The Rituals We Have

Right off the bat I’m putting the warning out there.  This post features SI cutting, so if that is triggering for you, don’t read it.  The images will be behind a clickthrough, so they can be easily skipped.

Alright, with that all said, let’s get on with this post.  I wanted to post these two pictures as they have an interesting dichotomy.  While both are recognizable as SI photos, the two are very different.  Keep on reading to see what I mean.

The first image is one a lot of people will instantly recognize.  A hand holding a blood covered razor blade, with drops of blood going down the drain in the background.  While we don’t see the cut, we know there must be one there.  The image is raw and simplistic.  The bare bones of SI laid out in a single frame.  It calls to mind all the other images we associate with ritual cutting.  The shallow cuts across the arm, leg or stomach; The faint scars of cuts from the past.

And then we have the second photo.  In stark contrast the the brightly lit first photo, this one is in the dark, with only a sliver of light shining through.  Smoke hangs in the air with an ephemeral presence, while the woman below lies looking up.  On her arm are the marks from the razor, those tiny cuts repeated over and over again.  Why she cuts is unknown, but it is something deeply personal.  The photo is almost a violation, like the light, exposing her cutting and her secrets to the world.

The photos, in a simple way, define the two sides of ritual cutting.  The raw action of the blade, coupled with the emotional release.

Special thanks to ChaChuck for sending in these photos.

If you’re looking for more information regarding self harm, this website can help.

12 thoughts on “The Rituals We Have

  1. I have a problem with SI cutting being called “ritual cutting”. Yes, it’s a cathartic act, but rituals generally have a spiritual aspect, and SI cutting is more about a reclamation of the body or a release of negative emotions (and not a complete release, but one that has to be repeated). Hmm, I guess there is a ritual aspect to it. Still uncomfortable with the label though.

  2. What I have a problem with is that we post this stuff and talk about its “artistic validity” and other such BS, which does nothing but encourage people to do it. I’ve always believed BME’s willingness to hold up self-harm as completely acceptable to be in extremely poor taste. It’s an issue that affects this community more than most, and I find it a bit disgusting that we’re so cool about it.

  3. It is only harm if done in a way that negatively impacts life. Wishing to end life, for example.

    Lots of people cut for the adrenaline and have it totally in control – they are not addicted, they do not do it every day or when they’ve had a bad day. Please don’t lump anything that one does to onesself into the category of “self harm.” If we did that, DIY piercings would also be “self harm,” as would running too long and pulling a muscle.

  4. In response to Rylee, most cutters don’t cut to end their lives…in fact, a lot of cutters will generally stop cutting once they hit that point where they slip up and cut too deep. At least for a little while. I used to be a cutter, so it just really annoys me when people treat cutting like it’s no big deal. You do get addicted to it–it’s a chemical reaction either way. DIY piercings being self-harm is complete BS because it’s done in a COMPLETELY different manner and for completely different reasons.

    I don’t like the first shot very much. I don’t feel like it has any artistic value…it’s just sort of disgusting. The second shot is pretty wonderful, though the subject material is quite a serious topic. I do love the streaming light and the sort of luminescent smoke. It creates a great ambiance for the image.

  5. Rob, do you think it’d be beneficial for writers of body modification-relatedmaterial to perhaps study a few anthropology papers based around ritual and belief? I mean, that way you’d be exposed to theory, past and present, surrounding ritual, such as ritual paradigms, and be better informed before labelling something as a ritual practise. I spent the majority of my undergraduate study doing formal research around body modification practises, historical and contemporary, because it’s what I was involved in and loved. It makes the study that much more relevant and enjoyable. Just a suggestion!

  6. re: #2 DangerBitch, I think the discomfort around calling self-harm/cutting a “ritual” practise is because it might be seen as legitimising it by labelling it as such.

    Thinking about it, self-harm generally follows a pattern; repeatable behaviours using the same tools, generally done in the same environment each time (bedroom, bathroom, etc.). As I noted before, it’s generally, if not always, cathartic. So I think “ritual” is an apt description.

    It’s the whole “we see this as a legitimate practise worthy of documenting” which makes it uncomfortable. But then, BME has always documented self-harm as a form of modification and never shied away from discussing it. So perhaps the ability to provoke discourse is more valuable than the photos themselves?

  7. All politics aside, these are lovely photos. I wish there were some close-ups though. I am quite fond of my scars from past of “ritual cutting”. Beauty can be found in the erratic Lines created.

  8. @Jon P: I absolutely agree. Toss me an e-mail with any papers you recommend. As for calling it a ritual practice, I do stand by calling it that. While it isn’t ritual in a historical sense, to those who do it, there is a personal ritual involved.

    In no way am I intending to glorify self-harm, and I encourage those who practice it (or are thinking of doing it) to look up the link I provided. The resources there are non-judgmental, and provide information on ways to find help.

    I’d also like to think that my treatment of SI is different than that of previous ModBlog authors, as I want to encourage discussion, not just post a “Hey everyone, here’s a trigger picture!” entry. It’s something that has affected the BME community since day one, so in those rare times that I feature it, I try to treat it with respect and not glorify it in any way.

    I chose to post these photos today because they were submitted at the same time by the same person. They show both sides to SI, the emotional and physical impact, as well as the harsh reality of the blade cutting the skin. With self harm (in the form of cutting), you can’t have one without the other.

  9. To Rob and anyone else who might be interested, the textbook I used in my undergrad ritual and belief paper was called ‘Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions’ by Catherine Bell. From what I remember, it was informative, in-depth, and interesting. I’m not sure if ritual paradigms were discussed in that book, but thinking about the ritual paradigm and relating it to an everyday practise (I chose to examine a piercing done in a piercing studio using the ritual paradigm) was quite eye-opening. Though, I’m not sure WHO it was that wrote the particular paradigm I used. This was in 2002, I think, so my memory is a bit hazy on the exact details. I live in New Zealand so I’m not sure where you’d pick up the papers over in the US and Canada.

    re: #7 – Rob, it’s the opportunity to engage in discussion which makes most of your more “controversial” posts valuable. I wish more people would weigh in with their thoughts!

  10. My arms, legs and chest are covered in scars from bad times in the past. I would hate to be without my scars, see them as an attractive aspect of myself and plan to renew them every few years, though i’m no longer depressed. Your own experience should not dictate the experiences of others.

  11. Former cutter here. BME telling me that SI cutting is a modification ritual is like Weight Watchers telling me that my bulimia is a sound calorie management strategy.

  12. i too am an ex-self-injurer, and I am neither triggered nor offended by these photos. i think they’re beautiful and do a great job of showing two different aspects and perspectives of cutting. it was most certainly a ritual for me, and i felt more at peace and in control after i made my scars- but this is not to say that it’s the same for everyone. we all have our coping mechanisms, and i don’t see people blowing up photos of people smoking, even though that’s arguably much more damaging to your body than shallow cuts. thank you for posting these, rob.

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