CTM Festival

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge talks 'Bight of the Twin'

23. Jan. 2017
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge with Dah Gbedjinon and Adept in Ouidah, Benin

An interview with the pandrogynous icon, who hopes the new documentary will “destroy all exaggerated Hollywood versions of voodoo”

Jan. 24, 2017 – CTM, the self-proclaimed “festival for adventurous music and art”,  kicks off later this week. One highlight of the ten-day program is the Berlin premiere of Hazel Hill McCarthy III's visually stunning documentary Bight of the Twin featuring Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The film screens January 31 at HAU1, and afterwards, Genesis will give a performance in collaboration with Wolf Eyes co-founder Aaron Dilloway. In advance, the pandrogynous lead singer of Psychic TV explained to Joey Hansom how s/he found a new way to reconnect with their other half Lady Jaye, who physically died in 2007. 

In the trailer, you said, “This is when it swapped from being a documentary about voodoo, to becoming, actually, voodoo.” What did you mean by that?

My dear friend Hazel Hill McCarthy III was visiting me in New York. She showed us some images of the most bizarre, striking costumes we've ever seen – like Leigh Bowery on DMT. They were so different from any Western idea of logic – the shapes, the combinations of colors. She said there was a voodoo festival coming up and thought it would be great to go to Africa and see these costumes – of the high priests, called “ghosts” – and listen to the music, and maybe talk to people about their particular version of the voodoo belief system. 

So, off we go. The very first night we were there, we were sitting in a little square in a town called Ouidah. We were drinking beer because the water's not safe. We were facing in one direction from everyone else, and suddenly we saw a figure about seven feet tall, in blue robes, just floating along in the shadows of a wall. We thought, “What's that? A high priest!” They all looked, but there was no one there. We thought maybe we were just jetlagged and had too many beers. But the next day, we met two great people, one was named Sardou, our translator and guide. Hazel found him on the internet. We knew nothing about him, except that he could speak some English. At the end of the first day, he said, “Do you all want to meet my family? They've invited you for dinner.” We said, “Yes, of course.” We went out, and he took us back to that tiny square and walked along the same wall, and there in the wall was a gate! That's how the priest had vanished. It wasn't magic, it was just a gate. We went in, and as we entered the main room, there's this person in blue robes, about seven foot tall, and he is the father of our guide! He turns to his son and says something, and his son translates it and says to me: “You have a twin, but she died, and you are wearing her gold earrings.” And we were wearing Lady Jaye's gold earrings. And we do think of Jaye as becoming a twin to each other. Everyone in our group went “Ooh!” It was like vertigo, almost.

Then his father told us, “You need Zumu, because your twin died.” And we went, “We do? What's that?” It's a little doll made out of sacred wood that represents the spirit and the material being of someone, in this case Lady Jaye. Within two days, we were embroiled in beautiful rituals and chanting in prayers in community with Lady Jaye and became initiated. All through some kind of amazing gift of us father, to see through everything. He knew nothing about why we were there. He thought we were probably some rich, white tourists. But we were sincerely interested, not just voyeuristic. We went on a trip, and that's when Hazel started filming and the movie began.

What we hope the film will do is destroy all exaggerated Hollywood versions of voodoo, which are all about zombies, needles and that rubbish. Voodoo is about a continual contact with consciousness. Some people would say the soul or the spirit. In this case, Lady Jaye's consciousness aware of itself, despite having no body, maintaining a sense of individual self, presumably outside time and space. Jaye used to say, “How do you know that half the people you walk past aren't aliens in disguise, or ghosts of people who aren't actually here anymore?” You don't know. Once you start to think that way, you realize the world has far more levels than you ever imagine from Western culture. So, our journey went from observing to practical, physical involvement in the story.

Is their idea of twins less about blood relatives, about siblings, but more about some kind of spiritual connection?

Initially, we immediately thought, “Why did he say 'twin'?” We found out that there was a hidden devotion and exploration of this idea of the twin. Whilst it was primarily about physical twins born together, they also include the relationship of myself and Lady Jaye. And if a baby is born breech – legs first – they consider that a twin. We're not sure why, but they do. It's not as straightforward as the Western way of viewing things.

After we came back, Hazel started getting emails from professors of anthropology. As it turns out, they've done studies and looked at statistics. Globally, in every thousand babies born, something like six are twins. But in Benin, 25 to 30 twins per thousand. Five times as many. If a twin is born and dies, it is still considered to be present. That's where the dolls originally came in. The person who survives maintains a relationship with their twin with the doll, through songs, rituals – for a lifetime. Not swept under a carpet of shame or grief like in the West. It is considered still living as a consciousness.

The were very secretive about the twin cult. It was only on our second journey there that we managed to meet and talk to the high priest of the twin cult and take part in the twin festival. It happens every four years, and people come from all over Africa to be there.

Is there any explanation from their community, or from the Western world, of why there is such a high percentage of twins in Benin? 
We wanted to know exactly that. We asked these anthropologists, and they said there is no genetic reason for so many twins. It's not medical, not biological, nothing scientific. No reason. One of the questions we kept asking the practitioners of vudon in Benin was, “Why so many twins?” The high priestess of the twin cult did her first-ever interview with the outside world. Her answer was beautiful. “Well, they are born here in such numbers because they know that we will love them and care for them for their whole lifetime, whether they are alive or dead.” 

My sister in England had twins, but they were both born dead at seven months. She has never spoken of it to me, or anyone, really. As it it was some shameful failure. But that's really unhealthy. In Benin, they celebrate them anyway. They're still here!

My other question for the people of Benin was, “What's your creation myth?” Because we are always looking for what's the original origin story. Strip away all the costumes, the different names of gods and goddesses. Vudon is one of the oldest surviving systems, and Africa is where humanity as we know it began. Straight to the source. It took us eight weeks to finally get an answer: 

Da, the high priest of the python cult told us, “In the beginning, there was Mau Lisa. Mau was the chameleon; Lisa was the python. But they were one.” That means their idea of the original being is a male-female. A pandrogyne. We put our first in the air and said “Yes! Yes! We knew it!”

Even the Adam and Eve story is basically a corrupted version of that. Adam and Eve come from one body. In the very, very early Christian paintings of the Garden of Eden – most destroyed by the Vatican, but six still exist – they portray God, Adam and Eve in the Garden, and all three of them each have a vagina, a penis and breasts. To me and to Lady Jaye, that was a big, waving flag telling us that the divine state has to be a combination, a unity of both. Perhaps living, existing is the story of us waking up to that fact, realizing that perfection is unity. That's why we feel pandrogyny as an idea is so important. It's not just about gender, it's about evolution. This is not a finished body. We've been apes, we've been lizards, we've been fish, we've been single-celled organisms. This is just a moment in our physical evolution. The final version has to be the union of the two. We truly believe this.

You've sung the praises of the culture in Benin, and also that of Nepal, and so on – appreciating their sense of community, connection to nature and so on. You've also referred to New York City as the “toilet of Europe” – 
That was in 1968! That was partly ironic. We were joking, the US was all the people Europe didn't want, all the people who couldn't maintain a healthy life there because of prejudice. So New York is where all the Europeans were flushed. That's the US is so fascinating. All the radicals and extremists who came from Europe. 

OK, and why do you continue to live there now? 
New York has been very kind to us. When the UK victimized me as a symbol of alternative thinking, New York was very welcoming. We had this revelation. New York has someone from every country of the world. And they live in harmony, basically. So many people, so many languages, and yet the city functions relatively well. We are treated with respect here. That could change now after the election – we're very aware of that.

Interview: Joey Hansom

CTM Festival

Jan. 27 – Feb. 5, various locations


Bight of the Twin (dir. Hazel Hill McCarthy III) + 

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge & Aaron Dilloway live

Jan. 31, 19:00 at HAU1