The Ajna Offensive
by Niklas Göransson
US label and publishing house Ajna was named as a charge to action. Its founder speaks of celebrations of nature and silent contemplation, and how he was led by death through the doors of perception, drunk from the nectar of the Devil’s berries.
– What would become known as The Ajna Offensive was founded in 1992, says its proprietor Tyler Davis, when I met this man who had a musical project called PLECID.
Enter Stephen O’Malley – mostly known for his work with the roving reverberation that is SUNN O))). Tyler and Stephen would later collaborate on one of the finest publications in underground metal – Descent Magazine. In 1999; after publishing five issues and having interviewed just about every band deemed relevant, they put it to rest.
– I’d released a bit of music under a different moniker in previous years and felt as if it might be a good time to go back at it – start again with a new name and fresh approach, as it were. At that point, there were no real logistical or conceptual guidelines in place.
What did you have in mind when you came up with the name?
– Ajna is the third eye, the chakra located between your two visible eyes. Ajna also means ‘command’, and I found the idea of this word meaning something militaristic quite appealing. The offensive in combination with this speaks to the active, assuming-command sort-of-approach that I’d like to think I apply to daily life.
The concept also symbolises intuition and clarity of vision, areas he believes houses room for improvement.
– I put this name ahead of myself as a challenge; to fulfil and live up to the idea of what I aspire to. It was a marker for myself, I do this constantly in my world.
For scene purveyors, the Ajna Offensive brand carries connotations that transcend music – its customers having come to harbour a set of expectations on what the label releases.
– I prefer that to bands who proclaim themselves ‘a perfect fit’ because they have ‘total respect’ for the label. I’m utterly disturbed, because only NEGATIVE PLANE ever got that right.
Another band that obviously did something right is REVERORUM IB MALACHT; masterminded by Emil Lundin, (ex-OFERMOD, DÖDFÖDD) who was once a ‘death worshipper’ and black metal musician, now a Catholic convert since almost a decade back.
– When people ask me what kind of label I have, I say ‘religious music’. I’ve also always said that if I could ever work with David Tibet (CURRENT 93), Estonian composer Arvo Pärt or any other number of so-called Christians or Catholics, I’d be more than willing to do so. Emil studied dead languages for many, many years and lived in a monastic way for quite a while. This exhibits intense amounts of focus and discipline, I respected him for that.
Living up to one’s word – doing something instead of just preaching about it, is a trait Tyler values highly.
– Listen to his music on the two albums I released; incredibly atmospheric and uncomfortable. It’s not unlike many European churches that I’ve spent time walking through, sitting in and admiring.
Tyler also operates Ajna Bound, his publishing house.
– We live in a world of ‘guilt by association’, and having a dedicated site for my books is an attempt to separate one entity from another. Perhaps naïve, an observant publisher that I seek a license from could very easily put two and two together and quash my aspirations. It also allows certain customers the freedom of avoiding all the music content and focus on literature exclusively.
The Ajna brand’s first book was released in 2002, the now completely sold out Infernal Proteus: A Musical Herbal.
– One night while intoxicated I realised that plants, music and art – some of the most important things in my life, could be woven together into a book. This had never really been done before, to my knowledge.
The quest to celebrate nature through pictorial and musical art resulted in a richly illustrated compendium that includes four CD’s. They contain the work of 40 different musicians from 13 countries; all seeking to capture the audible essence of a plant they selected for themselves.
– I can’t stand some of the songs on it, but others love the ones I hate. For example; I really don’t like ‘dance music’ or whatever the proper term is, but HEKATE portrayed morning glory perfectly with this music full of beats that I just loathe. All the while, I have to fully acknowledge that the plant moves at a hypnotically alarming rate through and over the garden and whatever else within its insatiable reach.
Any chance of a second volume?
– I’ve often thought about it, but I’m not versed enough in bands that could pull it off. I haven’t paid much attention to the ambient, neo-folk, what-have-you sorts of genres in the last ten plus years.
Tyler himself made a humble contribution, if only inspirationally rather than musically.
– At some point during the designing of the book I ended up with a systemic case of poison oak. It wasn’t the first time, but every bit as miserable.
Coming into contact with this nasty weed will leave the affected skin with a feverishly itching and painful rash that could take weeks to subside.
– I ended up telling Keith (Brewer) from TAINT about my misfortune and he found it so funny that he created a song about his local menace, poison ivy – which offers the same miserable gifts. If you’ve ever suffered through the experience, his track captures the insanity perfectly.
Another noteworthy trivia concerns the mandrake song, by Annabel Lee of BLOOD AXIS. The percussive instrument used is a bear mandible, which is a drum made from the jaw of an actual bear.
– A good friend of mine studied traditional Native American medicine under her grandmother, she’s been an herbalist her whole life. After I gave her the book, she mentioned that mandrake is bear-spirit medicine and was very impressed that Annabel chose this instrument.
Ever inquisitive, I decided to investigate whether or not this was intentional.
– No, says Annabel Lee, I didn’t know that – thanks for the insight. I chose the bear mandible for other reasons, but obviously it pointed itself out to me.
I’m curious to know what manner of shrubbery Tyler would have been extolling, had the tables been turned and he was an artist invited to participate.
– Back then it would’ve been something I hadn’t experimented with; a plant that I would’ve wanted to try to understand, to intuit and commune with in an unbiased fashion. Perhaps henbane, or the San Pedro cactus – definitely something with mind-altering qualities. All of them still terrify me to this day, and have my utmost respect.
The one that instils the greatest fear is known under many names; deadly nightshade, banewort, Devil’s berries, naughty man’s cherries and the beautiful death.
– Ah, he says fondly, Atropa belladonna. She’s the one that almost killed me, or so I romantically tell myself. Belladonna is one of the classic plants you hear about in European folklore and legends about witchcraft, along with monkshood, mandrake and henbane; thus, one of the plants I’m the most drawn to. She was also the first one I was able to successfully grow.
Belladonna has been used in herbal medicine for centuries; it is anti-inflammatory and an effective pain reliever, it can alleviate motion sickness and a variety of other ailments. This is, however, in microscopic dosages.
– Like all of the witch herbs, it’s common to read dramatically differing accounts of their properties. I now understand this.
Anything above miniscule doses can range from terrifying hallucinations of primarily insectoid, demonic and arachnoid nature – to acute delirium, psychosis, permanent mental scarring, or even death. Just two berries or one leaf have proven to be lethal to adults.
– I’ve had a few radically different experiences with her. The first two were in a group setting during a weekend of ritual and music, most of those present dosed themselves with a tincture I’d made from 13 belladonna berries in apple cider vinegar.
Prepared by someone with the requisite knowledge, belladonna and some of its relatives from the nightshade family such as datura can be used for esoteric exploration. Incense is one use and potions another; these are the proverbial witches’ brews from the cauldrons of folklore, and Tyler had decided to take a sip.
– I encountered death itself and was led on a most profound journey of discovery. The second night of the ritual was less personal in terms of the plant and I but equally divine being in a forest illuminated by bonfires with everyone present drunk from the same tonic.
Fast forward several years, to Hallows Eve in 2006.
– I’d promised myself some days prior that Samhain was going to be the night. I was determined to meet the elusive cloaked figure again, and so refused to acknowledge the many warning signs that it wasn’t something I should force.
Intuitively, Tyler knew it was a bad idea, but disregarding doubt and yielding to desperation for another audience with the great leveller – he drank.
– I met death alright; it shook me to the core of my very being, left me shaking and fragile and uncertain that I’d ever be free of its grasp.
Pressed for details, he doesn’t recall much of the ordeal besides being scared out of his wits.
– Cold and clammy yet sweating and shaking; I recall falling off my bed and not having the energy to do much else than focus on the painful way I was slowly dying from poisoning myself.
Quoting the WebMD:
‘Side effects can include dry mouth, enlarged pupils, blurred vision, red dry skin, fever, fast heartbeat, inability to urinate or sweat, hallucinations, spasms, mental problems, convulsions, and coma.’
Sensing that something was very wrong, he shuddered at the recognition of Belladonna overindulgence symptoms.
– I recounted every horror story I’d ever read, my otherwise selective memory now far keener than I’d ever thought possible.
He spent the night investing all strength he could muster into drinking as much water as possible.
– Finally, things started to abate as my body began to process and neutralise the toxin. I retired my plant explorations while mentally recovering, in fact I was sober for two years after that night.
A relative of Belladonna that also grows on the Davis property is an equally notorious nightshade, brugmansia. As it would seem with most of the vegetation on his domain, Tyler has intimate floral knowledge of this one too.
– Someone I knew used to hang brugmansia blossoms around his room, claiming it produces a heavily intoxicating air. I decided I had to try something to that effect.
He’s hesitant to reveal too much, declaring it an experience better ‘self-inflicted’ than described.
– I suggest you find a tree in bloom, harvest enough blossoms to make a garland – 13 being a proper number in this case, and see how long you can wear it. Within twenty minutes you’ll start to succumb to the omnipotent effects of the fragrance. Vice did a documentary about this plant, filmed in Colombia where the seeds are powdered and then used to turn people into ‘zombies’.
This preparation is known as ‘The Devil’s breath’, it’s used on the unsuspecting by criminals who get the target to inadvertently inhale the powder by blowing it in their face.
One communicative ambassador of the local flora Tyler still has a working relationship with is the enigmatic Salvia divinorum. The Diviner’s sage – the obvious choice for the interdimensional vagabond with insatiable wanderlust; what’s essentially a mint-plant is considered the world’s most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen.
– She was inherited with the property, smuggled back from Oaxaca several years prior to our taking over her care.
Salvia divinorum is native only to an isolated cloud forest at the foot of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain ranges in southern Mexico. Very little is known of its origins, botanists have yet to determine whether the plant is the result of human artificial selection or a natural hybrid.
– Despite having a farm and living off the land, I’m not necessarily blessed with a green thumb. Yet somehow or another, I’ve managed to do right by my salvias – she can handle just enough neglect that she does alright under my care.
Most readers familiar with salvia are likely to think of YouTube videos showing people smoking extremely potent extracts and subsequently suffering complete meltdowns. Merely taking a few dried leaves and consuming them through a pipe will take about 30 seconds to induce states of visionary trance, full ego dissolution, encounters with celestial beings, and out of body experiences.
– Once I dried some of her and smoked. Nothing happened; I took this as a sign that I’m not meant to commune with her that way, since I can chew the fresh leaf.
Chewing is the traditional method of the Mazatec Indians, who are indigenous to the area. Their shamans use salvia for ritual purposes, as a religious sacrament. For the proper experience, fresh leaves from a living plant are required.
– It was silly of me to try to approach her any other way. Why make things more complicated? When you chew her she takes about twenty minutes to enter your system – as opposed to every story I’ve heard about smoking; immediate transport from one’s corporeal form.
Oral ingestion has all of the qualities of smoking, though less intense as the journey takes hours instead of being compressed into minutes.
– In my various interactions with her, they’ve all differed widely. Most of the times I’ve chosen to consume the leaves with others I wanted to initiate. I keep getting increasingly more receptive to her; the last time two leaves were enough to keep me under her spell for two and a half hours.
The property mentioned is where Tyler has lived for the past 15 years, located in Jacksonville, Oregon. ‘25 minutes to the post office with two stop signs between here and there.’ Before settling down, he was somewhat of a drifter.
– I’ve lived all over the US; outside of Boston and Chicago, then Oakland, Florida, Arizona, Olympia and Indiana.
Tyler began dreaming of having his own piece of land in the countryside when he was in is twenties.
– I can’t stand living in close proximity to so many people, dealing with the noises and smells and psychic energy. I like cities and what they have to offer for about three or four days – that’s when I start getting very uncomfortable and generally unpleasant to myself and others.
Any plans on starting a family?
– No, there are too many people on this planet. My concept of family might be an outdoor cat that eats rodents, some chickens and hopefully a pair of peacocks again since a bear ate the last few. Perhaps I’ll try honey bees again, having suffered colony collapses two years in a row now.
One would think the recluse would favour feral companionship but says if forced to choose, he prefers human interaction.
– I’ve volunteered at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre for two years now and find that I have no resonance with most animals. Vultures – yes, but I don’t have any greater attachment now than I did two years ago to otters or wolves or any other number of animals that I help tend to.
Tyler was vegetarian for nine years, vegan for eight of those.
– When we bought the land; the goal was to be able to kill, butcher and eat our own meat. We wanted to better understand the role everything plays, and to get away from processed foods.
Philosophically, he says veganism makes perfect sense for people on certain spiritual paths. Particularly those abiding by the karmic laws, who try to avoid the wheel of Samsara, would probably want to avoid eating the flesh of creatures that have spent their every waking breath being miserable.
– By this reasoning, animal products would carry the toxicity within its being; spiritually tainting tissue, milk and eggs. Just imagine what shit humans carry with them from single isolated incidents in their youth or otherwise, then apply that same logic to animals.
Tyler doesn’t believe in karma at this point, but says that the concept would go against the eating of meat and other animal products.
– Perhaps some animals have such small brains that it doesn’t matter, but I’m more inclined to think that individual moments scare the spirit of any sentient being; it then carries these scars within ‘til death. Then you have Buddhist sects that avoid meat, along with caffeine and even certain alliums like garlic and onions since it’s said to excite the senses and stir the fires of desire.
As it turns out, Tyler knows a little bit more about Buddhism than most westerners.
– I’d heard about this Vispassana ten-day silent meditation retreat and thought it was time to check it out. This was around my fortieth birthday; it was also timely considering I was in some limbo with various other pursuits of a spiritual nature.
He shares an excerpt from some of the writing he did immediately following the experience:
It was almost like a militaristic religious exercise (as I romantically picture such things): long days with no room for deviation from the routine and a very ascetic sort of existence. No external distractions: no talking, no books, no writing utensils, no touching another person, no eye contact. This was called, ‘the noble silence’.
– Our days started a 4am and mediation lasted for twelve and a half hours each day. After day five I was assigned a cell in which I could spend all my time, minus the mandatory ‘group sittings’.
He found the seclusion the tiny chamber offered to be his preferred space. Despite having no locking doors, you could close it with the option of being submerged in total darkness.
– It was better than a room where half the people were sick; coughing and sneezing and emitting unpleasant odours.
At evening time they’d watch video presentations hosted by a spokesperson for the sanctuary, preparing the alumni for the following day. He went over what they’d been focusing on and explained what might be going on in mind and body.
– It only got annoying on day nine when he began trying to convert us. Otherwise it was all very hands-off, and his little chants were quite soothing.
Tyler describes the experience as ‘half of the time was hell, the other nirvana’.
– No amount of mediation and lotus postures can prepare you for a twelve-hour session. Each day presented new pains; first it would be calves, the next thighs, and then shoulders and so the rotation went.
Sitting in a lotus-like position for longer stretches means propping yourself up and pulling your shoulders back so you don’t curl up over the course of the meditation.
– Days two to four were probably the most noticeable, after that I started to adjust. All in all, it’s something I’m proud to have put myself through but I don’t think I’d ever do it again. I know I’m not a Buddhist and have tonnes of problems with their approach to the world as a natural force.
He mentions sticking points such as the whole concept of reincarnation and ultimately breaking the wheel of misery and sorrow by letting go of craving, aversion and ignorance.
– Despite that, I tried very hard to not be judgemental when I was at the retreat. In reflection, I think I did a good job of letting go and submitting to their version of reality for those first nine and a half days. Then the proselytising kicked in at which point the fortress walls were erected, soldiered and viciously protected from invaders.
While on the subject of trials, the last time I met Tyler in person he laid one upon me. He said that out of everyone he’d given it, not a single individual had ever followed through.
– After I released the Thomas Karlsson book, countless people asked me the same thing: Where to begin?
Thomas Karlsson is the founder of initiatory magical order Dragon Rouge, the book in question is called Qabalah, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic and was published in 2008. People wanted to know where to begin in regards to establishing some sort of a daily routine for approaching the subject matter.
– I told them all the same thing; ‘Try to focus on a candle flame for five minutes per day, preferably around the same time. If you can do that for a week, then proceed to ten minutes a day – and so on.’ Sounds easy, right? Wrong. It’s amazing the amount of excuses people come up with to avoid being left alone with their thoughts.
The point of the exercise is to assess what the mind does and where it goes during those minutes. One can then tailor the exercise to one’s own needs.
– Granted – the primary goal is to still the mind, so focusing on the flame is the main objective.
As an experiment, I put this challenge to a gentleman who has no previous meditative experience, one that regularly collaborates with Ajna through his label; Darragh O’Laoghaire of Invictus Productions and VIRCOLAC. For the results, see the end of the article.
What do you currently have brewing with the Offensive and Ajna Bound?
– Books, music – a few other ideas of both esoteric and exoteric nature. Other than the HEAD OF THE DEMON’s “Sathanas Trismegistos” finally appearing on vinyl, I’m very hesitant to mention many of the projects because some of them have been dragging on for up to two years.
Ajna will be reprinting the previously mentioned Qabalah, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic as soon as another large book project is out of the way.
– I guess I can mention it here for the first time, since it’s finally feeling inevitable: An obsessive Italian fan wrote this insanely comprehensive book on the band GOBLIN, Ajna Bound will reprint a version of it. It’s edited down a bit, with a more striking layout and many, many rare photos, as well as interviews with several members of the band, past and present. It will be called Seven Notes in Red.
Tyler adds that he has his sights set on many other book projects, but limitations of several sorts prevent him from taking on more than one or two at a time.
– One music project I can mention because I’ve received everything necessary to make it happen; a reprint of this rather rare Japanese seven-inch from a band called WHITE HELL.
Here follows the results of Darragh O’Laoghaire taking on Tyler’s flame experiment. If any readers attempt this, I’m sure everyone involved would be delighted to hear the results.
Monday August 15, 8.30pm
I approached it with a mix of enthusiasm and challenge. I mean, how difficult could it be to concentrate on a flame for five minutes straight? The answer is; extremely difficult.
I began to stare intently but calmly at the flame. The initial seconds felt comfortable, yet within the next few my mind was bombarded with a song featuring flame references, as well as various trivial tasks. Consciously pushing these thoughts out of my mind, I regained focus and settled back into the meditative attempt. This proved successful, albeit only momentarily, as yet again songs, previous conversations and ‘how much time is left?’ all came racing into my mind. Then came the itches and hyper-awareness of one’s heartbeat. Regaining focus again, I had some momentary success before another rush of thoughts and then the alarm smugly informed me that my five minutes were up.
Tuesday August 16, 8:30pm
Being in a state of agitation all day, I expected five minutes of focussing on the candle flame would be of great benefit; expelling the external world as I stilled my mind from the day’s anxieties. Wrong.
The entire process was laboured and arduous, distractions were bountiful. Very little focus on the flame could be attained and if it happened; a noise, a thought or that same ruddy song – anything to distract me. This only served to create a further state of agitation resulting in failure to even reach the five minute mark by ten seconds.
Wednesday August 17, 8.30pm
Having had a little more peace of mind today, I felt approaching this would be better and easier. Quite why I keep assuming this is easy in any capacity is beyond me.
Settling in, I tried using my breathing as a rhythm to expel thoughts. The experience this time was different, though yet again that same infernal song was lodged in my brain before I brushed it aside and reached a fleeting moment of tranquillity. This stillness is something I experienced perhaps two or three more times during the five minutes. What’s of particular interest this time is how the stillness was abruptly disturbed by my consciousness – like a jolt, shattering the silence. This experience in and of itself was fascinating.
Thursday August 18, 8.30pm
As is my regular Thursday ‘ritual’ and particularly after a somewhat frustrating day, having a beer or three is par for the course. This decision to imbibe came early and without due regard for the experiment I had committed to a little later on.
Consequently, attempting to do this even with small amounts of alcohol in my system rendered the entire task pointless. This frustrated the hell out of me, so absolutely zero focus was attained but I did succeed in being considerably annoyed with myself for not considering the rather obvious effects alcohol would have on the endeavour.
Friday August 19, 10:30pm
Being the weekend, I’m normally not at home at night but this is an exception. Consequently, I had avoided any alcohol in light of the previous night’s rather pathetic attempt.
In a much more relaxed frame of mind, I approached the experiment without any frustration carried over. Again, my mind raced and ran with that same song making its appearance, thoughts of what needed to be done, fixed and organised pushing forward. Once more – itches, twitches and muscle discomfort all made themselves known. Seconds of stillness were achieved here and there but focus was difficult and completely overrun with other thoughts.
Saturday August 20, 5pm
Approaching it at the earlier time of 5pm meant the room was considerably brighter. This actually helped a little, for reasons unknown to me. Again, brief moments of stillness were attained; literally for a couple of seconds here and there while the same thoughts that always manage to make their presence known seeped through.
Sunday August 21, 8:30pm
Perhaps I had subconsciously conceded defeat nearing the end of the experiment, as I found it increasingly difficult to achieve any kind of focus on the candle flame at all. I’m getting increasingly aggravated with myself because of this.
Monday August 22, 8.30pm
The final night of the experiment and similar to the previous night’s attempt, the notion of not being able to focus is now foremost in my mind. Settling into the stillness, it came bursting through in my thoughts, almost mockingly. I maintained calm and continued to focus on the flame, yet my thought process interfered with any semblance of peace. It feels as though the entire thing is becoming increasingly difficult, not easier. I put this down to what’s going on around me over the past week, but isn’t the purpose of all this to put that out of my mind entirely?
Having attempted the task at hand over the course of a week and failed considerably in making any kind of decent headway, I’m now committed to maintaining the exercise over the next few weeks. I’m determined to see if I progress in any meaningful way and if I can turn failure into some modicum of success.