Some years ago I recall reading through Herodotus’ “Histories” in which he describes a nomadic tribe called Neuri, who lived beyond the lands of Scythians on the area that is modern day Ukraine and Belarus. For the most part Neuri observed Scythian customs which in themselves, according to Herodotus, were almost barbaric. But one thing made Neuri different in a way that is worth mentioning. In Book IV Ch. 105 Herodotus states the following:
“The men may well be magicians, since the Scythians and the Greeks who lives in Scythia say that once a year every Neurian becomes a wolf for a few days and then reverts to his original state.”
This report came to my mind as I was standing out in the darkness and cold, but warmed by the pyre that was built for a sole purpose of a lycanthropic ritual.
But I would like to begin my account on the previous day, from Santa Lucia Station in Venice. I arrived there at 9.45 in the morning. Leonardo, the commander of the Dire Dogs division from Operation Werewolf said he would pick me up with a Serbian Werewolf operative Darko and they would drive with me to the place of the moot.
I saw Leo walking in and one could easily say that there is a person who is not like all other citizens wondering around the station. Tall with a wide frame, wearing a vest with Dire Dogs patch on the back and animal bones and Nordic runes adorning it in the front. As we greet each other and after mandatory questions of “how was your trip” I present Leo with I gift from Finland - a bottle of Finnish cut brandy “Jaloviina”, hoping that he is not an absolutist.
All of my logic was trying to tell me that I should be nervous, for I do not know these people and I am a stranger in a strange land, not knowing where will I end up by the end of the day, but in my heart I feel excitement more than anything. I feel welcomed but sized up and judged at the same time. I knew this was going to be a powerful weekend, one that I would not forget any time soon, even though I had no idea what to expect.
We find Darko near the trains, where he is waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. He greets me with extreme friendliness and words “Moy Brat!” (“My Brother” in Russian). We don’t have much time to stand and talk in there as his girlfriend, Laura arrives.
All of our bags and and belongings are stuffed into Leo’s car with us taking whatever free space is left and we begin our way to the place of the moot. Leo told me that he knows the people who own the property and that it is in the middle of nowhere, but very beautiful. In the car Laura and Leo start talking italian and I am trying to brush up on mine as I listen to them, but their conversation is way too fast for me to follow. Something is said about Italian politics, something is said about music… I really don’t know. Instead I engage in a conversation with Darko and we talk about the countries where we live.
The trip takes us much less time than I expected. I see a couple of small houses with tall, pyramid-like roofs with one large house in the middle built in a similar style. The ground is muddy and wet all around. I was totally mentally prepared to live in a tent for this weekend, but the houses are well heated with a kitchen and an espresso machine. No hot water or showers though, but that was more of a concern for Darko’s girlfriend. I jokingly say to Darko that the lack of hot water in the winter reminds me of “the old country” and we both laugh.
As the day progresses people slowly start pouring in. A Croatian division, some people who are merely curious and interested, more members of the Dire Dogs. One of them and one of the first to arrive was a man with his large dog. He looked like someone you really do not want to mess with. Looking sturdy - like an oak with a large beard, a bald head and Nordic tattoos covering it. For me most noticeable were the runes :ALGIZ: and :ANSUZ: as small tattoos near the corners of his eyes. That was Davide Morini with his dog Deva. Davide is an Italian MMA champion with well over 20 years of professional experience and over 200 professional matches under his belt.
At last the remaining of the attendees arrive: Tatiana - a Brazilian born tattoo artist and a member of Dire Dogs, Sofia - a young Italian member of the Dire Dogs with her boyfriend Marius - the second in command of the Norwegian division “Ulvepels” and Marco - another Italian member of Dire Dogs. When the Werewolves gather you can feel the change in the atmosphere. It seems like the whole world disappears and only the Tribe remains.
The shackles of the modern jungle of steel and stone are cast aside for good and the petty politics of the outsiders are disregarded with a sneer of contempt.
In the main hall of the big building, where we all sit, Darko and Andrej (from Croatian division) hang a black flag that says: “Werewolves. Southern Pack”. Under it, on the fireplace, rests the flag of Venice and several wolfskins.
No major activities are going to happen today. People are tired from the road so Laura with the help of the curious members of the public prepare us a dinner of pasta with ragu sauce. We eat and drink and I try my best to connect with everyone who is attending. Getting over the fear that my Italian is way too rusty, I have to rehearse each sentence five times inside my head before I utter it.
After everyone seems to be relaxed and the evening is slowly drawing to an end we go upstairs to hang out more. The Croatians are playing cards, Leo is walking around talking to everyone, Davide is playing with his dog and Darko is getting tattooed by Tatiana, who brought her kit along with her. I utilize this moment to take out my camera and take some photos, trying to capture the atmosphere to my best ability. After each five or six shots people want to see the photos straight away. Honestly I didn’t want to show them at first, because I didn’t want them to know what I am taking photos of and therefore they wouldn’t be so conscious of the fact, but I give in. Leo compliments me and says that I really know how to play with the light.
Next day we wake up at 8am and after morning coffee all men go outside with their boxing gloves and mouthguards. Bringing them along was mandatory for this meeting.
Marco begins with the training routine where we go through some basic punches and warm up. After that Davide shows us some MMA techniques we practice in pairs and afterwards Davide proceeds to train each of us individually in turn. In between practice some guys are taking light sparring matches between themselves. Andrej and Darko go at it together and also Leo and Marius. Leo draws the first blood from Marius’ nose and they proudly display this achievement.
As people are resting from this session I walk around nervously, because I really was looking forward to some sparring myself. I knew most of these guys are way more experienced fighters than I am, but that didn’t frighten me. I felt the challenge and the urge to answer it was irresistible. Just at that moment Davide walks up to me and says in Italian: “Wanna go?” Without a moment of hesitation I reply: “Of course!”
We go to the empty wooden terrace and I feel in my back how everyone is looking at us, but the feeling is gone as soon as we take our stance. We begin sparring and I feel that Davide is taking it light on me. Obviously if he would go full throttle, I would go down in less than five seconds, but he still uses enough technique and strength to show me the importance of blocking and minding where the opponent is. I get a few punches in and when my guard is foolishly down he throws a few lightning fast punches into my face. The whole experience is over way too quickly and we go back inside to eat. Leo walks up to me and asks how do I feel. My only reply is that I wished there would be more sparring. Reassuringly Leo tells me not to worry as the proper fighting will be after we eat.
Surely enough we go back outside after mortadella and prosciutto sandwiches. Marco informs us that we will do eight rounds of two minute matches changing the opponent each round. It is still cold outside, but I can feel the sun warming me. After the fourth round I need to take off my sweater. After fifth round I feel so out of breath and have a hard time catching it, but I decide to go all the way no matter how hard it is. I feel I want to prove to myself most of all that I can and I will!
First couple of rounds I go against guys who trained in fighting less than I have and I get a surge of feeling of accomplishment. Next I go against Andrej, who is lighter and shorter than myself, but way more experienced. He gets several strong punches into my stomach and my face, and it feels hard to defend against him. Afterwards he gave me a few good tips to keep my middle more protected and move around more. As we keep going I hear Davide walking around and shouting in Italian: “Move around more! Look at the opponent! Don’t back up! Keep your guard!”
After the eight rounds are over Davide tells all of us: “You have to attack in three steps! Preparation. Execution. Closure. Bam! Bam! Bam! You find where you want to attack - you attack - and then you either go back to guard or get closer to the opponent, where he cannot get you in the head!”
After we are done with the day’s training it is time to start preparing for the evening’s program. We are instructed to inspect the site of the upcoming ritual and build an altar. All of us proceed to carry boulders from nearby to create a wall that will serve both as protection from the wind for the fire and as an altar. I look at everyone while they are carrying the rocks and I sense a slight, unspoken competition on who can carry the biggest and the heaviest one. In my head I am reminded of the words of Julius Evola, as he described the yoga of action, where a physical chore must be completed for the sake of a sacred idea and a spiritual enlightenment can only be achieved through a hard physical ordeal.
The altar is erected to be about 3 feet tall, with flat rocks on top of it. The fire pit is dug out to get the black soil from underneath it and now we are waiting for the day light to end.
While we are resting and waiting for the ritual the Dire Dogs take an opportunity to explain to the uninitiated what is Operation Werewolf about.
Each division is ran by its own rules and standards as there are several different people from several different backgrounds, but for all there is a unifying idea: the physical, mental and spiritual training is a must with no exceptions. 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. The word “Tribe” is the keyword as it is not strictly speaking a gang, a cult or a club. Nothing of the outside world matters - only the Tribe. It is a seed of a new, raging and fiery culture that is so dissatisfied with the ways of modernity that it wants to return to the times where Men were Men and the “Us” was all that they cared about. The Werewolves want to see in each other the real and uncompromising virtues of strength, honor, mastery and courage and challenge each other to excel in them on the daily basis. Each member of the community is held accountable and each time they see one another, more is expected. It is an ignition of crisis where people either break and leave or become stronger. It is the catalyst for the new age of men where the brave and daring rise and all others fall behind. There is no nationalism present in any way, no matter how hard you try to find it, for you are judged not by how pure your blood is but by what can YOU do right here and now. Not a single of these men would hide behind the weak idea of racial supremacy as they understand that when the times get hard, your race doesn’t matter - it will not come to your aid, only your Tribe, your Brothers will.
The dusk began to settle outside and it was time for the last official part of the moot. The Werewolves were preparing for their ritual. The wind was howling outside and the freezing temperature was showing its teeth to everyone. In spite nature's brutal display of might, the atmosphere was electric. No one spoke. They walked around with warpaint on their faces, snarling, howling and gnashing teeth as they prepared to light the fires and call on the spirits of the Wild. I walked around as well, psyching myself up, with my eyes painted black and :ALGIZ: painted on my forehead. Several times I caught an eye contact with someone else and without words all that was said between us was: “Yes. The time is now.” Some were more frantic than others, Marius and Sofia painted themselves with blood as well as the earth. Suddenly I see Leo and Darko breaking into a fight inside the house, growling and snarling at each other for no more than a minute, then they calm down and pat each other on the back. All of this was a clear beginning of a lycanthropic transformation I have read about all those years ago.
As we gather outside to light our torches everything becomes a blur. I am caught in the frenzy as we walk with our torches towards the ritual pyre, where Davide is already playing a shaman drum, dressed in wolf skins. We howl, shout and chant as we gather around the fire, then… everything goes silent. Leo kneels in front of the fire and releases a shout to awaken the spirits within. He proceeds to give a fiery speech on the transformation and our duties towards it after which Darko does the same. All the while Davide keeps drumming in rhythm, accompanying the emotions released. Then Marius steps in the centre of the circle and starts chanting Runes. All of the congregation joins with him, with each Rune raising the volume. As the chanting finishes all of us start to scream and shout as Leo, Davide, Marco and Darko start fighting between each other - it is the the initiation rite. Darko is about to get patched into the Dire Dogs. After everything has calmed down we come closer to the fire and all of us must say something and have a sip from a bottle of Venetian wine. I am one of the firsts in line, but I cannot think at all, so I let my heart do the speaking. I feel that even though my Italian isn’t strong, I must speak in Italian to show respect to our hosts. The feeling of honor is overwhelming and I conclude my salute by saying: “We must remember that the Operation is always ongoing!”
Back at the house I do my best to go to all of the Werewolves and tell them sincerely that it truly was an honor. Everything calms down. Some wash their faces, some leave the mud and blood on. I wash my face after a while and grab myself a beer and my camera. Everyone is talking, laughing and the feeling of camaraderie is stronger than ever. I venture upstairs to talk with the Dire Dogs and look at how Tatiana is tattooing a sign of Fenris on Leo’s hand. We talk about tattoos and future meetings.
As I lay down to sleep, the howling is still ringing in my ears and I can smell the smoke on my skin and my clothes. I have witnessed true lycanthropy and something greater than myself, something even greater than the sum of its parts. As long as there are men who value the brotherhood and accountability to one another, the ideas of Operation Werewolf remain and hold true. The fire has been lit and it spreads through continents, fueled by people who want more Life and are not satisfied with mere existence and survival in the modern society.