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My First Flesh Hook Pull

I have been interested in ritual bodily mortification since I first saw George Catlin's paintings of the Mandan Indians engaging in their O kee pa Ceremony. I was eight years old at the time. I am now thirty-seven. In the interim, I have explored various avenues of body modification and ritual. But up to now, I have never taken the plunge and been suspended by my own flesh. Last year was the year I decided to take that plunge. Frankly, my impetuous was fueled by wanting to experience flesh hook suspension before my body became to old to do so. I realize the title of this piece is "My First Flesh Hook Pull," and not suspension. That is because it was strongly suggested to me by others more experienced that I do a pull before attempting a suspension. It seemed sage advice to me. And so, last year I was finally able to take this first step.

There is a group in Philadelphia by the name of Try This @ Home. They do flesh hook pulls, suspensions, and other body rituals of that ilk. I knew one of the members and made an effort to contact him. He was wholly enthusiastic and helped to make my desire come true by gathering the rest of the group and procuring all the things needed. The date was set for October 16th.

I invited everyone to meet at my studio. I was very nervous, despite being on my own "home turf." Neither the comfortable surroundings nor my familiarity with piercing needles fully prepared me for this evening. I felt like an awkward child, just getting in the way when all I wanted was to be helpful. The group made themselves at home and got straight to work. They set up a table as a preparation center, laying out a clean field with needles, hooks, Technicare, Surgilube and gloves. Everyone of the core group treated my clumsy discomfort with patience and encouragement.

I was to pull with three others that night. We each in turn were to be fitted with two hooks in the back. It was soon my turn. I removed my top and sat in the chair. My back flesh was repeatedly grabbed and pulled to find the right spot to place the hooks. I was asked, "Which feels better? Here, or here?" as different spots were tugged. My first thought was none of them, they all pinch like heck, but I picked the least uncomfortable of my options. The marks were made, and then came the Technicare—-oooh, very cold! It was now needle time. I warned everyone that I might make a lot of noise, and curse a bit. I was told that cursing was OK and freely encouraged. "Are you ready?" I'm asked. "Go for it."

Eight gauge needles hurt a lot.

It took two breaths to get the first needle through—-it had caught at the bevel and needed a second push to go all the way through. The same for the second needle. But the hooks were finally in. And I hadn't made a sound, surprisingly.

We took a short break to get used to the hooks and to take a round of pictures. We were then paired off with a pulling partner and our hooks fastened together with nylon line. Initially, I really didn't want to pull. My hooks were fine, right where they were—no need to move them, thank you. My partner was a bit more aggressive and readily pulled for me. Thank god, he was pulling gingerly at first. It was like stepping into an ice-cold pool, submerging a little bit of your body at a time, until it was used to the temperature, then subjecting more to the cold, slowly. But here, I was subjecting myself slowly to pain, then it wasn't pain, just pulling. The strain on my skin increased in tiny increments as both my partner and I added more effort to the pulling. It then started to feel as if my skin was tearing. No, that's just the inner layers of your skin beginning to separate, I was told. Oh, OK. What a creepy feeling—but it was kind of neat, too.

All four of us were then hooked together—-the four directions of the compass. Just to make it interesting, lead weights were added to the center ring, so that we were pulling against each other and pulling up the weight. My partner and I decided to continue with the weight theme. We were separated from the other pair and the lead weights were replaced with a metal bucket slowly filled with all the weights we could find. My partner and I managed to hold up 16 lbs. of weight while continuing to pull away from each other. Felt more of those layers separating in my stretched skin.

The evening had long since become night, and was wearing on. I had lost track of the time, but my body hadn't. My legs were starting to fatigue badly. It was time to get unhooked. As the pull was taken off the hooks in my back, renewed pain rushed into the slack. I had forgotten about the pain and wasn't expecting it to actually hurt MORE when the pressure was released. It soon subsided, thank goodness. I figured we were pretty much done at this point: get the hooks out, band-aids, and go home. But I was mistaken. There was one more step...squeezing the air out of the wounds. Huh? I've never heard of this. It seems that those separating skin layers were allowing air to enter and become trapped under the skin. If you don't squeeze all of this air out, the tissue will be VERY sore the next day (and for more days to come after that, I'm sure.) One of the group began to massage and squeeze the flesh around my hook wounds. My wounds made a gurgling crackling noise as the air, mixed with blood, bubbled and sputtered out. Otherwise, my wounds bled hardly at all.

I was very sore the next day anyway—-age, I suppose—-but this experience was well worth those next few days of discomfort. I am now eager to take the next step...suspension.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 06 March 2003
in Ritual

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