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Suspensions: External Entertainment for an Internal Objective?

A Little Background History:

National Geographic was my first look at body adornment in non-Western cultures. I was eight or nine years old and the photos of people with coffee coasters in their ears and lips, rings through their noses, beautiful scarification and ornate tattoos and rings of brass coiled around necks of women—all these fascinated me. These images burned their places into my memory. As my body and mind grew into that of a defiant teenager and I began to see around me more and more people with non-ear piercings, it was obvious to me that I would end up with one. Just one.

Right. I was 18 when I decided to get a ring inserted in the skin between my collarbones. I had had years to think of what kind of piercing I wanted. Something unique—navel? No. Too feminine. Eyebrow? No. Too common. Tongue? No. Too popular, not visible enough. Septum? A novel idea, but once again I had seen too many and it was a little too visible. Madison? Perfect.

So I went to Provocative Piercing, got the lecture about migration, didn't care and got it done. In a year it had pushed its way out. I let it heal and it left a very nice scar and a month later, I was back at the shop with a needle getting shoved behind the scar tissue. I kept it for a year and a half until it migrated out again. Any of you who has had a favorite piercing leave you like that know what a saddening and disappointing experience that is.

Still, I was undeterred and immensely fascinated by the world that opened up to me when I first set eyes on that issue of National Geographic, and even more interested in the world that I saw in the piercing shop. After purchasing and perusing a copy of Modern Primitives, the desire to decorate manifested in me. The soft but unignorable voice from inside became a persistent mantra.

It was mid-1990s and body piercing had made its way into mainstream culture. I had done a bunch of research on bodywork in different cultures and soaked up what I could find on the reasons why these cultures practiced it.

To commemorate my first cross-country road trip (Pennsylvania to California), I had my earlobes done in 10 gauge at Anubis Warpus in San Francisco. It was an auspicious enough journey to do this, and from there I embarked on another journey, one where the destination was a mapping of my life and my experiences on my physicality.

Now it's 2002 and I have 8 piercings and three tattoos, each to mark a certain important time or event in my life. This may seem small and insignificant to some of you dear readers, but I have my criteria and you have yours. I've spent the last three years in a slow but equally rewarding apprenticeship at Provocative Piercing. Since then I have done 2 suspensions and participated in a number of others. My last hanging was in 1999 and though I love dearly the feeling of floating from my skin, I will not do another one until the time and conditions are right. Here's why.

My first time on the hooks was amazing. I knew most of the history and culture surrounding traumatic stress discipline (for lack of a better label) so I knew to prepare myself for what was going to happen. For the couple weeks prior to the event, I meditated, practiced breathing exercises and fasted.

We were to do a suspension at a warehouse Goth club and I had participated in a couple before, holding the pulley ropes and rotating the person hanging. I knew what was going to happen. What I didn't know was what to expect with the hooks in my back.

The piercings were done at the piercing shop (six in the upper back, just below the shoulders) about three hours prior to going up and I will attest that of the entire procedure, the insertion of the hooks was the most uncomfortable part. But everything went smoothly and in a couple hours I was being clipped into the carabiners of my harness. Annie Lennox's "Love Song for a Vampire" was playing on the loudspeakers. I focused on the deep and haunting sweetness of the song and began deep breathing exercises as the skin was lifted from my back. The tension in the ropes slowly increased so that I could rock back and forth as my skin stretched and separated from the muscle beneath it. The stretching sensation turned into a sharp burning.

And amazingly, in the time it takes to blink, I was weightless.

The sharp burning disappeared to be replaced by a minor tugging feeling as endorphins flooded my system. My feet were a few inches off the ground when I gave the thumbs-up signal and I was hoisted to twenty feet above the dance floor. Waves of cheering erupted from the people under me and sent ripples through my body and Annie Lennox gave way to "Dead Man's Party"—the DJ was extremely kind to sequence these and the songs after them—they all fit into the context of the hanging as if I had picked them myself. I was moved to dance, first reluctantly, then more vigorously as I became surer that my skin wouldn't tear.

I hope it doesn't sound to presumptuous, but I fucking worked that crowd with every bit of juice I had. And in turn, they worked me. There was a definite energy exchange; I would move a certain way, and waves of sonic energy would bounce back at me. The people, the music and the lights of the club put me into a pseudo-trance. By the end of the half-hour that I was up there, I was kicking my feet out, swinging in wide pendulum arcs, spinning, wiggling, trying to see exactly how much pressure I could put on my hook-laden skin. Such an intense, novel feeling, sooooooo much fun.

Once back on the ground, I gave gratitude to the Gods for affording me such an intense experience and basked in the endorphin high that made me feel like I was still floating. In the days after, I recollected the entire experience and thought about the trances and out-of-body experiences that Indian mystics go into during similar rituals. This is what I had originally been most curious about when I decided to go up. Though there were no monumental transcendental feelings in my case, I could definitely see the potential for the mind/body to use the physical shock as a springboard into itself.

A year after that, on Halloween night, I was preparing for my second experience with the hooks. A lot had happened that year. My mind was definitely not as focused as it was for my first suspension but I was intent on getting another hanging under my belt. I had forgone my mental and physical preparations I made the years before, figuring that I already knew my procedures and my own body and I had no need to brush up on them. We were going up at the same club, but instead of a single suspension, we would go up as a triad. The main apparatus was a thirty foot long piece of equipment with enough room and stability to hang three people from it. It would be attached to a motorized winch that could rotate. We each would be on individual swiveling harnesses so that we could rotate on our own as well.

Gus and I were pierced at the shop. The third person, the woman I was apprenticing under, would meet us at the warehouse, where I would put the hooks in her. Once again, everything went very smoothly. Gus was hooked up on one side of the apparatus and I was on the other, both from our backs. Erin was in the center in the prone, or "superman" position. And we went up.

We had put counterweights on my side of the main apparatus and once we were in the air, everything was balanced about as perfect as it could get. But there were a couple of differences for me, for this suspension.

The first thing that I noticed was that the pain in my back was more intense than the other time. That was alright—I could deal. I figured that as the moments passed, my endorphins would take care of it. But they didn't. The pain was still there. It didn't go away. The ecstasy of endorphin bliss never materialized. And because I had not really prepared myself mentally, I didn't focus on my breathing and forgot to focus into the pain itself so as to dissolve it. I ended up fighting it. I moved with aggression and anger, at odds with the pain the whole time. Not fun. In retrospect, I realize that my false confidence in myself made itself plain and apparent. And as fragile as false confidence is, it shattered. But we had to entertain, so I wiggled and kicked and bounced and spun.

And for those of you who have gone up on those hooks, you may agree with me that the spinning is the most fun part. The centrifugal force that you can create for yourself up there is awesome. I comforted my self with this and became engrossed in closing my eyes, gyrating my boots in small circles and sending the kinetic energy up my body and into the swivel: How fast could I get myself going? I was a whirling dervish thirty feet in the air, loving it.

The winch slowly spun our seesawing apparatus, raising and lowering us periodically. I was trying my damnedest to kick up as many revolutions per minute as I could, concentrating on the tiny circles of my boots. The effect that was created was a kind of sensory deprivation. My eyes closed and I watched from behind my eyelids as the colored lights flashed and swept past me. The music, all but forgotten, faded into the background as I felt time and space disappear around me. All of a sudden I was catapulted into one of the corners of the ceiling and I felt momentum tugging at me to keep going.

It was with great reluctance that I fought with my self to flip my eyelids back open and come back to where my body was. Our main purpose there was to entertain; how could I do that from somewhere in the goddamn stratosphere? As I opened my eyes, I felt me get sucked back to the hooks. They became anchors. We stayed up for a couple songs more, dancing, contorting and contracting and then we were lowered down.

Once again earthbound, I sat cross-legged and tried to use the ebbing endorphins to launch back into space. Alas, I could not.

Still, It was an invaluable experience. For myself, I learned that such a serious undertaking must not be taken lightly, no matter how many times it's been done. Working with rituals that involve bloodletting and trauma to the physical body should be seen with lucid and reverent eyes. The spirits were generous to me with this lesson. They were even more benevolent in allowing me a glimpse of the true potential of flesh-hook suspension. As much as I would like to feel those hooks again, a club setting is not the appropriate environment for me with such an ancient and sacred ritual. My next suspension will be from a certain banyan tree, a monstrous and ancient saprophyte in one of the rainforests here in Hawai'i, with no distractions and no one there but the people who need to be there, the trees, the rocks, the dirt and the water.

The ascetics and devotees who practice Kavandi, O-Kee-Pa, and other such ceremonies do not look for audiences. These experiences are done primarily for the individual's spirituality or for the sake of his or her relatives or dear friends. In my mind, to reduce such sacred acts to mere sideshow novelty and curiosity is to cheapen the power of the acts themselves. We have enough neat nonsense to watch on our televisions without delving into what was once highly ritualized and sacred.

Now, I'm not condemning the TSD or any other suspension crew or anyone at all for providing a couple of solid hours of entertainment. As you have read, I dig the cheers and the roar of applause as much as the next stiff. Nor am I trying to pull some elitist spirituality trip on you readers. I just want a free membership to BME and I figured I'd try and write something that might worth reading. Thanks for taking time out of your day to check this out. Do your best, whatever you're doing. It's all you can do.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 05 April 2002
in Ritual

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Artist: Gus
Studio: Paragon
Location: Honolulu%2C+HI

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