It’s difficult to recall now, with which facet of the incredible force of nature that is Karyn Crisis that I first became familiar. Was it her voice? Oscillating passionately between infernal hisses and howls and seraphic coos and incantations, her searing vocals are both unmistakable and unforgettable. Perhaps it was her art: once you’ve seen any of her original oil paintings, boldly and beautifully imbued with magick, empowerment, and ritual, you’re forever haunted by their fiercely transformative energies. And as intensely spiritual as she is artistically-inclined, Karyn is also a Shaman, Seeker, Witch, and Healer who is highly sought-after for classes, workshops, private readings and public demonstrations.
Does it really matter, then, where I heard of her first? Nah, I’ve racked my brains and I’ve got no answer for that now. The important thing is that the universe, in its infinite wisdom, made me aware of her, and I’ve been fascinated by her many layered presence in this world ever since. Isn’t it funny, the places that life takes you? Four years ago I was posting her eldritch imagery on my tumblr blog, and now I am beyond pleased to share with you our recent interview, here at Haute Macabre.
Haute Macabre: Shaman, Seeker, Witch, Healer–in addition to all of these things, you are a musician, an artist and a writer as well–a true interdisciplinary artist! Amongst all of these practices, with which do you feel that your true heart lies?
Karyn Crisis: Truly, all those forms of creative expression you mentioned “take turns” occupying various amounts of time and energy in my life. The central part of my life is my connection to the Spirit world. From this point of co-creative “meeting of the minds,” everything else radiates…and often according to plans that are not in my control! Having a “soul agreement” is what dictates the way energy ebbs and flows through my life. In order to be in alignment with this, I listen to the silence, and there…do I see a painting? Hear a song? Sense a workshop in-the -making? Research to be done? I listen and feel and then I follow the suggestion.
I don’t consider myself and artist or musician in the traditional sense. Most artists and musicians I know dedicate and devote much of their time to listening to music of others, researching equipment, practicing their gifts and talents, writing and recording songs…or sketching, sculpting, exploring new media, drawing and painting. In contrast, I spend absolutely no time doing this “preparatory” part of these arts. I make art and music, but not regularly. I’m a channeler, but I don’t always get to choose which creative avenue I’ll be channeling through.
I constantly feel unprepared for what I’m doing if I think about it…and that’s the key: thinking is the limiting factor: feeling, sensing, and expressing are where the magic lies and unfolds.
With regard to writing, I know you are currently working on your forthcoming book, Italy’s Witches and Medicine Woman— can you tell us a little bit about the book, and the journey that led you to write it?
My book was an unexpected project! I suppose it began in 2009 when I lived in Italy for a period and stayed in a little house in the middle of olive fields. There was a spirit in the house who introduced herself to me as an Italian witch, and who began to teach me for two hours a day. I would write down things she told me, mostly about healing techniques, but also some things about Italy’s history and how to work with nature. Later, I would find out the things she told me were true. She became my daily spirit guide, you could say, coming with me when I returned to California. She pushed me to train as a Spiritualist Medium, which I thought at the time was odd. I assumed she’d teach me spells and rituals, which she did, but she seemed very unimpressed by them. I began to train under a licensed Spiritualist Medium associated with Lily Dale by charter, and I quickly learned how to gather evidential information from passed-on relatives, loved-ones, and friends of people still living on earth. This was a way to scientifically “prove” that life continues on after death of the physical body, and this is what my guide wanted.
Then, Goddesses began appearing to me in the same way spirit people like relatives did…and the Goddesses were telling me historical things about Italy that seemed odd to me: mixes of cultures and different types of groups of people doing healing and magic. I wrote it all down, and found out around the time that GOTW began recording that all this was also true. (My Italian husband went to visit his mother at this time in Italy, and they went to visit her family in Caserta. She revealed to him she’s from a lineage there, and she told him some of the things she learned of a magical nature, which incidentally I had been doing because I learned them from my Italian spirit guide). He bought me two books in Benevento that he and I ended up translating together…where I found all that I’d been shown by the Goddesses was historically true!
So this began a journey for me of historical recovery. I realized that we don’t need to feel “cut-off” from our personal lineages and histories when we can still communicate with our ancestors in the spirit world and re-learn our traditions before the church got to them and usurped the symbols and practices. This was just a personal passion at the start. However, it was a passion that got me up early in the day, devoting my early hours to researching…along with my spiritual “think tank group,” you could call them, who magically got materials and people and opportunities to come my way that added significantly to my research.
Then, it was time for me to return to Italy. I’d planned to just go live there for 3 months near Benevento, after meeting up with Carlo Napolitano, an author form Naples of one of the books that I received from Italy. Instead, I contacted a friend near Genoa who invited me to start my journey there because the Inquisition had in fact begun there…and then suddenly doors opened and people began to reach out to me: I interviewed 23 people this time, while I lived among locals in the mountains, took cures from Italian lineage healers on mountaintops (that aren’t even on the map), spent time in medieval villages having “il malocchio” (the evil eye) released from me with oil and water, learned from biodynamic herbalists, met local authors and museum directors and folklore experts and etymologists, got to touch 2,000 year old temples like Diana’s Temple at Nemi (and I buried peoples’ prayers there) as well as pre-pagan structures devoted to Goddesses, and I met with Paolo Portone, a Roman author who’s dedicated 30 years of his life to reclaiming Inquisition documents and writing about the true history of Italy’s witches (and is also the Science director of the new MES: Museum of Ethnohistorical Witchcraft in Triora). Author Carlo Napolitano took me to sacred sites where legend has it the Goddess physically manifested herself and which are nor protected by apotropaic magic, and more. I met with a secret group called “Benandanti,” and I met young witches and old, female and male. I really got to know some of Italy’s history and magic from the inside-out. I lived among locals instead of staying in hotels. I also learned a healing technique there that I’ve begun demonstrating at my book lectures and workshops. The book has become “Volume 1,” which means I’ll have to return to explore regions that I haven’t yet made it to, to be fair to Italy herself. I’ve already got invitations waiting…so I’m trying to get this book completed. In the meanwhile, I have started a newsletter to keep people informed of my progress, and I’m traveling around taking my lectures with video footage and photos to different states. The research focuses on the miraculous curing traditions of peasant women and their world, versus the idea of the “witch” that the church created.
Your last album, Salem’s Wounds, was released in 2015– Can you tell us about the experience of creating that album and do you have plans to create/release more music?
Davide Tiso wrote the music for Salem’s Wounds and all the songs prior to this album that we experimented with for over 5 years. He’s a prolific composer, but I move much more slowly. During that time, his musical style became more emotional, and my vocal style softened, and my vision (atmosphere I wanted to convey, lyrics, storytelling) became focused on the magic that I learned in Italy and the continued spiritual experiences I was having related to Italy. Basically, all my parts of the album (visual concepts, lyrics, vocals) were channeled while I was jogging alone at 5am in the forest, or at the ocean under the stars, and even during mundane train rides to work. It was a wild time, full of synchronicities, psychic phenomena, and myths come to life! This period was also when my Italian research and recovery of ancient history began, so aspects of this research were woven into the album whose songs were charged with energy from these historical spiritual practices. Yes, there are plans for more, but as to when…see my first answer 🙂
Your artwork is so incredibly powerful, and packs a tremendous emotional wallop–I can look at the faces of the beings you create and I am sure I can feel in my bones their fury and their fear and their wonder and awe. I have to wonder about the experience of painting these pieces and the emotional work that goes into them?
Well thank you so much! It’s really wonderful to know you connect with them in an emotional way. It’s true I make art for my own emotional expression and also for devotional reasons, and I really pour my inner world into them… but I feel like art isn’t truly alive if it’s not finding a way to connect with people…or at least the eyes of others!
Also, as relates to your artistic process, on your blog I read that your paintings are given to you in image form, clairvoyantly, complete and with details and colors–that’s very interesting! Was that just for that particular series on mediumship or is this how it works for you all the time? Can you tell us a little more about how you work with these clairvoyant images?
After I lived in Tuscany, life took aother radical shift. My husband rented me a painting studio and gave me time to just paint. I was working on portraiture, painstakingly, and I wasn’t really enjoying it. One afternoon he took me to linch and said “You don’t really look happy painting. What do you want to paint really? What if you really painted what you wanted to ?” Those questions made our lunch an existential one, because I realized it was true at that time I wasn’t feeling I was painting what I wanted.
Until then, my paintings really came with ispiration rather than a decision to paint. For example, I went from not painting for 10 years to painting an entire series of large scale paintings in 2006. I’d just paint when the visions were there when I received inspiration. But when I’d try to make a daily effort to paint, it was different, and the process felt less magical and more technical. That’s not a bad thing at all, I had wanted to improve my technique in the first place so I could paint in a different way, but I was unable to make a lot of technical improvements, and the search for that left me feeling creatively uninspired.
So I thought about what my husband had said and I asked my daily spirit guide to work with me on my paintings, and I devoted them at that moment to expressing shamanism, witchery, and healing and magic. I decided to make each one count-no wasted canvases or efforts.
But I didn’t think I could do this alone, so I asked my guide to help me. We began to work together: the best way I can describe it is I’d receive a “flash” of an image, in my style, but already complete with colors and details. It was as if she was sending me a polaroid snapshot of a painting already finished. I didn’t have to do any re-arranging. Next, I’d have to figure out how to get it on the canvas to look the way it did in the “flash” impression I’d see. I can reference that flash in my mind’s eye at any time. It doesn’t fade until the painting is completed. Many of the things in the paintings I see in the “flashes” are above my technical skill level. So, when we first began to work this way, my guide said “just keep painting, we’ll work out the rest,” referring to her and my other guides who help me paint. I just have to make some physical effort, and then I go into a light trance of sensations, colors, and feelings, and it’s as if the paintings paint themselves. I think all artists of every type feel this to some extent when they are feeling inspired…I do it intentionally each time.
It seems like you throw your entire being, everything that you are, into every project you undertake.Where does this tremendous drive come from? And when you are not creating (I’m assuming you take breaks!) how do you relax and recover?
Life is very short. I’ve already died once. While naturally a hermit, I’ve been pushing myself to explore more, and with exploration comes this drive to share what I’ve discovered. I’m a passionate researcher. But research, for me, is not just about information, it’s about getting to know what’s behind the research through the unfoldment process of experiences. I’ve come to learn my life is all about experiences (rather than to settle down)…and the older I get, the more I have to have a backpack ready-to-go attitude to follow those experiences and journeys..and I move back and forth from mountain paths to city jobs, back in and out…physical world, spirit world, ancient world, modern world. Part of me always prefers to hide away, and part of me is being pushed to explore! Whenever I notice I’m falling out of love with life, I try to fall back in love with it, which is not always easy. Passionate exploration gets me there.
I don’t have a regular social life. My idea of being social, currently, is to pick a city I want to visit and find a way to teach a class or a workshop there . In the past, my way of being social was to go on tour, or present my art in a gallery show. I’m a nomad and I don’t belong anywhere other than inside experiences, and I’m always happy to meet people there, in the experience. Time is important to me: time on earth is a rare commodity, so I want, I demand to spend it doing something that has meaning to me. Relaxing and recovering is important, because I push myself so hard and also because I spend a good amount of time in the spirit world. So, for me, there’s also plenty of quiet time, where I go for walks or into nature or I just find some quiet place to sit outside and do nothing but just receive. I recharge myself with meditations and gemstones. I need to keep myself as a clear channel, so I can hear the quietest whisper of inspiration in the noisiest of environments.
I live largely like a nun, devoting my time to my work and connecting with the spirit world privately and then plugging into interesting jobs, teaching classes publicly. This wasn’t really my choice, but it’s where my life has moved me to with the advent of Gospel Of The Witches and Italian research.
I dont sleep a lot, but I sleep well.
Quiet mornings alone in nature are very important to me, even if the only nature I have accessible is an outdoor breeze and sky view while drinking espresso.
I listen to my body: I know when I’m not taking good care of myself physically, and this affects my mind and my clarity. Depending on what I’m working with or dealing with in spirit world, there may be minerals that go missing from my body and I haveto find ways of replenishing them energetically and physically.
Do you have any upcoming workshops/lectures/appearances/exhibits that you might like our readers to know about?
I just returned from NY, having given “Italy’s Witches and Medicine Women” lecture part II with a demonstration of a healing technique I learned in the south of Italy. I’m currently planning another trip back to NY (Brooklyn and Cornwall) in late September, with my sights set on Portland, Massachusetts, and Oakland too. Please keep an eye on my website and sign up for my newsletter for coming events: www.karyncrisisheals.com.