight we wanted to have ever since we first met back in February of this year. We didn’t have a chance in Germany so now was the time. As I get to stand in the ring against him he comes closer to me and with a sly smile tells me to go hard on him: “Don’t worry! I like to get punched in the face! Heh!”

It felt really balanced, but I know for a fact that he was taking it real easy on me. Real real easy… Nevertheless I enjoy it - hearing the shouts behind my back: “Andy DEFEND! Get in there!”

After a rest I get to fight Samuel as well and after the first couple of fights being a decent warm up I attack with a bit more fury. I get a couple of good punches in, he gets some as well, but as in one brief moment I neglect my guard and he gets a straight punch right into my jaw with full force, which almost knocks me on the ground. The astounded sounds of “ooohhh…” could be heard all around. I remain standing nevertheless and carry on fighting. In spite of that it was the most enjoyable experience.

Leo and Vetrar

Leo and Vetrar




Myself and others seem to find the most joy when Davide gets up to fight Leo as they surely are among the most experienced fighters on the European side of the Operation beside the Danish Operatives, the violent attacks of which I have experienced on my own skin in Germany, as my readers may recall. The Bear and the Wolf fight to train each other but they also clearly fight to inflict damage and are not afraid of blood spilling during some routine sparring. The differences in their style are apparent even to my untrained eye as Leo has this ferocity of a young wolf who is never afraid to attack and often does so in long sets and combinations of punches, while Davide is more reserved as he watches and analyzes, counter-attacks and dodges often. Many who have sparred with him said that it seems like he is teaching you as you go, not by saying anything but by leading and showing you the movement while you spar with him.

Darko and Davide

Darko and Davide






The endless rounds of violence go about as everyone fights everyone in their turn. Darko gets to brag that he found against each and every one of us this time! I fought only against five… While others fought I made sure to take photos and try to capture the action, but it seems that a couple of hard knocks in my head made it a bit hard to adjust the focus properly on my camera. I wasn’t surprised to be quite honest.




As we return to Casa Morini it is time to eat and rest. Darko and Vetrar spend a lot of time laughing and talking about history together, Davide and Nena take a nap, Leo and Gaia talk to each other and I hover around taking photos, and every once in a while laying on the ground to catch a drop of sleep. In my mind I am very aware that we are still bound to go on a hike to the “Dragon Cave” for our ritual.





The ritual has been my favorite part of each moot so far because in it the primal feeling and the extreme rush of adrenaline you get is something that I am addicted to. If I could, I would love to spend the rest of my life in such frenzy and ecstasy, although in such a case my life would be a very short one indeed. But what would be better - living a long life with nothing happening in it besides the banal cliches of the modern life: get a career, get promoted, have kids, pay taxes, have a holiday in Thailand, maybe go skydiving blah blah blah blah… or would it be better to live for a day and die in a state of frenzy which is so intoxicating that your primal animal nature is as sober as it has ever been as the shackles of “progress” and decadence are cast aside?

Would it not be better to live a day as a lion rather than a thousand years as a sheep?




In many ways the ritual has been that moment for me when I can see my own self in real light - I can touch and feel what I am inside. It is strange and scary but liberating and addictive at the same time.




As the dusk is getting nearer and the sun has already hidden behind the mountains we begin our walk towards the cave. The journey isn’t long but we have to be careful, for the ground is slippery and the side of the mountain is steep. I walk behind Darko, who’s shoes proved to have next to no grip and I am constantly preparing myself to grab his vest at any moment he would finally slip and slide towards a 20 meter fall to the left of us. He didn’t slip though…




Much sooner than I thought, we arrive to the cave and the preparations begin. The prospect starts the fire with the hangouts and Darko prepares ashes to paint our faces with. Davide goes out to meditate in the woods and Nena lights candles around the cave. Leo stands in the back of the cave observing everything. I can see a thousand thoughts running through his mind. Every once in a while someone growls and someone else howls… the sun is setting.





I get out of the cave for a second and lay down on the ground - on the cold, wet, fallen leaves of Alpine autumn. I look up onto the trees and examine their movement, listening to their leaves rustling, the wind blowing through them. As I lay and meditate on the nature that surrounds me a feeling of unity (for the lack of a better word) rushes through me and for the first time in my life I really feel being a part of nature. Some sort of euphoria and a sensation of being “unbound” washes over me.





We paint our faces in ashes, mud, blood and wine. There is blood coming out of my arm and I paint some of it on each Dire Dog. Darko paints an :URUZ: rune on my left shoulder. Nena leaves a mark of her hand on my right forearm. The shaman drum starts beating…





All of our eyes are fixated on the fire as Leo walks around it on all fours - like a wolf. After some time the drumming stops and after a moment of quiet reflection Davide speaks out:



“The nature, mother earth - she is with us tonight. We are all together!”

I stood on his left side and as he said that I look at him with astonishment as his words describe what I felt right before we started. This fills me with a reassuring motivation and I am caught in this larger-than-life spectacle of occult lycanthropy. Perhaps not all of our circle felt the same. Perhaps only a few of us felt “it”, but we did.




The elements were invoked around us but I couldn’t see anything. I only felt the water being splashed on my face, I felt falling on the ground and tasting the earth. My hands were engulfed by the fire and my lungs were filled by the purest air I have ever had inhaled.




Leo and Vetrar kneel down and join hands together as Davide hovers around them cutting their foreheads with a knife and then pouring goat milk over them. It is an ancient ritual of Celtic origin to provide blessing and courage for the warriors. This way Dire Dogs and Wolfe Nordland proclaim their bond and eternal brotherhood to each other.

“Ave Lupo! Ave Lupo! Hail Dire Dogs! Hail Wolfe Nordland!” - the frenzied shouts echoed through the Alps…

The screams of our congregation rise and rise. The arousal of our spirits is growing ever higher and we move around for the climax of the ritual.

“GEBO! GEBO! GEBO! GEBO!” - we shouted in the darkness, cut only by our pyre, as Davide and Leo clashed violently with the snarls and shouts I could recognize anywhere by now. So many times I have enjoyed their display of total violence. Davide stood high, like a bear penetrating the forest around us with his shout as each fiber of muscle contracted and he bid Leo to attack him. In turn Leo snarled and showed his sharp teeth - his eyes turning wild and wolf-like.





Eventually myself, Darko and Vetrar pull them apart and as we do so Leo tries to bite Vetrar. For the uninitiated it would have looked like too much, like we are going too far… but for us it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close to “too far”. It was good. It was… well… it was Us.




Towards the end we calm down and stand in contemplative silence before saying a few words to each other. I was honored to hear being greeted as a “Brother” by Dire Dogs, from their very mouths and that I shall surely not forget any time soon.




Indeed it would be perfect to end this account on the what Vetrar said during this last part of the ritual:




“The seeds that we sow here right now are a start of something great!”




It must be noted that many groups have been there before, who were trying to get together and create a culture. All of them had this passionate fire that burnt ever so brightly and ever so quickly, for they never knew the true discipline of creation - creation of something eternal. I for once never believed a passion to be a good thing in particular for it blinds reason and clarity, but that might just be my northern reservedness speaking. But what makes Operation Werewolf so different? How come I see all tribes constantly evolving and pushing harder and harder? How have Wolves of Vinland already exist for over a decade? Well I can think of quite a few reasons, but it would be better to summarize them in one swift allegory. Operation Werewolf is not a wildfire consuming everything around it and then eventually dying out. Operation Werewolf is a nuclear fucking weapon.

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Upon The Werewolves Part 2

It took me some time to start writing this article, for the whole experience was in many ways overwhelming. I am indeed struggling to come to terms with myself on what I can, or should recall. Safe to say that as this wasn’t my first trip to be amongst the Werewolves, the nervousness that was present during my trip to Italy wasn’t there anymore. Instead, I felt excited and just slightly intimidated, as I knew that this time a lot of things would be different. This time there were no outsiders, no uninitiated, no simply curious members of the public, who might have liked and even shared some Operation Werewolf material on social media. This time all who were present were wearing their cuts. This time more countries and more divisions would be represented. This time there would not be any holding back on the cultural affairs that have been built around the symbol of the Wolf’s Head.

 

I was in Helsinki, doing a photoshoot at the concert of the Norwegian black metal band Taake, when Tatiana from Dire Dogs (the Italian division, if you may recall from part 1) sent me a message: “Hey! Are you coming to Germany?” All of a sudden I had a small fit of anxiousness… “When?” - “In three weeks.”

 

I set to work immediately and I contacted Vetrar, one of the members of the German division, to ask him if I could tag along. Thankfully he granted me the permission and bid me to bring my camera with me.

 

Fast forward three weeks, during which time I found out who would be coming along. Of course the Dire Dogs would be there, so I tagged along on the journey with them. Darko and I decided on a rendezvous at the Tegel airport in Berlin, from where Davide would pick us up in his car with the rest of the crew.

 

As I stepped out of the airplane into the main hall of the airport, Darko was there waiting for me along with Benjamin, a prospect for the Ulvepels division. Benjamin is a true nordic guy - nearly two meters tall, bald and with a large beard. Rather intimidating if I would randomly meet him in a dark street…

 

Darko was excited to see me and likewise I was to see him. In between this and the Italian trip we had been keeping in touch quite a lot and Darko even started coaching me with the weightlifting two weeks prior to this journey. He had been hanging around the airport for three hours already and I could see that he was slowly losing his mind in here, but Leo said he should be here soon. However there was no room for Benjamin in the car, and it seemed that no one was picking him up, so he made his way via public transport.

 

Leo sent me and Darko a message… The traffic was horrible, there was a delay. Darko had just lost one more nerve after that. Convincingly he told me that this airport was a limbo! “You can’t get out! Andy, we will never get out!”

 

All in all we spent two hours hanging around Tegel, before Dire Dogs found us and got us into the car. There was still an hour and a half to drive, but at least now we were in good company. After our greetings, the very first thing I had to ask Tatiana was whether she would tattoo me this time? She would! And she showed me the design she made at my request: A bay leaf wreath with roman numerals XCII inside of it. XCII or 92 corresponds with the letters of the alphabet 9=I and 2=B - Iron & Blood.

 

The traffic on the way to our destination was still pretty horrible and from the front mirror of the car I could see Davide’s eyes. He was not amused at all. Dire Dogs drove all the way from Italy to Munich, to pick up Tatiana, and then to Berlin to pick us up. It had been quite a road trip for them.

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It occurred to me in the car that all of us were entrepreneurs. We all have our own businesses and that proved to be the main topic of our discussion. The conversation, however, stopped short as we arrived in a small village, where Vetrar (our German host) and Jack Donovan (the author of “The Way of Men” and “Becoming a Barbarian”) were waiting for us. Right away I walked up to Jack and said: “You, know it’s all your fault that I am here!”

 

Mr. Donovan’s writing has been the very inspiration behind my own personal journey into a better, healthier and more concentrated way of life. It is because of his strong and inspirational words that I decided to start lifting weights and look after myself and become better at being a man. I remember that when I first read his book - which must be said has already achieved a no less than a cult status - back in 2013, I recommended it to all of my friends. God knows how many have actually read it… but I haven’t really heard from them since. Jack laughed and told me that he likes it when people tell him it’s his fault.

 

From the village it was only a short drive to the moot point. Right then I had no idea where we were. I saw only a forest and a lake. An odd house here and there, perhaps.

 

We seemed to be the last crew to arrive. Everyone else was sitting behind a large table, sharing an evening meal of meat and beer. Most of these people I was meeting for the first time and I went around introducing myself to everyone. Some recognized me from the material I did from the Italian moot and I felt deeply flattered. Of course, for me, the first order of business was to give Vetrar a gift of that good old Finnish cut brandy, Jaloviina. I also had a second bottle, which I presented to the founder of Operation Werewolf and the head of Wolves of Vinland, Paul Waggener. This was the first time I was meeting him as well, but we had had a couple of minor interactions on social media before. About a year or two ago our numbers on the deadlift were quite similar, so I made a bet with him on who got to 450lbs first, before the year’s end. The loser buys a bottle. I lost.

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Once again the same feeling was with me that I had in Italy. The whole world had disappeared from my mind and it was only these people that concerned me now. Even though none of them would call me a brother, I didn't feel like an outsider. I felt incredibly welcome and also found it much easier to start chatting with everyone, than I would find it in Finland.

 

Benjamin had made it here before us, as Darko and I suspected. I went up to him and we engaged in a long conversation about food and cooking, but at the same time I was reminding myself to take as many photos as I could.

 

We spent the rest of the day talking to one another, getting to know each other, having a few beers and I kept buzzing around snapping photos of this new barbarian tribe. In the background of conversations and laughter I heard the sound of a tattoo gun - Tatiana had already started tattooing the willing participants. As the sun set we lit a fire and gathered around it for the rest of the night, accompanied by conversations and plans for the future. Again, many of us here met each other for the first time and many had the language barrier to overcome. But as it was evident that the reason for us all being here was the same, there never was a moment of uncomfortable silence or awkwardness. There was a feeling of mutual admiration and competition at the same time. Advice and stories were told, challenges and proposals erected as the dusk began to settle around our campfire. The tribe has gathered. One way or another, everyone was at home.

 

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Next day I woke up shaking from cold. The nights in Germany get surprisingly cold and during this night I learned that my sleeping bag was horribly inadequate. Walking out of our large tent, I tried to warm myself in the sun, which had absolutely no effect, so I resolved to drink large quantities of coffee and hot water. Looking back at it, drinking a lot of coffee probably didn’t help with the shaking and shivering. The guys from German division were preparing breakfast for us and at the same time I already heard Tatiana starting with her tattoos. She yelled at me: “Andy! Wanna tattoo?” Why, of course! I put on a brave face and took off my shirt, trying not to shiver, and we got started. I was very excited by this, as I have had the desire to get her artwork on me since Italy!

 

We were done rather quickly. Surprisingly quickly in fact, and I am proud to have this symbol on me. Only half jokingly, we say that I am branded now. I cannot leave the Wolf Cult! By this time breakfast was ready and after we ate it was time to move forward onto the program for the day. First part: training followed by ritualized fighting. I got Benjamin as my training partner. Davide was leading the training in Italian to all of us. Benjamin and I helped translate everything. For Paul and Jack, this was the first time meeting Davide personally, and they paid very close attention to his instructions. I see this all over the tribe: people learn from one another with humility and grace as the forging of our lives is dependent on what the people closest to us can teach. In the words of Paul: “None ascend alone.”

 

After training we all seemed to cool down, but some of us looked like things were just about to get interesting. I saw Vetrar psyching himself up and I knew that the proper violence was about to start. Boldly, as I felt a great need to prove myself, I walked up to him and asked if we should go first. “Lightly… just to warm up… y’know?” Yeah… we didn’t go lightly… at least it didn’t feel like it.

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I got several hard hits to my head and I heard the ringing inside of my skull. After the third hard hit into my temple I had to call it quits from this round. Immediately I had a bright bruise in the corner of my eye. I walked away from the ring, made from other members, and Darko said to me: “Out of all people, you chose to go against Vetrar first?! I know he looks skinny, but he is a killer!” I retorted: “Well now you fucking tell me…”

 

I have to admit, that my martial arts training had been lacking the past couple of months… this experience just fortified that notion. I had some time to breathe and gather myself as Nino Svartserk, from Hamrammr division of Denmark, walked up to me and asked if I want to fight him. Honestly, I was still recovering from the previous round, but to say “no” would (at least in my head) look like I am lacking in honor. I agreed… Nino has years of training above me. I had no idea how to attack him or how to defend against him. He bashed my core and after I tried to defend to the best of my abilities he got in a very strong hit right into my liver. So hard, in fact, that I lost my breath for a few seconds… at least it felt hard for me. It took me some time to get over that one… in the end I had to go and throw up.

 

I can’t begin to explain how embarrassed and disappointed I felt after those two rounds. I wanted and expected more from myself. It took me some time to get over that and I just kept telling myself that at least I got in and fought, and didn’t back up from the fighting itself. Benjamin walked up to me and said: “You’re a perfectionist, I can see that. But remember, it’s like with food and photography and lifting weights - you started somewhere. Just keep on working on it!” Those kind words had a profound effect on me. I got over myself, took a deep breath and the thought stuck inside my skull: “Just keep working on it…”

 

Everyone fought between themselves inside the ring made of Werewolves. There was ritualistic drumming echoing during each round as one after another fists clashed and you could hear both the grunting of the fighters and the cheering of their divisions. Some didn’t box, but grappled instead. Some went harder than others. Someone’s tooth was chipped, someone was knocked unconscious, but everyone was eager to test themselves. This mentality is the core of Operation Werewolf and the basic idea behind it. One must never settle for mediocrity, thinking that “well… this is good enough.” This sort of sheepish mentality is simply not accepted in this circle.

 

The fights were over and there was a moment for a cooldown. Some had a beer, some went to sleep and some went to a nearby lake for a swim. I started feeling that now we were all just waiting for the sunset and the ritual that would take its place afterwards.

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(Disclaimer: Many parts of the ritual will not be described for two reasons: 1. The nature of things that happened are only meant to be seen by the people who attend and 2. Because of my own state of mind during it, my recollection is lacking.)

 

We were all rather relaxed at this point, but for me personally, the sunset came almost as a surprise. I could see the fire being erected on the side of the woods and another one nearby for participants to gather their thoughts by. I walked around it, sometimes wandering further away towards the woods and into the darkness and then coming back. Many divisions were apart from each other, preparing in their own way - chanting, screaming and shouting. I saw a familiar sight of Dire Dogs fighting like rabid animals between each other. First Leo and Darko, then Leo and Davide. As I was walking around, Tatiana attacked me out of nowhere and with a snarl I threw her out of my way. She snarled back at me and walked away.

 

For my own part I was concentrating on my mind. I knew there would be a part where I had to speak in front of everyone and I was thinking of words. In my mind, the part of the ritual I was active in needed blood, so I took a knife and made a few small cuts to draw blood. I took it and painted it on my face, which was already painted in mud and ash. Darko painted the :RAIDO: rune on my forehead. I asked him first to make an :ALGIZ: for life and vitality, but Darko said: “No! Let’s do :RAIDO:. You travelled here and this is all a journey!” I had to agree with him. :RAIDO: is a rune that symbolizes an actual, physical journey, rather than a spiritual one so his suggestion was very much adequate. Afterwards, he asked me to draw a Kolovrat on the back of his head - a Slavic symbol of the sun.

 

It was time to light our torches. I could feel the buzz in my head as the blood rushed more freely through my veins than ever before. I felt warmed by the fires as we started walking to the ritual pyre. Chanting, howling, shouting. Once again, just like in Italy, it all became a blur. We gathered in a circle, outside of which nothing exists for us. Outside of this circle there is the “Empire of Nothing” and we, the new barbarians, are chanting, drumming and banging on its walls - shaking the fundamentals of the Empire and causing it to shake and tremble.

 

Our ritual was divided into three main parts with some speeches at the end. The first part was performed in honor of birth and life. A member of Hamrammr spoke of him awaiting his firstborn son. There was frenzy, manic laughter and joyous howling. The second part was for nurturing and perseverance, the struggle of life. At the end of it Leo and Davide from Dire Dogs erupted into a violent fight. It was not sparring or friendly training. Those two men became real animals - shapeshifters, if you will - and with snarls, growls and shouts they tore at each other’s skin, biting, scratching, punching and throwing.

 

The last part was of death and rebirth, led by Vetrar. This was where I was coming in after Vetrar’s speech. I walked into the centre of the circle and spoke… I cannot recollect what I said… All I can remember is the feeling of pure electricity going through my hands. A feeling which lasted for eternity, it seems. I recall falling to the ground in front of the fire and howling as I rose. Vetrar passed me a horn filled with mead, which I was supposed to hold and theatrically slit my own throat to show death. Then I drank it and rose - as in a rebirth. You see, this is how I saw that blood was necessary. Who of us came into this world not covered in blood? Other members in our ritual group did the same and we proceeded to “baptize” others with our blood as well. I painted my blood onto Marius’ chest and Nino’s face. Knibbe (a prospect for Ulvepels) painted his blood on me.

 

I could see boxing gloves flashing on some of the members and I already knew what was about to happen. Benjamin was about to get patched in. He was thrown into the centre of the circle and I could hear someone shouting: “FUCKING KILL HIM!” All of a sudden, it seemed almost everyone was attacking him, and those who were not were shouting and howling on the outside. Benjamin stood sturdily and did not bend under heavy punches. Davide jumped in and I could hear gasps and sounds of awe, but Benjamin withstood that as well. It was all over so quickly and yet it lasted for aeons. Benjamin had earned his patch in the Norwegian Ulvepels division.

 

Paul walked into the centre and urged all of us to calm down and breathe. He spoke and I could see his words resonating with everyone present. Jack followed and gave a fiery speech on the fall of the Empire of Nothing, urging us to be born! We all shouted: “I want to be born!”

 

The ritual closed. I stuck around the fire for a bit and walked away, through the darkness, towards our tents and the small hut in which everyone else had gathered. I grabbed my camera, but my hands were shaking. Paul walked up to me and said: “Damn… that was heavy…”

 

Again I could hear the buzzing of the tattoo gun. Both Tatiana, and Davide’s wife Nena were tattooing straight away. And then came a moment which has been heavily imprinted into my mind… Benjamin asked Paul to draw a Galdrstafir - a combination of magical symbols and runes onto his back. Paul started drawing and beneath all talking and laughter I could hear faint singing. Paul shouted: “Everyone! Shut up!” and then more calmly: “Benjamin… sing!” And he did…

 

“Oh I’m a good old rebel

Now that’s just what I am…”

 

Everyone was quiet.

 

“And for this Yankee nation

I do not give a damn…”

 

I could see everyone’s attention being pointed towards him.

 

“I’m glad I fought against her

I only wish we’d won…”

 

Paul’s lips were moving in unison as he drew the runes on Benjamin’s back.

 

“I ain’t asked any pardon

For anything I’ve done…”

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Everyone was dead silent as Benjamin finished this old Confederacy song. When Paul was done drawing, Benjamin went to Nena and she tattooed the freshly drawn symbol to be forever branded on his skin. This moment was something I knew I should’ve taken a photo of, but damn it, I was simply too mesmerized by the whole situation.

 

Next day everyone was leaving and we said our goodbyes. Last night, at the end of the ritual, I made a vow that this gathering would not be my last and I intend to keep it. As the time drew near for me to depart as well, I put my vest with the Operation Werewolf patch into my bag and as I did so, Marius came up to me and said: “Feels weirds putting it away after all of this, doesn’t it?” It sure does…

 

Me, Marius R., Marius H and Knibbe made our way to Berlin airport by public transport. It was rush hour and everyone on the train were avoiding us. I told Knibbe that everyone looked so “stupidly normal”. They did, though. After this weekend it felt almost impossible to go back into the “normal” world of everyday nine-to-five people, for whom careers, loans, stock interests and other mundane bullshit were the main priority.

 

What I… what we had during these short couple of days was what real adventure, real experience, was always meant to be. It was trial and hardship. It was real and meaningful connections. There was no idle small talk on bullshit subjects or pretence that we might care about one another. We really did. We really were interested. We gathered there to stand up for the challenge and gather under the black flag of the Death Wolf and we walked away not the same. I certainly know that I wasn't…

 

“We are hailing our eternal march, grim and warlike, towards a greater destiny than that which would be chosen for us by those who wear the crowns of this earth.”

-Paul Waggener.

Upon Marianne (Full article)

Situated on rapids connecting two lakes in central Finland stands one of the most populous cities amidst the Nordic countries - Tampere. It’s an old industrial city with a rich cultural history and a strong presence of various sports: two ice hockey teams playing at the oldest Finnish ice hockey arena, a soccer and a football team, a professional basketball team and it is also a birthplace and home to a young woman, who recently became four times world champion under WABDL (World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters) in 148lbs category. Her name is Marianne Hartio.

 

I met Marianne, through her coach Jani Pentti, himself world’s and Europe’s champion in powerlifting who has made a career from helping other people get healthy and strong. He has trained total beginners, amateur boxers and professional ice hockey players among many many others.

 

I arrived to Tampere as the first snow began falling from the sky. As I entered the gym, which is owned by Jani and his business partner Samuli Koskinen, I heard a loud female voice echoing: “Come on! Let’s go! Couple more reps! Yes!”. Jani explained to me that Marianne, who works at the gym as a personal trainer, has a customer right now and as soon as she is finished they will begin on today’s training session.

 

“We train four times a week for the upcoming competition. Mainly focusing on the bench and deadlift as she is competing in those. Squats come in as an accessory, so we never really squat heavy.” Jani told me. “Actually today she needs to do some squats and accessory movements.”

 

Marianne comes into the room where me and Jani talk. She has a wide smile on her face, we shake hands and I explain to her that I am here to document her preparations for the competition and tell her to just do her thing and ignore me. She puts on her lifting shoes and moves back into the gym. As soon as we enter the gym I see that smile disappear. She warms up, stretches and moves to the squat rack.  A look of full and total concentration appears on her face as she loads the bar with 45lbs plates right at the start. She does a few sets of three to five reps and takes a bench to proceed with box squats. It looks like the whole world has disappeared from her mind as she looks herself in the eyes from the mirror and squats each rep with perfect form.

 

She is done quite quickly and without much rest moves on to deadlift. “No heavy deads today…” she tells me. “I’ll just work on my form and my lock up at the top.” Hartio straps resistance bands to the bar and the squat rack so that the bar is pulled towards it and loads the bar with 155lbs. Fours sets of five reps is all it takes her. After that she moves on to work on her core muscles, stretches again and today’s session is all wrapped.

 

“Yeah, my training is usually done pretty quickly. Jani is very precise on how much I must do each day. No more, no less. You need to be consistent and careful too! Today was kind of a deload day, but next time there will be heavy weights!”

 

I ask her about her nutrition and supplements and Marianne quite happily exclaims: “I just eat! All the time. I use some protein powder, some recovery and BCAA’s, but that’s it. I can eat whatever I want pretty much, as long as it’s clean. I never eat any junk food. Mainly minced beef and rice. I am not bored of it either - I am quite happy with it!” She explains that as long as the diet is balanced and healthy there isn’t really a need for anything too strict. “Of course the last week before the competition I will have a very strict diet as I need to make the weight! Right now I am about 10lbs above, but I can shed that in a couple of days easily. Jani made me a meal plan for when I go to Vegas.”

 

After Marianne mixes herself some recovery shake we sit down and talk.

 

“I’ve been doing sports since I was four. As a gymnast first and there I had a Russian coach. He always told me that I can do better and I think from there I got the mentality that it has always been really hard for me to be content with anything. If something doesn’t go the way I want it to go I am absolutely ready to throw everything out, crying and screaming… Almost threw all my medals and awards into garbage once. But that all said, Jani helped me getting away from that mentality and helped me being more happy with myself. Of course I want to lift heavier weights and I always try to go harder, but it is important to say that, “yeah… That was good! You did good today!”

Powerlifting gives me courage and makes me trust myself more. Perhaps before, when I was a gymnast, it was just chalk powder and your bodyweight on the balance beam or whatever and you needed to know how to control your body. But when you suddenly have to control all of your muscles and lift a bar that is at least twice as heavy as you are - that took courage from me, because I used to be afraid like ‘what if my body just breaks?’ That doesn’t happen anymore. The bar needs to go up!”

 

Today we have our Facebooks, Tumblrs, Instagrams and what not filled with the so-called “gym memes” saying things like “when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders - go squat.” While perhaps being helpful to inspire some people and get them moving, Marianne’s source of inspiration comes from completely another direction.

 

“I just need to lift bigger weights than the next person… My competitive drive is the strongest force that motivates me. Even in my previous competition [Las Vegas 2016] I won all golds with my lifts, but I still wasn’t happy with myself. Maybe that was my weakness before, but I got over that. Now I can go in with a smile and just go full throttle. We did have to have a serious talk on this matter with the coach. Being unhappy like that I just bad behaviour towards your coach and yourself.”

 

Next time I see Marianne at the gym, it’s heavy bench day. Marianne is warming up as Jani floats around the gym, clearly thinking of how to push her today. They begin benching with Jani spotting. 135lbs for 5 reps is easy. 185lbs - piece of cake. 195lbs gets harder, but the coach pushes for an extra rep.

“Press!” he shouts “You need to let the bar stop on your chest. The judge won’t tell you to press if the bar is still moving. Let it stop and even sink in a bit, then press with explosive power!” Marianne replies that it’s hard with the heavier weights…
“It doesn’t matter one damn bit if you have an empty bar or 225lbs on it!” Jani contradicts “When you have your technique chiseled out it will go up! There is no choice! You calmly set it down and USE! EXPLOSIVE! STRENGTH!”

“It’s still very hard…” Marianne exhales.

 

Next up will be seated overhead press with weights strapped on the bar with resistance bands to promote shoulder stability. Jani spots again and pushes Hartio to do four sets of eight reps. The end of each set pushes the young powerlifter the absolute limit. I can see that her eyes are tearing up between the sets. Jani calmly keeps telling her not to be afraid of the bar. “Just keep lowering it very calmly. There is no rush, take your time!”

Another set… Marianne shouts at the last rep to get it up at all costs and as soon as the bar is racked, she exclaims: “I just can’t!” Jani chuckles behind her and after brief silence comments: “That was good. You see, when you get tired, the bar starts shaking back and forward. When that happens just concentrate and go again!”

One last set. Jani keeps encouraging his student to go all the way. Marianne starts shouting at the fifth rep. Jani supports. Seventh rep… eight… she racks the bar, collapses and breathes heavily. From under her breath I can hear: “F***…. f***ing hell… f***…”

She takes a few minutes of rest, because the day isn’t over yet. Jani sets up for the next exercise. Barbell rows, while laying down on the bench and leaves. He trusts and knows that Marianne will finish the whole session of the day.  

 

On the deadlift day Marianne begins once again with her stretches that look like a carefully planned out choreography of a modern dance. Each muscle of her body is warmed up and prepared for the heavy lifts she will undertake today.

“I need to use bands again, but this time with heavy weights. It really helps more than just deadlifting.”

She begins an easy warm up set with 135lbs. adds 50lbs on the next set. All looks easy for her. She proceeds on to 225lbs, bands still pulling the bar down the closer she gets to a full lock up.

Now the real works begins as she loads the bar with 270lbs. She makes a set of three reps and takes a rest. Looks at the bar and utters to herself: “More weight…” She puts 285 lbs on the bar and goes for a set. The bar won’t budge. She takes a moment to gather herself and tries again. The bar is still unmoved.

“Goddammit!” she exclaims. “Just wouldn’t move, would it?” she said to me while chuckling and smiling, but I can see that it bothers her.

Suddenly Jani appears and asks how is it going. After learning of today’s weights, he compliments Marianne, that it was still a pretty good day, but I can see that Marianne isn’t too impressed with herself. “It’s all in between my ears.” she said.

The fact that the main lift of the day didn’t go as well as she planned, doesn’t stop her and she continues to work on her upper and lower back for the rest of the day. She does some dumbbell rows, a few sets of upright barbell rows, back extensions and finishes the day on the cross trainer and stretching.

In her training routine there are next to none gimmicky exercises and no nonsense. Everything is simple, straightforward and effective.

 

I sit down to talk to Marianne one more time as next week she will be flying to Las Vegas.

After assuring me that she will get the golds and records that she wants we talk a bit about the sport itself.

“It’s clear that everyone needs to do some sort of exercise...” she said “... Not necessarily powerlifting, although it is very rewarding, but something. We should all take care of our health from the very beginning and that includes what we eat, drink and how we move. It should go without saying! I mean how can you take care of your children - run around after them, pick them up, take care of their health, if you don’t have any of your own left?”

 

When I asked coach Jani the same question his reply was more stern, but equally inspiring:

“Choosing to lift weights and especially powerlifting can get very lonely. A lot of times it is being alone at the gym in the evening, when your friends are out partying, eating, drinking etc. but you can’t really go with them, because you need to concentrate on training. In team sports it is always you as a part of the team, but in powerlifting, even if you go to compete as a part of a team, it is still just you up there.

People think it is easy. Just lift some heavy stuff… but we all know it is much more than that. It takes real dedication and discipline, but always the first thing we need to consider is health. Health should always be the first and foremost reason to do this. I know I can get a lot of heat because of this, but if you lift weights to look pretty or whatever else, you have already gone wrong. The first thing you need to think about is always your health!”

 

Observing Marianne’s training and routines I came to believe that her attitude and persona is the way it ought to be for the coming generation of professional athletes. Even in face of adversity and vigorous training routines, through sacrifices and pain that she endures in order to become a champion, she still smiles and tries to inspire others to train and fortify their health. Her public image isn’t that of a pompous lifter trying to intimidate others. In many ways she presents sports very much like a well known Mikhail Koklyaev - with joy, showing that training can and should be a part of everyone’s life regardless of circumstances.

 

Whether you are a professional powerlifter or a  beginner who just discovered the sport, it is important to look towards athletes like Marianne Hartio. The overflowing amount of positivity that radiates from her is not only the key to good and healthy career in sports, but also an important factor in overall good quality of life. I dare to say that all can benefit from the her attitude: eat well, lift big, help others feel better and always smile while you are doing it

Operation Werewolf Video

Very proud to release the first Operation Werewolf related video! 
I sincerely hope to make more videos in this fashion in the future. Perhaps even in a longer format and more from a documentary viewpoint, but time will show!

Make sure to share this as much as you can and everywhere you can!

-A

 

Upon The Werewolves

Upon The Werewolves

The Operation Werewolf is a culture of personal development in the most extreme fashion. The Werewolves fight, train, eat and ritualize together. A modern tribe of triumph of strength above weakness.

Read More

Upon Our Services

Now that The Bird Projects has been rolling for couple of months and I have more or less come to grip with the reality of being an entrepreneur in Finland, it is time to talk about what I could actually do for another business.

I have had a couple of projects going on, one of them being a photo shoot for another entrepreneur, creating some photography for the new website and post production of a Christmas Party video for an internal use of another company. All the while I have been working on my documentary project "Marianne", but I am sad to say that I am having quite a bit of difficulty with the post production on that one. Mainly due to the problems with the sound... I am working hard on resolving this. 

Meanwhile I need to keep striking the iron while it's hot and promote my services as much as I can. So without further a due...

It's a picturesque world we live in today, isn't it? You open your PC or your phone and there are targeted ads and images being flung at you from every direction! Those ads are all made by other businesses, perhaps some of them just like Yours and You need to get into that market. You want to create a beautiful ad campaign to get followers and viewers and sharers of your product. Perhaps you are opening a small craft brew pub? Well you need to make sure how fun it is to come around to Your establishment and enjoy the brews that only You sell in the whole town! Are you a trainer? The market is full of PT's right now... You need an ad that shows not only the generic toned body that with a gym water bottle that you see on every Instagram page, but how about showing in your add all of the benefits that training with you will provide: actual glowing and healthy smile on your customer's face, higher self-esteem, feeling of being a part of a supporting community of people getting in shape... 
 

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Now if You have a business, You probably know all that already and understand how basic marketing works so just in case You're wondering, why am I bothering to write all of this, here's why:
Let's say I will produce some web content for You and Your business. Let's say it will be a bunch of lovely photos with high resolution, beautiful shades and colors and wonderful plays on perspective and perhaps a descriptive text telling Your customers, why You are the right choice for them. Most freelancers and photographers will tell you they charge by the hour, so for example it is very common that they will give you an offer like "shooting an event at your business will be 150 Euros for the first hour and then 100 Euros for every hour after that." and that might not include any possible editing that the photos might require. In addition a lot of times you will get all the shots that they have made and let you sieve through all of hundreds of shots they've made. 
I have a different approach. This is a one man operation and I am doing everything by myself, so with my customers it is always personal. You want someone to really be as exited about your business as you are, don't You? 
So my way of working is simple: we talk exactly on what you want, I write everything down, I do the work for as long as it is needed to, I edit everything and choose the amount of best shots that we have agreed upon for your usage. So if we have agreed on 30 perfect shots, that's what you will get for a steady price. Now you have 30 blog posts/ads/instagram posts worth of photos and today that can be quite a handy amount to have. And You didn't have to worry about the fact that I am trying to get it done as fast as possible, because You are paying by the hour. I want to take care and time to get you the best content, and at the same time save you some stress and money. 

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Notes upon the start

Greetings and congratulations! YOU are here! You could have been somewhere else, but you are one out of like twenty people who may have ended up here out of a courtesy, curiosity, credibility checking or creative interest. So welcome! And thank you! Let me tell you about "The Bird Projects"...

This is the seed of something I hope to become much bigger in the (hopefully near) future. "The Bird Projects" is a multimedia project. I choose the term "multimedia" for two reasons: 1) I want to be able to have all the available mediums at my disposal for creating our products and content and 2) because I'm just that damn handy with more than one thing. I am really good with knives for example... not that knives are a very good way of expression, but you know...

My media background springs from photography. I have been taught by my late father, who has been a professional photographer since 1985 in USSR. He taught me to use film cameras and all the basics with visual art. I still have an old FED5 that I may start using again with some of my projects here. Later on I studied in Voionmaa Institute in Finland on Documentary Film Making. Directed a couple of documentary films (about Finnish forest industry and a "making of" of an indie film). Those are probably for ever lost now... I have worked on music production with the bands I was involved in and composed music for indie films. This is something I wish to do more with The Projects

Enough about the past, let's talk about the future! 

I am planning a couple of documentaries for a start to show of the vision, purpose and "the mission" of The Bird Projects, if you will. At this point I want to be absolutely clear, that I am quite serious about the documentary aspect of The Projects - this means that me, personally, Andrei Sorokin or Andy Bird (depending who's asking), I have no political agenda, no personal opinion, no axes to grind, nothing but genuine interest towards the subjects that will shape my documentary portfolio. My job is to DOCUMENT the story as it is and present it to you for your consideration. Let's just make that really clear. Right now. So that there is on whining later... There are certain subjects that I want to highlight with the use of The Projects, because I feel that modern times began to neglect these things. But more on that later as I start publishing.

The first project is scheduled to start within more or less a week and a half. I will be trying to post notes about it here and obviously the preview of the full documentary on "Projects" page.

Again, thank You for visiting this page. I hope you will come back and follow what we are up to here!

Cheers!

The Bird