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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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…”
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.”