by Phil Hine (paintings by Toshi)
From the Archives, Ashé Journal #2.3, 2003.
William S. Burroughs’ 1969 novel The Wild Boys introduces several themes into the author’s magical universe: the struggle to escape the mechanisms of social control; the search for transcendence of the biological trap of duality, and the narrator’s ability to rewrite (and thereby destroy) his own past. The Wild Boys, subtitled “A book of the dead” has been described by some critics as a homosexual version of ‘Peter Pan’. Set in an apocalyptic near-future, The Wild Boys contrasts the struggle between the remnants of civilization which exist in totalitarian enclaves and the wild boys – a revolutionary tribe of youths who exist in a utopian, instinctual state. The wild boys exist outside of the conventions of civilization, free from the control mechanisms of religion, nation, family and ‘normal’ sexuality. A magical universe, where rigorous training in guerrilla tactics leads towards specialized biological mutations; where the total gratification of desire creates a magical technology of liberation.
The wild boys themselves live as a tribe – without leaders or hierarchy but with a shared group consciousness. Rather than being individual characters, they are a manifestation of all that is repressed in civilized society, in particular, the forces we know as Eros and Thanatos. In the novel, the wild boys periodically explode into orgies of wild, unstoppable violence or lust. Through the use of drugs and sex, the wild boys discover a magical technology of restoring the dead to life, and so free themselves from biological dependence on women, birth, and death. Lacking an individual sense of self, they can cross to and from the land of the dead and exist in a liminal state between the worlds. They are, within Burroughs’ magical universe, a male-only version of the maenads, representing the chaotic power of instinctual desire when manifested in a living form. Also, they can be likened to the ancient Greek Pan, manifesting as the call to the wild, which reaches out to the susceptible. In The Wild Boys, the image of a smiling wild boy becomes a hugely popular media icon which spreads the wild-boy virus across civilization, causing more and more youths to join the wild boys.
The wild boys are a utopian (perhaps dystopian) fantasy, but that is the whole point. As an articulation of Burroughs’ need to escape the confines of modern culture, he has created a beachhead into an alternative dream. The wild boys present not only a homoerotic fantasy of immediate sexual gratification, but also the potentiality to be a space where new forms of ‘otherness’ might develop.
The theme of the wild boys has many echoes within modern culture. A possible source for their development may have been anthropological evidence of “wandering bands of male youths, surviving by petty theft. Scouted by the law, these bands would usually stay isolated, camping in forests and hiding from people.” According to Walter L. Williams, author of The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (Beacon Press, 1986), these all-male societies emerged in the Caribbean, on the fringes of Spanish-controlled territory. Another interesting source is described by Peter Lamborn Wilson, writing in the anthology Choirs of the God: Revisioning Masculinity (Mandala, 1991). Wilson describes a Nineteenth-Century Fijian youth-cult known as the Luve-ni-wai, or Children of the Water – the name referring to a faery-like folk who peopled the forests and waters, who wore their hair long in the traditional style and were said to be enchantingly handsome. “Boys claimed to have met these friendly sprites in the forest and to have learnt songs and dances from them.” In order to join the movement, “a boy had to acquire his own personal guardian from among these forest creatures.” What is even more interesting from the point of view of the wild boys is that as this movement grew, it became allied with a more politicized and anti-colonian pagan movement, the Tuka. The movement was eventually suppressed by the colonial authorities.
The wild boys also embody trends in modern culture that many find uncomfortable; in particular, the idea of youths escaping from social control and literally ‘running riot’, and anonymous sexuality. Anyone who has participated in the anonymous sex which takes place in the interstitial zones of cities – parks, alleyways, truck-stops, docklands, restrooms, etc., will recognize the group consciousness of the wild boys, where words are unnecessary and communication is based on eye contact, touch, smell; where desire is communal rather than private. Instincts and impulses are uncluttered by personalities. For Burroughs, the wild boys fucking in the ruins of civilization, represent a return to a primal state of being, what is referred to in Tantra as Sahaja – spontaneity – the ‘natural’ state of a human being who has achieved liberation from artificial limitations.
In his later works such as Port of Saints, Cities of the Red Night, and The Place of Dead Roads the wild boys continue their subversion by rewriting identity and history. In these works, Burroughs also returns to developing and articulating a magical technology based on sexuality in order to deconstruct social control mechanisms which prevent the evolution of the human artifact. In Port of Saints, the wild boys’ mutation into specialized types – articulating particular magical powers or potencies is furthered:
“Two karate boys. One fuck the other standing up. When he come let out KIAI shatter picture window and breaks a stack of bricks. … The Shaman Boys do acts to make the enemy sneeze and laugh and hiccup. Two of them fuck standing up, begin to laugh and laugh, laughing out the spurts and the laugh jumps right inside you. … The Seismic Boys fuck slow and heavy seventy tons to the square inch you can feel it build up under the earth’s crust houses falling people running the boys scream and rumble and shake their hips as crevices open up in the ground. … Two snake boys with receding foreheads and blue black eyes wearing fish-skin jock straps. … The Siren Boys are white like a pearl shimmering softly with rippling lights.”
Here, Burroughs is echoing the shamanic theme of gaining magical powers through identification with animals, and the wild boys are transformed from being an idealised ‘tribe’ of human youths to zoomorphic spirits. In Port of Saints, Burroughs also points out that in order to make contact with the wild boys, one must be able to achieve the appropriate state of mind:
“Anyone who joins them must leave women behind. There is no vow. It is a state of mind you must have in order to make contact with the wild boys.”
This furthers the idea that the wild boys are something more than a tribe of humans, and from a magical perspective, the wild boys can be likened to the tantric Ganas – the wild hosts of chaotic, churning, demonic spirits who dwell in the cremation ground and who form the host of Shiva. The Ganas have been aptly described as “the hooligans of heaven.” I have recently begun a series of magical experiments with the Ganas, in terms of them being hidden selves which, rather than being articulations of conscious desire (i.e. will) represent the unacknowledged, primal desire-forms latent in the psyche.
The general approach to acts of magical evocation (lit. ‘to call forth’) is that the practitioner predetermines the ‘nature’ of the entity to be evoked, and to varying degrees, it’s appearance. The entity thus becomes a manifestation of a conscious desire, hence my description of such actions as ‘desire-forms’. These desire-forms are then treated as distinct entities in order to effect some willed action, be it a specific result (i.e. meeting a suitable sexual partner) or assistance in the development of magical abilities (i.e. the development of prescience). In contrast to this, I propose that the wild boy theme offers the opportunity to take a different approach to evocation. Here, the wild boys can be viewed as a collection of spirits, and contact with them may (temporarily) manifest as the appearance or development of particular powers or siddhis (rather than creating individual ‘zimbu’ entities).
The preliminary phase of such a working would be to establish an astral/dream link with the liminal space inhabited by the wild boys. This could for example be based on one of the Burroughsian sequences from The Wild Boys or Port of Saints. Alternatively, one could use an appropriate wild-boy image in order to form an astral link. In entering the ‘land’ of the wild boys, the magician is echoing Burroughs’ own attempts to write himself there – as does an anonymous (but presumably Burroughs) narrator in The Wild Boys and Audrey Carsons (an ur-character who represents a ‘self’ of Burroughs) in Port of Saints.
Rather than moving into this dreamscape with a pre-determined idea of what the particular wild boy one wishes to ‘meet’ should be like, the approach here is to let the detail fill itself in, as it were. Indeed, the wide-eyed amazement of Audrey Carsons as he enters the camp of the wild boys as described in Port of Saints is a good model for the magician who wishes to form a relationship with the wild boys. Remember, there is no ‘hierarchy’ here. Whilst the wild boys of which Burroughs writes are concerned with the evolution of weapons and fighting technologies (reflecting his own interest in weapons), one might find that one’s own associated wild boys have quite different concerns and purposes, and not what one might consciously expect them to be interested in.
In astral/dream excursions into wild boy territory, one should keep a record of all visions & other sensations which arise, and in particular, wild boy inspirations which break into one’s waking life. I have found that, on successive visits into such spaces, different clusters of ‘spirits’ will hold the attention, if only fleetingly. I personally would resist the temptation to immediately ‘bind’ such desire-forms with sigils, names, and the like. With this kind of working, a different approach to dealing with spirits can be taken.
The wild boys exist in a world unmediated by the inner dialogue. This is particularly useful when we consider the development of prescience in it’s various forms, as this is very much the territory of instincts, intuitions, gut-feelings and dreams. Tuning into the telepathic gestalt of wild-boy consciousness may well facilitate the development of prescience. Also, Burroughs makes various references in his works to the effect that the wild boys use a picture-language (another recurring Burroughs interest).
Burrough’s description of the wild boys’ uninhibited sexuality is also interesting. Their sexuality is devoid of sentimentality & meaning; unhindered by either emotional values or a sense of transcendence.
Zimbu Xolotl Time is the wild boy festival where the different tribes gather to meet, exchange fighting techniques and indulge in communal orgies whereby zimbus are created. The festival has no fixed date or place – the boys converge there instinctively:
“not know for sure until two weeks before time all boy stop fuck jack off he get there hot like fire” Port of Saints
It would be too easy to make the ‘conscious decision’ to arrive in wild boy country at Zimbu Xolotl time on the first occasion. Rather, I feel, one should be ‘drawn’ there, until one has built up some degree of a gestalt with the wild boys, and instinctively ‘knows’ that the time is drawing near, and abstains from ejaculating accordingly (sexual stimulation without orgasm can actually enhance the ability to enter this type of liminal space). This is a deepening awareness of an impending magical time which exists apart from dates, clocks, calendars.
A variant on the wild boy scenario can be found in Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy. The Wraeththu – androgynous beings mutated from human stock, share some of the themes developed in The Wild Boys. They emerge from human society in breakdown and collapse, and form tribes which war against humans for possession of the landscape. They have magical powers which are directly related to their sexuality. Like the wild boys, the Wraeththu attract (and sometimes ‘steal’) human youths to them. The central character in the trilogy is Calanthe, a former homoerotically-inclined male who fled an intolerant human society and joined the Wraeththu. In the first novel of the trilogy, he subverts a beautiful human youth and takes him to a Wraeththu settlement, where he undergoes the ritual transmutation to become Wraeththu, and subsequently becomes Calanthe’s lover. However, the Wraeththu are hermaphroditic, and as their culture develops, attain the ability to reproduce amongst themselves biologically. They are also fully self-conscious, though less plagued by self-doubt than humans. Constantine’s Wraeththu are more civilized and less primal than Burrough’s wild boys.
Like The Wild Boys, Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy has criticized on the grounds of displaying an apparent misogyny – women cannot become Wraeththu, and Wraeththu semen is poisonous to humans. The final volume of the trilogy reveals that whilst there is a parallel mutation – the Kamarg – into which women can be incepted, by doing so, they forfeit the ability to give birth in return for advanced psychic abilities. Moreover, whilst the Wraeththu possess an ‘unearthly beauty’ which partakes of both male and female characteristics, the Kamargian simply appear as women.
by William S. Burroughs…
The Soft Machine (1961)
The Wild Boys (1969)
Port of Saints (1973)
Cities of the Red Night (1981)
The Place of Dead Roads (1983)
About William S. Burroughs…
With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, V. Bockris, (Vermillion 1982)
Literary Outlaw, Ted Morgan (Pimlico 1988)
El Hombre Invisible, Barry Miles (Virgin 1992)
The Wraeththu trilogy…
The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirits
The Bewitchments of Love and Hate
The Fulfillments of Fate and Desire
The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, Walter L. Williams (Beacon Press, 1986)
Choirs of the God: Revisioning Masculinity, edited by John Matthews, (Mandala, 1991)
“The Wraeththu Series and other grumbles,” Alison Rowan, in Bifrost magazine, issue 28
Phil Hine is a spiritual theorist noted for his ground-breaking work in the field of Chaos (Kaos) Magic. He is the author of several books including Condensed Chas and Prime Chaos from New Falcon and the now out of print Pseudonomicon from Dagon Productions. He is also the author of several e-books and numerous articles, many of which are available at his site: http://www.philhine.org.uk/