Photo by Seth Tissue / CC
Klint Finley: How’s the new TOPI going? What’s the status?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Actually, it’s rather gratifying. You’ve probably been to the Ning. And there’s that world map at the front which shows where there are active people and it’s almost obliterated the world map at this point. So whilst the activities are still somewhat limited, and directionless to an extent, what it does demonstrate to us is that there is still a serious appetite, curiosity, need for some of the ideas that we put into hibernation for a while from the TOPY with a Y. There was always the plan to have T-O-P-I, the One True Topi Tribe. That was always part of the strategy from the very beginning. But the first decade of T-O-P-Y, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, was… not the kindergarten exactly…. but that was sort of a filtering process to reconvene the idea of magic in a contemporary, demystified way in public culture. And that was almost too successful and we actually ended up in exile as a result of the threat that was perceived by the British establishment.
Ironically, they attacked us when we had already said that we were going to disband that version and become nomadic. The last thing we sent out to people was printed on what you send wedding invitations on, it was gold embossed card and it just said “Changed Priorities Ahead, TOPY Nomads.” Which was actually a sign, a street sign. We were driving along the road coming back from looking for a big house, a community headquarters in the north of England and there were road works going on and there was this big sign that just said “Changed Priorities Ahead.” And it was one of those moments where we went “That’s exactly what we were hoping to do.”
So the intended idea there was that we were closed down, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, in the hope that those who had really started to comprehend on their own, in their own way, what we were trying to say – which was to bring people around to using an intuitive personalized version of magic – to get those individuals to understand that we were a non-hierarchal, non-Masonic, post-“museum of magic” network.
In other words, a lot of people did their 23 sigils and then they would sometimes write and then say “What happens now?” and we would just say “That’s it. You don’t get a prize. You don’t get a new instruction. You don’t suddenly have a special title. If you’ve not figured out how to really discover and express your true desires by now then you’re never going to get it. Most people did understand that but there were some that expected a prize and were disappointed.
So we had reached the point of dismembering it and deconstructing the ten year project and the next step was to find a location to then go into the One True Topi Tribe. We looked at an old hotel in the north of England, we looked at the farm in a place called Arbor Low in Yorkshire, which actually had a stone circle on the grounds of the farm, which is where we used to have the TOPY Global Annual Meetings over a long weekend and we would camp out and we would do rituals outside in the stone circle. It is a beautiful place. So we were seriously looking at different locations. And then we, meaning myself and my family, decided to go to Nepal to do some research and to work with Tibetan Buddhist monks that we had come to know. And then come back and built the One True Topi Tribe but as you know that got interrupted by the British government.
So we went into hibernation and then Thee Psychick Bible got published. And during the next few months after that was published, we started to get lots and lots of e-mails and letters and meet people at concerts and events. They were saying, “We really want to know more about this. Why is isn’t it still going on?”
In between, there was The Process and Transmedia, wasn’t there? 
There was, yeah. There was the Transmedia. That was just an ad-hoc bridging phase. It was kind of a separate topic, but basically as you probably know we’ve been interested in The Process since the sixties and collecting lots of documents and books and so on. I eventually got to know Timothy Wyllie and Father Malachi McCormick and some of the founders. And it always was part of my culture engineering side to reinsert The Process into public culture but rehabilitated to get rid of Ed Sanders’ destructive, dishonest propaganda used to discourage people from really looking into The Process.
So one thing we’ve often done with Austin Osman Spare in the original TOPY, and with piercing and tattooing with Modern Primitives and then with that website with The Process. We inserted things that we think were both useful and needed to be reassessed and reevaluated in popular culture because they had become relevant again or more relevant than ever. So we shared things that we find inspiring and said “This is really inspiring to us and it’s changing our ways of perceiving things, you might want to really check this out.” So that’s been very effective as an ongoing process of culture engineering. So that was really what that part was about. It was to just prepare the ground for the books that came out.
The original, Love, Sex, Fear, Death book that came out from Feral House, that was originally going to be by myself and Benjamin Tischer, who runs Invisible Exports gallery. The original structure was going to be reprinting all the key magazines in full color and then a long essay and then interviews with the key founding members that we had done. At the time that we were assembling all the materials, Feral House changed the basic structure and handed it off to Timothy Wyllie. And so it became two books basically- the Timothy Wyllie anecdotal version and then the follow-up one with the facsimiles. We didn’t mind because the whole point was just to get that material out there again. However it actually happened isn’t so important as long as we could re-launch the information back into the culture.
So while we were doing that, we were always testing the ground and observing. Thee Psychick Bible really revealed a whole new generation of people who are incredibly curious and really hungry for more information about the original TOPY and wanting to actually find a way to apply that to their lives again. But, of course, we have an old TOPY proverb: “Never return to the previous character.” And so there’s no point to us in doing TOPY (with a Y) again and the ultimate point of the next step was always to do the Tribe. Because when people say “What’s the Psychick Cross?” we say “That’s how you recognize people who are your people, your chosen family people who at least on some level have similar interests or you can communicate with more easily than Joe Public.”
And all my life, the ultimate project has always been to set up experimental communities that create their own mythology, their own rituals, their own techniques for mind expansion, for maximizing whatever potential they have in whichever form, and leaving that behind as a legacy, some kind of work or alternative way of living. Not as a “running away into the countryside and being a farmer” hippie thing, but something that’s normal, practical. And the state of the economy and the state of the world as it is at the moment tends to suggest to us that there’s an inevitable collapse. That the economic system that we’re living in is fatally flawed. It’s based on the idea of infinite consumption and infinite growth. But if you have a limited amount of resources, even if you count the planet as one of the resources, there is a point where there’s no more. We can’t consume forever. There’s actually a natural limit.
The way things are set up is to treat things that are scarce as if they aren’t scarce and things that are scarce as if they aren’t. So energy, for example, we treat as though it’s not scarce at all. And individual labor like people are not scarce at all. There’s plenty of people but we sort of treat people as if they were scarce in certain ways. 
Well, in terms of western capitalism, the powers that be, as far as we’re concerned and we’ve written about it in Psychick Bible that they think of human beings just as a resource like the cows or sheep, whatever. And in the industrial revolution, it suited the people who control societies and economies to have a more educated, healthier workforce. So in the west you’ve got more education, better healthcare, better housing and so on, because they needed strong, healthy people to work in the factories.
As we got more technological, they’ve ended up with all these workers who they need less and less of. So now human beings are actually a redundant factor using up food, air, energy and everything else and they don’t really need us anymore. And if they could get away with just erasing us, they would. The people who are at the top of the pyramid of power and in control of economies are ruthless. It would not bother them at all to reduce the population to whatever they need because they see themselves as a separate set of species, and in a sense they are. We see it more in the west because it was started in England with the royal family, the aristocracy. We even say they’re “Blue Bloods,” a separate species, a more divinely touched species, chosen by god. But in fact they’re gangsters. Most of them get in that position by murdering rivals which is like the mafia.
So, anyway, we were sitting back and we were looking at the world outside and Lady Jaye actually said in the early 2000s “The economy is going to really suddenly crash really hard.” And at the time we did have some shares- and she said, “You’ve got to get rid of those shares.” So we sold them and within two or three weeks everybody lost all that money, when everybody’s shares became worthless for a while. That had made us really start thinking about it more and we thought, well, when it goes, if you’re living in a city, who’s going to be better prepared to survive? Hells Angels, Bloods and Crips and gangs, even survivalist fanatical Christians because they’ve already got loyalty to a group. They’ve got basic core belief. They’re prepared to protect themselves and fight for themselves. They’re more mobile and more paranoid so they’re more able to provide it. People who just live in their apartments in the suburbs and do their 9 to 5 jobs are going to be devastated literally and physically.
Or the Mormons. They are really well-situated for a collapse. They have an international structure, so that if all the Mormons in one city are displaced there are other places they can go. They have physical buildings. They have savings. They have food supply. It’s like their whole religion is built around being ready to take over if there’s a collapse.
We were in England and our car broke down and we got picked up by a breakdown truck and the driver happened to also be a fire inspector, he was moonlighting. So we were chatting and he said “They’ve just finished building a brand new Mormon temple in that town.” And we said, “Oh, yeah, the Mormons are a little bit strange.” And he said, “Strange? I’m the fire inspector so I had to go and inspect it to see if it would pass all the tests and be allowed to be open.” So he went in and he checked the temple and they said, “Do you want to go downstairs and check the offices?” and he said, “Oh, sure.” So they went downstairs underneath the temple and there were all these cubicles and people in there with computers and they were all basically collecting the names of people who were dead, anybody, because you know, they’re trying to save everybody by baptizing them.
And so we looked at them and then he said, “Everything is fine and safe.” And they said, “You don’t want to see the rest?” And he said, “The rest?” He said, “Yeah, there’s another 5 floors going down.” So he went down and there was a huge reservoir of fresh water. And as you say there was a huge floor just for food and supplies and then there were all these schools and meeting halls and then lots of places. Basically all the Mormon temples have bunkers underneath them because there’s no need for planning permission when they go down. Some of them have ten different levels and, as you said so rightly, those are there so they could order their people and swarm in and go below ground and wait to have a crisis. One has to assume that they have weapons too.
So they’re thinking ahead. And so that makes you think what about everyone else? Is there an alternative way for people like us, the misfits, bohemians, the radical thinkers, people who ultimately are social problem solvers in the long term? Most of the real solutions to perception, reality and magical descriptions of the way that we are or what we may become, the creation side of beingness. What about us? Can we come up with something that’s non-destructive and non-violent but also an alternative way of living? And what would it be? What would it look like? Obviously you have to start to share resources.
And so we began thinking about setting up the One True Topi Tribe, initially as a discussion group and say, is it possible, and if it’s possible, what would it look like? What are you prepared to give? What are you prepared to surrender? And how much do you really want to survive, or even if there’s not that much of a crisis, how much do you really want to change your behavior and the way you do life? How real is your hunger for real change and for evolution and for new thinking? And what would that look like?
Of course, for myself, we’ve lived in communes and community situations almost all my life, tended to do collaborations in groups and networks, rather than do the divined inspired individual which is to me not that interesting. And that’s always been the ultimate plan, to find a way to set up a community, more of a village than a commune, but a community based on creation, magic, revelation and the exploration of unlimited visions of reality, consciousness, everything.
Is this connected to the idea of the cut-up? I know that a lot of your work, almost everything, kind of comes back to the Gysin/Burroughs cut-up method. So how does that apply to TOPI?
Well, one of the basic questions that the original TOPY was designed to address was in order for the human species to truly evolve we have to change our behavior. And the question is, is it ever going to be possible to change our innate behavior? Because at the moment we, as a species, we are at a primitive larval state of consciousness. And one of the things we often say is, how could there ever have been a second war? If there’s a war the first time, it’s novel and people don’t understand what the results are going to be, but surely when you’ve seen people maimed, decimated, crippled, wounded, grieving, everything destroyed, children lying dead and crippled… surely we would never ever let that happen again. It would be just too horrendous, too vile, to ever, ever let that happen again. And yet as a species, thousands of years later, almost everybody is at war in one way or another. New York communities, nations, belief systems and religions are still locked in this idea that one person’s opinions can be forced on another by violence. And that’s a really sad, pathetic state of affairs. So the first question was, can we possibly change? And if we can, how?
Burroughs said to me right at the beginning in ’71, almost as a sort of a test: “What I want you to think about, Gen: is it possible to short circuit control?” But somehow in my mind that got switched to: “is it possible to short circuit our behavior?” And then we look back and we thought, where does it come from? In the earliest prehistoric, or should I say preastoric because it’s neutral- in the earliest preastoric times human beings were just struggling to survive like any other animals. And so the male of the species was, in the DNA, this aggressive gene, an aspect that was about survival and it makes sense when everything – the environment, the weather, the predators – everything is about getting into survival, that, yes, we need to have an aggressive program in our behavior.
And it’s because of that that we’re still here, that we’ve managed to take control or have an effect on the physical environment whereas in the beginning we had not mastered the environment. Now, to some extent, we’ve mastered our environment and we’ve created some credible post technological, digital, futuristic environment worldwide. But we haven’t bothered to apply the same kind of research and resources to changing the way we think and behave. We’re out of whack. We still have this primitive, violent program genetically rooted inside us and yet we’ve changed the environment so that we can go into space, we can look at atoms and particles, do all these amazing things. But we’ve not valid as a species, as a whole, to even really apply the same resources to developing ourselves.
And one of the things about Tibet that fascinated us was that something like 70% of the population meditated for thousands of years in order to look at perception of consciousness. And that seemed to have got far enough along in their mapping of other dimensions outside and inside time to be able to drop the human body, the container of their mind, their consciousness and still retain a sense of individuated self in an immaterial space so much so that they can reincarnate in another body and remember who they were to some degree. The Dalai Lamas, as you probably know, had to go through this test when they found there were lots of items that belonged to the previous Dalai Lamas and mixed it with the ones that didn’t belong to that Dalai Lamas and the child has to pick out only the ones that were his before. Otherwise they’re not the Dalai Lama. And that, plus having met certain Tibetan masters, has convinced us that it is possible to transcend mortality and return.
So if they can do that, by sheer force of will and hundreds of years of focused meditation, what would we be able to do as a species if we devoted all those resources that go into war and weapons and useless things? If that was applied just to developing the consciousness of everybody. And why do we think that they attacked the psychedelic Sixties so strongly? Because it was- the moment when millions of people worldwide were suddenly trying to invade and explore other realms of consciousness, no matter how much it was like a bull in a china shop compared to a Tibetan monk, they were still breaking through ideas of reality and ideas of invitation.
So what you say then is TOPI is about cutting up behavior and cutting consciousness or am I just going too far with that idea?
GPO: No no no, it is. Because when we were doing COUM transmissions actions, we started doing them on our own, the solo one, and found that we would go into trans states and would do things occasionally like drink poison and cut myself and it would heal without a scar and start speaking in tongues and have an out-of-body experiences. We also ended up in hospital a couple of times in intensive care because we didn’t know how to repeat it in a safe way. It was very random. Sometimes the combination of sound, physical discipline and stress would trigger an amazing alteration of consciousness but sometimes it wouldn’t. We didn’t know how to make it happen when we needed to. And that’s when we stopped doing COUM because we thought this is getting really interesting but also very dangerous. We need to go back and think about this. Who might know more about these things that have been happening? Shamanic cultures. We started to look into Native American shaman and Siberian shaman and go and travel to the jungles, illegally, of Burma. We started to try and get more information about those states.
At the very least we thought more of the problems in the west especially is that inevitably a certain small ratio of human beings are born everywhere who are innately shamanic, innately magical or mystical. And in some cultures like Tibet, like certain, to me, much more sophisticated cultures, like Native Americans or the Hopi or whoever- If somebody demonstrates the potential to gift of shamanism they’re immediately taken to the wise people, and they’re told how to be safe, how to control these gifts and how to even expand these gifts and also how to share them in a positive way. And sometimes people are born who are conduits for this amazing shamanic energy but they don’t even realize people, we would say people like Brian Jones or Jimi Hendrix, people in popular culture who are so tuned to universe but completely clueless about how to protect themselves from this incredible energy and that’s what burns them out and destroys them. And it must happen everywhere even to people who just live in ordinary suburban families everywhere at random. So there are people all over the world who are intuitively and naturally gifted with the potential to be shamanic, healing, mystical people and there’s no one to help them and there’s not somewhere to go and be trained and have it explained and have a safe place to discover and explore these gifts.
And so that was another aspect of the TOPI. Let’s make a place. Let’s find these people. Let’s just say, do you feel a bit like this, like we do? Are you confused? Are you isolated? Does the status quo seem stupid, bigoted, hypocritical and not giving you the pictures that you’re seeing in terms of reality? Here is a place that will give you some encouragement and share what we know and you can share with us. And maybe that way we can all move forward a little bit. And then with ritual we, wanted it to be just a cut-up. Because if behavior is, if you like, genetic on a certain deep level, how would you break up something that’s ingrained, something that’s been inside our DNA thousands and thousands of years? And that’s where Burroughs and Gysin gave us the clue, which is DNA is a recording and behavior is locked into DNA, as well as society.
So, if it’s a recording, how could you cut up that recording and how could you cut up behavior? By cutting it up, by making random associations, by breaking the linearity, the logic, the continuum, and by breaking it up, reassembling it in apparently random ways, that breaks down all the expectations that we usually fall foul of and gives you the chance and space to maybe see, as Burroughs used to say about cut-ups: “Let’s see what it really says.”
And so, we saw magical ritual as a cut-up of behavior. That’s why we didn’t want a “museum of magic” of doing the banishing rituals and naming the names and all this Egyptian stuff. What’s actually happening here that’s- the names and all the languages and all the frippery and all this baroque nonsense. What are we actually seeing here that in a sigil, the orgasm, opens up the deeper mind and the other minds so at one moment they are all open and interconnected and you can post a message in it. You can call it magical, you can call it neurolinguistic programming, whatever you want to call it. But it works, and that’s all that matters. Or it seems to work a lot more than it should.
So that’s where we started to apply the cut-up and breaking expectation, breaking the linearity over and over and over to create new spaces, new collisions, new perceptions that you couldn’t get to any other way because we’re so trained by language, culture, society, family, education, economy. We’re so trained and so sucked in to this material solid established form of living and life and being and the hardest thing of all is to break it, truly break it.
Let me ask you, because I know you know more about Tibetan society than I do. I honestly don’t know that much but I’ve been led to believe that there was still a pretty significant element of control in Tibetan society on the part of the Lamas over the rest of society.
So how do you protect against that? Because you’ve been having somebody who’s dedicating, you know, huge parts of their lives towards meditation and theoretically being compassionate but then they still have these patterns of control? 
You still have that, it’s very much like the Roman Catholic Church on one level. This whole hierarchy and this whole bureaucracy and it becomes this really ponderous massive edifice with thousands of years of scrolls and interpretations and documents and subgroups and cults and teachers and so on. Of course. And that’s why with TOPY we wanted to just strip away all their names and all the idea of of ownership of ideas and ways of breaking down behavior. Our basic philosophy is look for what’s useful and use it but don’t get sucked into the game.
We were in Kathmandu we just heard that Scotland Yard had raided our house and we couldn’t go back. We’d lost everything over night. We went into town and we used our American Express card and got all the money we could get on it which was $5,000 and then we went to see Samye Ling and through the interpreter he said, “Guess what, you’re an exile and now we’re exiles.” We laughed. And he had been talking a few days before this saying that his monastery which is right on the border of Tibet just inside Nepal and the Himalayas, that they were having real ecological problems because they had no electricity, so they were cutting down the trees in order to have heat, in order to cook. Especially in the winter which you can imagine are incredibly cold.
But there was a project that was being run by somebody, I don’t remember which groups or some aid organization, where they were supplying these small electric turbines which was basically just a big metal tube with a turbine in it, and because mountains are so high and all this watering, you basically just put this into a really fast flowing stream, guide the stream into it and it spins the turbine and makes enough electricity for a whole monastery to cook and heat and it’s not destroying anything, it’s just using the speed of water. And the cost of one of those is $5,000. And so having known that we’d lost everything we owned, we said, “Here’s $5,000 so that you can have your monastery without destroying anything else.”
Now some people would say that that was irrational and stupid to do because we also had two children. But what happened without anybody knowing that we had done that was we went back to the hotel we were staying at which was owned by Tibetans and without knowing anything they just said, “You can stay here as long as you want for free because we know you’ve done things for Tibetan people. We’ve been doing the same thing for the refugees all through the winter at our expense.” And then we went to the hotel room and we sat down and we looked across the room and we noticed this brown envelope, this suitcase, and we thought, oh yeah, when we left home about eight months ago we just put the mail in that envelope, threw in a suitcase, thinking we’ll read it later.
So for no conscious reason we just started to look through the envelope and amongst the bills and things was this postcard from Michael Horowitz and it said, “We were with Wynona,” – Wynona Ryder, is it was her father – he also looked after Timothy Leary’s archives. “We were at the Psychic TV concert and it was the most psychedelic thing we’ve seen since the Acid Test in ’66.” Then it said, “If you ever need a refuge, call this number.” So we walked back into the center of Kathmandu to the one international phone, because at that time there were hardly any international phones, and we rang the number and said “Guess what, we need a refuge.” And Michael said “Come over, you can stay as long as you want.” So we then rang Wax Trax up, our record label at the time, and said “We need tickets one way to America.” And they bought them for us instead of giving us royalties. And then we got to San Francisco. We moved in to Wynona Ryder’s old bedroom.
Then a few days later in a phone call Michael said “Someone wants to talk to you.” And we picked up the phone and it was Timothy Leary and he said “Genesis, I’ve been through this. I was an exile and on the run too. They were trying to get to my archives. Just come to LA, stay with me. We’ll do something.” So we went to LA. He gave us his old car which was actually parked at Michael’s and we started doing lectures with Timothy Leary about oppression, exile and control and that’s how we started to make money and find an apartment. But that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t just thrown everything away.
So how do you know those moments or if that’s the right action to take? By the years of doing sigils and looking as deep as you can into your true motivations, what you really need. So many of us will say something but it is not really what we need to say, we do it in shorthand. There’s an example that we did with a Apache shaman and he told us he went around with certain people and said, “Tell me what you want, if you could have anything you want.” And one person said, “I want to go to America.” And he said, “Impossible. It will never happen.” “Why not?” And he said, “Well, where is America?” And he said, “Well, I meant I wanted to go to Las Vegas because I’ve always wanted to go in a casino and gamble.” And he said, “That you can do. But you can’t go to ‘America.’ You can’t stand on all of it at the same time.” And we do that so much with language and say just the tip of what we’re thinking instead of what we really want to say and that’s true in the way we behave, and in the way we even dialogue with our inner mind and with ourselves.
And so sigilizing and trying to strip away to the truth of what you want is one of the best disciplines of getting clearer and clearer to any given moment in terms of your response to things that happen. And so you’re always making choices that lead you towards your current final dream or next point that you want to reach.
And that’s why the more you can learn to have this ongoing critical self-dialog. “What do I really want?”” What I’m really saying here and learning through this exercise is cutting up logic and learning all different things coming at the same time and then selecting, sifting through and becoming more and more honest with yourSELF (self in capital letters) and becoming more and more in tune with that really specific you with no camouflage, no issues, no concerns with how you’re viewed by other people and how society views you et cetera, just exactly what it is that you really think and see and want to achieve. It sounds easy and it’s not. It’s not at all. And that’s why these different ways of approaching just stripping back that real desire that’s so important and so useful.
But by keeping and using cut-up in different forms you maintain an edge because the hardest thing is to stop yourself getting back into habits. You start to take it for granted. You’re doing quite well and you’re seeing quite well so that’s okay. You can’t ever by the time you got that you keep pushing and pushing yourself all the time, double checking.
One of the things that really started me on this path was being in the Exploding Galaxy in 1969 and it was a very rigorous psychological commune. There were no walls. You couldn’t sleep in the same place two nights running. You couldn’t wear the same things two days running. You shouldn’t have your hair the same two days running. You shouldn’t eat the same two days running. Anybody could stop you at any moment in the day and just say, “Stop, how come that’s the same as it was yesterday? Why haven’t you learned to do something different? Why do you use a knife and fork?” And so on. And so you’d be pushed constantly to rethink, am I doing this because it’s the right way, the clearest way, the quickest way, the most effective way, or am I being a bit lazy or am I just doing it because this is the way I’ve always done it? And that was a really deep grounding that we kept ever since. And we added the tool of the cut-ups to it. But the basic motivation, the central way of being, is the determined rejection of habit.
See Phil Farber’s interview with Gen from 1996 for more information.
 By this I was referring to value of scrip or alternative currencies that are based on human input during financial crisis, not suggesting that people should be paid less.
 See Friendly Feudalism by Michael Parenti.