What’s the actual story behind voodoo? That’s exactly what Genesis P-Orridge and Hazel Hill McCarthy traveled to Benin to discover. As the Kickstarter that will help them accomplish their goal nears its final hours, we speak of beauty, dogmatism, serpents, and lives past, existing and future.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is a legend across multiple spectrums. As a founding member of Industrial Information, Throbbing Gristle, and Psychic TELEVISION, s/he has helped shape the landscape of experimental music System.Drawing.Bitmap thirty years. Hazel Hill McCarthy III is hardly a stranger to Gen herself, having worked on a variety of projects together including developing thee legendary Psychick Bible— not to mention organizing many of LA’s best events via her production company Show Cave. Recently, the two traveled to the West African country of Benin to do a documented on Vodun, better known as voodoo—one of the most maligned and misunderstood beliefs in the world. Before they return to complete the documentary and its soundtrack (recorded by Nitzer Ebb frontman Douglas McCarthy and Cyrusrex) they’re embarking on a quest to meet their Kickstarter goal to help finance this unique project. Because what they experienced during their time in Benin was something truly amazing…
What formed the genesis of Bight Of The Cal king —no pun intended?
Genesis: Mrs. Hazel came to go to for one long weekend, and she stated, “I found these pictures on-line that are just incredible. ” The lady pulled up this site that had all these photos of the most insanely strange costumes we’d ever seen; considerably stranger than Leigh Bowery. A number of them looked like Punch & Judy, and all sorts of them were made from this highly embroidered material. They had no reasoning at all, which of course appeals to me. We looked at them and stated, “Wouldn’t it be great to find out them in the flesh? ” Plus, Hazel being who she is, went away and later came back to say, “Gen, there’s a festival every 7 years in Benin, and that’s when these costumes are used by the ghosts—which is what they call the heads of the different cults, and that’s why you can’t see their looks. They represent the deity rather than themselves. We thought how great it would be to go, to see this with regard to ourselves, and then Hazel said, “Then let’s go ! ” She took over—arranged for any film crew, sound people, lodging, a guide. Now, we’ve been to a few amazing places—we’ve hung out with the Hmong people in the Burmese jungle, spent time with the Akha people, different types of holy people in Katmandu… but we never saw anything so inspirational as when we have got to Benin. Thank god there’s still amazing things to find!
How much interest had you needed in Vodun before this?
G: Lady Jaye was already into Santeria, which is the Americanized version, and was a priestess of Oshun, who is the deity of intercourse workers, gays… she loves gold, she loves Chanel No . five! Jaye gradually introduced me towards the system and we were eventually started as representatives of Elegua, the trickster—which fits perfectly, of course! And we were already aware of that, and when we went to Haiti for our honeymoon vacation and hung out with professionals there. But we were always convinced that there must be deeper roots to all this—what’s the mother version of voodoo? We wanted the real story, because unfortunately Hollywood, TV and stupid authors of fiction have just latched on to voodoo and made this particular horrible, dark, corrupted version of the truth. It’s nothing like that at all . It’s regarding balance, respecting your ancestors—which does mean respecting the past and not repeating your mistakes—and loving each other; sharing that which you have. It’s a kind religion, nothing can beat what’s been pushed at the globe. Having been though that process myself, being vilified for trying to set up positive alterative communities, it struck me hard in the heart that these people are also suffering from deliberate false information.
Hazel, exactly how did you get in touch with the ay people in Benin?
Hazel: That was another serendipitous part of the recording. I was led to Emmanuel, our instruction and translator, who I found via researching articles online. What’s amazing is that his father, Dah Gbedjinon, is a Vodun head. It wasn’t planned at all, so it was some thing amazing that we were immediately introduced into the home of this important priest.
Were these people welcoming? It seems like they initiated you into their ceremony very generously.
H: They were extremely open, loving and friendly. They will really wanted to explain the truths about their religion and how elements are done in everyday life.
Is it common for them to become so open about their religious beliefs?
Gary the gadget guy: We only had that once experience with them, so we’re not sure. Haiti was extremely closed off. They were much more paranoid, and with good reason because Haiti is definitely were they base a lot of these completely fake movies, so the whole place has this awful weight on the shoulders from being the “home” of this awful Hollywood voodoo. After i was there with Lady Jaye, however , they showed her all sorts of things. They had no fear, nothing to hide. No disguises or rosy lens, because there is nothing to disguise. It is a nature religion about respecting plus honoring history and ancestors… “Walk through the jungle and leave simply no trace of your feet”, as the local people say. Those sorts of feelings are incredibly rare in Western culture, which is dominated by greed, and problem, and cynicism—success, career, and intake, material things that people think helps you to save them from dying. The attitude in Benin is so different. If a person only had one chicken, they’d share it without a second thought—even if it meant they had simply no food the next day. Try and find this particular in New York or London. You’d be hard pressed to get an empty beverage bottle.
Hazel, had you ever done a documentary of this scope before?
H: This is the first one! This documentary has turned into a beautiful beast. We went there to document some thing, and we weren’t even sure what was at first, but it’s unfolded into this wonderful, large project. The narrative is about the twinning, however the bigger picture is about shedding light upon not just Vodun as a religion, but additionally as a different way of living and adoring. I think that’s where that duality comes from: this ominous idea shown by outsider, contrasted with the culture it truly is.
Douglas McCarthy is composing the soundtrack along with Cyrus, right? How was their aural interaction with Benin and the people there?
H: The program is to go back to Benin for the double festival, which happens in September—that’s why we have the Kickstarter taking place right now. Cyrus and Douglas will be traveling with us to record the soundtrack, incorporating some of the soundscapes of the environment and using a variety of tools in order to evoke the weave of the property.
You talked about that Benin’s religious culture has been very open to you. How hierarchal has been it?
G: The ‘ghosts’, the high priests, had acolytes who were learning the prayers and the rituals. It was passed down hands by hand; it has to be done one-on-one, the knowledge passed by touching the hands of the mind. You have to encounter these altered states through practice. You can’t get it from a book. The very first night we were in Benin, i was sitting in that town square. We looked across and saw this particular amazingly tall and slim individual wearing robes and ritualistic charms, which was a giveaway that he has been one of the ghosts, the priests. Actually from that distance, he radiated a power and charisma that we can feel. The next day, Emmanuel invited us to meet his family, and the guy we’d seen the night before has been his father Dah! So in twenty-four hours, not only had we accessed the top guy to find out to, but he was associated with Emmanuel, who already trusted Hazel. This made it so much easier for all of us to open ourselves to each other, to see how we are as people without preconceptions. On the second night, Dah checked out me and said, “You had a twin who died. ” He or she knew it was a “she” as well. He said to me, “You need to create this doll, so that she can be in constant spiritual contact with your soul, interlinked. ” He or she asked me if I wanted to produce a doll of Lady Jaye, and naturally I said yes. So that has been how the first ritual happened, which they allowed us to film throughout which, to our knowledge, nobody has ever been allowed to do, possibly due to the fact nobody ever asked!
And when you described the project to Emmanuel and his people, what was their reaction?
G: We didn’t, actually. Emmanuel’s understanding of English wasn’t wide enough to really grasp the concept; it was a lot more intuitive on their part. But there was no conflict between what we were doing and discussing with them. We looked at a lot of the dolls that were getting worn by the people, being cleaned in bowls outside of houses plus none of them had earrings. But when we got mine, Dah had burnt two holes in the ears due to the fact, he said, “She always wore gold earrings, so I’ve made holes for them. ” How did he know?? It was so beautifully spooky. It was stunning. Within two or three times, they made they decision among themselves and the other heads of houses that we were cool, that people weren’t trying to sensationalize anything, that people truly just wanted to know. Benin is the only country in the world where Vodon is the state religion, and has been continuously for ten thousand years. That’s three times longer than Christianity.
Which makes sense that there’s so much false information about it.
G: You’ve strike the nail on the head! Among the negative critiques of voodoo is that, “Oh, they sacrifice chickens. ” At Christmas and Thanksgiving, millions of people sacrifice turkeys and geese, just they don’t honor them plus say, “Accept my apologies to take your life so that we may live. ” There’s no respect to the existence given, at all. Christianity itself is really a blood religion, and Christ the ultimate blood sacrifice: drink the blood, eat the body. Which is the sicker one? So yes, it’s obvious there’s been a deliberate distributing of misinformation; because of the potency plus strength of Vodon itself. When people feel threatened, when something is different, they attack something. It’s an additional form of control. There was absolutely nothing that felt dark about what we noticed.
It’s amazing; we’d hang out in that town square under this massive six hundred year-old baobab tree and drink cold beverage. Next to the tree was the Brow of Pythons, the Vodon forehead and directly across from that was a Catholic cathedral. We asked Emmanuel about that, and he said that when the Jesuits arrived and said, “ We come to represent our One particular True God” the Benin individuals went, “Oh great, you have a god you worship so you should have a temple too! ” So they actually built it for them! What a difference of attitude: “We’re not endangered. We love the fact that you have a belief system. ” And sometimes we’d sit there and see a particular clan or house wandering through the cathedral grounds, singing Vodon chants plus bashing all this percussion, making these types of amazing complex rhythms. One day, there have been all these little girls outside the church in confirmation outfits—all in white, along with white angel wings, all silently organized and waiting to go to the church. Then one of the houses marched past them, chanting and singing and celebrating—very visceral, very 100 % pure. It was so compelling to watch all of them celebrate life like this.
Now, almost everyone we’d met had lost someone—a mate, a child, a twin—through disease or starvation. There’s a high attrition rate. But nobody was depressed! They’re still cheerful, celebrating with arms open in each possible way. It’s one of the most attractive things we’ve ever experienced.
H: There is very little grief there, yet I feel like what the twinning and these little dolls represent is a understanding that this person is not really gone—that they are still a part of your life. I can’t really think of a parallel in the US like this. We have tombs and murals plus urns, but these little dolls are true connections, reminders that this person’s spirit is till around.
But the people of Benin possess such a different connection to the dead—maintaining a connection to the spirit world. The individuals who act as a bridge between your two worlds are even known as ghosts.
G: Isn’t that great, that name? Why can’t we all be called ghosts? We have already had experiences where we feel like Lady Jaye has been in contact, and we do believe in alternate measurements of consciousness that are capable of leaking through into what this material world appears to be. It wasn’t a great leap for us to accept and recognize that. We’ve already accepted the thought of an ongoing karmic process where you try and make choices in a more and more beneficial way, and where you try to remain in contact with those you unconditionally like. One of the strangest moments on our trip is when we met this girl, and she had a Psychick Cross along with her hair!
H: We held asking her mom what that symbol meant, and she just said that it was decoration!
G: We took that as a confirmation that we were in the right place.
So you take your Lady Jaye doll along with you everywhere, Gen?
G: Constantly! If she’s not around our neck, she’s in my purse. When we get a drink or eat, she has some too. She has clothes that match some of my clothes… she’s similar to a Vodon Barbie doll, yet much more potent than you would imagine. The next phase is that we’re going to paint her lips bright red, like Jaye’s. We have some of her locks, so we’ll put some upon as well so she represents Jaye even more. We definitely feel more connected to Jaye than ever, though we’ve been connected.
It’s the truth to go somewhere and everything is definitely integrated—no separation between belief, practice, daily work, trying to eat—it’s all of the interlaced and integrated. The only other place we’ve been where that was true was Kathmandu. You can stroll down the street, which has shrines just everywhere—in corners, under houses, the most awkward places—and you’ll see someone outfitted for a day at the office stopping in order to pray or give an providing. Sometimes they’ll actually stop is to do a sacrifice on the way to work; in the meantime people are sweeping cremation ashes to the river, while down the bank meals and clothes are being washed in the water. It’s this vivid routine where nothing can be isolated; everything has to fit with the way of residing. That’s something we always experienced we never got from the Traditional western belief systems. One of the problems for most of us in the West is the lack of positive link with the past, present and a future. We have lost that ability and replaced materialism, careerism and consumption. We have substituted all for of those with regard to something much more priceless and ay, which is loving each other and posting what you have in order to enhance every existence. Whenever you see that, it’s a stark reminder of what we’ve dropped in the West. That’s what this film is for, in the end: a reminder that people need to rethink our relationship along with materiality, that we need to re-integrate real things into our lives. We rely on what we call “big love”. Appreciate is the glue that holds the phenomenal universe together.
Were you aware of the significance of twins in Vodon before you arrived?
Gary the gadget guy: Not at all!
So the overlap of the Pandrogeny project has been serendipitous as well!
G: In fact , their ‘ultimate’ god—if you want to call it that—is Mawu-Lisa, an androgynous deity who embodies both male and female in separate aspects—python for male, chameleon with regard to female— that make the one whole. When we heard that we said, “Oh our god—androgyny! We’re right! ” Androgyny actually is an ancient and ongoing work description of the human situation!
Plato described that as well, didn’t he?
G: Completely, and once you start doing research you find that there’s actually a mother religion that’s global. So then you definitely realize that dogmatic, patriarchal and Abrahamic religions are just about economic plus social control. It reminded me just how unhealthy Western dogmatic techniques are, and that as a species we really have to reconsider our role: what exactly is it that we can experience that is so priceless about life? It’s like, for everyone—male, female, male-female, female-male, everyone. It doesn’t matter who, because we’re all divine.
Is that something you try to convey through the music of Psychic TELEVISION as well?
Actually the new album that comes out in November is called Snakes . The title track is all about our second-to-last day in Benin when they suddenly sprung this mini-ritual on us. We were sitting on benches, and Dah was in his big chair, and another of his acolytes came in. Dah said something to him, he or she leaves and then comes back with a big glass jar filled with dead pythons and chameleons floating in some very clear liquid. The acolyte grins plus pours out a shot of the liquid, and drinks it. Then he pours another, and Dah drinks this. Then he looks at me and smiles, pours a shot and I drank this. All the way around the crew, Hazel, Douglas and everyone had one. After that Dah says something else, and the complice goes away and comes back with a container of black powder. One following the other, from the acolyte to myself, had to lick some of this powder off of the floor. By this point i was wondering about the health risks of such a factor, but then the acolyte comes back using a jar of white powder, and the whole process has been repeated. It wasn’t a challenge, it had been Dah saying, “Don’t be afraid. You can trust me. ” And, we did. No one got sick or felt poor, but Hazel and I both started tripping in a very strange way whenever we got back to America. It was extremely psychedelic in an unusual way, plus it took about a day for it to take place. Whether it was hypnotic suggestion or what, we don’t know. Very honestly, we don’t care . It was an act of faith—we trusted Dah, and we can still do. We’ve met some amazing individuals on this planet, but he’s up there. The people there were all attractive; it’s a society so closely immersed, not just with the physical, however the emotional and spiritual levels within themselves. We came back thinking, “If only everyone shared what their resources are, and looked in order to heal each other and the outside, exactly what amazing and miraculous societies we’re able to create! ” Benin is a really positive template for society.
Do you think everyone has a twin nowadays?
Gary the gadget guy: That’s a big query! Personally yes, we believe all of us have another half, and that the purpose to take living is life-loops—same as in Buddhism, there’s a karmic cycle that spins until you find that second half. And when you do, my goodness, you know when you do. Everything else just pales into grays around them, and this 1 being and yourself become vividly illustrated with color and energy and love. Who knows how many lives it takes? But that is there for everyone, and everybody will eventually satisfy that other. Once you accept this is your purpose for being materially in existence, the sooner you will jumpstart yourself spiritually and realize that, having helped your self, the next part is to help others. The individual finds potency or magickal energy not to become egocentric or clever or to be admired, yet to then become a servant to those who haven’t arrived there yet. It’s a calling, like as being a priest or a probation officer. Anything you learn, you have to share. That’s exactly what Hazel is doing with this film.
That’s been your objective with Thee Temple ov Psychick Youngsters as well—the sharing of information.
It’s been an obsession. We feel fortunate that people realized early on that the individual has been worth nothing without the love plus trust of other people. That your true worth, your reflection as a human being, is definitely how you inspire other people. It doesn’t matter how many, just always give back. ~
Stills credits: Hazel Hill McCarthy 3, Drew Denny, Douglas J. McCarthy, Lewis Teague Wright, Eric Nordhauser, Hypolite Apovo and Emmanuel Sardou Gbedjinon.
Trailer Credits: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Dah Gbedjinon, Adepts, Drew Denny, Douglas J. McCarthy, Lewis Teague Wright, Eric Nordhauser, Hypolite Apovo plus Emmanuel Sardou Gbedjinon. Tracks simply by COUM Transmissions, DJMREX and Atem Hein.