After years as an inimitable fixture on the New York underground scene with her band Crisis, Karyn Crisis returns with a new project, Gospel of the Witches, and a powerful, hypnotic record that she summoned with her partner, Davide Tiso. On Salem’s Wounds, Crisis is both conjurer and supplicant, entwining lore of the witch with the power of the divine feminine, and breathing life into ancient truths. Her pagan presence is felt in each lyric roared and each ethereal incantation as Tiso deftly weaves a rich, heavy tapestry beneath her.
We are thrilled to have the band making their Brooklyn debut at Slutist’s Legacy of the Witch Festival at Saint Vitus on March 29th. We are equally excited to unveil this very in-depth interview where Crisis delves into her process, her partnership, her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated scene, and her lifelong spiritual journey navigating between worlds. Look for Salem’s Wounds out on Century Media on March 24th.
How did Gospel of the Witches originate musically, philosophically and aesthetically?
This band and its songs are rooted in the the love between Davide and myself and the conditions under which it occurred and continues to grow: music in the midst of Witches, Goddesses, Tuscany Italy, and the Bay Area.
This has really been a lifetime in the making, if we want to discuss this from a “life purpose” point of view. But from a creative point of view, we can say this album and the band it has become really began to take shape in 2008 when Davide and I met in Tuscany, Italy to supposedly record my solo album. What ensued was that we stayed in a haunted house in the middle of olive fields. It wasn’t a “random” house haunting; the Spirit was there specifically for me because I was staying in the specific part of Italy she is from. Her energy felt familiar to me in the way an old friend’s does. It just so happens that while in this house, she was re-introducing herself to me with a name and a face, and teaching me more about my own lineage as a Witch, and her own history in Italy as a legendary Witch. She was no longer a figment of my imagination. I didn’t feel afraid of her, rather I felt protected and cared for and truly loved. Davide and I both feel her great and intense power. It wouldn’t be until later that I’d find out she is considered a Goddess, and a Master Teacher, and that she has actually been my “guardian angel” since I was a child.
While at this house, she began teaching me daily the Old Ways, through Mediumship, while Davide sat on the porch of our Guest house in the olive fields, a castle on the hills in sight, composing songs. The album didn’t happen at that time, but we did spend the month in that house, and travelled around Italy, having many experiences that people mistakenly call “supernatural, ” and began to plan the album. Moving back to the Bay Area, we felt her presence there too. A series of incredible experiences brought her clearer into vision and into our lives in a deeper way, which still continues today.
Once in the Bay Area, we began working on songs…or Davide did. He’s a prolific songwriter, it’s just in his blood. His music is his own magic, his spells. He created a collection of songs that I wasn’t ready to connect with vocally. That was the issue during the 5 years between then and now: he was creating sonic magic, but I was growing and changing so much, I wasn’t sure what I had to say, I wasn’t sure what my voice should do, and since I couldn’t imagine it, I couldn’t make it happen. To me there was no point singing if I didn’t have something meaningful to sing about. I had to ask myself what I believed in, and when I did, I realized I don’t believe in this world; I’ve had to believe in myself to survive here, but even half that time “myself” would stumble and crumble and fall…so I began to ask what it was that made me feel so empowered, when I was singing or creating…what was this energy that made me feel so much more?
During those years we bought some electronic machines and I tried to help write some song parts. We did record many songs, but realized they weren’t as grand as we wanted. At a certain point, while I was training as a Medium, and also teaching and giving lecture workshops on Psychic Senses and Mediumship, and having channeled a prolific amount of technical information from my band of Spirit Guides, I began to work with Aradia on my paintings, and this process carried over into the music, and so she began to help me with the music as well. Finally I was able to imagine the atmosphere of the album, I understood the balance of male and female energies required in the expression, I could feel and sense and taste it, I could hear my vocal parts, and I was able to begin writing some of the songs Davide had already composed, beginning with “Salem’s Wounds.” Once I was connected with her in that way, things moved very quickly.
Philosophically speaking, it took me some time to take in all Aradia was teaching me about myself and about Witches, their history, Ceremonial Magic, Healing, etc, and its role in my life. I would have to go deep into the learning before I would be able to express what I was learning. This occurred during a time where I left my former life behind and asked the Universe on the whole to show me who I am and all to explain these “supernatural” experiences I’ve had since childhood: seeing ghosts, premonitions that come true, reading peoples’ thoughts, healing animals, being afraid of fire and my own power, voices who tell me how to cure my ailments with plants and herbs I have no prior knowledge of, knowing when people were going to die, seeing people’s dark secrets, seeing spirit attachments, etc. I’ve always been the person who sees what other people don’t, I see what people are trying to hide. I was learning through Mediumship so many things not really talked about: who are the Goddesses and Gods really, and the Spirit witches were showing me visions of things that I could then go validate in history books or in occult books, like the various different cult(ures) who practiced together, surprisingly. I’d also find this verified in books Aradia led Davide to choose for me from Benevento, Italy, on a trip he took there to gather things for me, such as “Il triangle stregato. Il mistero del Noce di Benevento” by Carlo Napolitano.
Aesthetically, I also had to grow into this. I’ve always been a woman with a very well-developed sense of masculine energy every since I was a child: sports, action, protecting myself…I learned at a very young age no adult was going to protect me, that I’d have to do that for myself. I learned I’d hear and see things about people that no one wanted to believe, but these things were true, and it was up to me to believe them and protect myself from them. I saw women’s roles in the world as limited and I wanted to be like my male friends; full of action, skateboarding at night, going to music shows, lots of adventures. But I was also extremely introverted, and hid the side of me who could see ghosts and read peoples’ thoughts. I didn’t know anyone else like me, so I felt it was something to hide, it was a burden. It took seeing the younger generation of women now who embrace the imagery of the Witch and her aspects, like Bloodmilk jewelry, that helped me to come out of the Psychic Medium broom closet and see the awesomeness of being female and having these abilities. I had to grow into my female energy.
While the core of your band is you and Davide, it seems that this project is also a communal effort, given the contributions of artists from bands like Tombs, Immolation and Vaura and the hundreds of people that donated to your Kickstarter to fund the record. What was the process like involving so many people on so many different levels?
This project has not been a musical communal effort…at least yet. It was written by Davide and myself, and all the guitars and bass were also recorded by Davide. Charlie did write his own drums, and we asked Ross to record backing vocals for almost all the songs, and we asked Mike to sing on 2 songs. In terms of it being a crowdfunded effort, yes, many people are involved, and being able to take care of all communications requires a lot of listening, especially listening “in-between the lines.”
The core of the band is the love between Davide and me. Once we were also synched up musically, it was clear the rest of the album process would be all about creating from the heart and then listening to the world around the creation; to listen for actions to take, to be aware of people drawn to the vibe of the creations. The Old Ways say that once something is imagined, it already exists…it’s just a matter then of taking intuitive actions to reveal the creation.
This pattern of manifestation takes place with anything that starts from an idea and becomes a tangible reality.
Your band name, album title and lyrics vividly conjure scenes populated by magic, rituals, and witches. How do your own intuitive and healing abilities inform your music and art?
It’s all part of a way of life for me, and it always has been; i just didn’t know what to call myself in the past, or what names to give the things I do. I’ve always been a seer, a psychic, a medium, a healer, but I’ve trained and learned how to organize it, how to protect myself, how to teach,and I’ve learned the mechanics of these things…and my passion for them permeates my art music and lifestyle more than ever before. It’s the light. It’s what guides me and where I feel most at home. As I’m learning more and more about the ancient roots of all this magic, rituals, the Witches, the Janara, the Druids… my art and music grow and are devoted to express this now.
“Mother” and “Salem’s Wounds” reference sacrificial witch burning. What are your views on that legacy of brutality? Do you connect witch burning to the desecration of mother earth and to violence against women in general or is it a specific, literal reference to historical incidents in the past?
Let’s break down your questions here, since they are very loaded. Very wonderful, but I’d like to tackle each part separately.
I thought I’d find my own history by examining the Salem incidents, but my path was to learn about the Italian history, because of Aradia.
I don’t like the term “sacrificial witch burning.” From where I stand, as a witch, I’ve reclaimed the use of fire and burning things – as did the Witches who came before me since ancient times – to sacrifice parts of myself: ideas, emotions, etc that are limiting and no longer serve me, using fire to let them go, symbolically using a cauldron and flame to burn them up. The word “Sacrifice” in Witch culture infers something done with intention, something given so that something be returned, a payment of devotion. Witches use ritual sacrifice.
Conversely, in the historical sense to perhaps which you are referring, the Church and Government/Military did not get Witches to sacrifice themselves: Witch burning was part of a strategically planned takeover of a natural religion with a synthetic one. Witches were kidnapped, raped, rented by Christians for sex, imprisoned without trials, tortured and burned alive against their will, and not in a ritualistic way. It was all meticulously planned, in order to implement a synthetic male-based religion. Until that time, these women (the Janara and female Druids) were not called Witches. They were curing people with diseases using medicinal plants. They were bettering the lifestyle of people whose lives depended on their crops their animals, their families. The monks at the Church were not able to cure people; people coming to them were dying. Doctors didn’t even have the cure-rate that these women did. Their knowledge of healing with plants is extensive. Also, many of these women were channeling various Goddesses, giving followers a real ecstatic experience of a Higher Power. They were also able, through Mediumship and channeling, to gain this vast healing knowledge of plants and divination, delivering babies, etc. Men were involved too, but it was largely a female culture. Witches didn’t claim “God” was female; but rather there was a female and a male aspect representative of a greater whole. People believed in the Goddesses these women channeled because they experienced the Goddesses in various ways. So when their power became a threat, the Church and Government decided to “de-legitimize” these women as author Fabio Garuti coins the terms in his book “Le Streghe di Benevento: La Grande Bugia,” they had to create a fierce smear campaign that would “stick”; fear, torture, wipe out the connection to the spiritual experiences, make illegal the cures to the healing and profitable lives, give this lifestyle a bad name that would haunt people, this “witch.” Once the smear campaign began, it was easy to kidnap women and torture and eliminate them, and this went on for 700 years and the genocide against women in Europe killed tens of thousands of women. So many that may villages, as author Fabio Garuti states, men would try to fight back because they had no wives, mothers, or daughters left in entire villages. Even today that legacy of de-legitimizing the woman exists.
In certain countries women who are raped are killed “in the name of honor.” The family of the victim and her neighborhood do not condemn the men who forced their bodies into and onto hers, groping and shoving and slobbering, and overpowering, instead they stone her to death for dishonoring them. So what remains is a “less-than” image of woman, a tarnished woman, a weak woman, an evil woman..and in today’s most modern societies, some women feel backlash for not being a thin, sexy, and available woman. And most everyone, male and female, who choose to accept their natural psychic and Mediumistic abilities face social stigma.
So that smear campaign has remained successful against women and against anyone seeking a personal and natural connection to “Source/God/Goddess”.
Today, there are enough female frontwomen and women in bands in extreme music that there can easily be entire interviews without a single mention of gender. [ This however, will not be one of them ;) ] When you started performing with Crisis in the early 90’s, how were you viewed in the predominately male scene? What changes have you witnessed since then in audience makeup and the way the press (and the metal scene) treats female musicians?
I think for someone doing something as radical as I was doing at that time (and I didn’t realize this at first), men were quite accepting — that is, men I met in other bands on tour, and some fans. I can say that there’s a huge amount of people who tried to make me feel accepted and at home. I was an oddity and a rarity, and sometimes people didn’t know how to take me. I did come upon a common societal theme: fear of a woman stepping into her power. When people were threatened by this, both men and women, they did try to hit me below the belt: in fact, I used to wear dresses onstage until too many people yelled “show us your tits,” and then I decided to dress more like the guys, hoping people would see beyond my gender and just listen to the music.
Big underground labels have said in regards to me “women don’t belong in metal.”
Guys would wait till I was alone setting up the merch table before a show, for example, to tell me they were going to beat me up.
I had a press guy come into our dressing room after a show to wait for an interview. I asked him, “So, are you ready for the interview?” and he said, “No, I can’t, I have a girlfriend.” I have no idea what he thought I asked him.
I had a guy come up to me before our first show in Philly and say, “Wow, you really are a woman, and you aren’t wearing any makeup! I’ve never seen that before.”
I’d have promoters try to not pay me and laugh at me thinking because I was a petite woman they didn’t have to take me seriously.
I had incidents where clubs wouldn’t let me inside for my own soundcheck because they didn’t believe I was in the headlining band, or any band.
I had women tell me they were going to learn to do what I did and then become much more famous than me.
I had guys make fun of me for not being a “sexy woman,” and tell me I was “disgusting.”
But at the same time, I’ve had amazing experiences, I reached almost all my goals, and I met many kind and generous and creative people, most of which have been men. In the earlier days, on the east coast, crowds were mostly men, and they wanted to see what you had to prove. No one ever threatened me or tried to make me feel “less than” AFTER our show.
The goddess, the earth-as-mother and the divine feminine are also reoccurring lyrical themes in Salem’s Wounds. Do you identify as a feminist?
I identify as a feminist, which to me means begin aware of the struggles, conditions, and power of being a woman. Due to my own life struggles, I had to look outside myself as well, at the lives of other women to see how we are all connected through abuse as a means to keep us from empowerment.
However, I’d say now also that I’m a “Seekerist,” meaning that I support Seekers of all kinds…people seeking the truth in whatever way is their own Spirituality; spirituality being defined as “of Spirit, of the Soul,” so in whatever way someone chooses to try and listen to their soul over their will and come into alignment with their more expansive power, be it through art, dancing, music, writ in. ..spirituality is not about wearing white robes and changing your name to some unpronounceable name from another culture you have no connection to; it’s about being true to your nature beyond the limiting and finite physical body and its will. That’s something Aradia has given me — the ability to recognize where people are on their own Spiritual journey.
Being a practicing psychic Medium allows me to see who people really are, beneath their skin, between their words into who they really are, so I recognize seekers from all walks of life, and I support that seeking; it’s a lonely path, not a comfortable one, it takes courage and self-sustenance.
Every time I hear “Pillars” I’m struck by how simply and powerfully it seems to speak to the inherent burdens and paradoxes of inhabiting a female body. You sing, “this body is a prison, this body is a temple, this body is a goddess, this body is illusion.” I think a lot of women could relate to the contradictions in those very different expressions of embodiment that we’re offered by our cultures, disparate as they may be. What is the background on this particular track?
Pillars is more of a “reveal” of the stages of a seeker moving through the illusions of being infinite energy temporarily housed in a physical body. In the way someone who’s experienced a trauma goes through the 5 stages of grieving, someone who is seeking the Universe within must also go through a process of letting go. I used my experience as the inspiration, so for me having health issues throughout my life that have made me think about the limitations of the physical body and world, I started the journey of this mantra there: the finite physical body being a prison (but it really isn’t, it’s just a symbol, it’s just evidence of our inner world), then working through the body being a temple (but it really isn’t, it’s just s symbol, it’s just evidence of our inner world), moving to a more expanded view after letting go of these other illusions: The body is a Goddess: (it really is just a symbol of the Inner Goddess manifested through inner world reflected in the outer world) and eventually coming to terms with all of it.
There are many references to death and rebirth on this album, do you view Gospel of the Witches as a rebirth of yourself, creatively or personally?
I practice the art of dying and being reborn. I was born with serious health issues and I’ve almost died: as in, I awoke on a heart-monitor with the doctor congratulating me for making it. During the following 2 weeks after this incident, in my godparents’ house, my mother said something she calls “The Angel of Death” and describes as a black shadow in a hooded robe with a sickle, stood outside by bedroom glass door, coming closer each night until one day it disappeared.
Likewise, GOTW is absolutely a rebirth, in all ways, and that’s why I call the band Karyn Crisis’ Gospel Of the Witches, because this is a chronicle of my relationship with my Goddess, with the witches and what they teach me, and the old ways they are teaching me that have been forgotten, and to even set some of those records straight. I was born this way, and while some people choose to become a Witch or Medium, my path has been about trying to contend with this big secret, with this big and hidden aspect of my life; that I’ve always been closer to the Spirit world than to this earthly life, and it’s for me to find peace here on the planet…this album is helping me do that, partly by exposing what I’ve kept hidden, and sharing the love of this knowledge and giving back to all those who’ve given to me.
It’s also a rebirth for Davide and myself musically, both individually and together. We’re finally birthing a project we’ve both created together.
When taken as a whole, the arc of Salem’s Wounds feels cyclical and like a ritual in itself, with the songs serving as stages from grounding to purification to the evocation of deities etc. Was this your intention? Are there rituals you might suggest that listeners enact while listening to the record if they’re so inclined?
Absolutely. Part of the lyrics are personal confessions, and yet also there are words from specific meditations and modalities regarding moving white light around the body, activating specific chakras for empowerment, raising the vibrations, etc. For me, the songs are very emotional – I feel emotions overcome me while singing these songs, which makes me think I’m not singing them just for myself. As far as rituals, I look forward to hearing what rituals people make for themselves.
A lot of artists strive to transcend genre, but you really seem to accomplish that on Salem’s Wounds. There are elements of black metal, doom, death metal, industrial, and even trip hop that surface throughout to create a sound that’s riveting and refreshing. Can you name a few artists that serve as musical touchstones or ones that continue to inspire you?
Wardruna is a band who’ve continually inspired me over the years.
What can we expect in 2015 from Gospel of the Witches in terms of tours and live performances?
We plan on touring as much as we can. To kick off the album release in March, we are playing March 28 at Trick Shots in Clifton Park, NY, and Legacy of the Witch Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn on March 29th.