by Niklas Göransson
Manuel Trummer is the guitar player of Atlantean Kodex as well as an expert in folklore; he shares his thoughts on Europe’s major plant sacrament and the history surrounding it, witch herbs, plagues, metal media, and riding the tiger.
– In 2015, says guitar player Manuel Trummer, we took a long timeout to rekindle our passion. New songs began materialising in my head by mid-2016 and we’ve been working on material ever since. We just completed the first demo recordings and hope to release our new album by the end of 2017, assuming real life doesn’t get in the way.
The working title of ATLANTEAN KODEX’ upcoming third record is “Abendland (The Course of Empire)”.
– It will contain five new full-length songs, such as “The Hero’s Journey”, “The Occidental Man (A Liturgy of the Hammer)” and “Chariots (Sacrament of Flame and Iron)”, plus a few atmospheric interludes like “Sensus Fidei” to tie the story together and set the general mood. I’d consider the music generally heavier than our previous efforts, with a strong sacral and even spiritual atmosphere pervading the songs.
This is precisely what the German quintet is known for – epic metal with a profoundly ecclesiastical feel.
– “A Secret Byzantium” is likely to be the heaviest song we’ve written thus far. It makes me think of our first recording, “The Hidden Folk”, but performed by a choir of orthodox monks with a passion for doom metal.
Needless to say, there’s also a generous serving of classic heavy metal to be found.
– “Lion of Chaldea” is our single hit – if we were handsome enough for music videos, this would have been our choice. Great chorus, catchy riffing; sort of Ronnie James Dio-era RAINBOW.
Speaking of DIO – in past interviews I’ve seen Manuel quote the “Holy Diver” phrase ‘ride the tiger, you can see his stripes but you know he’s clean’. With the ATLANTEAN KODEX lyrical themes in mind, I can’t help but get the sense that there’s more ‘cavalcare la tigre’ than midnight sea here.
– There’s no denying that I don’t really feel at home in the modern world and long for a higher, nobler and more spiritual era. We already dealt with themes of sacred kingship and other Traditionalist world-views on “The Golden Bough” (2010 debut), so that should come as no surprise.
The phrase ‘ride the tiger’ was originally coined by Italian Traditionalist philosopher and occultist Julius Evola, in the form of 1961 book Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul. To endure in the modern world, Evola proclaimed, the Radical Traditionalist must ride the metaphorical tiger’s back, holding on for dear life. Success lies in channelling the negative and destructive energies of one’s surroundings into inner liberation. No matter how far down the spiral of ruination a society has gone, the individual is still capable of rising above himself and attaining enlightenment.
– The second album, “The White Goddess” from 2013, was a cry to leave the material world behind, and go back to the deathless state of being where all journeys start. It certainly is a compelling notion – to ride the tiger, elevated above the materialistic world within the ranks of an initiatory caste.
Manuel adds that this idea of an egalitarian, pre-industrial Europe guided by a spiritual elite under a sacred leader is really nothing more than an intriguing and romantic background from which ATLANTEAN KODEX evoke their stories.
– For the most part, I completely disagree with Evola’s model of history and society. His assessments of democracy, individual freedom and secularisation all stand in firm opposition to everything I believe in. What I suppose I can sympathise with to a certain extent is his critique of materialism.
In his 1934 magnum opus, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order in the Kali Yuga, Evola expresses his yearning for the transcendent state he called the World of Tradition, far removed from this dark age of greed and spiritual corruption.
– Then again, everyone can probably relate to it as his analysis oversimplifies cultural processes to the point of absurdity. I think that’s why he still appeals to the youth of today; Evola offers simple answers in a world of increasing complexity.
All the while, he says, making young men feel like members of a revolutionary elite – inductees of a guarded wisdom, beyond the grasp of the general public.
– To me, his writings hold no realistic options for society – as proven by the complete and utter failure of various theocratic regimes in the past centuries. So, I suppose the short answer to your question is that I’d rather stick with Dio.
Religious solicitation of mind-altering vegetation has seen plenty of discussion on Bardo Methodology (I, II, III, IV), and Manuel happens to be an expert in one of them. Since the Bronze Age, Europe has had one and the same major plant sacrament – one that has come to define all of its societies.
– Beer was central to European rituals and festivities, it’s a direct link to our Neolithic ancestors. The form of plant ingestion took a different route here compared to the tropics, because the hot and humid climate in the southern hemisphere makes a controlled brewing process difficult.
He points to ancient Greece, where they had actual priests presiding over Dionysian rituals and festivities – where drunkenness was seen as possessive ecstasy from the God of Wine. In the north, mead and ale deepened the bond to gods and community and were a crucial aspect to seasonal celebrations such as Midsummer and Yule.
– For early agricultural societies, beer was also a good way of preserving excess corn. And don’t forget that hops, the main ingredient in European brewing since the late middle ages, is also a psychoactive plant from the cannabis family.
Ah – this is why beer has a sedative effect, correct?
– Yes, exactly. To relax, a beer or two is still a good way to go. It has also been brewed with all kinds of other remarkable substances – there’s proof of beer with henbane, Daphne, belladonna and all sorts of, ahem… inspiring herbs.
The psychoactive compounds in these plants are various tropane alkaloids associated with the nightshade family, a classic ingredient brewing in the witches’ cauldron of European folklore.
– They were used as potentiates, to strengthen the beer’s intoxicating effect. Commoners had yet to learn how to control fermentation and cultivate clean yeast – and as a result, most brews were weak and unstable compared to modern ones.
When fermentation failed, the adventurous brewer could compensate the low alcohol levels by boosting its inebriating qualities with the magical herbs, or the Amanita muscaria – the fly agaric mushroom.
May I ask, would you ever consider recreating any of these old recipes?
– Hah, yes! I’m regularly engaged in small-scale brewing, it would be a simple task to experimentally recreate some of these old ‘witch beers’. The basics are always the same, and then there are the herbs …
… which are all legal, albeit not to be trifled with. In anything above microscopic doses, the consciousness-altering effects can be immensely terrifying for the unprepared – a likely causation for their short-lived appeal.
– Initially, hops was not very widespread in Europe – it’s a plant that needs a cold climate. Only in the 16th century, during the Little Ice Age, did it spread further south where it was eventually used for brewing.
The Little Ice Age was a period of general cooling from about 1300 to 1850, and featured three especially freezing intervals. No one is certain why this happened, but some of the theories include volcanos, changes in ocean currents, and decreased solar radiation.
– Hops had previously only been cultivated in monasteries – monks always had the best ale, as well as in some regions of northern Germany, Scandinavia and Bohemia. The commoners in the countryside had to rely on other means to brew good-tasting beer; herbs such as ground ivy, juniper berries, horehound, mugwort, heather and yarrow.
Besides contributing to the flavour of beer as we know it – hops also has the great advantage of killing bacteria, which makes the brew more stable.
– Nevertheless, you still had people in the countryside brewing with all sorts of herbs up until the beginning of the 20th century. If you want a taste of what medieval beer without hops might have tasted like, try Finnish sahti or Russian kvass.
Besides the communion wine; use of alcohol as ceremonial inebriation ceased as Christendom was introduced across Europe.
– The monotheistic tradition of Christianity doesn’t really have ritual beliefs involving intoxication or the use of plants to communicate with spirits. As far as I can tell, even with the medieval mystics it was more a matter of meditative prayer, extasis, or theological fervour rather than drugs.
While certain beers at the right moment can be a near-religious experience, it’s difficult to consider a pint of Guinness or a six-pack of lager as any kind of profound sacrament.
– If you define ‘sacrament‘ as a ritual means of getting in touch with the transcendental or divine; our modern culture of inebriation has certainly lost everything otherworldly about it.
Then again, perhaps alcohol abides by the same rule-set as all of nature’s mind-warping flora; dose, set and setting. With no prior knowledge of the brew’s effects, consuming it in the fabled Temple at Uppsala in the 10th century might yield a somewhat different experience than at Wacken Open Air.
– I totally agree, those are of course crucial elements. Given the right setting and a mind-set open for ceremonial exploration, it might be possible to reach higher forms of consciousness. To feel the inspiring caress of the White Goddess, to stay within the imagery of ATLANTEAN KODEX.
Can you point to anything in specific that contributed to this shift in perception?
– That’s just the way our societies have developed since the 20th century; our connection with the metaphysical is increasingly suffocated by the rational demands of modernity.
Western civilisation has become spiritually illiterate, he says, blind to its own soul and roots.
– Still, if I were to find something sacred about alcohol today I’d probably mention two things; inspiration and community. These are of course just small and rather individual transcendences as compared to the traditional world.
While we’re at it, I’m curious what the deal is with absinthe – I keep hearing conflicting reports about the supposed psychoactive nature of wormwood. I’ve tried ‘real’ absinth prepared traditionally and could have sworn there was something else at play besides the usual alcohol effect, with which I’m infinitely familiar.
– It might have been the real deal, but the problem is that that the stuff sold here in Europe rarely is. If the drink was as dangerous as the stories go, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it in the EU. I guess the high percentage of alcohol outweighs the effects of the thujone. There’s a lot of mythology about absinth as the poet’s spirit.
Famous devotees include Charles Baudelaire, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. The latter was quoted as saying:
After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
Manuel is an assistant professor of cultural anthropology and folklore – and it’s in this capacity I’m curious to hear his take on theories about cave art and consciousness as put forward by British journalist and author Graham Hancock.
– I think Hancock tells fascinating stories. His thesis that the origins of cave art lie in shamanic practices seem plausible, especially considering the therionthrope (human-animal hybrids) paintings. Mankind has been seeking higher states of consciousness since its earliest days.
Through fermented fruit, ritual dancing, sensory extremes, meditation, repetitive percussion, and breathing techniques – mankind has always found a way to wrest its headspace out of the mundane.
– There are hints of what we call shamanism at other ancient sites, almost as old as the cave paintings. For instance, the unbelievably detailed animal carvings of Çatalhöyük and especially Göbekli Tepe.
Çatalhöyük was a Copper Age settlement of approximately six thousand residents located in what is now known as Turkey, and estimated to have been at its peak around 7000 BC. Göbekli Tepe is even more spectacular; located in South-east Turkey, at least 12 000 years old and comprising of several dozen massive stone pillars arranged in circles. The site was decommissioned and completely submerged in sand 10 000 years ago, by who we have no idea.
– Other writers like Andrew Collins even trace early Christian beliefs in angels back to a caste of Neolithic shamans who dressed in vulture’s feathers, citing the extraordinary amounts of wings found in ancient temples and cities in the Anatolian highlands.
Mr Collins has quite a few original ideas, do you concur with him in general?
– Well, his theories regarding the mythology and location of Eden have been especially inspirational for the lyrics of our upcoming album. Not that I actually believe in them mind you, but because I find the story and images behind this idea absolutely captivating.
Since we’re already firmly mired in the rabbit hole – there are reports of a spectacular aerial display over Nuremberg in April 1561. A recovered pamphlet describes how plates and spheres whirled across the sky in vast numbers, and ‘great tubes in which three, four and more globes were seen’.
– Yes, he says excitedly, of course – Nuremberg is just 40 minutes away from where we live. The original print makes for a great collectible to UFO-enthusiasts, but I fear my explanation is a bit boring. First of all, you need to know that pamphlets such as this – depicting spectacular signs in the sky and other mysterious observations, were quite common in those days.
This would have been little over a hundred years after the advent of the printing press.
– It’s quite possible that the author never really witnessed the spectacle himself, there’s strong evidence that he compiled his story from older pamphlets in circulation across middle Europe. It could very likely be a dramatic weather phenomena exaggerated until it took on a life of its own.
Manuel suggests that these fantastical reports stem from the two defining mind-sets of the time; a new interest in science, and an all-pervading Christian fear of apocalyptic events in the wake of constant wars and catastrophes.
– On the one hand there was a new sensibility for unusual natural wonders, but on the other hand each of these inexplicable events were regarded as devilish premonitions or warnings from God; omens bespeaking misfortune and plague.
The pandemic we know as the Black Death is believed to have originated out of Central Asia. It might have been the result from early chemical warfare, in which a Mongol army catapulted plague-stricken corpses over the walls of the besieged Crimean city of Kaffa. As sickness spread, Genoese traders took flight in their ships and set sail for the Mediterranean. The bubonic plague arrived with them to Sicily, in 1347 AD.
Completely disregarding any cumbersome moral qualms and relying solely on pragmatism; do you think Europe would have been better or worse off today, had this not happened?
– Interesting question, he muses, let me think for a second. Well – first of all, it improved the ratio of food production per capita. Now, I’m no expert on the Middle Ages but the way I see it; Europe was stuck in a classic Malthusian crisis during this era.
This is a situation in which the populace finds itself having outgrown their food supply, a predicament usually remedied by famine, war, disease and other applications of large-scale depopulation. This continues until the nutritional supply and demand has cycled back into balance.
– Along that line of thinking, the plague clearly improved living standards for its survivors. One can even tell by comparing the remains of people who lived before and after in terms of health, quality of nutrition, life-span, body-size and so on.
Come 1351, the Great Mortality had spread across the entire continent and reached north-western Russia. In total, it’s estimated to have claimed the lives of thirty to sixty percent of Europe’s population – that’s seventy-five to two hundred million people.
– The catastrophe lead to new important scientific discoveries and laid the foundations of modern medicine and hygiene standards – also reflected in the many universities founded shortly after the massive plague waves began ebbing out.
We now know that the disease was spread by fleas. Since the little bastards hibernate during winter, the people of the time never understood why the reaper would always come stalking in the wake of spring. This went on with varying intensity for three hundred years.
– Although it sounds cynical from a moral point of view, there was also a good side to the plague – at least from today’s perspective. I wonder how Stalinism or the millions of deaths that came with the Maoist modernisation of China, for instance, will be discussed by historians five hundred years in the future.
Manuel is a writer for German metal magazine Deaf Forever, so I’m curious if he sees himself primarily as a journalist or a musician.
– Actually, I see myself as neither – I’m a fan with a passion for music and telling stories. Except when rehearsing or playing live, I rarely use my guitar at all. I don’t practice or spend a lot of money on improving my gear, it’s really not that important to me.
As for being a media mogul, he mentions that he has no degrees in journalism and earns little money doing it.
– I just enjoy discussing the music and bands I love with like-minded people. It’s more of a vehicle for my passion than a career, I have no interest in publishing the latest news from the major labels. In fact, I’m a little suspicious of music writers who call themselves journalists. How about you – do you consider yourself one?
Absolutely not, I’ve always protested this term whenever it’s been smeared on me. On this note and in a recent interview, A.V. of DEAD CONGREGATION had some scathing words about the general state of online metal media – I’m curious what Manuel’s take on it is.
– A chimpanzee could run a webzine today. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few German sites that are likely operated by apes. Call me an elitist, but what our culture lacks in all ways of life – but most of all in the public discourse, is good old-fashioned quality control.
Like a media governing body?
– Not censorship – simply some filter that prevents made-up facts, propaganda or sheer stupidity to flood the public discourse. A lot of these sites miss the chance to do something new and radical, or even some deeper research on individual topics. They don’t have the financial pressure of a printed medium but fail to do anything worthwhile with this freedom.
Instead, he says, they appear content in being used as promotional tools for the big record companies’ release schedules.
– More often than not, their writing lacks any style or quality. I don’t want to be anal about it but it appears as if there’s hardly any oversight in terms of orthography or writer background. I once did an interview with the main guy of a big German webzine, and already in the first three lines he managed to get the band name wrong twice, and also my name.
And thus I realise why the gentleman who was kind enough to facilitate the ongoing conversation specifically warned me about this; ‘Kodex with “K”, or they cill you’, end quote.
– Things like that, complete lack of basic journalistic ethics and music knowledge, paired with arrogance and a smartarse attitude towards the artists – it truly annoys the shit out of me.
Manuel stresses that blogs and webzines are a crucial part of the contemporary underground, he has nothing against the format itself.
– They are central pillars of the scene. Alas, we still need to hold them to some kind of standards – at least over here in Germany, and get some fresh, radical approaches towards music writing.
He believes that modern social media are the gravediggers of Western democratic societies.
– They are completely undermining any rational discourse by giving absolutely anyone a platform to shout out their miserable world-views … jeez, I’m starting to sound like Evola.
Nevertheless, he continues, any productive conversation requires facts – whereas the Facebook algorithms that determine what to display in the user’s feed is based solely on emotion and response, the great spectacle.
– In the end, lining Zuckerberg’s pockets. It has mostly become an anti-intellectual opinion machine, run by fear mongers and their sheepish, hateful clientèle.
When the public no longer trusts in what experts have to say, Manuel warns, we’re heading into dangerous waters.
– The field of modern mass media is far too complex for the ordinary person, but I can’t see how or which kind of authority could impart transparency and order. It’s a numbing storm of information white-noise that surrounds us, fuelling our distrust for one another.
Assuming there are future generations following us, I wonder what they will classify as folklore when studying contemporary European society.
– Hard to say, because we lack the perspective to see what would be anthropologically ’typical’ for us. Besides that, modern societies are far too complex and diverse to pinpoint local lore shared by almost everyone.
This was lost after the pre-industrial rural societies of the 19th century.
– When it comes to folk-tales though, future generations will probably see xenophobia caused by fears of globalisation and a widening economic gap as the prevalent and defining narrative of every-day communication. But of course, this motive in itself feeds from a long line of tradition.
The remainder of this conversation will be published in a printed publication coming later this year. It features an in-depth discussion on ATLANTEAN KODEX’s lyrical themes, and Manuel’s views on Europe’s spiritual heritage.