Spirit+Flesh: The Energy Pull:
Fakir’s Spirit+Flesh group energy pull and ritual
in Minneapolis, June 2004.
So What’s an Energy Pull?
I first experienced the “energy pull” when I was only about twelve years old (way back in 1942). Being the weird kid that I was, I had already discovered I could pierce needles and pins through my body with impunity — that I could get into a head space where I was a mere witness to cold steel passing through my flesh. In this state of mind I was removed from physical sensation, what the rest of the world called “pain”. But after I had pierced myself, there was no further sensation. Only a static needle stuck through me. It did not hurt. I couldn’t feel it. It was just there.
So wanting to expand my emotional experience, I soon learned to tie a small string around the needle and pull on it. I could pull gently and gradually increase the tension. I was in control of how fast and how much sensation I was receiving. Soon I learned to tie the string to a hook in the wall and pull back against it. I loved doing this and it became a regular practice for me. Every time I did this, I experienced a sweet rush of energy. At this time in my early life, I didn’t analyze what I was doing or try to rationalize it. I just enjoyed it.
In my teens, I lived in libraries (there was no internet for another forty years) and I devoured books. I was very curious to know more about the practice of piercing and pulling. I didn’t take long before I found out that what I was experiencing in my secret basement hideaway was not unique. Piercing and pulling was, in fact, a very ancient and honored practice in several cultures. I learned that in Savite Hindu Culture, they had been doing this kind of body ritual for at least 3,000 years. For them it was a technique for trancing, going beyond the body, leaving the body and allowing the body to be temporarily possessed by higher spirits and archetypes (like Murugan, Lord of Piercing). It was not a display of strength or macho or stoicism or an entertainment. It was the seeking of “a state of grace”.
Even closer to home for me (because I grew up on Indian lands in South Dakota only a few miles from Indian ritual grounds) was the Native American pierce-and-pull ritual called the “Sun Dance”. I didn’t need to study books to learn more about that practice! I had some first hand access to the stories and tales of Native American elders in my own community. I listened to them in the flicker of kerosene lamps as they talked in hushed tones about the glories of the “old days” when Sun Dance was the way to the Great White Spirit. Of course when I was a boy, the ritual had long been made illegal for Native Americans and they could be put in prison if caught secretly doing a Sun Dance. My heart ached for them to be denied the practice of one of their most sacred rites! I guess so far we Modern Primitives are very lucky that what we do has not been made, in most cases, a prisionable offense!
“It’s not how hard you pull, but how long…”
That phrase was a mantra used by Ogallala Sioux medicine men when they were instructing young men before doing a Sun Dance. What most contemporary hook pullers do not seem to understand about this practice is the complex interaction between body and spirit. When one does an “energy pull”, one is manipulating and rearranging the connections between body and spirit. Sure there are physical and chemical changes like the release of the body’s natural opiates, the endorphins. But there is more to it than that. At first there is the sweet rush, euphoria. Some of you know how that feels. But if the pull is prolonged, in concert with strong shamanic intent, there can also be intense visions, healing, travels to unseen worlds, going to core and touching the void. A few of you may have even gotten there. It is not about “trucking” or “tugs of war”.
Since the revival of the Sun Dance in modern times (starting in the 1970s), many of the Native American elders who direct the energy pull called the Sun Dance have noticed and bitterly commented on the conflict they see in some young dancers between traditional Native and Western European values. Western culture, with its focus on competition and individuality, clashes with traditional values of surrender, patience, group energy and letting go of ego. In some recent Sun Dances, young dancers were seen to compete with each other about how hard they could pull, how fast they could break free, how quickly they could be done with the dance. In the old days, a Sun Dance was frequently arranged so whatever the dancer was tethered to could only bend and resist the pulling. Breaking free of the piercing(s) was made impossible. The length of time one could pull against piercings was the truest measure of worth and devotion — and a great way to reach unseen worlds.
Left: 1830’s George Catlin drawing: prolonged energy pull by Ogalala Sioux against a springy sapling. Right: Fakir does three-hour energy pull during 1982 Wyoming Sun Dance and O-Kee-Pa ceremonies seen in the Dances DVD.
Any meaningful energy pull is not about pain, macho, testosterone or stoicism. It is rather a way of slowly increasing and prolonging the tension until one enters an altered state. In traditional Native American Sun Dances, pulling on piercings was not minutes or even hours, but often days. I personally know several recent Sun Dance pledgers who were pierced and pulled for four days! In Penang Malaysia I saw devotees who pulled on their multiple back hooks from five in the morning till eight at night — 15 hours! In my own experience (see the Dances Sacred & Profane DVD) Jim Ward and I pulled for some three hours before opting to break free. As the Ogalala medicine man said, “It’s not how hard you pull, but how long”. That is what makes the difference between a momentary thrill and a truly memorable and life transforming experience.
Tamil Hindus do day-long energy pulls from multiple hooks. Photos taken by Fakir during the 1995 Thaipusam Festival in Penang, Malaysia.
Opening Fourth Chakras
This brings me to the chapter in my life that began about 1987. Until that time, it was inconceivable to me that anyone else, except Jim Ward, might want to try what I was doing. My first volunteer was my life partner, Cleo. She had lost many friends and lovers in the AIDS epidemic that had begun in the early 1980s. She was filled with grief and heart-centered pain. So at her request, I made a ritual out of piercing her upper chest and back — then attaching balls to tug and pull with every movement. She danced for hours up and down a dusty path on a hillside in Northern California. On each side of the path we had placed stakes with photos of sick fiends, dying friends and those who had passed beyond the veil. She cried. I cried. And we both felt a release of heart-centered pain and grief at the end of the afternoon. I called that ritual a “Ball Dance”. It was then I began to realize the therapeutic effect of tugging and pulling on piercings, especially in the fourth (heart) chakra.
Over the following years, we repeated our piercing rituals and introduced them to many others in the subculture. In 1990, a group of us “ball dancers” got ridiculed and laughed at during the first gathering of Black Leather Wings. Some of the Leather Daddies present dismissed our ritual as a silly and trivial event. A few years later, we met with greater acceptance in Dallas, Texas where Allen Falkner hosted a large “Ball Dance” event that even got mentioned in the newspapers.
During the 1990s, I started experimenting with hooks in the chest (fourth chakra) instead of lighter piercings with attached balls or limes. I found them far more effective in opening the fourth chakra and releasing “stuck” energy. So beginning in 1996, I introduced the “hook pull” to various groups of seekers in the subculture.
Group energy pulls during day-long BLW rituals in Northern California, 2003/2004
Over the next nine years, the practice of pulling on flesh hooks spread from my first groups of only five or six people to the large number of hook pullers you can now see in the photos posted on BME. However, there is a difference between the hook pullers you see in photos on my Spirit + Flesh web site, and I suspect, most of those in the BME photos. In our shamanically-directed hook pulls we are very conscious of chakras — those important energy centers related to the body that open, close, and change energy flow in both our psychic and physical world. Of all the chakras, the fourth one, the heart chakra, is the most screwed up in our culture. It is the gateway from lower consciousness (survival, self, base emotions) to higher consciousness (love, clear mental activity, inclusiveness, selflessness). If it is blocked and full of crap, we live in world of confusion and misery. We live primarily as victims and make bad decisions. Read some writings of Caroline Myss for more on this. Actually, I wish we could compel our U.S. politicians (especially you-know-who) to participate in a shamanic hook pull and then send them to Caroline Myss.
With this insight, and what I feel was a strong nudge from my Patron Saint Lord Murugan (Hindu Lord of piercing and opening up), we have been doing public Sprit + Flesh Workshops & Rituals for about five years now — with repeat rituals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Phoenix and Minneapolis. My partner and I consider these workshops and rituals a humane and needed service more than a vocation. Obviously, we still focus on opening the fourth chakra, and sometimes chakras above number four. But I don’t see much point in doing knee or elbow pulls because there are no chakras there to open, close or manipulate.
Trance states and the opening of heart chakras was the intent and purpose of group energy pulls in this 2004 Minneapolis Spirit+Flesh ritual. See my web site at fakir.org for participant feedback.
Cleo, My Partner in Spirit + Flesh Rituals Says:
“I have been doing this ritual many times now. Every time it has been a different journey. The whole exploration for me is about altered states, a heightened state, energy, fire (yes it can be really hot), and visions. Most especially if I am pulling alone against a stationary object with my eyes closed. Any awareness of others or spectators quickly disappears. It is a personal dance of ecstatic fire, bright or soft. I went several times to a place that is not a place. Beautiful!”
“My last hook pull ritual was like wringing my heart from its grief. During the second stage it was a very sexy, a big energy exchange with my puller/lover. The third phase was fun and releasing as I pulled in a big circle with other dancers. You connect intimately with friends, lovers and even strangers pulling on your cords, tuning in to each other, experiencing group energy in a ceremonial tribal ring. At the end I was laughing and very high in this pool of energy and fantastic live drumming.
In the second part of SPIRIT+FLESH: THE ENERGY PULL, I would like to take you on a guided tour of some of the more memorable experiences we’ve have had, even in our next ritual which is only one week away in San Francisco. I’ll include some more photos and also feedback comments from energy pull participants. And if hook pulls must be entertainment, at least they can be “art” as my friends Vaughn and Joey Wyman of Body Manipulations did a few years ago. We’ll get into that and more in my next column.
Yours for safe and enlightened journeys,