Suspensions & Tensions:
Today, Part I
TRIP TO HEAVEN, HELL OR SOMEWHERE INBETWEEN OR BEYOND
In my last column I wrote about the history and origins of flesh suspensions and energy pulls, about some of the customs and rituals of other cultures from which we are just now rediscovering a special kind of magic. I wrote of a boy in South Dakota who was “set on fire” when he first learned of these body rites. Now I continue the path of discovery of that specific boy. Me.
In societies where suspensions by piercings are part of a spiritual tradition, these intense acts are intended to lead one to a transformative experience — an ecstatic state, a dissociation from the body where consciousness is free to explore unseen dimensions of life. It is at the same time a release into one’s own private heaven or hell, then if you are lucky, an escape from that limited state to a special kind of consciousness beyond ego. A universal spacetime shared by all. Suspension by piercings is not a toy. It is not a plaything. As some contemporary suspendees have already learned, when it is attempted as an act of bravado or show of stoicism, it can often lead to a very unpleasant and unrewarding experience. The unseen worlds do not open up. All that’s left when it’s finished are scars and a few rolls of film. For some with an impoverished ego, that may be enough. No problem. But for me it has to be more.
By the time I was ready to try a serious, long-lasting O-Kee-Pa style suspension, I had already learned to dissociate from my body and had experienced leaving it consciously (see “Against the Coal Bin Wall” in Body Play Number 4). By a series of increasingly intense and prolonged body rituals over a twenty year period, the “boy” had prepared himself for a truly significant inner experience.
It began in 1962. I was thirty-two. Fate had allowed me to visit Japan. A very unlikely place for this journey to begin since my roots were on the plains of South Dakota where the mysteries of the O-Kee-Pa suspension had actually taken place a hundred years prior. In the Kanda bookseller’s section of Tokyo, I found a lost book that very few people had seen for nearly a hundred years: George Catlins’s original volume, “O-KEE-PA, A Religious Ceremony of the Mandans”. I opened the red Morocco leather and gold gilded cover. This was a rare original book published in London by Trubner & Co., Paternoster Row in 1867!! I held it in my hands and leafed through its pages. My heart pounded and my whole body began to shake. There it was, Catlin’s color lithos of young Mandan boys suspended by two piercings. How had this treasure gotten to Japan? Perhaps as a gift to some Japanese dignitary by the British, or in a missionary’s trunk? Who knows? My chances of finding this rarity were one-in-a-million, probably more. That day some force greater than myself seems to have directed me to my path up the mountain. My path to the Mandan’s White Light!
The bookseller, not knowing the rarity of this book, sold it to me for thirty dollars. Now I had an ancient guide to my destination and I lived with it constantly for the next year. The descriptions of the ceremony and the crude but vivid Catlin drawings sketched on-the-spot etched themselves into my consciousness. Only one thing mattered: I had to do the O-Kee-Pa!! But there were no living humans I knew who could show me the way. To the best of my knowledge, none of the few remaining Mandan (ninety five percent of them had been wiped out by a smallpox epidemic, a gift from the white man, in the winter of 1832) had ever done this rite in my lifetime. And I had lived among them. I was on my own and my sole guide had to be the same larger force that had mysteriously drawn me to that book on a hot August day in Tokyo, Japan.
By July 1963, I was ready for my first attempt. In the attic room of a small house in Palo Alto, California, I screwed up my courage and began the piercings. I was not prepared to pierce myself in quite the style of the Mandans — cutting deep incisions in my chest and inserting plugs. So I was guided to make deep piercings through my entire breast area, in as much flesh as I could gather up. I used some wire clamps I had made to hold the gathered-up skin in place. The piercings themselves were made by slowly screwing a long 1/16” thick stainless wire through each breast with yet another home made device, a screw piercer (see photo). As the blunt wire tip slowly forced it’s way through my body (it took several hours to make each piercing), I went into a light trance. At this point I was glad I had fasted for two days, made other physical and mental preparations, and had opted for slow piercing.
Somehow suspension from dual piercings in the back does not cause the same physical effect and one can hang for much longer periods.
Over the next thirty minutes I managed to kick one after another of the books from under my feet. At last I was standing on tiptoes with about 80% of my weight on the piercings. My breathing was shallow and forced. The pain was intense to the point where I didn’t think I could continue. I had “gone out of my mind” and all that existed in the universe was the glowing fire in my heart center. At that moment, I tripped my remote camera, stepped off the last book almost unconsciously and swung free. The pain stopped and I started to drift off. I knew I had to come back pronto or I would be gone forever. So I struggled mightily to get my feet back on a solid surface. I had done it, even if for only three or four minutes! I was glowing, radiant and absolutely obsessed to try again.
My next attempt was a year later, in March 1964. I went through even more demanding preparations this time — I knew what to expect. I pierced my chest again with the same kind of wires which had proven, in 1963, to be large enough to support seventy pounds each without damage or tearing. In 1963 I learned a lesson about how tough living skin really is: it proved to be ten time stronger than dead skin (leather) and extremely plastic. This time I took even longer putting my entire weight on the piercings, perhaps an hour or more. I really wasn’t aware of time when I did these suspensions. This time I was prepared for the intense fire that would burn in my chest when I stepped free. And I was determined to hang as long as I felt I could stay conscious and regain control. I really didn’t want to die... yet!
I desperately longed for a Ka-See-Ka (physical and psychic guide of the Mandans), someone to help me and watch over me so I could totally let go and not be responsible for anything including my life. Finally I did swing free for a second time. I did manage to trip my remote camera again (see photo below). And again start to drift into that pleasant warm space I had experienced when I was lashed against the coal bin wall some twelve years before. This time I hung suspended for about ten minutes and don’t really remember how I got down, or who was watching over me to keep me from harm’s way. But some how I did escape and was more determined than ever to try again with a Ka-See-Ka. And then hang for as long as it would take to enter the unseen worlds and it’s potential transformations.
The next year, 1965, I met merchant seaman and tattoo artist Davy Jones who eventually put the large blackwork tattoo I had always wanted on my back and hips. He had lived among tribal people in the Pacific; he had been ritually tattooed in Western Samoa. We developed a close friendship and spiritual connection while making my “magic mark”. I developed a deep trust in his integrity and he expressed an interest in fulfilling the role or protector and Ka-See-Ka in my next O-Kee-pa suspension. But I had to wait another two years because in 1966 I mistakenly married a woman who really didn’t understand my spiritual quest or support my unusual explorations. She preferred not to be around during body rituals.
By April 1967, I was aching to accept Davy Jones’ offer to help in an “all out” chest suspension. Nothing would stand in my way. So I gave my wife my car keys, a credit card, and $300; she drove to Palm Springs for the weekend. Again, I spent several days preparing myself for the ordeal to follow, the total “letting go” I desired. I signed a letter to Davy Jones releasing him from all liability and responsibility in case something happened (like serious injury or death). He liked that. The evening before the suspension, he arrived along with Joe, a sympathetic friend who agreed to make an 8mm movie as documentation. No still photos would be taken. I stayed up all night fasting in tight constrictions and other deprivations. I wanted to start a light trance and dissociation from my body before the piercing.
By 6:00 AM the next morning I was ready. In a calm and deliberate way I pierced my own chest for a third time. The energy from Davy and his friend watching was supportive and comforting as I rather quickly screwed the wire rods through my breasts. There was no real pain this time; my body wanted the penetration. The flesh just seemed to part on its own and let the wires pass through. Beautiful. I felt empowered by this. We made loops in the wires, bound the ends and attached a short rope between them. Then I told Davy I was ready for my suspension. Single file we went out into the bright, crisp morning light in the yard and then into the dark and empty garage building prepared for the ritual. The interior atmosphere was similar to a reconstructed Mandan lodge I had visited in North Dakota years before.
I stood on a tall black box in the center of the large room. Davy connected the rope between my piercings to another one dangling from the beams above. Both Davy and Joe gently pulled slack from the suspension rope. I felt increasing pressure in my chest. I was slightly on tiptoe when they stopped. A wonderful feeling swept through me — waves of tingling. This was different than the last time. I relaxed into the feeling. For a long time I stood very still in the silence and darkness. My mind was letting go. My attention focused on feelings and sensations. As we had prearranged, I was to say “UP” whenever I was ready to continue. I said “UP”. Ropes creaked and slipped sending vibrations into my piercings. I threw my head back, felt myself being inched upward until I was on my toes again.
Fire came into my heart center as I let myself sag down onto the piercings. I struggled for breath. But I soon relaxed into some comfortable shallow breathing, small pants. More stillness and adjusting. I started to drift away. I was a little blob of consciousness now, just observing body sensations no matter how intense. And the observer was somewhere remote from the body. I said “UP” again to see what would happen. Instantly I zoomed back to full awareness of body sensations, pain. More stillness, patience and adjusting until I was again safely detached. On the fourth “UP” I reached my limits. With almost all of my body weight on the piercings, I had to make my last conscious decision: give up or swing free!
I asked the Light, “Do you always appear like this?” “No,” it replied, “I appear in any form you think I can appear”. Again I asked a question, “Is there only one of you”? The Light shimmered again and answered. “Of course not. Everyone has a White Light, but all of us are One. And One of us is powerful enough to create or destroy a world or universe. Let me show you”. I cannot describe what happened then. I was led on a fantastic tour of things made and not made and music that accompanies it all into a Divine Order.
I pleaded with the Light to embrace me. It said no, do not come closer. If I was embraced, I could not go back. The Light told me I had to return to my body and work through it until my task was finished. What task? The next thing I knew, I was back in the darkened garage laying on the floor with Davy Jones and Joe by my side. They said I had hung deathlike for twenty minutes. The experience was truly “transformative”. My life was markedly different from that day forward. I was a battery on “Full Charge” and didn’t have to sleep for the next 72 hours. My mind was ultra clear and all my physical functions seemed to have been enhanced.
Yours for safe and enlightened body rites,