An Interview with Paul Waggener of Operation Werewolf
by David Tonkin | All Photography © Peter Beste
In Sun and Steel, his 1968 treatise on the convergence of body and spirit, of art and action, Yukio Mishima spoke of his youth as a writer who neglected the full potential of his body. By the time he famously committed himself to the rigours of bodybuilding and martial arts, he felt his body had already been ‘sadly wasted by words’, much like a ‘pillar of wood already half-eaten by white ants’. His ultimate goal—and one to which he applied himself with fatal sincerity—was to be a man of action whose mind, flesh, and spirit became inseparably entwined. His very public overtures to that end, along with his post-war militarism and increasingly conservative politics, alienated him from his country’s literary clique. This no doubt strengthened his resolve.
Operation Werewolf aims to pressure people to similar heights. Neither a club nor an organisation, it is a loose collective of likeminded individuals uniting under a banner that wages war against personal weakness and atrophy. Seeded by a founding member of the Wolves of Vinland, Paul Waggener, the goals of Operation Werewolf are brutally simple and obtusely complex. It is a rejection of a personal malaise that brings disease and disorder in favour of a keen mind, spiritual fulfillment, and vigorous health.
Public transmissions from Waggener and allies come in the form of zines, online videos, and social media postings. They have included musings on practical magic and physical runework, defeating depression, tribalism, and often-brutal exercise regimes. He is lucid, fierce, and passionate.
Heathen Harvest: Thanks for talking with us, Paul. It’s a bit crude to reduce it to a brief paragraph, but for Heathen Harvest readers unfamiliar with Operation Werewolf, can you outline the general thrust of it for us?
Paul Waggener: Operation Werewolf is an ongoing project of Total Life Reform. It began as a project name I used to refer to my tripartite program of physical, mental, and spiritual practice—it grew from there into sort of a journaling of my own progress in the form of a blog and now exists as something between an international fight club, esoteric order, and fitness community. Its aims are to create an environment in which people from all over the world can pressure one another to rise to higher achievement in all fields, and as a network that is available to those who are dedicated to the cause.
I’d like to take this time to give respect to those members of the Operation who have just returned from a successful meet-up in Serbia—you all know who you are.
HH: You once spoke of treading a somewhat uneven path between philanthropy and misanthropy. Presumably, this all started with decisions around your own personal development, so it must sometimes be an unnerving experience sharing it with a broader public. Did anything prompt the decision to communicate your ideas to a wider audience?
PW: I have been a writer and musician since I was a teenager, so sharing my ideas with a wider audience has never created much in the way of a conflict of interest. While it’s true that I have, especially in the past, exhibited a tendency towards extreme misanthropy, I think that this has manifested itself as an expression of what I dislike about myself and also shattered expectations of what I wanted the world to be like as a younger person. Misanthropy and nihilism can only be combatted by Purpose. Between the Wolves and Operation Werewolf, my purpose has become an honest and un-ironic attempt at making the world a better place through championing the concepts of accountability, strength, physical and mental health, creating a positive peer environment/tribalism, and so on. If I fall into misanthropic thoughts, it is only because I have become entangled in my expectation. Expectation is not reality, and usually only leads to sorrow and anger. Action for its own sake is a much better horse to place your bets on.
HH: Jack Donovan once mentioned he’s more interesting in ‘creating new culture’ rather than destroying or identifying with any existing culture. Do you share that sentiment? Or rather, analogous to amplifying those personal traits we want to cultivate, is it more fruitful to build upon the foundations already within and around us?
PW: I believe that in most cases, in order to create, we must destroy. Although I do not believe that “culture” must be destroyed in order to create our own, I do believe that certain influences and impulses it has seeded within us must be rooted out before healthy growth can occur. Like weeding a patch of ground before planting new seeds there, this world in which we live has many such weeds that are invasive and unhealthy. Identifying these toxins and the unproductive behavior that often stems from them is a crucial (and ongoing) step to self-creation and keeps the culture you are trying to build vital and strong.
HH: Your preferred spiritual path could be broadly defined as Germanic mysticism, but you encourage the use of ritual at large, regardless of its persuasion. Do you think ritual practice can be cultivated to the point that it penetrates and informs any aspect of our life? What does it mean to you?
PW: I would hesitate to call my spiritual path a “Germanic” one, although certainly a large amount of the vocabulary I use to express certain concepts is. Limiting our spiritual understanding or expression to one time and place in the grand scheme of things seems pretty ridiculous, but we are all limited by language while trying to capture these massive concepts.
I encourage ritual practice in the lives of all human beings as I believe that living deliberately and with ritual intent leads to a sort of mythopoetic perception of the world around us and lends weight to our lives and stories.
Ritual serves many functions, but perhaps chief among these is maintaining our sense of awe—outlining our place in this massive and mysterious cosmos, and aligning ourselves with a chosen or created mythology that gives our actions a sense of connectedness and meaning.
It is for this reason that something within us all calls out to ritualized action—a continuous desire for connection with whatever part of ourselves (or outside of ourselves) empowers us, regenerates us, and elevates us. Drug addiction, obsessive behavior and many other negative forms of expression, I believe, stem from a thwarted need for this connection.
In a group context, ritual reminds us who we are, shows us who we can become, revitalizes the tribal structure and function, and puts us back in touch with each other on a regular basis. It creates and strengthens bonds between members and roots us in our shared mythology, allowing us to communicate with one another on a higher level than would otherwise be possible.
Like music, it flows between us and allows us to experience things together that we had no language for. It can be felt and enjoyed individually or together, and this is one of its greatest aspects. None need explain nor put into words what has been felt, but looks are shared, and often the eyes can express what the tongue cannot.
HH: I believe you have musical roots in punk and black metal, and currently play in a couple of black metal bands. You also play classic (if depressive) country music under your own name. Do these inform any of your ritual practices, spiritual or otherwise? I don’t listen to a lot of metal, but when I do, it’s usually during training; something about the aggression helps me focus, I suppose.
PW: When done correctly, music and art are ritual.
HH: We all know people that are convinced their own inner strength is all that they need to prosper; that their disdain for people in general is proof enough that they don’t need anyone else. I’ll admit to leaning heavily in that direction myself. But I seem to recall you believe it’s those same ‘lone wolves’ who are weakest in spirit. Can you expand on that a little?
PW: The idea of the “lone wolf” is what Jack [Donovan] in his book Becoming a Barbarian calls a “narcissistic fantasy,” and I believe rightly so. These sorts of people are always talking about how they are not a “joiner” and making smug comments about those people who “need a group to validate them” and so on. I believe this stems from both self-obsession and fear. Many people are so fragile in their sense of self-identity that they are forced into protecting its eggshell-like qualities through setting themselves apart any way they can. Each one a unique snowflake, a “tumbleweed of restless violence and God’s-Own-Truth…a knight-errant with no round table,” constantly hard-signaling their status as an individual.
It takes very little to “stand on your own” in this world of comfort and distraction, welfare and government programs, health insurance, central heating, and so on.
But how much can you change, really? One man against the world is a very romantic concept, but is it a realistic one? Are your resources so unlimited that you can alter the course of history and create the world in your own image, or are you content to live a life of quiet desperation as an individual, sure to tell everyone around you that you “did it your way, by your own rules.” Did what, exactly?
I believe that it takes a strong person to willingly join a peer group because he is making himself open to confrontation, accountability, challenge, pressure, and so on. He must work so much harder within a group of big personalities to stand out and excel that it will drive him onward to much more than he was able to accomplish on his own. I also believe that life as a “tree on the mountainside” can be empty, lonesome, and unfulfilling, and from experience, I can say that it is better to seek and find brothers who will demand excellence from you. If the group you have chosen requires blind followers and unrewarded servitude, you have found masters, not brothers.
HH: It’s easy to take general cues from myth and archetype, but translating them into action and actual change is a different matter altogether. In one of your YouTube videos, you mentioned you considered archetypes to be pathways of sorts. How do you think someone would go about using them as templates in some sort of practical sense?
PW: Choose one and become it in every way possible. In my mind, it is that simple. Those who have gone before have had their time to be the archetypes, to make the myths—now it is up to us to retell the stories in our words and actions, changing them and making them vital in our time and place. Setting our sights on a goal is important in life, because with no destination, we are aimlessly wandering (although that can be a sort of destination, if there is intent and purpose behind the wandering) with no compass. Set your sights on the eternal, the legendary, the ecstatic—if held strongly enough and adhered to with each word and action, we may leave behind a new mythology, and our names may become concepts to be lived up to in turn.
HH: Tell us a little about your time spent completely off-grid in the woods. I believe you were mostly alone, is that correct? Was it an escape from worldly distractions? You’ve criticised the lures of social media, for example, and shut down what was once a very active Operation Werewolf Facebook group page, presumably because you felt it discouraged the formation of meaningful relationship and real personal growth.
PW: I lived in a small, 10×10 foot cabin (later added on until I had a luxurious space of somewhere around 180 square feet) for a while—a little over a year, I guess it was. It was a strange time, as I was watching a marriage disintegrate while at the same time, all these other things were growing and fulfilling me. It was like being at the center of the :HAGAL: rune, being annihilated and regenerated at once, but utterly changed.
I moved there to get away from noise and technological slavery, and to put words into action, which remains a very important concept to me. “Strong limbs, pure hearts, actions matching words,” are the bywords I try my best to live by.
I believe that technology and certainly the Internet, social media, etc., is very much a drug, and like a drug it can be used or abused. I believe people would be happier without it, but we can’t think in terms of a perfect world where potentially bad things don’t exist; we have to meet them on our terms and try to navigate our relationship to technology as best as we can without becoming a total addict. It is difficult to understand where the “useful” ends and where the “enslaving” begins. Many people who protest the strongest about its positive uses are the ones most often seen in public places with a glow on their face while the world occurs around them.
Many people who shout the loudest about its negative properties do so from a smartphone. I try to stay humble about it and monitor my intake, so to speak, and exist as much as possible in the “real” world. I think that in the near future, time spent on the Internet will outmatch time spent interacting with the physical world, and for many, this is possibly true already. I also think that it becomes more important the more you use technology to balance it with time spent in nature, disconnected and recharging.
HH: Can you outline the intention behind the creation of Operation Werewolf divisions? I assume you don’t want carbon copies, but do you encourage some sort of common structure or approach, outside the obvious common core values? And with an increasing number of divisions outside the United States, do you get a sense of any differences in approaches and interpretations between countries?
PW: For most, I think Operation Werewolf divisions exist as templates from which to build their own tribe. I do not “run things” in a top-down fashion. I do my best to provide information for people to use and take from whatever they choose, in order to create their own expression of tribe and community. There will always be differences of approach, and that is a good thing. I want people to experience and see for themselves the value of creating an “in-group” that leads to pressure and positive growth. That is all.
HH: In a recent interview you conducted with Vedic teacher and practitioner Craig Williams, he referred to the need for a physical representation of spirituality; that is, a ‘physical embodiment of the spiritual for it to become sacred’. There is no shortage of folk drawn to ‘strength’ in its many manifestations, whether that be of mind, spirit, or body. However, it’s natural for us to rely on one at the expense of others. As Williams pointed out, someone weak in body has no ‘temporal power’, and that obviously works both ways. It seems to me one of the ultimate goals of Operation Werewolf is to encourage the development of what he referred to as an ‘enlightened physical caste’. Would that be a fair statement?
PW: Yes, that has been the goal from the beginning, at the very inception of the program: to create complete humans and to unite under a common banner those who were already on this path but have chosen to join forces in order to achieve more.
The opening steps of Operation Werewolf that are available to the public are crucial to this—developing a basic spiritual and physical praxis,and feeding the intellect as well; the creation of fellowships dedicated to these three things, discovering one’s capabilities as leadership or support. All of this is what we refer to as the First Gate of the Operation. Beyond this, those who are in personal communication with myself and the other individuals who make up the inner core are going beyond this, in order to further solidify these concepts within the individual—pushing each other to higher levels of this expression through the Second and Third Gates. All of this is done in person or by written letter.
Operation Werewolf is, itself, a task that was assigned to me by my teacher in another group in which I now hold a leadership role, which is not open to the public but has its membership from various in-roads, by their nature difficult and arduous. Any path worth walking to its end is beset on all sides by hardship and ordeal.