Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold - an initiate’s account of Palo Mayombe, much maligned cult whose central nigromantic mystery is the prenda, the cauldron containing the human skull or bones, re-animated by living spirit.

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Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Palo Mayombe: The Garden of Blood & Bones, Scarlet Imprint / Bibliothèque Rouge, 2016.

Palo Mayombe: The Garden of Blood and Bones is an initiate’s account of this much maligned cult whose central nigromantic mystery is the prenda, the cauldron containing the human skull or bones, re-animated by living spirit.
    Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold traces the roots of Palo Mayombe back to Kongolese sorcery, the warrior and leopard societies, and the impact of the Portugese Mission. The original African faith is carried in chains across the abysmal waters of Kalunga and it flowers in Cuba as a New World Creole religion and cult. Yet Palo Mayombe can only be truly understood in the light of a highly developed African cosmology. In drawing parallels with both the ancient Greek practices of Necromancy and Nigromancy, and the grimoire tradition, Nicholaj also illuminates the Western tradition, showing what we have lost in our denial of the dead and the cult of the ancestors. The magical head of Palo Mayombe in its three-legged iron cauldron has implications for understanding our own histories, whether Odin, Baphomet, Bran, John the Baptist or Orpheus. The Misa Espiritual suggests one way in which we can reforge that vital connection and resurrect both our dead and ourselves. In Palo Mayombe the golden vein of fire still transmits the ancestral wisdom and transforms the Paleros into true spiritual warriors who are the walking dead.
    The Garden of Blood and Bones gives explicit detail of the workings of Palo Mayombe for good and ill, the method of divination, the herbs, animals, trees and plants, powders, baths and waters, the songs and chants. It presents a complete living system one which embraces both the arts of healing and resurrection, and those that remove life. This is a serious study which confronts the sinister and violent aspects of the cult, but rather than purveying lurid sensationalism expresses the deep dignity and integrity of its nature.This is a book written from within the cult, and will serve as a guide for practising Paleros and those seeking initiation, not simply a Western audience. With access to rare materials, pamphlets, booklets and unpublished field notes, this is the most comprehensive study of Palo Mayombe to date. Santeros and practitioners of Vodou will also find much to ponder within these pages.

The world has been waiting for a well written concise book about Palo in English for quite some time now. I was completely unaware that this book existed up until not too long ago. I believe this is because the publisher, Scarlet Imprint, was targeting the “new age crowd” and not solely those English speaking practitioners of other Afro-Cuban religions. This makes it difficult to stumble upon the same way we stumble upon books at “botanicas” whether they be virtual or not.
I was however lucky enough to come across it at the suggestion of one of my godsons who spoke very highly of the work and wanted to know what I thought of it. I anxiously looked for it and found I couldn’t get it at my local Barnes & Noble. I searched for the book online and hesitantly coughed up $29.99 plus shipping for a paperback version that was coming from a third party. As somewhat of a collector of published works on Palo I wanted to add it to my library but I was worried it was going to be as big a disappointment as Raul Canizares’ The Book on Palo or perhaps another sensationalized book on Palo that really isn’t about Palo and is a strange mix of folk magic, Palo names and Mexican deities.
The author, Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, is an Anthropologist, Psychologist as well as a practitioner who traveled to Havana, Cuba to undergo initiation. I almost couldn’t think of anyone better to tackle such a project! I was hoping his work would be a reflection of both the academic aspects of his life as well as the religious one and I am happy to say it is. Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold has released the first authoritative work on Palo in English and available for mass distribution that is worth reading. I can’t say that I agree with all of the author’s ideas or that the work is flawless. The references and comparisons to unrelated cultures and history was a little too much Anthropology for me and seemed unnecessary but that may just be because I wanted to get to the “meat” of the subject and I have little interest in anything that is not directly related to Palo. The author’s role as a Psychologist rather than as a Palero are dominant when he describes fake possession as a “public display of psychopathology” which while interesting is completely unacceptable among Palo practitioners. In short, aside from the price tag, there is very little negative that can be said about the book. Rather than dive into a “how to” mess with solely folkloric, little or unfounded explanations of why, or how or where the author provides careful analysis and information that anyone interested in the subject should be aware of. I do believe this to be a highly respectable piece of work and an excellent addition to any library. -

an interview
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Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Ifá: A Forest of Mystery, Scarlet Imprint / Bibliothèque Rouge, 2016.

Ifá: A Forest of Mystery by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is a major study on the cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and divination system of Ifá, written by a tradition holder and member of the council of elders, known as the Ogboni society, of Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Ifá – an alternative name for its prophet Òrúnmìlà – is a religion, a wisdom tradition and a system of divination encoding the rich and complex oral and material culture of the Yoruba people. The Yoruba culture is grounded in memory, an ancestral repository of wisdom, that generates good counsel, advises appropriate ebo (sacrifice) and opens the way to develop a good character on our journey through life and in our interactions with the visible and invisible worlds.
The work is a presentation of the first sixteen odù of the Ifá corpus of divination verses explained in stories, allegories and proverbs reflecting the practical wisdom of Ifá. The work is both a presentation of Ifá for those with little knowledge of it, and a dynamic presentation of the wealth of its wisdom for those already familiar with Ifá. The deities and key concepts of Ifá metaphysics are discussed, including: Obàtálá, Ònilé, Sàngó, Ògún, Oya, Òsányìn, Yemoja, Èsù, àse (power), egúngún (ancestry), ìwà (character), and orí (head/consciousness/daimon). Notably, Dr Frisvold has created a work which celebrates the Yoruba wisdom tradition and makes a bridge with the Western world. It is of value for the light that it casts on the origins and mysteries of Èsù and òrìsà, and an important source for those practicing Quimbanda, Palo, Santeria, Vodou and the African Diaspora religions. Yet its lessons are universal, for it is the art of developing character, of attracting good fortune and accruing wisdom in life. As Nicholaj writes:
‘…Ifá is a philosophy, a theogony, theology and cosmology rooted in a particular metaphysic that concerns itself with the real and the ideal, the world and its beginning. It is rooted in the constitution of man and the purpose of life and the nature of fate. Ifá is a philosophy of character. The philosophy of Ifá lies at the root of any religious cult or organization involving the veneration of òrìsà. […] Through stories and legends, divinatory verses and proverbs, this philosophy will be revealed piece by piece until the landscape has been laid open before you… ’

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Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Pomba Gira & the Quimbanda of Mbùmba Nzila, Scarlet Imprint / Bibliothèque Rouge, 2016.

A significant study on the cult of Pomba Gira, this is the most comprehensive work in the English language on the Devil’s mistress, whose Brazilian cult has bewitched so many. It is a book that those seeking congress with the current of strong female magical sexuality have long desired. A beguiling spirit, Pomba Gira gives solace to the broken hearted, vengeance for the wronged, and a fierce path for those that would take her as muse.    
In Pomba Gira & the Quimbanda of Mbùmba Nzila Frisvold gives explicit workings, baths and waters, her songs and chants. Her plant allies among the nightshades are described in a full herbarium. The attractions and dangers for both men and women who make cult to her are presented, as are her many faces. Pomba Gira has origins in the witchcraft of Portugal, the Basque Country as well as Congo and the native influences of Brazil. The witchcraft fusion makes her cult particularly accessible to Westerners whose own traditions share much ground with Quimbanda. Frisvold carefully unravels the skeins, revealing her origin in historical figures such as Maria Padilha, but more deeply still through archetype and myth to the very essence of her skin shedding nature. He finds the origin of her name in Congo, the cult of divine possession amongst the slave camps of Brazil, and brings us through to her more modern manifestations and his personal work with the Queen of the Fig Tree in Hell. As an initiate and devotee, he gives an insider’s view with the same respect and experience he demonstrates in Palo Mayombe: The Garden of Blood and Bones. We walk through the Queendoms of Lyre, Cemetery, Sepulchres, Streets, Crossroads, Wilderness, Soul, Oceanshore and Calunga.
    The workings of twenty four different Pomba Giras are given, from Cigana the gypsy to the split skull face of Rosa Caveira. Through the razor blades in honey, the cigarette smoke and the sweet anisette spilt in the graveyard, Pomba Gira takes seductive shape.

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Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire, Scarlet Imprint / Bibliothèque Rouge, 2016.

Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire is the companion to Pomba Gira. Together they give the most complete account of this sorcerous cult. Exu is the fusion of Umbanda, Angolan sorcery, European demonology and Kardec’s Spiritsm, erupting in a uniquely Brazilian cult of practical magical action. Spells, workings, hierarchies and origins are all given in detail.
    This is an essential text for students of the grimoires, Satanism and Traditional Witchcraft, as well as those drawn to or working within the cults of Quimbanda, Candomblé, Santería, Palo Mayombe and the African diaspora religions.
    Quimbanda is a living tradition that gets results. It is a massive storehouse of magical lore, heresies and history which has absorbed aspects of Goetia, Grimorium Verum, Red Dragon and even Huysman’s Là Bas. The origin of Exu is explored from the iconic Baphomet of Eliphas Lévi and the influence of St Cyprian, the patron saint of necromancers, back to Umbanda and the traditional African religions. Exu revels in a unique heritage that encompasses a Gnostic account of the crucifixion mystery, the concealed nature of St Michael Archangel and the native shamanism of the Caboclos.
    A forceful spirit, Exu presides over the kingdom of the world, and offers a fierce path for those that would take him as companion.
    The Seven Legions of Exus are ‘hot’ spirits, and their work is considered black magic. The perils of this work are given, with the dangers of obsession by the Qlippoth and vampirism described. Guidance is offered and the path to ascension shown. In Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire Frisvold gives explicit workings for good and ill, a herbarium and details of offerings, powders and baths, songs and seals. He discusses the fearsome Exu Mor for the first time, a subject not treated in his previous works.
    Frisvold is an intiate and gives an insider’s view, drawing upon his years of experience in the cult. With access to texts, manuscripts and personal testimony this is the most definitive work on Exu available in English.