Friday, August 9, 2002

Using Flesh to Reach Spirit

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #188, August 9, 2002)

Cléo Dubois, the subject of this column several issues ago, is coming back to the Twin Cities, and this time she’s bringing her husband with her—Fakir Musafar, noted shaman and founder of the “modern primitive” movement. Together they will present a workshop/class/ritual, “Spirit + Flesh: Exploring Ecstatic Body Rites,” at Patrick’s Cabaret (3010 Minnehaha Ave., Mpls.) on Monday, August 12 at 7 P.M. Spirit + Flesh is also the title of Musafar’s new book, which he will be autographing at the seminar.

What the heck is an “ecstatic body rite,” you ask? Are you pierced or tattooed? Have you experienced BDSM play? Those qualify as ecstatic body rites. Musafar is one of the people responsible for the current popularity of piercing and other body modification techniques, and it is his belief that the body is a wonderful tool for getting in touch with spirit. His belief and experience is that intense physical sensation can be the gateway to transcendence, altered states of consciousness, visions, healing and transformation.

Cultures throughout history and around the world have agreed with this philosophy. Because they resonate powerfully with basic human needs and urges, the kinds of extreme physical practices that much of western culture has outlawed as “primitive” or “barbaric” existed among prehistoric peoples and continue to exist in other cultures today.

For example, most if not all of the native tribes of the North American plains practiced rituals incorporating piercing and other forms of self-torture as rites of initiation and vision quest; the most famous of these is probably the Sun Dance and its variants. As part of the “Okeepa” ceremony of the Mandan tribe, young men went through fasting and self-torture to demonstrate commitment and sacrifice to the gods and the tribe, as well as to gain spiritual power, insight and vision.

The torture involved having slits cut in the skin of the back, chest and legs. Wooden skewers were then inserted in the slits and rawhide thongs were tied to the skewers. Buffalo-skull weights were attached to the leg thongs, and then the thongs attached to the back and chest were thrown over the rafters of the ceremonial lodge and the men were hoisted and kept hanging until they lost consciousness. The next day this hoisting was repeated outdoors.

The Sun Dance modified this slightly in that the thongs were attached to a center sun-pole. The men were thus symbolically imprisoned. In order to free themselves they danced around the pole until, many hours later, the skewers tore through their skin. The torture represented death, and the emanicipation represented resurrection, renewal and rebirth.

For the young men these experiences were demonstrations of fortitude and bravery, but they also induced powerful visions that were later told to the tribe’s equivalent of priests. (Any similarities to Jesus hanging for hours, nailed to a cross, crying out to God, dying, being pierced in the side with a spear, and subsequently resurrecting are just coincidence—aren’t they?) The U.S. outlawed the Sun Dance in 1904.

Nobody in Malaysia has outlawed the Hinda festival of Thaipusam, though, which is currently celebrated by about a million people every year. It’s a procession up 276 temple steps, and many of the faithful turn themselves into walking floats by carrying frameworks weighing up to 50 pounds and decorated with flowers, colored paper, tinsel, fruits and peacock feathers. The frames are attached to the celebrants with hooks through the skin of the chest, face and back. Others simply pierce their cheeks and tongues with long skewers before making the journey. Because the revelers are in a trance there is reportedly no pain, little blood and no scarring.

Of course the use of such extreme physical practices to reach spiritual enlightenment is regarded by much of western culture as “primitive” or “barbaric,” but it all depends on your point of view. Consider that our modern, civilized culture makes no extreme demands on our young men’s bodies; we only expect them to sacrifice their foreskins to gods named “Health” and “Cleanliness,” and the sacrifice is performed, usually without anesthesia, while they are still infants because they are then too young to feel anything, right?

But, as my colleague Ms. Dafydd says, I digress. For fifty years Fakir Musafar has been on a journey of discovering these ancient body rites and adapting and introducing them to Western culture. Along the way he has fascinated some people and shocked others. A visit to his website ( shows some of the extreme lengths to which he has taken his spirit quest. In one photo a corset reduces his waist to nineteen inches; in another he has twin swords piercing his chest; in a third he is hanging in midair, suspended by two hooks through the chest piercings (see “Okeepa,” above).

Musafar and Dubois’ workshop should be an interesting and intense evening, assuming one isn’t too squeamish. Tickets are limited and available in advance at Deluxe Piercing in Minneapolis for $25 (discount for members of a leather/BDSM club) or $30 at the door if any are left.

The Atons Celebrate 30th Anniversary

The Atons of Minneapolis celebrated their 30th anniversary with their sold-out “XXXtreme Run” July 19-21 in New Ulm, Minnesota. 110 people attended and nineteen leather clubs were represented.

Unfortunately, one of the unplanned “XXXtremes” of the weekend turned out to be the heat and humidity. (The mosquitos could have been predicted.) Never has your humble columnist seen bottled water and ice disappear so quickly as we all tried to keep ourselves cool and properly hydrated.

Friday night’s opening ceremonies recalled thirty years of club memories and were dignified, touching and poignant. Later that evening, the “G.I. Joe” cocktail party was such a hit that it may be repeated sometime soon (stay tuned).

On Saturday afternoon the club was honored to host the “spring” meeting (spring was a little late this year) of the Mid-America Conference of Clubs (MACC), an organization which coordinates the activities of leather clubs throughout the central part of the United States.

Entertainment at Saturday night’s banquet was provided by none other than Miss Richfield 1981. Looking fetching in a black leather skirt and thigh-high black patent leather boots with spike heels (which she borrowed for the occasion from The Cockpit Project), she was an unqualified hit with the leather crowd. Earlier in the afternoon your humble columnist had the honor of escorting her on an eye-opening and enlightening tour of the weekend’s dungeon facilities. You can read her thoughts on her weekend with the leather boys and see snapshots of her with her newfound fans at her website (<>). A video of the dungeon tour, as well as other photos of the run, should be coming soon to the Atons’ website at <>.

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