force which may be likened to a third mind.’ Who is the third that walks beside you?”

The presence in Shackleton’s expedition of one more member than could be counted was a phenomenon Burroughs and Gysin had both ultimately detected in their own explorations. Burroughs argued that when the experiments reached their culmination, “we were in the position of creating a third mind.” He used the idea in ‘Who is the walks beside you written 3rd’, an experiment in format published in Darazt magazine in 1965, which includes the line: “with reference to Mr. T. S. Eliot beside you … This is the third lesson….” A passage in Burroughs’ pamphlet APO-33 Bulletin A Metabolic Regulator, also published in 1965, reads: “young cop applied for that station a long time ago from The Third Man who else walks beside you?” Gysin also evoked the unseen presence by producing an artwork in which fragments of photographs of Burroughs and himself are merged to create an individual, as well as in a permutated poem. In the poem, Burroughs is transformed into the third:

Who is the third there walking beside you? Who is the third there William Burroughs. Who is there third the you walking beside Who is there William Burroughs

Who is William Burroughs walking beside you? There Who beside there walking the you

William Burroughs.

The Third Mind, published in 1978, was a compilation of their published literary experiments and theoretical articles, a narrative of their explorations, complete with maps in the form of 70 collages. In his introduction, Gerard- Georges Lemaire describes the intention of “Brion Burroughs and William Gysin”: The Third Mind, he writes, “is not the history of a literary collaboration but rather the complete fusion in a praxis of two subjectivities, two subjectivities that metamorphose into a third; it is from this collusion that a new author emerges, an absent third person, invisible and beyond grasp, decoding the silence.” Burroughs and Gysin explained the concept in an interview published in Rolling Stone:

Gysin: ‘when you put two minds together…’

“Why am I here? I am here because you are here … and let me quote to you young officers this phrase: ‘No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.’ Who is the third that walks beside you?”

Burroughs: ‘… there is always a third mind…’ Gysin: ‘… a third and superior mind…’ Burroughs: ‘… as an unseen collaborator.18

There are few similarities to be drawn between Sir Ernest Shackleton and

William S. Burroughs, or for that matter the nature of their journeys—only that they both used exploration in their literature, they were both driven to the outré by their frustrations with the ordinary world, and indeed both had, as Shackleton put it, “pierced the veneer of outside things.” Both men were engaged in a manner of exploration which pushed them to the limits, and both reached the point of sufficient extremity to have shared a common delusion—if that is what it was—that they had acquired an additional unaccountable companion on their respective journeys, what Shackleton termed the Fourth Presence and Burroughs called the Third Mind. They are

not alone in their apprehension. The extra man has appeared to others, always at a moment of transcendence. The presence has been encountered individually or communally. It has been attributed to many things: an hallucination caused by extreme physical exertion, hypoxia or drugs; a ghostly apparition; Death itself; a power created by people who have achieved “psychic symbiosis”; and a manifestation of the Divine Companion. In one respect, though, all who have experienced it are in agreement: that the intangible companion represents a real and portentous force.


  1. Leonard Tripp, memorandum for Dr. H. R. Mill, 1 March 1922; Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.
  2. Shackleton was not the first polar explorer to find solace in those words. A Bible found on Kind William Island—the site of the 1848 Franklin expedition disaster—had the same words underscored.
  3. Hugh Robert Mill, The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1923).
  4. Margery Fisher and James Fisher, Shackleton (London: Barrie, 1957).
  5. Roland Huntford, Shackleton (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998).
  6. Margery Fisher and James Fisher, Shackleton (London: Barrie, 1957).
  7. Michael North (ed.) TS. Eliot The Waste Land: Authoritative Text, Contents and Criticism (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000).
  8. Jarold Ramsey, ‘The Waste Land and Shackleton on South Georgia’

English Language Notes 8 (1970).

  1. Eric Mottram, William Burroughs: The Algebra of Need (Buffalo: Beau Fleuve 2, 1971).
  2. Cited in: Marina Jiménez, ‘Saving the vine of the soul’, National Post, June 9, 2001.
  3. William S. Burroughs, Junky (New York: Penguin, 1977).
  4. Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw (New York: Avon Books, 1990).
  5. William S. Burroughs, letter to Allen Ginsberg, n/d [1959]. Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  6. Barry Miles, The Beat Hotel (New York: Grove, 2000).
  7. Philippe Mikriammos, ‘The Last European Interview’, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1984. Reprinted in Allen Hibbard (ed.) Conversations with William S. Burroughs (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999)
  8. William S. Burroughs, letter to Brion Gysin, 5 October 1976. Folder 358. Ohio State University Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts.
  9. Edmund White, ‘Man Is Not a Mammal: A Visit with William Burroughs’, Weekly Soho News, 18 February 1981. Reprinted in: Allen Hibbard (ed.) Conversations with William S. Burroughs (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999).
  10. Robert Palmer, ‘Rolling Stone Interviews William Burroughs’, Rolling Stone, 11 May 1972.


The Magical Processes and Methods of William

S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin



Our very first “memories” are hand-me-downs from other people. Various events and moments, amusing anecdotes of when we were babies and very small children. Usually stories from a period in our life that we actually cannot recall for ourselves. These are the cornerstones which we begin to add onto, building more conscious, personally recorded experiential memories. Usually, without much consideration of veracity or motive, we assume those original stories (whose source is usually parental) are true, rather than separately authored and constructed mythologies. Yet, with the best will in the world, they are edited highlights (and lowlights) from another person’s perspective, interpreted by them, and even given significance and meaning by their being chosen to represent the whole of us, before our own separate SELF consciousness sets in. All the information we have at our immediate disposal as self-consciousness develops is from someone else. Everything about us is true. Everything about us is false. Everything about us is both. It is by omission that we are described exactly, creating an unfolding program not of our own choosing. We are edited bloodlines seeking an identity with only partial data and unknown motivation and expectation.

(I should point out here that Brion Gysin claimed very convincingly to recall being in his mother’s womb, the traumatic drama of actually being born and the horror of arriving at the “wrong address” and all subsequent events. I personally believe(d) him. I also suspect it is a part of what made him so incredibly remarkable, important and effective as a cultural engineer and innovator, as a sorcerer of light and language and as a magician.)

These inherited, brief memories are a little jigsaw puzzle, a picture that

contains impressions of what kind of “child” we were in the eyes of our familial others. Without malicious intent necessarily, they still tend to guide us towards an unbalanced, prejudiced perception of who we are. They can easily become at least a basic sketch of our character by our parents, a blueprint made more solid by each retelling, less possible to challenge. Just as we tend to like to please our parents by doing what they praise, so we can also manifest and reinforce their criticisms as well. At their unintended worst, these assumptions and maps become the metaphors/enhancers/deciders/directives for a lifetime’s neurotic self-image, selected recordings of who we are, who we are imagined to be, who we are instructed we are, who we are expected to become, what kind of adult we will unfold into and, of course, evidence of an inherited fiction from which we will be conditioned as to how we too will perceive the world and our place in and on it. Looping around and around, a self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling and prophetic sampling into which we immerse ourselves without any great wisdom to hint we might wait and see, listen and watch, question and perhaps even re-edit in order to maximize our potential to become.

Everything about us is true. Everything about us is false. Everything about us is both. In a pre-recorded universe who made the first recordings?

If our self-image is primarily built upon the faulty, biased, prejudiced and highly edited memory recordings of other people, with their own agenda of who we are intended to become, as defined by this perceptual process of un- natural selection, then ways and tools that allow us to seize the means of perception become vital in our fight to construct a self, a character, an identity that is truly and independently our own. Any maqic that empowers us to do that, both sacred and profane, is a matter of survival, a cause of infinite concern in terms of the evolution of both our species and ourselves. In short, it’s a divine territory that recognizes behavior, perception, and character as malleable matter equal to all other forms of matter, distinguished (so far) only by our apparent awareness that we exist and have choices, mortality and doubt as signifiers of our individuality. If there is any right, any birthright, it might well be the right to create one’s SELF.


In a very real sense, I do not own my early life. The first “memories” I have are actually short anecdotes describing things that happened involving me that I actually have absolutely no recollection of. Interestingly they all revolve around me doing something “naughty” which influenced others negatively (by parental standards) and for which I got “blamed.” The mistakes of others were placed very squarely at my door, a classic “bad influence.” For much of my life these shameful crises were simply accepted on trust. I have even recounted them myself, for years, without doubting their veracity, even as I have come to know how subjective, selective, personally convenient and self-serving various sources of versions of events can be. We consciously and unconsciously edit out all kinds of things to suit ourselves, pragmatically, or manipulatively in order to make things happen. These are the roots of a childhood theatre of behavioral depth magick, a form that sadly suffers from being born of devout ignorance, and a total lack of shamanic guidance. Magick is by one definition, if you will, the science of making things happen according to your desires in order to maximize control over one’s life and immediate environment to create a universe that is perfecting in its kindness towards you.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Brion Gysin in Paris, 1980. Photo Peter Christopherson

The first “memories” I have are actually short anecdotes describing things that happened involving me that I actually have absolutely no recollection of. Interestingly they all revolve around me doing something “naughty.”

This could all be innocuous, and perhaps, for many, it is. For me, it has emerged as a key factor, a continuous exploration and necessity for my emotional survival as a creative being to free myself from imposed ways of being initiated by these uninvited guests in the recording device that is my experiential existence. My recordings are what I build my soul from. The act of independently visualized and consciously chosen creation builds that phenomenon that is what I call and perceive as “me”: If I am not who I was told I was, then who am I? More importantly, can I find ways to change the original recordings and inherited construct and actually remember and become whoever it is that I am, or even better, who I dream I wish to be? Can we build ourselves? Are there methods, examples, tricks and techniques, methods and madness, analysis and delirium that empower my self?

It is very easy to fall victim to peer group pressure. Parental expectation. Emotionally crippling tales that put the blame for negative events upon your personality and behavior. We are pushed, shoved, squashed and bullied into submission and contrition. At some point in each being’s life, I believe, we are presented with a critical choice, a classic, cliche fork in our road of life. As this occurs, I would suggest that the split is between the consensus reality, consensus-perceptual “memory” pre-recordings of a more or less controlled and predictable biological timeline existence and an opportunity to redefine self-perception and remix re-recordings, infinitely and chaotically, entirely unique and original combinations and collisions of self determined and self creating recordings assembled from, with and by, freedom of choice.

Instead of our identity (in all possible and impossible senses of the word) being built by others we can build our own, and own it.

It was in 1967 that this critical concern overwhelmed me. Was there a system, a way to adjust, control, break-up and reassemble behavior, personality, creativity and perception, so that novelty and surprise, the unexpected and improvisation could be applied to my identity, using my self as raw material, as malleable physically and mentally as any other medium? Could I change the way I perceive and change all memory? It seemed to me

that there had to be a way to truly live my life as art and make my art an inseparable extension of my life. I began my search for a creativity-centered system of applied magick.

William S. Burroughs at Duke Street, St. James, London during his first conversation on magick with P-Orridge in 1971. Photograph from the collection of, taken by and © of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge 1971/2003

You might think that seeking out two Beatniks was a funny place to start looking for a functional, modern process of magick. In fact, it turned out to be exactly the right place to look, and just as I had hoped, it did change my life, and it did enable me to build, with intention and clarity, the bohemian, divinely seeking being I willed to become.

If I was constructed on the foundation of, and from, inherited memories taken on trust, on metaphors handed down with their own agenda via language and

image (what one might think of as the cultural DNA of personality) then I needed to confront the omnipotence of word control. It was imperative to my survival as a sentient being to locate the most advanced alchemists, and the most radical in their field, in order to learn what I could of strategies that would force the hand of chance in favor of self-creation rather than submissive reaction.

William had a cut out, cardboard, life-size photo of Mick Jagger standing by his bookcase. “Well… Reality is not really all it’s cracked up to be, you know?”

Porn shops were the only places in those days to buy Burroughs, Henry Miller, and Jean Genet and pretty much everything I was consuming as confirmation, vindication and affirmation as a 15-year-old.