Last year, AnOther Magazine spoke with artist and musician Genesis P-Orridge about h/er journey to Benin, West Africa, to explore the origins of the Vodoun (voodoo) religion. While there, s/he and the filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III found that Benin has the highest national average of twins in the world, and that twins there carry a sacred meaning. In Benin, it is said that a twin never dies – instead, when one twin passes away, the other carries around a small, carved doll animated with the spirit of the living: a ‘jumeau’ (from the French for ‘twin’).
While there, Genesis also became initiated into the ‘twin fetish’, in which s/he went through a ritual in order to activate a jumeau with the spirit of h/er deceased wife, Lady Jaye. Together, Jaye and Genesis had undertaken a series of procedures to become one gender-neutral ‘Pandrogyne’ being: connected and making a whole. Since Jaye tragically “dropped h/er body” in 2007, Genesis has been the half of the resulting amalgam remaining in the material world. Here, Genesis tells the full story of h/er remarkable trip of discovery to Benin, and how this ancient religion gave h/er a way to reconnect with the spirit of the late Lady Jaye.
“About two and a half years ago, my friend Hazel Hill McCarthy III was visiting. She said, ‘Let me show you something, Gen.’ She brought up these incredible photographs of voodoo priests in Benin, West Africa. The outfits were just so cool, amazingly psychedelic and weird, that the only way we could explain it was ‘Leigh Bowery on DMT’…
“The only way we could explain it was ‘Leigh Bowery on DMT’…” – Genesis P-Orridge
She said, ‘You took me to Kathmandu last year and showed me all of what you love about Nepal and the Himalayas, so I’m going to take you to Africa.’ Because she’s a filmmaker, she decided to film stuff, and we thought we were just going to this festival that happens every seven years, this voodoo festival, and watch them dancing and see these costumes.
The first night, we were in this tiny port called Ouidah on the coast, which is where they estimate 15 million slaves were exported from that beach. We arrived after traveling for about 20 odd hours. We go into the tiny town square, and we’re drinking some beers. We’re looking in that direction and we see what looks like a very, very tall man in blue, who seems to be floating in the shadows, then vanishes. Out loud, we blurt, ‘I bet that’s a high priest’. Everybody looks around, and they go, ‘Who? What?’ It was like, ‘Oh. He’s disappeared.’ They’re like, ‘You’re jet-lagged!’
The first full day, we wander around a bit. Then Sardu (our guide) says, ‘I’d love you to meet my family. Would you come and meet them?’ He takes us back to the town square, and along the wall that we were looking at is a gate we couldn’t see from where we were. That’s the gate to his father’s compound. That’s why the person vanished. We go inside, and there is his father who is about seven foot tall, really slim, and wearing blue robes. ‘Oh shit. That’s him, isn’t it?’ Immediately he sees me, speaks to his son who translates and says, ‘My father says you had a twin but she died and was wearing those gold earrings that you’re wearing right now,’ which was totally true! As you know, we always kind of saw Jaye as a twin.
He had no idea who we were. None of them did. It was like a tiny place in Africa. They don’t speak English and why would they know? Anyway, the next day, Dah – who’s the father, the high priest – is sort of looking at me, and says again through the translation, ‘You need a jumeau; it’s a doll. We have to do prayers and offerings and see if the spirits will agree to let it become animated and be a direct link with Lady Jaye, with her soul.’
Jaye had another saying which was, ‘See a cliff, jump off!’ So, by the end of the second day, we’re in the middle of a voodoo ritual, at night, in Ouidah, Benin, sacrificing chickens and praying. They’re throwing coconuts, casting them to see, ‘Will you accept this gift from Genesis to the spirits?’ We had to go through various deities. They all went yes, and so, here she is: my jumeau. She eats when I eat. I take her everywhere, even if she’s inside my purse. As Dah put it, if you’re nice to her, she’ll look after you. If you forget about her and you’re not nice to her, be very afraid. I have taken that advice very seriously.
“If you’re nice to her, she’ll look after you. If you forget about her and you’re not nice to her, be very afraid. I have taken that advice very seriously” – Genesis P-Orridge
She sleeps in the bedroom. Obviously, because this is Lady Jaye, it’s the most precious thing I have. We have four or five matching outfits now. My jumeau keeps me grounded. She’s always there. Dah was looking at me, and was saying, ‘This is Lady Jaye, and you’ve got to look after her and feed her.’ And then he says, ‘Oh, and by the way, she tells me that you’re really bad with money.’ I went, ‘Yeah, because Jaye always used to look after all the money, and I’m always totally broke.’ He said, ‘Well, I told her that she should try and help you look after money better.’ Ever since then, and it’s happened, more than a dozen times, I’ve been down to zero in the bank, and sold books and run out of things to sell. The same day I’m down to zero, money has appeared from somewhere I didn’t know it was due from. Every time! Royalties from a record we don’t remember we made 30 years ago. It’s just weird and wonderful.
Hazel was doing research when we got back. She said, ‘I’ve been getting these emails from these anthropologists… They’ve been saying that worldwide, the incidence of twins and multiple births per thousand is four. In Benin, it’s 25 to 30 per thousand. It’s not genetic, so why the hell are there so many twins there?’
And every so often, there’s a ‘Festival of the Twins’ there. The first week is for twins who have died, and the second is for the living. We went back, and the priestess of the ‘twin cult’ did the first ever interview for our film. At one point we say, ‘How come there’s so many twins in Benin?’ She said, ‘Well, they know that we’ll love them whether they live or die, so they’d rather be born here.’ Because you’re talked to every day like you’re still physically there. You get washed. You get fed. You go everywhere with the family. You’re still there. They died but they were born, and still have a soul. Therefore we love them.
Suddenly, the film became about twins, and this twin cult which we didn’t even know existed when we decided to go. It’s really invigorating, and it’s very positive. We grieve every day for the loss of Jaye’s physical presence, still, because we were so bonded and connected, but having that jumeau here… I feel pretty confident there’s a connection because we do believe in at least occasional reincarnation.”
Find out more about Bight of the Twin.
This article was published in its original iteration in AnOther Magazine A/W16.