:: veritas vincent part II ::
Can one re-discover a connection with God by ritually piercing the skin and hanging? I ask this question because on the evening of August 5, 2001, I suspended for the first time. Western culture generally regards suspensions as a deviant practice, one that uses religious mimicry to achieve a false sense of validation. However, based on my experience, I believe suspensions to be valuable, educational, and spiritual. To help explain this, I will discuss reasons for suspending, appropriate timing, history, and ritualistic suspensions.
Ritualistic suspension, to me, involves a period of self preparation (see note 1), a ritualized piercing ceremony, and finally, the act of hanging oneself from hooks pierced through one's flesh (see note 2). Despite Western culture's belief that suspensions follow the popular fad of body piercing, suspensions have, in fact, much older foundations in history (see note 3). My own history with suspensions began in the winter of 1999, when I witnessed my first suspension. I remembering watching with rapt fascination as a tiny 95 lb girl hung from two hooks in her upper back. I could not imagine any reason why someone would want to endure such horrific pain; forty-five minutes later, however, I had experienced an epiphany. Something within me finally clicked into place. I had always felt myself lacking and unhappy; deeply flawed within my very core. I had attempted to alleviate my unhappiness progressively through the use of drugs, alcohol, dieting, and several horribly unsuccessful relationships. Through this process of elimination, however, I came to realize that what I felt missing could not be found through outside sources. After witnessing my first suspension, I emphatically felt I had stumbled onto the key to my happiness. Watching her emotional release, her catharsis, and the resulting strength with which she walked, struck me to the core . Some deep, hidden part of my soul called out for such a release, such a rebirth. What I had been searching for, and had found unattainable through church attendance, I found locked within a primitive ceremony. I remained afraid and insecure, however, unable to commit to the act of my own suspension. I felt I lacked the necessary mental fortitude, trust, and faith in order to succeed. Two years passed and during that time I witnessed several more private suspension ceremonies; each served to strengthen my belief that I was on the right path to attaining a higher level of personal fulfillment. I also came to realize during that time that my compelling urge to suspend had a deeper meaning that I originally believed; I began to see my future suspension as a stepping stone in my personal evolutionary path, a means for me to renew my faith in God, and in myself. In an attempt to share my newfound personal insight with my mother, I explained some of the spiritual importance suspensions hold for me. The act of suspension horrifies her, and she now believes that she has caused some mental or emotional defect that makes me want to "torture" myself. She persists in the argument that I am damaged --mentally-- for wanting to suspend. The prevalent Western belief, that people perform suspensions because they enjoy pain or are mentally ill, is false. Pain certainly factors in the act of suspension, however, the process of overcoming that pain dominates the act instead. The ability to transcend one's perceived weakness, or the fear of pain, has enormous power. Western societies, as stated in "Piercing", believe "[p]ain and danger are to be avoided at all costs and human life is to be preserved above all else. This has given rise to new ways to escape the pressures of social life . . . . and amongst those, the wish to test oneself against soc iety's fears of pain and bloodletting." (2) This wish for "testing", accurately described as a rite of passage, calls attention to the individual, and ". . . in Western societies, practically any radical alteration in consciousness is considered a sign of 'craziness' and 'so usually induce great fear in people when they begin to experience them'" (Tart as qtd in Peters 9). The need for culturally-sanctioned, accepted rites of passage is inherent to all strata of society; however, a truly dire need seems to prevail among the youth in Western societies. As Peters states,
In the Western contemporary world, we separate psychology from religion. Emotional problems have to do with personal trauma in the family or in childhood, and not with the cultural loss of spirituality or our sense of interconnectedness to each other and to the whole. We don't diagnose the absence of personal and/or cultural spiritual sensibility or deep meaningful myth and rite. Through ritual, we access the spirit and move closer to what our souls aspire (Some 1993.) Yet when culture does not fulfill a human "need for myth, ritual, and a spiritual life," a person is deprived, [and] suffers. (12)
Because I have experienced this very same suffering and deprivation, I know that the ability to trust myself, combined with the ability to overcome fear and pain, directly affects how I perceive myself, and the world in which I exist. As a result of my suspension, I draw an increased sense of self-awareness and personal strength from suspending. I feel more emotionally and fundamentally complete as a person, as well as more spiritually connected with God. Despite the censure and misunderstanding of my peers, my family, and Western society, my experience has taught me to value the spirituality of suspension.
1 Ritualistic suspensions require many preparatory steps. The obvious physical and material aspects include choosing hook gauge, choosing the suspension rigging appropriate to the style of suspension, and selecting a site appropriate for the event. In addition, the choice of music, lighting, and scent (incense) represent important aspects that influence the atmosphere of the ceremony. However, the physical aspects also pertain to the individual preparing to suspend. Common preparatory rituals include fasting, removal of all body hair including the scalp, and ritualized bathing.
2 Ritualistic suspensions are the act of hanging oneself from hooks pierced through one's flesh, consists of several different styles, originating from several countries and cultures all over the world. One specific style, the O-Kee-Pa remains in practice today in closed religious ceremonies, among the Dakota and Lakota Sioux, Mandan, Plains Cree, and in some cases, the Blackfoot and Crow Indian tribes of the United States. Several styles of suspension include the o-kee-pa, suicide, superman, lotus, inverted knee, a variation practiced in India: the Kavadi, and crucifixion.
3 One of the most historically and religiously profound images depicts Christ, crucified on the cross. Regardless of one's religious belief, one cannot deny that Christ hung suspended, from spikes driven through his flesh. Christ offered of himself, he sacrificed of himself, and endured horrific pain in order to achieve a specific goal. The bearing of the alagu kavadi during Thaipusam also requires sacrifice: "the structure is made of four or more arched metal frames and many small skewers are pricked in the flesh of the kavadi carrier." (Tanaka Hinduism) The festival, celebrated in early February each year, occurs in Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, and South Africa. Kavadi remains a very spiritual and sacred ceremony to Hindi; "[t]o sum up, kavadi exhibits both this-worldly and transcendental dimensions. Motivations for kavadi are directed towards this-worldly or self-maximizing gains, but the underlying ideas and symbolism are more profound and concerned with the self-nega tion and other-worldly salvation." (Tanaka Sacrifice) The Sun Dance (Lyon 207), or o-kee-pa, among Native American Indians requires dancers to abstain from eating or drinking for four days, and during the sacred ceremony, suspend themselves from a central Sun Dance pole. Performing the ritual fulfills a debt, one between dancer and supernatural forces. During such ceremonies, "'the presence of the supernaturals is very close and their imminence keenly felt.'" (Mandelbaum as qtd in Lyon 207)
Lyon, William S. "Sun Dance." Encyclopedia of Native American Shamanism: Sacred Ceremonies of North America. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998.
Peters, Larry G. "Rites Of Passage and the Borderline Syndrome: Perspectives in Transpersonal Anthropology." ReVision 17.1 (Summer 1994): 35-49.
"Piercing as a Self Imposed Rite of Passage." Unpublished paper. No date. April 15, 2002. <http://www.bmezine.com/pierce/articles/p&mp/
Tanaka, Masakazu. "Hinduism in Singapore: A Case of Ethno-nationalization." February 29, 2000. Kyoto University. May 10, 2002. <http://www.zinbun.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~shakti/
Tanaka, Masakazu. "Sacrifice Lost and Found: Colonial India and Post-colonial Lanka." February 29, 2000. Kyoto University. May 10, 2002. < http://www.zinbun.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~shakti/%20preSacrifice.html>. 1-17.
Mead, Margaret. The Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William and Morrow Company, Inc., Publishers, 1968.
Nyberg, Anja. "Modern Primitives and Body Modification: An Examination of Pain, the Body, and Resistance in a Contemporary EuroAmerican Subculture." Unpublished paper. No date. April 15, 2002.<http://www.bmezine.com/
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 June 2002