From her trailblazing, harrowing-yet-vivifying tenure as frontwoman of Crisis and Gospel of the Witches to her sublime, potent canvas creations, Karyn Crisis has time and again proven herself one of the most singular, fearless artists working in the realm of extreme music and culture — among the precious few, indeed, capable of channeling an almost otherworldly power and drawing us toward what Huxley called in The Doors of Perception “sacramental vision.”
On the eve of a series of lectures in the New York area to mark the release of her sure-to-be-groundbreaking new book Italy’s Witches and Medicine Women: Volume 1, Crisis was kind enough to speak with Decibel about her life, music, art, and experiences as spirit medium and healer as well as a fateful trip to Italy which altered her life and mission in profound and lasting ways…
Tell me about the first time you realized you had this ability to connect with a world outside the everyday.
Since my early childhood I was aware of “people in the room” everywhere I went who were very real people…they just didn’t have bodies like everyone else. I was able to sense their personalities, their emotions, their genders, their opinions, and many other things about them. I didn’t necessarily know what to do with this because I didn’t know this was unusual for other people. When I was in first grade, my uncle died. I remember being in the car to go to his funeral. Everyone was very sad. I knew my uncle wouldn’t be at this house, where we were headed first, but I didn’t understand why everyone was so sad because he was in the car with us — in “spirit;” in energy form—so to me he was still very much alive. It was very natural. I was also very aware in the difference between “ghosts,” or regular people who once lived on earth, versus more helpful and wise spirit people such as “spirit guides” and “angels.”
Were these experiences frightening in the beginning? Comforting?
In my pre-school years into college and high school even, it was often scary, when I was dealing with what I call “ghosts.” “Ghosts” are people who lived on earth but still “hang around” in the “atmosphere” people call the astral plane. So these are people who have not completed their death transition…they remain “stuck” close to earth. Their “stuckness” is a result of regret — with people who committed suicide or people who died in tragic accidents — or of their bullying nature — criminals, peeping toms, people who get off on feeling a sense of power over others — or people who are lost in the spirit world. So they are generally not great company to keep. The sensation, as a result, of sensing ghosts like this is that “someone is watching you” or that someone is “trying to break into your house.” So I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t understand my “rights” to tell them to get out then.
With the guides and helpers, these were the spirit people who encouraged and supported my dreams of making music and art and moving to New York City. They were the ones who opened the doors of connecting me to what I needed to follow my dreams.
This ability to sense the spirit world was valuable in my daily life in practical ways with earthly people: Since I was able to sense the “unseen” things about people, I was always able to know who to trust, who had bad intentions, and more.
That’s interesting. I love the book Will Storr Vs the Supernatural, for example, in which the author goes out into the world sort of eager to prove anything metaphysical is a fraud and — while definitely uncovering no small shortage of hoaxsters — also has experiences he can’t quite explain, a fact he ultimately describes as something of a relief, in the sense that if you come to realize our corporeal lives are not the end of the story that almost allows you to step back from existential panic and more fully engage life.
In my years of training as a Spiritualist, I can say that the story you mention was a common thing that took place in the mid-1800s on the east coast of the US when Spiritualism was “born” due to many people experiencing the spirit world in new ways. Many skeptics became believers or Mediums themselves. I believe skepticism is important. Being skeptical and having a sincere desire to learn from an un-biased perspective truly open the doors to learning extraordinary things. Asking questions is what spurns learning — and when we are dealing with the spirit world, questions give the spirit guides and helpers something to work with. This is how a “conversation” or a dialog, which often occurs through synchronicity, unfolds.
The reason I wrote my book was not because I planned to write a book at all: I was simply having experiences with the spirit world that for me personally were interesting and that were taking me on a journey of discovery. But, then everything I was communicated in visions and through channeling information, about the history of Italy, were things I later found were evident and true. I wrote the book because of this — to tell the true and hidden story of Italy’s witches and medicine women.
I want to get to your work as a spiritualist medium and healer, but since Decibel readers are probably most familiar with your work in extreme music I wanted to first ask if playing in a band was a way to channel these energies you later harnessed in different ways? I can probably guess the answer, but was heavy music an early mystical — not sure if that’s the right word…transcendent, maybe? — experience for you? Perhaps a tool for connecting and learning more about bringing your gift into the world?
I was very angry at the world. Or, rather, I was very angry at some people who caused me to not be able to trust the world. Singing for me was a way to unleash and reveal my very deep wounds. I called my singing “summoning.” While I didn’t know I technically was “channeling” then, it was vey clear to me that when I was brave enough to sing that something distinct and expansive was happening within me: I felt more vibrant, I felt full of energy, I felt empowered, I was often out of my body, I felt a catharsis taking place transmuting my raw and angry emotions into something full of life force. I was also able to protect myself —[though] only when that energy was running through me — from male predators, bullies, and abusers. People often commented that I was glowing after shows and in the later years people would want to hug me after the shows. I noticed that people would look different after those hugs: there was a transference of energy taking place. I felt confident and fulfilled and was aware this was in contrast to the darkness and smallness I felt during my daily life.
I also told the band repeatedly that I felt a “presence” watching over the band who didn’t like displays of ego. When were were “serving the work” as a band and honoring that our music was something larger than who were were as individuals then were were protected and empowered. When someone was expressing ego, our power would lessen. I know “who” I was channeling then. It makes sense to me now that many people told me I was a “shaman” or a “healer” even though I didn’t know what those words meant at that time.
Were there any particular musicians or bands you saw as walking similar paths that perhaps inspired you?
No. I felt very alone and became increasingly aware that I was “different” but I didn’t know what to do about it or what to even call myself. As strange as it sounds, I didn’t know about psychics, Mediums, nor the occult even though I was “living” inside of these “worlds.” I did get a tarot reading as a gift from a friend during my year at art college. I asked the reader if I would have any chance of being in a band. The reader told me they didn’t see any musical career in my life…and yet two months later I’d join the band I’d tour in for the next 13 years. There are people born into this, then there are people who choose to learn. Those who choose to learn are often the ones who have the modern vocabulary with which to discuss these matters, while those of us born this way do not. I now, however, am a combination of both.
Your music is exquisitely heavy, but there’s a positive energy to you as a person and artist. Did you see yourself bringing a kind of cathartic light into the proceedings?
People told me from the start that our music was very healing for them. People still email me to tell me my music has gotten them through the darkest times in their life. I don’t see this power as belonging to me and I never did: I was always aware it was coming from somewhere else and moving through me. It was my job to listen to the songs and to sing them the way I heard them; to write the words that were already composed. I don’t remember writing the song lyrics nor melodies past the very start of the first few words of each song. Writing a song to me was terrifying — my band couldn’t understand why I seemed to act like I didn’t know how to write a song even through I wrote several albums’ worth: it was because I am not a songwriter. I “channel” the songs from my spirit guide, which means I go into a soft trance to allow that to happen. If I “think” about writing a song, I feel a lot of anxiety. If I “think” about being someone who is supposed to bring light and catharsis, I feel pressure. I don’t like to think about myself from an outside perspective because there is the risk of ego interfering. I instead listen to the silence and act on what I hear or sense there.
When did you begin to realize you could make a difference in people’s lives as a medium and healer?
I didn’t, really. This was something other people kept telling me I was doing. I began to train as a public platform Spiritualist Medium in 2012. And that’s when my ability to communicate with — rather than just sense — the spirit world really changed.
It became more clear, it became more precise, and it became a service to other people and a daily practice for me.
The origins of your book Italy’s Witches and Medicine Women lay in a trip you took to that country’s Tuscany Region. I’m assuming it is a story you tell in full in your book, but can you give me a thumbnail sketch of the unexpected and profound detour into what you describe as a “unique and complex spiritual landscape.”
Perhaps ironically, I don’t talk about my Tuscany experience at length in this book because I want to return to this area for Volume 2. I do focus on other peoples’ stories from other regions in the book. The “unique and complex spiritual landscape” of Italy I’m referring to is the modern expressions of, first, the cultural melting pot that occurred in Italy and, second, the land’s own indigenous female-line shamanism.
Many people in America think that the Greeks and their influence on the Romans in Italy is as old as the history gets. While there is a large Greek influence in the south of Italy, around other regions were the pre-Turkish origin Etruscans in the Tuscany region [and] the Scandinavian Longobards who had an imprint over almost all of Italy except for Lazio, the Celts and Druids, Egypt’s Goddess Isis, and others. Even the Goddess Diana, often associated with Italy, is not considered by Italians to have an origin in Italy. These earthly tribes were also pagan and some were of the earlier and founding matrilinear spiritual practices that acknowledged the Universe was like the womb of the Great Goddess and that earthly women are her parallel on earth as is nature. While there are many magical practices too, the Lineage healers are shaman-like Mediums who channel curing energy also using indigenous plants, oil, water, secret prayers and actions. These things are all different from magic: magic and paganism are from the patriarchy; the healing Lineages are even older.
Did your subsequent extensive interior and exterior explorations — i.e. “taking cures from ‘streghe,’ meeting herbalists on mountain tops, experiencing a six hour ancestral fire ritual with secret shaman called Benandanti, having a past-life curse released through making “occhi,” interviewing local authors and museum curators and archivists and folk lore experts, living among locals and walking on the remains of the Goddess Diana’s 2,000 year old temple”— change your life’s mission? Or simply further clarify it?
Looking back I can certainly see now the relevance of all my life experiences and how they have come together in this particular journey. While I still don’t understand what my life’s mission is, I understood, for this book, I had this “job” to do: To tell the story of these healer women in Italy who were wrongly accused of being “witches in league with the devil” in Italy and to explain why and how this occurred. I have devoted every day of my life for the past year and a half to the completion of the research I began years ago regarding this book. I committed unquestionably to this journey and it changed my life rather dramatically.
How does Italy figure into this? Is it a specifically potent location or perhaps the best doorway for you?
This is a question that involves a very lengthy answer and I don’t think I’ll understand it fully until I pass out of this life. I can tell you that the spirit guide I’ve had since childhood was from Italy, that I’ve been drawn to Italy since I was a child, that I’ve found I have many similarities with the Lineage healers in Italy, and that my life experiences and Spiritualist training has given me perhaps a unique technical understanding that brings groundbreaking perspectives in my research. I am also very aware that Italy is not my country, and that this book is about Italy’s women: this is only in part about me. I don’t want to try to claim nor own this: I’m very aware that the curing power these women have is from the spirit world. The danger throughout human history has been when men have tried to own, market, and sell this healing power, which is not possible….the resulting struggle to accept that is what brings about witch hunts and genocide…and even modern culture’s competitive nature. I have seen, at my lectures, the hunger in some peoples’ eyes to know what I know, or to claim they have a right to it because they are Italian, but the sprits get to decide that, not us.
When did you realize all of this would be a good foundation for a book?
As I mentioned, I never planned on writing a book, after all, I’m not a writer! It was my personal passion combined with all the guidance of my spirit team that drove me to want to discover the truth about Italy’s “witches.” I was also guided to make this a public “campaign”: Before I left on my trip I started a funding campaign to support my research and time in Italy…and as a result of this many people from Italy reached out to me to: invite me to their villages, offer to be my translators, to accompany me on travels, to connect me with healers in medieval villages and herbalists living on mountaintops, connecting me with historians and researchers and authors in Italy. So this journey was also about connection. Most importantly, I decided it is not correct to go to only some regions of Italy and entitle my book “Italy’s Witches..” Naturally, I would need to go to all the regions. Therefore, this first book is Volume 1.
I imagine one conundrum you face, both in the book and your everyday work, is how to translate and make manifest for others the knowledge and lessons you are able to glean in a more immediate manner via your rare sensory or communicative abilities.
I am guided to use a language “style” that remains as neutral as possible rather than using terms that people in only one subculture would understand. I am guided to explain things in detail, and to also explain the web that connects concepts and historical events. For example, in my book I discuss the origins of the modern practice of “witchery” in Italy, which is not Italian witchery at all, and I explain what Italian witchery is not. I explain where it comes from in long ago history, and I explain the religions and socio-political landscape around these practices. I provide interviews with people who are living these Lineage lives and curing with these secret techniques. It’s been important for me to understand the inner-workings of “things, so that readers can as well, even if they have no knowledge of witches.
Are there ways for those of us without in-born connections to other realities to develop more concrete and beneficial connections to those realities?
Absolutely. Being psychic is natural: as human beings we already use our “psychic senses” on a daily basis when we sense the “vibe” of other people, when we sense our partner’s mood, when we feel a “love connection,” when we experience synchronicity, when we sense danger or have a creative inspiration, and when we dream. Mediumship, or channeling, is the art of communicating using only these senses in communication with people who are no longer in physical bodies.
There are classes and training that can be taken: just as an athlete can train, or an artist can improve their skills, a naturally sensitive person can learn to be a clear channel, to discern and gather evidential information, and to test their ability to do so. The most direct way to do this is in a traditional Spiritualist circle.
Related, if perhaps repetitive: Do you feel as if as someone with the gift to have these experiences that you have an obligation to guide those of us without?
I’m learning that this is an obligation that I call a “soul agreement.” I’ve had many plans for my own life that differ from what has come to pass. This is because part of my purpose is to help other people feel empowered by learning to trust themselves and their intuition. This is not a purpose I have given to myself. It’s true that I teach group classes, but also often this guidance happens in intimate but casual conversations and in natural situations. Though I am guided to recognize where people on their spiritual path and level or learning, the people who want to learn about their abilities must find me and recognize me. There are ethics involved: I do not tolerate anyone proselytizing to me unsolicited and I do not preach to others.
How does gender play into this? Not trying to be glib when I ask if a lot of this essential knowledge was lost because it comes from goddesses rather than gods.
It’s rather astute that you ask this. In fact, I have an entire chapter devoted to the paleolithic and neolithic periods of Old Europe, of which Italy is a part, of course. This time period shows that our “founding fathers” were in fact “founding mothers;” the world’s founding people who advanced life were “witches” That original way of living was a shaman practice where the spirit world of Goddesses supplied earthly women with advanced knowledge in practical ways that improved life: Whether for women giving birth and caring for their bodies; whether for women growing and harvesting crops to eat; whether women understanding how to cure disease with indigenous plants and nature around them…all these things are expressed in this founding spiritual practice, such as is found on the island of Malta’s tombs and temples and statuary.
This founding spiritual practice uses a symbolic language that shows a connection between “heaven and earth,” if you will. It was universally believed that the “source” energy we all come from is Divinely Feminine: because nature on earth shows us this parallel: The Great Goddess’ universe is her womb: all comes from it. The earthly mother’s womb gives birth to life. There was no male God counterpart to the Divine Feminine. Masculine energy was seen as it is in nature: important but limited: for example, when a baby is co-created in a woman’s womb, the male contribution to this takes seconds — the baby is nurtured by and developed in the body of the female for nine more months.
What became the Devil’s horns originally was a symbol of the female uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes and all horned animals, but especially the bull, were parallels in nature showing this life-giving property of the Divine Feminine life force. It was believed that death and regeneration were always paired together: so our finding spirituality was essentially Spiritualist…and this has been carried on in oral traditions in Italy but also in the Druids and shaman and all oral traditions around the world. I explain how all this was usurped, buried, and subsumed by patriarchal invasions into Europe which occurred in waves during 4500 BC- 2500 BC and continued during Europe’s “witch hunts.” Paganisms, to the surprise of many people I suspect, also suppressed the female lineage practices and knowledge, instead creating myths that gave male Gods the creative power and demoted Goddess to their wives and supporters of their wars. I also describe in great detail how this was orchestrated.
A lot of what you talk about here seems to well up ancient sources. I imagine modernity is considered an obstacle, but are you finding more people open to this in a world that seems to be reaching a sort of tech age exhaustion point?
Yes. There are many people who are seeking, asking questions, and being brave enough to refuse to hide who they naturally are —even though there is still a church-created social stigma against psychic and Mediums.
What can people expect from your upcoming lectures?
I’ve given a dozen sold-out lectures during this past year. I show video interviews with the women I write about, I show one lifting a past-life curse from me, I explain some of the curing traditions and their mechanisms and the Italian philosophy of health, I demonstrate a Mediumistic healing method I learned in Campania, I explain the secret lineages and what they entail: essentially, they are about the secret lives of women.
If readers took only one lesson from the journeys documented in your book and applied it to their own lives, what would you hope it would be?
Believe in the validity of yourself.
Not sure if this is a relevant question, but having had these experiences young, do you hope this book and your public lectures will offer young people trying to navigate similar abilities/experiences with a sort of lifeline so they know they’re not alone?
I’m so deeply immersed in my own journey that I don’t think about how other people perceive me until I am confronted by this. I have had some close friends, who have been part of this book, tell me that this book will in fact offer people some illumination on their own path, and if this is true, it would be an honor for me.
Has this project subsumed your musical projects or do you plan to return eventually to the sonic end of your channeling and infuse it with these had-won revelations?
I have learned, due to this “soul agreement” that I call my life, that I can make plans but the Spirit world has often other ones…so we’ll see. I hope to make more Gospel of the Witches albums.