[An investigation into the correlation between elements of modern black Metal culture and older folk practices of the Germanic peoples. It is written by the Austrian researcher and musician Kadmon, and originally appeared in his journal concerned with varied esoteric subjects, Aorta.]


In my childhood in the lake district of Upper Austria I was fascinated by the Perchten who haunted the villages and towns in the dark nights of winter. There were the beautiful Perchten with colorful clothes and glittering ornaments, and the Schiachperchten -- bold forms, ghostly apparitions with masks of wood or bark, enveloped in furs, moss, lichen... demons represented by the inhabitants. These Schiachperchten were particularly amazing to me. They emanated an aura of panic.

Centuries ago, and in some distant valleys only decades ago, these masked customs -- done today mainly for show, kitsch, or to entertain strangers -- were a sincere cultic practice which survived from pre-Christian cultures. It was uncanny. Not only children felt a dark fear when they saw these demonic creatures with their animal masks and disguises. In the Perchten , the werewolf culture of pagan antiquity, the pagan "Dark Ages" , could survive even into the modern world. The adults recognized who was behind the masks, and yet there was a sinister suspicion that the neighborhood boy, whom they thought they knew well in everyday life, was another person when wearing the specter's disguise.

"Whoever dares to perform in the dangerous disguise exposes himself to the spell of sinister, incalculable forces. Dark, demonic powers awaken inside him; he himself becomes a demon…...The disguised performers of this nightmare are ‘possessed’, they become bearers of demonism." - Otto Hofler, Kultische Geheimbunde der Germanen


In shamanic cultures there were dances of animal powers. The shaman cloaked himself in fur, adorning himself with teeth, claws, feathers, or painting himself to awaken qualities of a specific animal. This ritual often had a dynamismof its own. The mere imitation of an animal became a metamorphosis. In this psychodrama, mythology united with depth-psychology. In his consciousness, and that of the outer world,the psyche of the performer became one with the psyche of the creature he represented. An active imagination changed into a mystical identification.

The mask not only changed the outer appearance, it also influenced the behavior and affected perception. It short-circuited everyday consciousness and reality for hours, days or even weeks: the wilderness came into appearance. A "psymbolic" magic took effect, negating the boundary between the performer and creature being evoked. This metamorphosis also played an essential part in the world of the Berserkers and werewolves -- it occurred partly intentionally, partly involuntarily, when members of these communities draped themselves in the fur of a wolf, wore belt made from wolf hair, or drank a certain beverage.

Possibly a drug was used. In a case that took place in 1691, in what is now Latvia, an old farmer named Thies talked extensively about the customs of the werewolf community of which he was a member, the metamorphosis into the wolf, and the powers he and the other werewolves possessed when they fought with real or imagined enemies, ripped apart animals, or escaped from dogs. This 80-year-old man was still a werewolf but intended to give this power to a younger man, through special initiation, before he died. He himself had been initiated by an old farmer, who had given him his wolf pelt.

Since then he had to become a wolf at certain times of the year-especially summer and winter solstice– whether he chose to or not. Hehad no choice and it did not matter whether he wanted this power or decided to struggle against it. "In ancient times there were many who had to put on a magic fur at special times to become a werewolf.

Usually they were like all the others, maybe even better; they were good and friendly and harmed no one. But if they were werewolves one had to beware of them. Many of these poor men wished to get rid of the disastrous fur but…"- G.Goyert/R. Wolter,Vlamische Sagen, ("Flemish Tales”)

The wild hunt appeared in many legends– a ghostly flock of dark, martial shapes riding through the night on their horses through the woods, lead by Odin, the one-eyed ruler of the dead, or sometimes by a female rider -- a perception that in Christian times was transposed onto the Archangel Michael and his hosts. The black riders on the storm were dead souls, dead warriors returning to their homeland at special times -- especially winter solstice, the twelve nights when spirits walk -- and during the Fasching carnival.

The Austrian folklorist Otto Hofler was able to prove in his books Kultische Geheimbunde der Germanen ("Cultic Secret Societies Among the Germans") and Verwandungskulte ("Transformation Cults") that the wild hunt was not at all a mythological interpretation of storms, thunder, or flocks of birds– as many researchers thought– but a union of mythology and folklore, of myth and reality which was of great importance in the Nordic mystery cults.

In these legends he saw reminiscences of the raw, at times even violent customs of cult societies in which young men, usually unmarried, participated. They were initiated into these alliances. What they were taught had to remain secret– a strikingly similarly to the mystery cults of the Mediterranean. Otto Hofler also referred to some resemblances between these cults of metamorphosis with the animal or demonic disguises and the Mithras cult in which certain initiatory degrees wore the masks of ravens and lions. In this way the young men embodied the souls of their ancestors. Hofler stressed that in the Germanic Weltanschaung, like that of most pre-Christian cultures, there was no sharp distinction between this world and the one beyond - the borders were fluid.

The folklore of the cult groups was often very brutal. With or without drugs the members felt a furor teutonicus which Hofler called a "decidedly terroristic ecstasy" with various excesses:

"This type of cultic amplification of existence did not signify debauched gratification but ... a duty for the dead . .... In this ecstasy the boundaries of the individual are broken down--but not to detach it from from the boundaries of order; rather it should take part in the meta-individual community of confederation with the dead" - Hofler, IX)

"In the life of the archaic Germanic societies the Berserkers fulfilled the function of imagination, commotion and violence which is as important for the social balance as the conservative function ensured by the more mature-probably the old men." - Georges Dumezil in Tumult 13, 98


Noise played an essential role in the wild hunt, as it did in many pagan celebrations... magical noise as an archaic technique of ecstasy was a characteristic of many non-Christian cultic activities. Bonifatius, later canonized after cutting down the "Thor oak tree" for which he was killed by pagans for this outrage, cursed the noisy processions of the Germans in winter.

The German language uses the term Heidenlarm, heathen noise. Deadly silence and murmuring apparently seemed to be the trademark of the Christian liturgy...The louder the drums, bells, cries, rattles , and whips, the more effective the noise magic became. The farther north, the longer the winter nights and the wilder and more grim the demonic rites had to be in order to ward away evil spirits or awaken nature, which slept in the frozen earth:

"One of the most effective means to stimulate the organism into an ecstatic state is the use of noise instruments…. The use of roaring iron cymbals and other loud percussion instruments is known in antique processions and ecstatic mysteries. Bells are also an indispensable means of stimulation, in the fury and frenzy of the masks in the wild noise processions of our homeland, the ecstatic Perchten and Shembart processions and their relatives…...Often legends tell of the wild hunt approaching with wonderful music that frequently becomes noisy, wild shouting…. One of the most prominent characteristics of the host is the hellish din." - Hofler, 12, 108, 110

"These groups have various means to approach the other world, to reach a religious ecstasy: disguises, masks; noise (bells, drums, etc.); intoxicating drinks (especially beer and liquor); movement (such as dance) and music (singing, but also invocatory formulas, similar to magical chants, spoken in a falsetto voice), etc. With their disguises as well as their behavior the masked ones want to demonstrate they represent supernatural entities and not human beings. They dress as ghostly as possible, speaking with a falsetto voice, reaching ecstasy by dancing, music and noise. ... Their clothes should be as nightmarish as possible. They attempted to dress as ugly as they were able. They had terrible eyes, with big white rings or painted up with coal." - Johannessen, 13, 95


All these characteristics are also elements in the Black Metal music which came into existence in Scandinavia, and above all Norway at the beginning of the '90s. Many Black Metal musicians paint their faces in demonic black-and-white grimaces, dress in ancient Nordic clothes or adorn themselves with emblems of death... which often results in kitsch. The falsetto voices of the Oskorei are recalled in the ghostly voices of many singers, usually a sinister blend of whispered words and hoarse cries. The disguised members of the Oskorei altered their voices and gave themselves false names - they represented demons and had to remain unknown.

In Black Metal as well only a few musicians use their real names; many take pseudonyms from Nordic history and mythology and in the meantime it is possible to find in Black Metal culture almost all deities of the Eddas. Even the age is similar-the members of the Oskorei were usually between 15 and 25 years old. But Black Metal is above all heathen noise, electronically enhanced.

The music is powerful, violent, dark and grim; a demonic sonic art with several elements in common with the Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch, whose famous work "The Scream" would fit well on a record cover. The eternal recurrence of certain leitmotifs, the dark blazing atmosphere, the obscure, viscous sonic landscape of many songs - often lasting more than ten minutes - have at times an almost psychedelic effect.

In the heaviness and darkness of certain compositions it is possible to realize some subliminal melodies only after listening to these works several times. Black Metal is a werewolf culture, a werewolf romanticism. In this it comes close to the Oskorei. Is Black Metal in this tradition, is it a recurrence of ancient and medieval Nordic folklore? Is Black Metal with its hard, austere sound the Oskorei of the Iron Age?

There are several similarities but also big differences: the musicians of this century are no longer members of the a rural cultural landscape, in a village community. Black Metal is primarily an underground culture of Scandinavian cities [here I take exception with the author, and disagree that Black Metal is an "urban" phenomena.Varg Vikernes, Samoth and the members of Emperor, the band Enslaved, are all from the rural countryside of their native Norway - Ed.].

But consciously or unconsciously, the Nordic cosmology is still effective in the music of the last decade of the twentieth century -- ... a fascinating phenomenon, even if many Germanicists and folklorists would deny this continuity. There is a strange connection between the folklore of the Oskorei and the many arsons of churches in Norway in 1992. In Storetveit, Fantoft, Holmenkollen, Stavanger, Ormoya, Skjold, Hauketo, and Sarpsborg churches were set on fire.

While extinguishing the fire in Sarpsborg a member of the fire department died in the flames. Amongst the churches was also one of the few remaining stave churches--the Fantoft Kirke. Some Black Metal musicians viewed these destructions as acts of vengeance against the malicious magic of Kristianity which, centuries ago, used similarly violent methods to destroy or Christianize sacred woods, clearings, sources, stones -- it crucified the ancient sanctuaries of the Nordic population.

"If I had done it I would not regret it. The stave churches were built in the time of passage of proud heathendom to ludicrous Christianity. By destroying them we start a new beginning. I myself never burned a church. But I hail all who do or did. Whoever builds a Christian temple on our heathen ground desecrates the land of Odin." - Varg Vikernes

Black Metal is Oskorei Romanticism. Many songs deal with Nordic mythology, heathenism, the fight against Christianity and also partially the fight against the Americanism afflicting all areas of European life today. Of course there are many Black Metal musicians embellishing their songs with Nordic expressions, and their record covers with runes and images of the Irminsul [the Germanic World Tree and Mjollnir [the Thor's Hammer], without any serious study of the spiritual background of the symbols.

For them, Nordic cosmology is cosmetic make-up, decoration. But there are others who take Nordic cosmology seriously, linking ariosophic mythology together in their work with a mental attitude of self-respect and resistance, uniting them in a Nordic Nietzscheanism. Here Black Metal becomes a pagan avant-garde, a Nordic "occulture" reconciling both myth and modern world.

One of these magicians taking the Nordic belief and worldview very seriously is 22-year old Varg Vikernes. Using the name Count Grishnackh he founded the musical project Burzum in 1991. He discovered this name, which means "darkness" as well as his pseudonym, in J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, a work that impressed him greatly in his youth. I became interested in Varg Vikernes when I saw photos of him in a shirt of chain mail, holding ancient Nordic weapons; and by reading grim, warlike statements he made in various interviews.

To date, several records by Burzum have been released. The first two, a self-titled LP and the Aske 12", came out in 1992 on the Norwegian Deathlike Silence label run by Oystein Aarseth, who also owned the Helvete record shop in Oslo. In 1993 the LP Det som engang var ("That Which Once Was") was released on Cymophane, and on year later the CD Hvis lyset tar oss ("If the Light Takes Us") on the British label Misanthropy, who have since re-released all the previous records on CD. On the first records he still sang in English, then he decided to solely use his mother tongue.

The first song I heard by Burzum was "Det Som Engang Var." Even now this song remains for me the most beautiful and powerful work of Burzum; its symphonic sonic violence is impressive over and over again. It is a fourteen-minute long composition full of grim, blazing beauty-dark and fateful. The uniquely hair raising, screaming-at-the-heavens- vocal of Varg Vikernes turns the piece into an expressionistic shriek-opera, the words of which are probably incomprehensible even for Norwegians.

The song was composed in the spring of 1992. Another work which fascinates me very much is "Tomhet" ("Emptiness"), on the same CD. This song too has an extraordinary length; from my point of view it is an exceptional soundtrack to the Norwegian landscape -- that is, Norway as I imagine it, a country ruled by silence and storm, solitude and natural violence. [...]