Human kind has performed body-based rituals for over 5000 years in various forms throughout many cultures. They have all had one thing very specific in common: they all center on the focus of a sensation to reach an altered state of being or consciousness, often referred to as an ecstatic state. Many texts refer to this as a form of mediation based around body sensation.

Ecstatic body meditation has taken many forms in many different cultures. Ranging from the binding of body parts, negation of feeling in areas, sewing adornments into the skin and dancing to feel them moving on and in the body and hanging from hooks, to name a few. The one that is the focus at Southwest Leather Conference is the ritual of piercing the skin and pulling on the pierced flesh.

Within the realm of pulling on pierced flesh rituals, there are two main ones that have a strong history that has led to the modern context of this activity. The first is a Savite Hindu ritual called Thaipusam. Thaipusam is an annual event to the deity Murugan, the Hindu God of piercing and homosexuality (yes, they have one!). Legend is that Murugan was born from Shiva masturbating into the Ganges River and orgasming six times, creating six babies. The babies floated down the Ganges until they were hugged into one being with six identities. Murugan is the General of Shiva’s army and as such is depicted holding a spear, called a vel, which is used to pierce ignorance and allow enlightenment to enter. The chant of “Vel! Vel! Vel!” is often heard as participants are pierced during the Thaipusam ritual. Participants would be pierced multiple times with hooks and ropes attached to the hooks, with which they would pull incredible amounts of weight and give their flesh, blood, sweat and energy to reach an ecstatic state of being.

The second ritual involving piercing the flesh and pulling is the Native American Sundance. Here, participants were pierced in the chest or back and pull on the piercings for prolonged periods, sometimes for days, until the piercings ripped through the flesh. The point was not to pull hard, but to pull long and go into this ecstatic state until release was achieved with the ripping of the flesh.

Both of the rituals still exist in a modern context, and there are variations to both depending on where it is being done, and who is involved. The main aspect remains that it is about dedicating yourself to feel something uncomfortable to reach a different state of being.

In 1946, a sixteen-year-old boy pierced himself in his parent’s basement in a photography darkroom for privacy, and emulated what he had read about in a 1936 issue of National Geographic. That boy grew up and adopted the name Fakir Musafar, after the 15th Century Sufi by the same name, who taught that the body can feel for a reason, so go out and do something that you feel. Later, Fakir created a version of the rituals involving piercing the flesh and pulling on it that was based around Thaipusam and the Sun Dance. He called this ritual ‘Spirit + Flesh’. This is the form of the ritual that we carry on at Southwest Leather Conference.

The most important concept with body-based rituals is to have some sort of intent. What that intent is, is as individual as the people who do this. An intent can be anything, from creating energy for healing, honoring and remembering people and spirits from our past, giving some energy back to the Earth Mother to help her heal, or as simple as learning something about yourself and the world around you. A simple analogy is going to the library. If you know what you are looking for, you find it and more, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, you may still find something of interest if you are open to it.

In conclusion, this ritual is about you, and every other person who is part of this and making it happen. Connections are made that will never be severed with distance and time. This is the kind of activity that creates TRIBE. It is your ritual. Enjoy yourself, have fun, and FEEL.

Copyright 2005, Elwood Reid