Somatic Piercing :

The Art and Ritual of Body Piercing
By Nicholas S. Wolak
Columbus, Ohio
May 2002

Somatic Piercing en Español


This past week has created for me a new awareness about many things. I attended the annual APP (Association of Professional Piercers) convention in Las Vegas, Nevada for my first time. I made plans for it and arrived with a bit of skepticism. I was not sure if I would agree with the APP’s stances on different issues or how they would react to my disagreement. To my surprise, I did agree with the information presented in most of the classes. Although the material contained very few ‘revelations’ for me, I felt that it was well organized and clearly communicated. My second surprise was that I was not ostracized for my difference in opinions. Everyone was willing to sit down and debate his or her positions in a friendly yet passionate manner.

My main awakening though, occurred outside of the classroom. I had never been in the presence of SO many piercers. For years I have been around modified people, but tattooists and collectors are quite a different breed. I was equally amazed at the variety in the piercers’ philosophies. I met people who pierce out of hair salons, who do traveling piercing, who do virtually sterile procedures, who actively participate in suspensions, pulls, blood letting and other body rituals, who own shops but don’t pierce, and the list
goes on and on.

In the past I have learned greatly from speaking to and corresponding with a multitude of piercers from around the world. My next surprise was how thoroughly I enjoyed doing it this time through interviews. Five great people took time from their hectic days to sit down with me and share their experiences in the world of piercing. I was enriched by their diversity. I sometimes forget how different we all are and how different the realities in which we live are. Not only did I enjoy doing the interviews, but transcribing them
equally intrigued me. It gave me a chance to really listen to what each person said, how they said it, and get a better feel for what they were communicating. This is something that I plan to continue doing with as many artists as possible.

The following is the first introduction that I wrote about a year ago. I feel that it is still pertinent and will be a nice intro to the letters chapter. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to experience body piercing on more than a professional level for an extended period of time.

In 1997, while I was doing a guest spot at Stattoos in San Jose, Costa Rica, I designed this card in my first attempt to explain the body, mind, spirit connection through body piercing. This was before I had ever heard of Somatics or realized that there exist people who are not only interested in, but study this concept. The words: “Conocer su cuerpo es conocer su mente Conocer su mente es conocer su cuerpo” are Spanish for “To know your body is to know your mind To know your know mind is to know your body”. The verb “conocer” also can mean “to get to know or to meet”- which could imply “to get to know your body is to get to know your mind to get to know your mind is to get to know your body”. I chose the circular fashion to emphasize not only that it is a continual process, but to also let each person choose where to start reading…

The figure itself is laden with simple, concise symbolism. The lines that illustrate the person’s body represent exactly that—the physical, outward body. The negative space inside those lines represents all of our interior—our blood, muscles, organs, bones…The negative space on the outside of the body represents our aura or the energy that we radiate. And finally our body, inside and out, and our aura are surrounded by everything else—the universe.

The figure is kneeling, a humble, meditative gesture, with a needle in hand. His face is smooth, calm, and at peace. This represents the perfectly clear state that one can experience through piercing. At this moment, time stops and all of the above divisions melt and the piercee is at one with himself and everything around him.

This state is not easily attained but as we see in Perforaciones Corporales, Modern Primitives, and DiePierings, it is a cross-cultural phenomenon that existed long before anyone decided to do research on it! In my own experience, I have found in most cases, that the piercing itself is not the primary factor to produce strong reactions. More importantly, it is the preparation invested prior to the piercing—mental, physical, and spiritual. By creating a ritual, symbolism, and meaning, those involved become artists and are able to express themselves before, during, and after the piercing. This project will examine what I call: “Somatic Piercing” – the art and ritual of body piercing.

Before diving right in to the letters, I would like to take the chance to briefly explain some of the terms from the introduction. The word ‘art’, as described by the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, means “an aesthetically pleasing and meaningful arrangement of elements”. The word ‘ritual’, in the same dictionary, is described as “a system of rites”. In turn, a rite is described as “a ceremonial act or procedure”. The term ‘somatic’ is explained by Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., who says, “the results of learning should not be understood as ‘miraculous,’ but as somatic.” He also explains: “Somatic Education is the use of sensory- motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of ones physiological process. It is ‘somatic’ in the sense that the learning occurs within the individual as an internalized process.”

The importance of these definitions is to show several things. First, art is subjective. Second, a ritual is simply an act or procedure. And third, to describe a piercing as “somatic” implies that those people involved undergo both internal and external modifications.

The following outline is a guide to the presented material.
I. Letters from Ecuador
II. Interviews
III. An opening and a closing ceremony
IV. References, Additional Reading, Websites

I wrote the following letters in the fall of 1997 to my friends and colleagues at Viking Studios in Columbus, Ohio. I wrote them from Ecuador, about half way in to my trip via car from Ohio to Brazil. I was extremely fortunate to be able to be piercing almost exclusively for ritualistic focused occasions. I find it very interesting to relive these exciting rituals through these lively, passionate writings.

The following pages are filled with craziness, magic, mishap, love and faith. Please enjoy and please believe…

My first ritual piercing here in Vilcabamba was designed as part of a San Pedro ritual to be shared with Bryce from Ohio and Moana from New Zealand. The piercing was for the septum of Moana who is of Maori descent, but now living in Ecuador. She has been involved in shamanism over the last many years and carries with her an overwhelming aura of energy. We met by “chance” in an artisans’ open-air market in Saquisili (two hours south of Quito). I was immediately impressed by and attracted to her. On the ride back to Quito she told me stories of the time she spent with a tribe in the Amazon, her life as a converted Mormon, her communal living with the Santo Daime in Brazil, her British Gramma and her Maori grandmother with a moko (chin tattoo). I was in awe and could only hope to spend more time with her. As it turned out, she was leaving for Cuenca that night where a friend of hers owned a hostel called El Cafecito. She invited us along but we had previously made plans to visit Baños.

So we parted ways and headed to Baños. Once there, we were a bit disappointed. After playing with the swarms of local kids at the hot springs, we didn’t quite know what to do. As we stood next to the car, a well-dressed, well-spoken woman approached us amiably and informed us of a good place to stay in Cuenca. Well, Cuenca was a solid six hours away and definitely not one of our options. She smiled nicely and walked away. A couple of minutes later we realized that she had said “El Cafecito”.

Six hours later we arrived in Cuenca looking unsuccessfully for El Cafecito. As we rolled into town we saw a cool looking Indian/hippy guy who enthusiastically waved and smiled at us. A half an hour later, after asking taxi drivers, men, women, and children where El Cafecito was, we again saw the Indian guy. His name was Ram and he had spent all night before talking to Moana about her travels in India. Wow! He got in our car and took us straight to El Cafecito.

Things went amazingly well from there on out. Bryce, Moana, and I traveled together to Vilcabamba, were lent a house for “free”, picked/cleaned/cooked San Pedro cactus, and then hiked into the mountains for our ritual. We arrived at a cabin on the side of the mountain, set up camp, and did our thing. We each sort of had our own trip and had individual, important issues to attend to. Consequently, due to different wavelengths, the piercing was withheld until the following day.

It was on our trek back that we found “just the right spot” to perform the piercing. A small, clear stream crossed the trail, wiggling its way down hill, calling out our names. At some point the piercing had been upgraded to both an eyebrow and the septum. We began with many words – expectations, fears, doubts, beliefs, symbolism, life, energy…Moana then gave me the necklace that she had made for me from seeds, fibers, and other goodies that she had acquired in her travels. The preparation was quite extensive before I even donned the gloves. As I did so, I asked her to concentrate on the bubbling stream, clean air, and calm breeze. We gradually synchronized breathing and exchanged energies. She reacted: “Wow! That didn’t even hurt! Actually, that felt beautiful!”

So with such an open reception, we took one step further and prepared for the septum. She knew that it was only my second one, but she also felt my confidence and enthusiasm. She opted to recline against the gradual slope of the hill. We again initiated our mindset and upon completion, the clouds parted and we were greeted with warm, soft sunlight. We happily thanked our respective sources of energy and continued our journey home.

Another beautiful ceremony involving piercing was the one I shared with Carrie from Australia. Carrie is a very fair skinned, nicely dressed, soft aura woman. We initially met in Vilcabamba at a place called Madre Tierra. As we spoke, we overheard a man speaking some crazy, mystical stuff. She politely excused herself from our own conversation and approached the man. She told him that she was a psychic healer who dealt with energy channels and auras and very upfrontly questioned the man about his words. It was like the clashing of two huge powers. He confidently rebutted that he was an internationally known shaman, recognized and supported by the Ecuadorian government, with legal permission to use the medicinal plant San Pedro. He continued that he was the author of certain books and that if she had any doubts as to his abilities or merits, that he would be happy to respond openly to her. The next day, I wished her well as she walked off with Don Valentin to partake in a sacred San Pedro ritual. I was very curious to know what they would do, see, feel, but decided that it was their thing and simply wished them the best.

A couple of weeks later, ten hours away on the beach in a small town called Montañita, I again saw Carrie. I had no reason at all to be there and she had very little time remaining in Ecuador. She glowed when she saw me and extended her soft, gentle energy to welcome me again into her life. She seemed even whiter, purer than before.

As we talked she appreciatively told me of her experience with Don Valtentin. They had done all the initial preparations and blessings, taken the cactus, made a fire, and were then just sitting down to begin when both Moana and I appeared in our non material forms. Don Valentin warmly accepted and invited Moana into the circle (probably because of her shamanic background) and I simply stood at the outskirts. Carrie told me that it was like I was only there to watch. In other words, that I did not want anything or ask for anything, I was just there. Well, she was comforted by my presence and invited me into the circle. I sat contentedly and peacefully next to her. Oh yeah! I also had thorns pierced all through different parts of my body. She was initially disconcerted, but because I was so gentle and not at all bothered, she also relaxed. At one point I offered to hold her hand. She wanted to but was afraid to be hurt by the thick thorns sticking out of my hands. I then extended my hand slowly towards her and gradually covered the thorns with a layer of calluses. My hand was a hard, strong pad that tenderly and lovingly offered her

Carrie said that the ritual was an unforgettable spiritual journey that had undeniably enlightened her. And as a side note, I had been there as a passive observer. I think that for that reason (that I was part of such a powerful experience) that she wanted to further our bonding of energy. She offered to do a healing ceremony for me and I would in turn pierce her navel. We agreed to meet the next morning after she did her yoga exercises and after I swam and ran on the beach.

The morning was beautiful and I felt great – mind, body, and spirit. Really, I am at a point in my life where I feel wonderful. I have dealt with my past mistakes and defeats and have celebrated my victories. I am now living in the essence of life. I am free, pure, and full of love. Regardless, I wanted to share with Carrie her talents and feel the power of her healing.

We greeted each other comfortably and walked down the beach. She picked a nice spot and spread a pastel colored sheet over the sand. I lied down on my back and closed my eyes, gradually relaxing into the sand. She spoke with a soft, kind voice. Under my tongue she placed a few drops of an essence that was to help me leave my body. She then began by gently laying her hands on my face, covering my eyes. During the next hour I received the gentle, loving touch that I had not felt for many months. She slowly and completely cleaned my whole body and we exchanged energy and blended auras harmoniously. At the end I opened my eyes to see reflected in Carrie the same peace and love in which I was engulfed.

I thanked her and to my surprise, she thanked me just as graciously. I later did a similar healing ceremony and realized the pleasure it is to share the energy of a healthy, radiant person. So with her part complete, we began my half.

We started by verbalizing her goals, hopes, and expectations. She very intentionally chose the navel to focus and concentrate on circulating more freely her energy in that area. By the time we did the piercing, we were both focused and ready. To further support the theory that I have about an open and closed energy field on the surface of our bodies, the needle passed through smoothly because she was so relaxed. But the piercing surprised her with a sensation of pain. As I inserted the jewelry, she was tense and closed that energy field. She was so intense that I could not insert the ring. We paused and I explained to her my theory. She was in agreement and made an effort to relax. I then successfully placed the jewelry in her navel. To finish the ceremony, instead of the regular ball, we snapped in a small hematite heart, thus closing her ring and our circle. The following ceremony was the most incredible, powerful, and spiritual piercing I have ever done. Unfortunately, the final result was demoralizing. But regardless, it is an experience well worth sharing.

When I was in Montañita (the beach town), I met a man named Cyrilo. He approached me because he had seen some of my piercings and had heard about some of the rituals that I was doing. He explained to me that he rarely uses money because he prefers to barter, his lifestyle is very “tribal”, and that a septum piercing for him would represent a huge step in his tribal path. He offered to make me a special dijiridoo in exchange for doing his piercing. He described the history and symbolism behind a dijiridoo and let me try playing his. I spent about an hour painstakingly blowing out odd sounds. My noises weren’t great, but within ten or fifteen minutes I was already circular breathing which evidently is quite difficult. I was intrigued and we made a deal to make the exchange the next day.

I arrived at his cabin around noon. It was impressive. His home was on stilts with a work area and hammocks underneath. There was no electricity, no running water, just woods and brush. We began by looking at jewelry and discussing possibilities. The piece he liked most was a twelve gauge blue niobium ring. Since I had no twelve gauge needles, I explained to him his options. 1> A different ring (fourteen gauge) 2> A later date for the piercing 3> A maguey piercing. The maguey idea scared and excited him. We walked a bit around his house and I showed him a maguey cactus. I guess that he really was feeling tribal. He chose option number three.

We returned to his house and I cut a maguey spine to about a ten gauge size and was ready to go. Just then his landlord arrived and they began discussing his upcoming departure. Well, at some point between cutting the spine and the end of the conversation with his landlord, he had lost that tribal feeling and was left uncertain and scared. He explained to me that he preferred to cut the bamboo for my dijiridoo with me to ensure that it would be a custom job. Since he was heading for Vilcabamba, we decided to hook up there. Well, if that just seemed like a long, descriptive intro for nothing, just wait… In Vilcabamba I waited for several days and had almost decided to make my own dijiridoo when sure enough, Cyrilo arrived. It was a cool reunion. I had spent the night at some friends’ house and as I awoke early in the morning and looked out over the valley, there was Cyrilo. We exchanged greetings and he told me of a very special place that was nearly unknown where he wanted to do our ceremony. It sounded great! We spent several hours walking along the river until we found the perfect piece of bamboo. It had already been knocked down so that we would not need to chop down a live one. We each cut one side and headed home.

Cyrilo needed a couple of days to do the work and we agreed on a date for the ceremony. Since he wanted to do the exchange at sunrise, he suggested that we do the hike the day before, stay the night in the mountains, and wake up fresh at sunrise. It sounded great! The day of the ascent, instead of hiking all the way into the mountains, Cyrilo wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house where there was going to be a fire and a night of music making. It was near his special place and the people were good folk, so we decided on a night of music.

It was my first chance to play my dijiridoo. As you all may or may not know, I am a very musically uninclined person, so when I successfully omitted music from this odd instrument I was elated – and with my success in circular breathing, I was entranced. With drums, dijiridoo, fire, wine and chanting we created an amazing atmosphere. Early in the morning we all slept and at the first note of impending sunrise I was up and ready to go. Cyrilo awoke and very anticlimactically stated that he had a toothache and that anyways he wanted to carve something else onto my dijiridoo. *SIGH* Okay let’s skip about ten days ahead to avoid more bologna and get to this wonderful experience. Our new agreement was to meet at noon at Cyrilo’s cabin and proceed with the ceremony. I was reluctant to get myself excited this time, so I casually made my way up the hill to his home. When I got there he was freshly shaven, smiling, and full of energy. It surprised me in a good way and we headed off. About five kilometers into the mountains we still had not arrived so I was really getting excited because I like the physical challenge before
or associated with something special. When we finally did arrive I was honestly impressed. In a ravine and under the shade of a huge tree was a natural iron water spring dripping from its green living roots down into a small pool. I was captivated. I approached and was instantly taken in by the plethora of life. There was life upon life, level over level, and had I had a microscope I’d have lost my mind!

Cyrilo prepared his area and himself for the ceremony. He lit an incense and withdrew a special crystal from a pouch. He asked me to approach and explained to me that he was going to call five Krishna gods to protect us and join us in the ceremony. He would do a prayer and then together we would chant five “Ohms”. I was a bit reluctant to call gods or spirits I did not know, so initially I just watched. He sat crossed legged with his channels opened through his hands (pointer to thumb, fingers open) and began praying. It was beautiful. I immediately relaxed and also opened my channels. When it came time for the Ohms I successfully managed two of the five. There was a moment of complete silence and when my eyes opened, I was awed by the physical change of our atmosphere. The air was thinner and lighter and the leaves rustled “differently” in the tree. I felt the unmistakable presence of spirits.

We looked at each other and exchanged peaceful smiles. It was then my turn and I again explained the forthcoming procedure. We decided on a spot but then right before, I changed my mind and suggested a different placement. He seemed really happy with the change. Right then, as I picked up the maguey spine, a ray of sunlight beamed down through the tree’s branches. It was such a surprise that his eyes popped open for a second and then knowingly we both went forward. He was cross legged, hands open, eyes peacefully shut, almost illuminated.

I pushed the maguey spine and felt the strong flow of our energy as it emerged from the opposite side. The piercing looked great – possibly my best ever. I proceeded to push through the spine, which was rather slow and difficult. I got it into the butt and then paused. He instantly opened his eyes and looked at me terrified, asking me what was wrong. I told him nothing, that it was simply difficult with the spine and it took extra time and extra effort. He stabbed me with a look of distrust and suspicion. I was seriously hurt. To defend myself and rally his morale, I told him the warrior nature of his piercing, the warrior method of maguey, and the warrior’s necessity to have faith – always. It took several minutes to get him refocused and then we proceeded. He had changed his jewelry earlier to a ten gauge Good Art bone meaning that both the maguey spine and his jewelry were ten gauge which made the piercing a bit more difficult. It took several more tries and several more waves of suspicion and distrust until I finally inserted the jewelry. I was happy! I waited for his response and got none. I then checked the jewelry. It was crooked. I accommodated it the best possible and then gave him the mirror. His eyes pierced me with hate and deceit. He accused me of tricking him. He felt shitty. He basically told me that the trade was complete and not to worry that I would never see him again. I sat there for a minute – bewildered, defensive, hurt, defeated. I then packed my shit and left the place, Cyrilo, and my dijiridoo. I may have felt better (not more complete) had it all ended there but he called me back for the dijiridoo. To skip the words, we both basically said it was our faults. We apologized to each other, and I took the dijiridoo to finalize the trade. I started walking back, weak, demoralized, and guilty of a piercer’s nightmare.

I couldn’t give up. I stopped and spread my arms embracing the world around me. I felt the air, the sun, the mountains. I prayed for strength. I prayed for the ability to lead the life of a mortal and asked for energy and love. In a moment I was running. Running down goat paths, narrow and precarious. Running home. Running for life. I reached the dirt road and barefoot raced onward passing children, horses and donkeys. Only my sweat comforted me.

At home I grabbed my kali sticks and let them cry for me as I pummeled the rubber tire. Sweat, dirt, and blood flowed onto the shower’s floor as I cleaned my aching body. Ten minutes later I walked to town and did my three favorite piercings ever with two town girls at their restaurant. Why my three favorites?  because they loved them.

This next section has interviews from nine different people. The first two and the last were collected via email, the third was hand written, and the middle five were conducted orally at the APP convention in May of 2002. I have attempted to keep the integrity of each interview, only altering certain stalls and repetitions.
Interview with Sommersett, Piercing Experience, Atlanta, Georgia.

Why do you pierce now?
The first and foremost reason for my choice of the profession of piercing is enjoyment. I believe, much like the philosophy of so many others, that part of you is born into this profession and lifestyle. Piercing is not a 9 to 5 job, but requires you to be a constant role model and coherent conveyor of information. Much of my enjoyment stems from dispelling the myth and taboo surrounding piercing and comforting others about their curiosity and urge to adorn themselves. I pierce (used as an action verb) because I am knowledgeable, gentle and careful. I pierce (used as a noun) because this society needs and deserves a person, like myself, willing to stand up for safety and respect of modification.

Why/ how did you start piercing?
I started piercing because as knowledge from personal research about simple things like hand washing, wound care and gloving became easier to understand, I realized that out of 13 studios I went to visit in the metro Atlanta area only 1, which is where I work now, even bothered to do any of these things as a medical text found at any public library would teach. This concerned me!! Steve Joyner was one of the first people who took me seriously about my rants on safety precautions and healing. In the mid-1990’s I felt like people had completely lost faith in the resilience of the human form, and I still feel most people are looking for a “magic sauce” to help them in some way. I packed up my 1986 Cutlass and moved myself out to Dallas, TX where I was never assured any help from Obscurities but felt secure about collaborative efforts made. At Obscurities I absorbed knowledge like a sponge as long as I could financially maintain, moved back to Atlanta to pad my wallet a bit more, and took an extended vacation to share information with Kent Fazekas and stay in a lovely nudist colony named Sun Aura. After the 2 years of diligent information gathering which also included auditing the Gauntlet seminar in LA, California with the help of Allen Falkner, and numerous cartwheels done anywhere and everywhere to get different perspectives, I found a small studio in Charleston, SC working off a Statim cassette autoclave and in need of a female piercer. Eureka!! Now I immensely enjoy my position at Piercing Experience.

How have you evolved from then til now?
Originally I was taught by everyone I observed, with the exception of Kent Fazekas and Brian Skellie, to use clamps. Michael Mulcahy and Mic Rowles taught an entire class of people to use corks, rubber bands and clamps and now I know none of which can be adequately sterilized. I guess it’s like Cher says, “not knowing was hard, knowing was harder” So, in the latter part of 1999 I decided to put down my crutch (the clamps) and do a freehand technique. Of course, my interaction with clients has matured and I am much more comfortable doing piercing on a daily basis.

Do you consider what you do an art?
Yes, however ART is in the eye of the beholder. I know what I do is an art because I choose placement of the jewelry not only by anthropologic documentation, but also my own aesthetic preference. Also, I do anodizing which gives me even more artistic freedom for coloration.

How is it ritualistic for you?
Prior to and after every procedure I do an operating room technique scrub which always feels like a self purging/regeneration process. Also, I massage the tissue to relax the client and move away any nerve endings or blood vessels from the piercing site which gives me a chance to tune in on an energetic level and create peaceful calm energy between the client and myself.

What is your relationship with clients?
My interaction with clients varies from A-Z. There is no possible way I could begin to explain every individual relationship and to lump all of them into one category or genre wouldn’t be fair to the clients. I can, however, state that NONE of my client/ professional relationships become sexual. I feel that sex should be kept separate from a professional piercing establishment and I do my best to maintain a professional and respectable image/ persona all times in the studio and out.
Interview with Brian Skellie, Piercing Experience, Atlanta, Georgia.

Why do you pierce now?
For fun.

Why/how did you start piercing?

How did you receive your training?
My initial experimentation on my own body came about after inspiration through anthropological sources such as old encyclopedias, National Geographic, Smithsonian and reading stacks of dusty old tomes. If nearly every culture in the world had body decoration before even a written alphabet, it could not be such a complicated thing to do for myself.

If traditional means were sufficient for healing and safety in a setting other than our urban environment, then I would need to balance the means to my surroundings so that my immune system would not have to do all of the work itself. I researched the conditions and procedures necessary for successful traditional body adornment of all kinds: cicatrisation, tattoo, ritual burns such as brands or moxibustion, body shaping such as corsetry and binding the feet, arms, legs and head, and the insertion of decorative objects under the skin. I compared all methods I could learn of with scientific and medical research to determine how to emulate these sorts of processes without deleterious effects. Anthropologists’ reports of what they saw as ‘ruined’ body manipulations were often hard to decipher as to indicate infection or trauma. I wanted to carefully avoid any undesirable outcome.

All of this intrigued me at a very early age. The permanent results of the rituals and processes I read about enthralled me, particularly as a personal reminder of experiences. I have collected books and pictures of all sorts of body adornment ever since. I decided to begin altering my own body during adolescence, when I felt my mind and spirit changing at the speed of thought. I put forth a concerted effort to determine what kind of outward mark of my inner growth would feel right to me.

Though the desire for marking my body was apparent to me from early on, I needed much further meditation to find the physical beginning for me. It was not until I was about sixteen and had read and experienced more along the lines of body modification and adornment that I decided I was ready. I chose to put jewelry in my body as milestones of change, a way to remember the wisdom gained from both hard and sweet lessons and experiences.

I put together what I needed to open my skin, and jewelry to put in it. I meticulously cleaned every thing as well as I could in a stovetop pressure cooker, chugging away at the highest temperature and pressure it could muster for nearly an hour. I hoped that archaic method would be enough for new unused supplies. I scrubbed my hands and donned latex gloves. I prepared my skin as if for major surgery, with iodine surgical solution in a great big patch around the site. I then changed gloves and set about figuring out how to hold the skin in alignment while putting a sharp piece of stainless steel through my body. About an hour and fifteen minutes later, after numerous changes in my technique, I realized that I simply was not pushing hard enough to break through the skin. The needle was custom made and very sharp stainless steel, but about 1/8 th inch thick, nearly twice the thickness of the ring I intended to put in. This was the major impediment… I took a deep breath and bruised my fingers on the blunt end of that shiv in the split second of force it took to go through.

I put more thought into the next few pieces that I put into myself and had the next few done by more experienced professionals. I concluded that I should still go about learning more. My closest friends wanted me to put jewelry in for them when they could tell how much it meant to me, and urged me to find a mentor. I met Jack Yount in 1992, a kind and gentle person with over forty years experience, and he steadied my hands and gave them direction. I interacted with as many other experienced individuals as I could to share knowledge and discuss ideas. I observed and was supervised while in Florida, and continued to interact with Jack until he passed away in 1995.

What was involved in your learning process?
I had done enough research in the development of my own techniques, but was not ready to use them on anyone but myself without supervision. I pursued observation of the work of those whom I considered authoritative in the field along with detailed scrutiny of their experiences. I had my hand guided the first few times, and practiced on willing and patient friends under supervision. I continuously work to refine the practical application and broaden my knowledge of the human in change each day.

Learning to work with this change in all of its aspects never stops. The next challenge seems to appear readily and without fail. I tend to eddy off into different ways of seeing the experience to keep it fun and add to the stimulating variety of subtle reactions involved with these shining little things I put in people.

Why and when did you decide to become a body piercer?
I planned to NOT do it for a living, or for trade, just for my friends and myself. When I came back to Atlanta from my first year of college, I made so many appointments within my circle of friends and acquaintances that I rented two rooms with a sink from a retail store, and set about making a studio as Piercing Experience. I met with success and saved my money intending to rent a larger space for exclusively piercing. I spent over a year side tracked, sharing space with a group of tattoo artists, and finally in May of 1995, had found and designed my ideal space. It was a building located one block from where I grew up, and just the right size. I did most of construction myself and had it opened by August. It has been amusing ever since…

What is the most common piercing you perform?
I notice that many of one type of piercing will come to us in a week’s time. This I attribute to word of mouth promotion by our clients. One good piercing for a happy client can bring in dozens more of the same in time. The common jewelry changes too much to predict. Sometimes it seems obvious, like when someone famous shows off their jewelry, we get many requests for that same sort of thing. I see the media as saturated with that sort of inspiration, just waiting to trigger someone’s desires.

What is your favorite piercing to do and why?
A knowledgeable and relaxed client who appears determined to get the best service really brings out the best in me. I try to talk with people ahead of time until I feel that they are comfortable and informed enough to proceed with a clear conscience.

What kind of sterilization methods do you use?
Sterilization is a clear and simple issue: nothing should survive the steam sterilization process in our autoclave. I maintain a STATIM 2000 cassette sterilizer in proper working condition, test it weekly with bacterial spore samples and an off site lab to assure that it does kill harmful pathogens, and use it according to its capability.

I researched all available forms of sterilization and determined that a steam would be the best available choice for the implements and jewelry we use. It does not damage our jewelry or leave any dangerous residues. A few novelty pieces cannot be successfully steam sterilized and stay intact such as acrylic and many plastics, as well as almost all epoxy and glues use. We choose not to sell or use any item we can not assure that will be entirely safe based on current scientific standards. We choose not to sell jewelry made with glues and most plastics. Not only do they tend to break too easily, but may conceal and protect pathogens through any sterilization process other than by penetrating radiation. Other types have common disadvantages: heat takes too long, and only works for gauze and metal tools; radiation is not available for individual use; and chemical liquid or vapor sterilization have dangerous fumes, may not get all surfaces of objects, and leave dangerous residues.

Is piercing your full time, or part time job?
Full time since 1992.

What is your perception on body piercing? (Art, fetish, cultural, etc)
It manifests as a social force, and what I observe depends on the equipment I use. Just as light has wave- like features or particle- like features based on the test and equipment. Today in the microscope it appears as just people who choose to wear jewelry that is harder to lose than a bracelet or necklace, tomorrow with different scopes it may seem mystic, religious, fashionable, fetishistic, an exotic anthropological reflection or a personal symbol. I have dedicated my work to keep it safe, simple and gentle. Make of it what you will…

Any other information that you could give me about being a professional body piercer
would be much appreciated.
I anticipate the eventual decline of anyone practicing non-sterile piercing methods. People are moving towards safer procedures such as wearing sterilized gloves to handle and insert autoclave sterilized needles, instruments and implant grade jewelry and steer away from prevalent clean- looking but contaminated procedures. People are beginning to realize that too much has been previously left to guess about in the business, and that there are safer ways to put jewelry in people, without all the loose ends and nagging issues of conscience. I anticipate that clients will choose safer methods based on researched instead of perpetuating old guesswork opinions and assumptions.

Caveat vendor; caveat emptor: Seller beware; buyer beware I am working on refining systems of quality control to provide for public health while still in the best interest of the piercer. It is a challenge to take safety seriously without incurring some expense, whether it be time, labor or cash. It is worth it…

How have you evolved from then til now?
The essence of what I do now is based on the ethical principles of making everything safe, simple and gentle using scientific evidence to lead the way. Procedures have been systematically and scientifically refined through research, practice and contemplation. In the higher mental and spiritual aspects of my art, I use the symbols of alchemy to visualize what I do: solve et coagula–represented through the Golden Chain of Homer and the symbol for the process of purification that I chose as my sigil. I encircled the arrow and serpentine lines, choosing to show that I aim for that simplest and most graceful goal in all of my life’s work. (You can see this at Where it is going? I could not say. How I will get there will be with compassion by the instruments of my ethics toward purification. I do what I love.

Do you consider what you do an art? Why/why not?
This is an accepted art, and an emerging science. I’m a bit of a zetetic in my work to discern quackery from real evidence. I look toward a day when the public knows how to tell a charlatan from a true professional in our art through science. I treat my work as art, and I believe that any act can be holy, and any act become art in some way or another. I don’t have to can my excrement as Manelli to demonstrate it, since many people appreciate the aesthetic aspects of my work.

How is it ritualistic for you?
I consider it one of the most lovely combinations of rite and rote. On my level it is ascetic, and for the patrons, it is what they make of it.

What is your relationship with clients?
Compassion is the fundamental. The Golden Rule is one example of the reciprocal sense of my interaction with my patrons. I love them unconditionally; they become as an extended family. We trust and rely upon one another.

Describe a “non-professional” piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.
I have been honored to be part of a great number of body art related experiences. For private and public suspension ceremonies I have prepared and pierced, though I have not felt the calling to hang from flesh hooks myself. With friends and lovers I am able to take piercing to another level of harmonious bonding. I have put jewelry in and been pierced during intimate moments and with days and sometimes weeks of preparation, cleansing and meditation. So many times I have worked with individuals that I am close with: on a roof under the stars, on a bright mountaintop at sunrise, completely quiet but for our breath, immersed in an aural wash of sound and more. The interplay I have communicating with a caring person is a good part of why I do piercing for and with others. I feel it is a natural language of physical expression of mental and spiritual forces for me.

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?

I don’t have a pitch for any Buddhist mantra or a throaty Siberian shamanic idyll to croon, but I feel my practice is a meditative and creative act. I try to instill the passion I have for life and to reflect the light a person brings to me when I interact with my patrons. I try only to let my own inner peace and spiritual aspirations overflow and inspire others, rather than pulling them into my cult.

Interview with Danny Yerna, Wakantanka, Mexico City.

Why do you pierce now?
I pierce because I like to pierce. I like the way piercings look and I can make a living with the things that I like.

Why/how did you start piercing?
I started “officially” eight years ago (because I always pierced). I like a lot how a good piercing looks and I saw so many bad jobs that I decided to inform myself and start in the piercing industry.

How have you evolved from then til now?
I have evolved a lot. A lot of things have changed in the industry. There is more information on safe piercing, aftercare products, more jewelry options, sterilization, etc. I always try to be there to have the right information ASAP and the techniques are better now.

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?

I don’t think piercing is an art form. It has more to do with techniques, anatomy, etc. It can become art, depending on the jewelry.

How is it ritualistic for you?
For me it is very ritua listic. I put a lot of energy into a piercing and in some people you can feel that union that there is for always with certain clients. It is also great that people give you their bodies to pierce.

What is your relationship with clients?
I think that I ha ve a great relationship with most of my clients. First because the way I treat them, the way I talk with them, and the smooth way I pierce them. Almost always they tell me that I have a good hand and a lot of them come back later.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?
I think that it is the same. I think that if I pierce a friend there is even more union than before. A friend becomes a better friend. Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of. When I pierced my nose or ears 22 years ago, that was with a needle. I warmed it up, put some ice on the area, and pierced. Then I pulled the needle out and tried putting the earring in which was made of silver. I even used this technique on other people for a while!!

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?
Yes, it is important, but we all know that we cannot make a living from spirituality. But if that part gets lost, then it doesn’t make sense anymore. At least for me…
Interview with Little Frank, It’s Just A Little Prick, Decatur, Illinois.

Why do you pierce now?
Now I pierce primarily to make a living. But even more than that, just to give people something they don’t have already, make them more unique in their own mind – even if it’s just a belly button, it works for them.

Why/how did you start piercing?

I got into the industry primarily whenever I got tattooed at the age of 18 on my birthday. I got to be pretty good friends with the people that were working with me. The guy’s name is Rodney Adams from Sign of the Rainbow. He had a girl come in and she was learning how to pierce. I just kind of tagged along while she was doing all her learning. This was like seven years ago. She got up some cash flow and went out and studied with Fakir for two of his sessions and then came back and taught me what she had learned. I got to be pretty good at it. It just came really natural. It seemed like the direction I needed to be going. I did my first piercing when I was ten on myself and then the older I got, like I said, it just seemed natural.

How have you evolved from then til now?
Of course I’ve got more metal in me now then I did before and a lot more ink, but mentally and spiritually, nothing’s changed. I’m the same person inside but I like to see how shallow other people are as far as judging you right off the bat or if they’re going to take the time to get to know you. I like to challenge people a little bit in that aspect. And that’s pretty much where I’m at right now.

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?
I definitely consider it an art. It’s more of a 3D art – you’ve got projectiles coming out of just about every orifice you can. You can do designs and all kinds of cool shit. There’s no limit to what can be done with the body, depending on the mental capacity of the client or the person that’s having it done. It just amazes me. So yeah, it’s definitely an art.

How is it ritualistic for you?
I wouldn’t say that it’s ritualistic in any way for me. I like to look back at the anthropology of it to see how it was ritualistic for other people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it applies to me. Right now it’s a mainstream thing, but maybe someday I’ll find it more ritualistic.

What is your relationship with clients?

I try to get to know them. I take time with each client. I don’t have a high production shop where I have to bang them out in three or four minutes each so I like to spend at least 20 minutes to a half an hour with each one, get to know them, their personality, before I even start unwrapping anything – just to make them feel comfortable and make myself feel comfortable with them in my studio. And I like the fact that a lot of times they call back just to say “hey”, chit chat, and swing by to hang out. I figure if you can’t make money, make good friends. The best place to do it’s right there at the shop.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?
I get close to them. It’s not a matter of money at that point. A lot of people will want to know information about it and I don’t have any problem sharing anything I know. My friends are my friends regardless of whether I pierce them or not. Most of my friends are unpierced. I enjoy everybody regardless of their background.

Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.
I pretty well keep everything professional. That would go back to trying to make I ritualistic and I just can’t do that. Where my spirituality is at, I can’t bring myself to do that at this point.

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?
No. It’s more outward projected. I like to challenge people to not look at it as being something totally spiritual because growing up in a Christian church, people see me and they’re like: “Whoa! He must be the devil!!” I want to get that out of people’s ideas right away. So that’s my challenge to people as far as spirituality goes. I don’t think that it’s one and the same for me.

Interview with Alicia Cardenas, Twisted Sol, Denver, Colorado.

Why do you pierce now?
I pierce now probably because I really am devoted to the education of the traditional piercings and blood lettings that have happened through history and carrying on that tradition in modern day society and also being a part of the evolution of the blood letting ceremonies as we go through history and really doing it the best way possible to get the most out of it. I think it can be such a beneficial part of a person’s life to help them understand themselves. I think through sacrifice on any level people understand themselves better. In my quest for understanding myself, I was brought to blood letting or piercing ceremonies on a basic scale of getting a basic piercing. I think that a lot of people in their lives have that same need or desire and I want to be a part of that. That is what I love about my job.

Why/how did you start piercing?
I was young and lost, questioning everything. The first people that showed me, besides my family which didn’t at that time show me love, the first people that showed me love and brought me under their wing happened to be a group of kids that worked at a tattoo shop. I was delivering pizza at the time, very young, freshly turning sixteen, and excited about life and excited about expressing myself in weird ways and being different. When I saw these people and the way they interacted and the way they treated each other and the way they found families outside of the families that had rejected them, I became intrigued with it almost to the level of where I idolized that interaction and wanted it in my own life. I made myself be known and just came around a lot. When I lost my job at the pizza place, I got offered a counter position at a tattoo shop. It was a tattoo shop that had just turned into a tattoo and piercing studio from being kind of a bondage and leather type store. And that’s how I got my start. I got working at the counter and I really fell in love with the people and the diversity of people that were in there and I began to question about things. The lady really took me under her wing and offered me an apprenticeship
and that was how I got started.

How have you evolved from then til now?
I have evolved so much since then! Personally, emotionally, spiritually, in so many ways, different ways. I basically got started because I was interested and I thought it was cool but had no idea on the level on which I would eventually be connected to it. I have come full circle and yet I’m still the same person as I was when I started. It’s hard to explain how much I have evolved since then. I am a totally different person. I was a child when I first started so now it’s different. I’m really happy for all the people who have been a part of my evolution. There have been a lot of people who have helped me along on this path. But a lot of it was all from within – being motivated because I wanted it so bad. I wanted to do the best job possible.

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?
My job is completely an art. It takes so much concentration, so much attention to detail. The art form isn’t necessarily the act for me or piercing but the art form is the experience, start to finish, the interaction, the relationship, the trust, the placement of the piercing of course aesthetically, but also the placement of your energy in that person’s life and their energy in your life and the interaction that goes on. I absolutely think that when it comes to piercing that a true artist should be able to tell the difference between somebody that’s taken the person into consideration when designing a body art piece for them as opposed to somebody who just puts in a piece of jewelry. So maybe it is an art for some people and isn’t for everybody.

How is it ritualistic for you?
Everyday it’s ritualistic. Everything about it is ritualistic – how you set up, how you prepare, from washing your hands to walking people out the door on their way out. The whole thing is just like how you’d do a ceremony. You focus, you concentrate, you do these different things in a systematic way in order to reach your goal. The whole thing to me is one big ritual every single time it happens. For me personally, everybody’s ritual I different so you have to gauge which kind of ritual you’re attending to.

What is your relationship with clients?
My relationship with my clients is what’s kept me doing it for so many years. People coming back, their lives have changed or they’re more educated now than they were before. They never knew anything about the different cultures or the history involved with it. My relationship with my clients is probably my biggest focus about my piercing procedure. How I can deal with them better, how I can understand or do the best job possible for the individual. It’s definitely top of the list of things that I work on.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?
I always mess up on all my friends for some reason!! I don’t know what it is about it, but I think it’s that I’m so nervous and love them so much and I want to do such a good job that I tend to stress myself out about it. But it’s like when you pierce somebody it’s almost like after that they become your friend. I always recognize clients of mine because the few minutes that we interact means something to me too. I tend to take their eyes into consideration and I see them on the street and they say “hi” or buy me a drink at the bar. All this interaction now with people that I wouldn’t normally come into contact with, on
the street I have these new friends that I’ve made from having those few short moments. When somebody asks me to pierce them that I’m close with, I really take it as an honor and I always take into consideration what’s going on in their lives and how I can be a service to them. One of my best friends who’s not a pierced person or doesn’t get piercings for the aesthetics, asked me to do her septum. It was really hard for me because I wanted it to be so perfect and she was such a good friend of mine that causing her any discomfort was kind of hard because I just wanted her to be relaxed and feel good and she was so close to me that I was almost having a hard time with the boundaries between what I do and what was going on and her and my personal relationship. So I didn’t want to hurt her! And I didn’t want to see her hurt! I wanted it to be perfect so I had to be super careful.

Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.
I don’t really take my professional stuff into my ritual piercings. I don’t even think about it. I do the best job possible, in the cleanest way possible, but my ritualistic piercing comes way before my need to be professional. I feel like we need to go with our gut on ritual piercings and if that means it needs to be out in the middle of a field or a desert or wherever, then I’m going to do that regardless of my business or my professionality or my integrity in my piercing because I know that integrity is there regardless of where you do it. I will pretty much go anywhere and do piercings anywhere if the need be of me.

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?

Because of body piercing, I’ve found my spirituality. For sure. I feel like I was really disconnected with spirituality as a young person – being raised Catholic and evolving past that and knowing that that wasn’t the connection with god that I was going to be making and having to really move away from my family and the things that I was raised into and find my own spirituality. Well, the first tuning into that  spirituality was done through body piercing. I didn’t know myself like I thought I knew myself or I didn’t really understand the inner workings of my brain and my heart until I began experimenting in the blood letting ceremonies. Until I started putting sacrifice as a part of my evolution. When I started giving of myself on a physical level to understand the interior of what I was feeling. It really put things in perspective for me and the spirituality of it won’t leave me alone! I’m constantly in contact with people who are doing piercings and spirituality in it is so strong in me that I feel people. I feel the energy and try to do the best job possible with it. I try to help them in their rituals and their spiritual aspects of it. Not everybody does have that, but a lot of people do. I feel really lucky to be a part of it as a piercer. But I’m also a piercee. Before I was a piercer I was getting pierced. And that’s a huge part of it too for me. I AM that person. I was on the other end of it. I did let people pierce me and take my blood and help me with these rituals at one point of my life and now I’m on the other end of that. And I feel super thankful for that because I am able to see it from both perspectives and I really enjoy it at both perspectives. And that’s how my spirituality was formed. Basically I started experimenting with what it was like to give blood and to feel energy and to give energy and to give of myself. I really feel like the only thing that I have that is truly mine is my blood. That’s the only thing that I can offer. I can’t offer anything of the materialistic world. The only thing that is really mine that I own is my body. And thanks for all the things that I have in my life, my blood is the most tender. The most valuable tender that I can think of. And so that works into my spirituality full on. I feel like we sacrifice a lot of ourselves and even in modern day society, we don’t have to a whole lot. But when you do, you get paid back ten fold. A little bit of time or a little bit of energy towards something and you’ll get it back. And the same thing, you sacrifice a little bit of yo urself and you get back. Well, I feel like I get so much anyway in the first place, that to sacrifice myself isn’t a big deal at all. I almost keep sacrificing myself just to stay even because of how many blessings I’ve had! I really love it and hope that your thing works out really good. It’s a really great subject and I’ve sent my life thinking about it and will probably spend the rest of my life thinking about


Interview with David Vidra, Body Work Productions, Cleveland, Ohio.

Why do you pierce now?
Why do I pierce now is a question that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit. It’s a one word statement. It’s a passion. If I focus on the business end of it, then I really question why I pierce now because it’s such a saturated industry that business wise it makes no sense. But reflecting on why, it’s a passion for doing it. It’s a passion to see how the people respond to it.

Why/how did you start piercing?
When I started, it was very, very, very underground and there weren’t a lot of people doing it. In fact, there were just very select few in the gay S&M community. And why I started was because of that introduction to that community. Most of the men in the leather community had piercings. It wasn’t something that everyone had. Tattoo shops did not do it at all. Nor did they approve of it because it was a gay thing – which kind of cracks me up because now you look at it and every tattoo shop pierces because it’s a money thing. When I started, I started over approximately twenty years ago. I started at a store called Body Language which sold adult toys and also did piercings and did piercings for all people. Piercings were done in scenes in the S&M community. Piercings were done to do a piercing. It depended on what that person wanted.

How have you evolved from then til now?
How I’ve evolved from then til now is quite amazing – at least to myself. Back then we did things very, what we considered highly technical and now they’re like obsolete and ridiculous. Back then most of it was sexually oriented and now it’s very much not just sexually oriented but ritualistic oriented or fad. Very much a fad oriented business – to where you get a good balance with all three of those things. I’ve evolved to where it’s a great passion for me but it’s not the center core of my life. There are multiple things that are there. I think that’s imperative for any person just to keep going. You can’t have just
one focus in your life.

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?
I consider very much so what I do an art because if it was just piercing, I would just put two dots, shove it in, not look at the person’s anatomy, not look or ask any questions why they want it, what they’re looking for… Yeah it’s an art! It’s an art in two senses. You have to be able to communicate with people appropriately and know how to place to the anatomy what the person wants for the best aesthetic and functional use.

How is it ritualistic for you?
Every one of my piercings was planned. My first piercing was done on my 25 th birthday. And it was a celebration of that birthday. It was also a celebration of basically coming out of the closet. You know, just stating: “This is it.” Also I’ve worked in a lot of different areas with doing ritual piercings for people. When you look at the word ritual, you have to look at what that means in itself. And to me it means anything that is sacred to someone and is a rite of passage to move on, take ownership of, whatever. And it’s all that for me. And sometimes more.

What is your relationship with clients?
It depends on my clients. Some of my younger clients it’s like I’m just an old man who pierces! And they want the old man. Some of my clients from years and years ago, we’re very close acquaintances to a more integral part of their life than not. Everyday clients, you’re their piercer. You affect their life for maybe five minutes and that’s about it. But those five minutes can be very powerful too.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?

Anything from a very good acquaintance to somebody who I’ve known for ten, fifteen years. The relationships are good friends to exlovers to doctors to nurses that I’ve worked with. A lot of different people.

Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.

As far as non-professiona l ritual, no matter what when you’re piercing, it’s professional because you have to keep things focused. The ritual is what the person is going to make it. I was part of a Wicca ceremony for a person doing a rite of passage into a next phase of his… you know he’s a healer. That was pretty cool. His whole family was there, the alter was set, the whole nine yards. It was a very powerful ceremony. I’ve also been a part of things that aren’t denoted as ritual but are. Women taking ownership back of their bodies after rape. So yeah, you have to be extremely professional to handle that. The ritual part of it, that’s to each individual and to the piercer. I really think that a piercer needs to be really cautious that they’re not pushing their spiritual beliefs on their client. It’s the client’s ritual, not the piercer’s. What the piercer should be focused on is the importance of what this means to him or her just to pierce somebody. And to keep that focus there. If somebody wants to make it more than that, then they need to do that and make me aware of it so I can focus on that for them.

Does spirituality play a role for you in piercing?
Yeah. It always has, always has. But I think that over the years, before I used to want to know every little thing about everyo ne I was piercing. You burn out. People who want something special are going to let you know that. They’re going to share that idea with you and then you go from there. I’ve watched some of the newer generations of piercers who have had ritual experience or spiritual experience with piercing and they think that everyone else and their mother should and they kind of push it. To me that’s not the appropriate thing to do. Each person is different. To push it on them or to try to get them to tell you why they want this piercing, sometimes you know what?, they want it because their friends have it. And it’s a fad. Period. There’s no big hocus pocus reason or big ritual or life changing event. It’s something they want to mark themselves to make themselves different. So I think with the spiritual end of it, I know I’ve grown over the years with it, but some of the younger kids I’m watching and am like Hmmmm? Be careful. You have to let your clients have the control. The control of the ritual is to the client, not the piercer. What it means to the piercer is that they have to keep to themselves and keep that focused.

Interview with Lisa Wright, High Priestess, Eugene, Oregon.

Why do you pierce now?
I pierce now because it’s the greatest lesson in the function of humanity that I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s taught me more than any school, any institution, any job or anything else that I’ve ever engaged in. It’s been able to teach me how human beings act and react with each other. I also get to change people’s lives on a daily basis. People come to me for a piercing and they don’t necessarily know exactly why they want the piercing but they want a specific little talisman somewhere on their body so I help them find the reasons for it. I help them find the true reasons for it. Some of them think that it’s just a decoration, but if you probe a little bit and you get deep down inside these people, you find that there’s a lot of healing going on in the world right now and I believe that piercing has, for me, and a lot of people in this society and a lot of people that I know, changed their lives and been able to force them into a direction to face their fears and deal with the problems and heal themselves from the experiences that they’ve experienced in this lifetime.

Why/how did you start piercing?
I started by myself when I was a kid. I learned that cutting and piercing myself made the emotions that I was going through as a very young teenager a lot easier to deal with. It also gave me like fifteen, twenty minutes or a half an hour alone in my room with nobody else around because nobody knew that I was doing it. It was my own private little passion. For years I didn’t even let anybody know that I was doing it. And then I decided that I was calling for help and I needed to let other people in on what I was feeling. So my mom sent me to a psychiatrist!! And that was when I started learning that selfsufficiently I could take control of my emotions and use them to teach myself what I needed to learn for survival in this society and it also became a way for me to protect myself from the things of the society that I feel I need to keep away from me. People are shied away from people with lots of piercings and different colored hair and tattoos all over their bodies because they’re intimidated by it. I believe that some of that intimidation keeps forces away from me that would choose to hurt me or use me or disgrace me and my belief system in some way. So I guess that in a lot of ways I started because I wanted a suit of armor that would protect me from the evil in this world!

How have you evolved from then til now?
The people that I’ve known since I was fifteen, thirteen, and twelve when I started, say I haven’t changed a bit. But it did give me a voice. It did teach me that the things that I can do on a day-to-day basis, even if it’s in a simple action, which a piercing is a very simple action, can make a major change and a major difference in people’s lives. I evolved in a way that I found a tribe of people that I didn’t know existed and that have helped me to become a kind, compassionate, and spiritual person. I think that just adding one or two more of us in this world everyday eventually is going to change this world to that kind, compassionate place that somewhere deep down in all of our hearts we believe it should be. Yes, I do want to take over the world some day!

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?
I consider what I do an art in the way that we are decorating a pallet that no other artist has been able to find as a medium. And there’s nothing more powerful and beautiful than decorating the one thing that in this lifetime noone can take away from you.

What is your relationship with clients?
My relationships with my clients are…what’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t want to use something as little as ‘special’ because it’s a lot more powerful than that. My clients, by the time they leave my studio, they think that I’m their best friend. People come back to me because they need the feeling of being taken care of by Lisa. I have monthly appointments with people where they come in after work and they’re like: “OK! It’s time for my monthly cleansing! Please! This is what I’ve gathered. Take it out of me!”. I work with my clients a lot. I get to know them. I get to know what’s going on in their lives. I kind of feel like the medical profession does – that you have to know everything about a person’s entire life style and entire being to make even just a simple navel piercing work for them. So I tend to know more about my clients than they or anybody else knows about them because they tend to share things with me that they can’t share with anybody else. So not only am I a piercer, I’m a beautician, I’m a jeweler, I’m a counselor, a therapist. I’ve actually had people referred to me by their therapist before! There is this one woman who has been doing a lot of cutting on herself and she gave herself gangrene. Finally her therapist was like “Look, I want you to go see Lisa at High Priestess and I want you to turn all of these blood sports that you’re experimenting with on yourself into something beautiful and she’s the person that’s going to be able to help you do it.” I don’t know how this therapist found out about me, but she did. So sooner or later I’m going to take that woman on and help her erase all the negativity that she’s trying to carry around with herself and all the negativity that’s trying to make her try to torture herself and turn it into something beautiful. I think that that’s the most important part of what I do. I take negativity and turn it into something beautiful. That would also answer the question that is: “How is it ritualistic for you?”. Well, that’s how it’s ritualistic for me. I get into a situation where I make people feel more powerful and more focused and stronger than they’ve ever felt in their entire life – for even those fifteen minutes. It’s a moment in their life that they’re never going to forget. And for whatever reason it was that they needed to change their life, that’s what ritual is for. Ritual cleanses us and it makes experiences special.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?
My relationship with the friends that I pierce is…obviously hard to describe! When my friends come to me, they’re like: “All right. This is specifically what it is that I’m trying to get out of this.”. It’s a heavy job, but I have to harvest the powers of the universe and help move them through myself and through that person… and try to make right what was wrong. It’s always an emotional thing. It’s always “something somebody did to me” or “something that I didn’t get to do in my life” or “ something that I’ve always wanted to give myself”. It’s always a big momentous moment in their life. As well as mine because I am incredibly honored by some of the things that people ask me to do for them. And I’m fortunate to be one of those souls in this world that has experienced all kinds of trauma. So it’s really easy for me to understand where people are coming from and what they’ve been through and how to guide them through using it as a learning experience – and using it as an experience that makes them stronger. It also helps take their fear of it ever happening again away from them. It makes them know that they had to learn something from that experience and as long as they take that lesson and turn it into something good and use it to their advantage, they don’t have to learn it again in this or other lifetimes.

Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.
I guess that would have to fall under the categories of suspensions and energy pulls, ritual bloodlettings, cuttings, burnings. That would have to fall under anything that I haven’t done in the studio – which is probably equal to everything that I’ve done in the studio! It’s what I became a piercer to do. I didn’t become a piercer to do 14 gauge navel piercings all day long. I became a piercer so that outside of the studio I can help people use their physical body to transform and transcend their spirit into a more universal knowledge – to make us realize that these little tiny bodies that we walk around in are insignificant in the scheme of things. They’re just cars. They’re just vehicles. And the further we take those vehicles and the harder we push those vehicles, the further we take those spirits. I believe that humanity, yes, someday will not exist in this form but in another – in another solid, physical form. And I believe that what we do to these bodies is going to help evolve and progress us into a stronger vehicle that will be strong enough forthese spirits that we try to carry around with us. Because these bodies are not strong enough for some of the spirits I know! Oh my goodness! I’ve seen people destroy their bodies trying to get their spirit – because their spirit is so big and these little tiny bodies hat we have are just nowhere near large enough in capacity to hold all the things that we can make capable and all the things we can make possible. Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?

So that answers your last question too. There’s my spirituality play. That’s how spirituality plays in this. Especially sitting here in a place like Vegas where we’re so surrounded by nothing but a material world and physical plane. I know there’s more. And I know that with the tribe of people that I’ve been blessed enough to become a part of, that together we’re going to figure out what’s next. It may take us generations upon generations to do it, but we definitely started a revolution of some kind. And it’s a compassionate revolution. We try to be a little quieter about it instead of going out and fighting wars with people to try and prove our point. A lot of us have found that by proving our point on ourself, makes the most influence on proving those points to the rest of the world because if you can find it within yourself, then you can share it with others. You can use yourself as a little conductor to teach others what’s possible.


Interview with Tod Almighty, Santa Cruz, California.

Why do you pierce now?
Why do I pierce now? Because I can’t get any other job looking the way I do. They won’t hire me at the bank anymore! I pierce now because of the experience I had when I first got pierced and it really opened me up to a whole other world and I want to be the one providing that for other people.

Why/how did you start piercing?
How and why I started is pretty much the same thing. After I began getting pierced it was by some people who worked with the spiritual side of things more than just the mechanical side. So I was very intrigued by that and started getting into that. I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better through that and I’m a lot more centered than I used to be and grounded and all that good stuff.

How have you evolved from then til now?
That’s kind of how I’ve evolved since then. I’ve let myself become myself instead of hide it.

Do you consider what you do an art? Whywhy not?
Yes, I consider it an art. We’re just using the human body as a canvas, like Lisa said. Just because we use a different medium doesn’t mean that what we’re doing is not art.

How is it ritualistic for you?
Piercing is ritualistic for me because it helps me to open people up to their own potential that most of them don’t even realize that they have or that that’s what they’re there for.

What is your relationship with clients?
My relationship with clients is the relationship that they need it to be – whatever that particular one happens to be. Because someone’s going to come in the door and they want somebody to slap a ring in their ear and it means nothing to them whatsoever. And somebody’s going to come in the door who has some serious issues they need you to help them get rid of and you need to be able to sense that and work with that particular client’s energy. So it really varies from client to client, depending on what I sense that that person needs the most and what’s going to give them the best experience while they’re in the shop.

What is your relationship with friends that you pierce?
My relationship with friends I pierce… is, is nervous! Because it’s always an honor when one of your friends asks you to pierce them and you’re always a little more nervous about that and you’ve got to take a little more time to center yourself before you go in and do that one. It usually takes quite a bit longer because you want to be extremely exact and you don’t want to do anything wrong and they’re going to make fun of you from then on! So, I’ve got to be really sure about it!

Describe a ‘non-professional’ piercing ritual that you’ve been part of.
Like Lisa goes to energy pulls and suspensions and things like that, we did a ten man pull down in San Diego one time. We were piercing people on the beach. It was as clean as we could make it, granted, but not really what one would consider a professional thing – having people pull their trucks with hooks in their backs and stuff like that.

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?
Yeah, spirituality does play a role for me in piercing, but spirituality plays a role in everything I do. It’s really no more or no less, I think, than anything else I do. I think that it should play a role in everyone’s life and I hope that I can bring more people to that.

Interview with Jennifer Marlatt, Evolved, Columbus, Ohio.

Why do you pierce now?
It is in my blood and in a sense an addiction. Although piercing is no longer the center in my life focus, it is difficult to imagine the quality of my life without it. The addiction is the exposure to the diverse people on such an intimate level. Intimate I mean jumping into someone’s life experience for 10-20 minutes and they into yours. The exchange of influence, experience, and energy is monumental.

How/why did you start?
I did my first piercing in my bathroom while doing an all- nighter for school. I am not sure where or why I decided to do it, I just felt I had to do it…at 4 am and with alcohol and a safety pin…made sense at the time. Now I know better. I formally began training with Lars of Viking Studios in 1995. I had graduated 6 months prior from CCAD with a BFA in Industrial Design, and I did not feel directed toward a design career at that time. I began working with Lars, Iggy and Chris at Viking. Four passionate artists, four good friends in one small space. WHOHOO! Viking was blessed with the instruction and education of a local reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Ann Miller. From Lars and Ann, I learned a new innovative piercing technique, sound universal precautions, anatomy, physiology, and a passion for modifying the body.

How have you evolved from then til now?
I am transformed, enlightened, and more conscience of the quality of my life.

Do you consider what you do an art? Why/Why not?
I am a creative individual. My life is an expression of my thoughts, desires, and experiences. Piercing is what you make it…. for me it is an expression of my interpretation of the client, and their expression of emphasizing some part of their physical self.

How is it ritualistic for you?
Piercing is a channe ling of purpose….for the better good….goodness…love. Love for the self, for a better existence. Whether the ritual is to bring something to the self, or for a part of the self to leave, I believe it is for better health, higher energy, higher self, evolution, and enlightenment…

What is your relationship with clients?
A channel for their experience, sometimes a nurturer, a dominator, a dork, a teacher, a student, to one client a priestess…..

What is your relationship with friends you pierce?
It is all about the love….those that I am close to know what piercing is to me, we are both aware it is more than just poking a hole in the body…..With friends, we tend to make it a ritual, if not for direction from the universe then simply our appreciation for sharing each other’s lives.

Describe a non-professional piercing ritual you have been a part of.
I began to see myself act or not act because of fear. I knew I was stronger than that fear, but sometimes you have to very clearly and conscientiously make that visible to yourself. I had been spending a lot of time in the woods moving fallen tree limbs on my friend’s land. The limbs I gathered began to form a wall in the shape of a spiral. This was not planned; it was out of play. It was time out of the city, time from my life, and time to breathe, and sweat. This was my first experience with meditation. I remember stopping…seeing what I had created unconsciously, impressed with my physical strength. The wall  reached a height where I could sit and be hidden to the visibility to anyone outside of it. I sat resting, thinking of how I had surprised myself and wanted to celebrate my new vision. Female energy is most represented by the breast, so to celebrate by physical awareness and further test my will and the strength of my soul I decided to pierce my nipples. On my next visit to the woods, I took myself on a date. Before entering the tree spiral, I smudged myself with sage and all the contents I would need for the ritual. I smudged the outside of the spiral and worked my way in giving thanks to the gifts the woods had presented to me, for the beautiful day, for fresh air, and the singing trees. I sat leaning against an ancient tree with catheters, jewelry, and water in front of me, meditating on my wishes of the ritual. With my face to the sun I took a deep breath and did the first piercing. Half way through I had to remind myself to push…. it was nice to hear my inner voice. The second piercing went with one smooth push. I have never felt such warmth from the sun, coolness from the wind and love from the universe. Most importantly the love and admiration for the self. I felt truly alive. That day was monumental to my growth; I still am learning, growing and evolving.

Does spirituality play a role for you in body piercing?
I continue to live with more faith and less fear and doubt. My own body modification is an expression of my life experience. My experience has led me to where I am and faith ensures my goodness in the future. Piercing led me to my spirituality. Spirituality is the reason I still pierce. I know what it means to my life, I share it with those that I feel open to it, and others I allow them to make their experience what they need it to be. Either way my attempt is to pass on some goodness, some light, and love.


This last section contains the first ritual piercing I was part of after having decided on a topic for this project and the most recent one to date which was partially in honor of the end of this phase of my education. The first one is a collaborative effort from Evan,Heidi, and myself. The second is based on a recording that I used to document the ceremony afterwards.

In June of 2001 I was honored to partake in a very special piercing ceremony right here in Columbus, Ohio. I had already chosen the topic for this project and my friends Heidi and Evan were happy to collaborate. Strangely enough it seemed as though I had not done any ceremonial piercings for quite a while. Therefore, it was nice to get back to the heart and foundation of my interest: Somatic Piercing. I have included the feedback sent to me by Evan and Heidi. They both wrote about their experience at different times and both related different perceptions. Additionally, I have included my version of the ritual, an explanation of surrounding events, and the importance and significance of it all to me. In June of 2001 Evan and Heidi arrived in Columbus, Ohio to prepare for and partake in a private piercing ceremony to celebrate their union as a couple. We had done some preliminary planning on the phone and via email, but jennifer (my partner) and i had not yet met Heidi. For that reason we wanted to wait to get to know each other a bit before finalizing any of our preparations. On the night of their arrival, quite dramatically, there was a fire in the business below our piercing studio Evolved. I was called in the middle of the night and arrived at the studio to find our shop completely smoked out and with holes in the walls and floors from the firefighters. I made some calls and as soon as the building was deemed safe, most of the Evolved crew, waves of friends, Jennifer, Heidi, Evan, and I began working. We removed everything from the premises and began the tedious process of cleaning the soot from everything in the studio. We worked all morning, day, and into the night. The event could have been tragic but instead was transformed into a beautiful show of friendship and support. When I apologized for the delay and thanked Evan and Heidi for all their help, they assured me that they were meant to be there with us. (Thank you two again!)

The following day was spent recuperating and finalizing the plans for the ceremony. We began speaking about what the piercings meant, what time of day they should be done, in what physical setting, with what jewelry, in what order… I found it wonderful and reassuring that these two people were taking so much time to plan a personal ceremony. Weddings are often times such huge, public events that the couple has very little time for each other.

We eventually chose to do their eight gauge conch piercings in a park close to our home. Heidi guided us to a spot in that park that was beautiful. The four of us expressed our thanks and intentions to each other and the entire ritual ran smoothly. The most vivid moment for me was a point either before or after evan’s piercing that we were gazing into each other’s eyes and the whole backdrop of green became speckled with white floating puffs. The breeze carried these tiny orbs all around us and through the park. It was a dazzle of bright contrasting colors and swirling, gentle movements.
With this pierce…thoughts for Nick.

Leading up to our summer of ceremonies, I had many different thoughts and expectations about everything. I remember the very difficult decision about having a wedding after we decided to be together. It became evident to me that gathering family and friends was as much for our loved ones as it was for us. So, we wanted a ceremony that was for us. Seeking ‘our’ ceremony lead us through many discussions of whom, where, what, and why. And 2 things surfaced with some certainty, we wanted a couple of friends as witnesses and we wanted to have a significant start to ‘us’ and our ‘one love’ in a way that more reflected who we are…outside of any expectations of who we want or should be. I felt the best opportunity for this avoidance of expectations was with a focused, simplistic ceremony where physical objectives were clear and verbal expectations minimal. You and Jennifer were perfect from our standpoint. Not only for who you are as people, but our limited, but intense, history gave us the comforts of friends, without the liabilities. Opening the air, freeing us from recent patterns and behaviors, stepping away for a better view.

Incorporating piercing into our ceremony seemed the perfect vehicle to align attentions and energies for my ends. The focused breathing and all that grows from the basic mindfulness of the moment makes it incredible to me. The way you engage yourself while piercing invites participation to jump to a different place. Detaching my mind from the helms of my body isn’t always easy. Simply ‘letting go’, accurately describes the clarity of your needle.

The events surrounding our 40 hrs or so in Columbus only helped heighten the focus of the present moment. I felt Heidi and I were exactly where we should be that day. And while making sense of the lines that describe why things happen is so relative to the individual, it was obvious to me we were to be outside!

Walking into the park, I was especially challenged by expectations of what we ‘should’ be doing…where are we ‘supposed’ to be. The focus I mentioned above was called on sooner that I anticipated. Clear the mind…breathing deep…stay open to Heidi and all in our circle. And the best way to describe the next few moments of finding our spot is to say I stepped back and saw the entire landscape as a backdrop for us to play…and just waited until I felt it, and to see if Heidi did too…

The progression of the ceremony was amazing to me…all the elements showing themselves in their order in our circle: earth, soft and impressionable beneath our blanket; wind, carrying the wildflowers’ white puffs of hope; fire, Wonder Twins – form of a candle and a bowl – together they form a flame to withstand any storm; and water, delicately doing its duty as the ‘green keeper’.

Anticipating the piercing, without a doubt, changed the nature of the ceremony. It took me to the next level of awareness from the beginning; I was able to focus pretty easily. I remember the moments before the piercing…focusing with you…opening my mind, freeing it from those thoughts of right and wrong, this or that. Just what is there With a little hindsight including our wedding here, I can say the wedding and traditional ceremonies are focused on words. Our piecing ceremony incorporated few words, clearing the way for more open communication with the elements, people, things in our circle…I kind of see it as an acknowledgement that we are but part of the picture of life, and open ourselves to the inherent benefits of our own beings without the limitations of language and linear thought. And that’s what was so nice about the day. Heidi and I were both anxious and a little flustered from all the change we just embarked on. So the set of rings you gave us really acted as an aligning symbol for us right from the beginning. One that was very quick to remind us of its presence! We can honestly say to one another, “I know how you feel.” What a wonderful way to start a life together!

The piercing is such a powerful symbol to me. It invokes vivid memories of where Heidi and I started and why. And the discomfort has dissipated with an almost eerie parallel to our personal discomforts from the change in our lives. I think it is a tasteful expression of who we are.

Our piercing ceremony also provided Heidi and I with the experience and strength to glide through our wedding ceremony. Don’t get me wrong, the wedding was intense, but we had already started what’s important on June 5 th with you, June 23 rd was the day to state it. (It was 6 months ago today!)

I had many different little writings that I drew this from and did my best to share with you my coherent thoughts and experiences. Many times this is very difficult with what you study. But with a little practice, I’m sure it gets easier. I encourage you to ask anything you’d like and hope I can provide some insight to you.
Your brother always,

dear nick,
thank you for your and jennifer’s participation in evan’s and my ceremony. arriving at your house sunday, i had never participated in a somatic ritual – nor had i met either of the two of you. and like all new things, for me at least, both were accompanied by degrees of fear… fortunately my fears about meeting the three of you stayed at your front gate – but my fears about our upcoming ritual remained, and intensified the night before when we finally selected the jewelry – until you noticed…and it didn’t seem like a good thing to you, so that’s when i began to focus. all night i worked on simply telling myself to relax, which as you might imagine only worked me up – and i wondered if I was capable of an experience bigger than this piercing. as morning came, and we sat at the table sipping tea, it felt good to try, and in the car my friend’s meditation exercise popped into my head. the book had said to sit upright and imagine a cord unraveling into the earth from my first chakra to the earth’s core – and you were supposed to imagine layers of the earth as the y cracked away from this cord. So i tried several times to imagine a rope unrolling into the earth but each time i failed – my imagination wasn’t enough to be able to see a big roll of rope somehow cutting away the earth. as we approached the park the image just popped into my head of my spine, one vertebrae at a time, smashing their way through the ground – i could hardly keep it to myself, i got so excited because the image made me feel so calm. when asked to lead our way to our ceremony spot it was strange how i wondered if i had what it takes to feel out a place – what if… i always wonder… if i’m faking somehow and i don’t know it, but you do…it amazes me how much fear can make a situation different to the participant – as opposed to the observer. because once we began it was wonderful, and although at first my mind wandered, by the time i took in my “last breath” i was ready, and i felt calm and real. the best part of my somatic experience was the way it entered our wedding ceremony for me. as i was standing in front of my family, whenever i got nervous i would remember just to breathe, and i think i could feel the way the trees looked behind jennifer as i gazed into her eyes and the way i felt sitting there with you and evan. afterwards my older cousin said she had worried about me a couple of times during theceremony – she said i looked so stoic, she was afraid i didn’t know what was happening… thank you for helping me understand that i have so much control over the way i guide my mind – through my body not in spite of it…

Closing ritual, southern Utah, May 2002.

This final ceremony took place for a couple of reasons. For me personally, I had felt a little detached from the ritual piercing that I was writing about and therefore thought that it was a good way to channel that attention to what I was doing. I had also conducted many of the interviews for this project that week prior to our Utah experience and I was very motivated and inspired by what all of the people shared with me. One of the other reasons is that I wanted to do something to celebrate and mark the end of this graduate school period for me. Doing the ritual would be my celebration for finishing this project, this degree, and the last two years of my ‘academic’ life. And the final reason that was something that was a little less for me and more for Evan, was to incorporate a healing aspect into the ceremony. Evan had a virus in his eye that was nagging him and kept recurring. I had a herniated disk that had been bothering me as well for the last several months. We decided to incorporate a healing focus and energy into the ceremony. A little bit of background leading up to the ritual—somewhat recently the idea of flesh hooks as a piercing ritual had been appearing to me. Both Shawn and Jen from Evolved last month received hooks and were involved in a pull. I had just met a lot of people in the last year or two that had talked more and more about the flesh hooks and the energy pulls. In the interviews that I conducted the week prior to the ceremony, the flesh hooks kept appearing and reappearing in a lot of the people’s responses. So it was interesting to me because it was something new, something different that I had not experienced personally. I had only seen it, read about it, heard about it, and spoken to people about it. So that was intriguing. But it is also very piercing oriented. It is just a different, nonpermanent, or non-long-term piercing experience.

Evan, Heidi and I got together and we started kicking around ideas to see what it was that we wanted to incorporate into our ritual and what our specific personal needs and expectations were. To begin with, I wanted to be outside camping before, during, and after the ritual. Evan couldn’t because he was taking drops for his eyes that needed to be refrigerated. When we got to Utah we found a place after a lot of search called Eagle Crag’s Trail on public lands. Once they dropped me off at the trailhead, my job for that day was to scout out the area and find a good spot for our ritual the next day. Their job was going to be to go into town and find rope to attach ourselves for the pull, sage or some other type of material to smudge with, water, offerings for the alter, disposable cameras, and any other goodies that would be of use.

Once they took off, I had about 3 liters of water with me that I thought would be enough because I had chosen to fast to prepare myself for the ritual. My fast was going to be all water—no food, no juice—just water for the first couple of days. I started hiking out into the desert. It was amazing, beautiful country. There were mountains all around. There were peaks and valleys and the trail was very challenging. It was not only rocky, but there were long stretches that were very sandy, almost like walking on a beach. It was about 4,000 feet elevation and it went up to 6,000 feet or so. I kept finding places along
the way that would have been beautiful to do the ceremony. A couple of hours into it though, I came across a field of sage like I had never seen before. We use sage smudges a lot in our rituals to do our aura cleansings. I had never actually seen so much sage in my life. Walking through parts of it would smell beautiful and brushing up against it was like a continual smudge throughout the hike. The whole valley was covered in sage and I felt that it was nice but I also wanted to continue looking to find the ideal place. I spent the next five or six hours exploring, climbing, and experiencing the hot, magnificent desert. All said and done, the sage field lured me back to its embrace and I set up camp to rest and recharge for the next day’s events.

The new day brought more gorgeous weather, Heidi, Evan, extra water, and all the supplies that we would need. We explored the sage field to find the perfect spot and felt how the energy from the surrounding mountain peaks seemed to roll down and accumulate in the open field. More and more I was convinced that it was there that we needed to be.

We found a spot that was perhaps in the middle of the field with a nice opening, a tree, sand, sage, and flowering cacti. I went to pack up camp as Evan and Heidi started creating a circle with stones. By the time I came back, they had created a beautiful circle with piles of stones in each direction—east, south, north, and west—with little stones and pieces of wood connecting them. Inside the circle we arranged a simple, lovely altar with different offerings on it – bananas, apples, oranges, water, sage, Evan and Heidi’s wedding bands, our hooks and our needles. Once the preparations were complete, we each removed our clothes, entered the circle, and began the ritual with the clean, sweet fragrance of sage as we took turns smudging each other. We then did some moving, stretching, and opening before gathering to vocalize what we were feeling. We each expressed what it was that we hoped for that day and what it was that we were grateful for that day.

After a time of silence, we began the actual piercing portion of the ritual. I did the first piercing on Evan as Heidi held the skin and we all engaged in synchronized, deep breathing. We used an eight gauge needle followed immediately by the eight gauge hook. The piercing and insertion were smooth but intense. We rested briefly before the next piercing so that we could ground ourselves again. This time, I held the skin and Heidi did the piercing. Again we all focused, breathed, and Heidi performed a clean, solid piercing. With my piercing duties complete, I switched positions with Evan. I had not been pierced for quite while and it was then my turn to release the needle and put myself in someone else’s hands. I was amazed at how easily I was willing to surrender to the needle and to Evan and Heidi. I felt more relaxed, safe, and open than I had ever felt before a piercing. I was sure that our thorough preparation and communication was the key to such a nice feeling. Heidi pierced me first – smooth and quick. Evan followed with almost equal precision.

Once the hooks were in, the adrenaline rush was very intense. My vision became very crisp. The distant mountains got sharper. The sky was bluer. I could feel the presence of the wind, earth, sun, and water, which we had invited and dedicated our actions to. The wind graced us with its voice of support and encouragement. I felt alive and vital. Little by little though, the rush dissipated and an odd feeling of nausea crept in on me. I knelt in the hot sand and leaned forward into child’s pose. The earth comforted me and soon I felt grounded and recharged.

The hooks in each of our backs were connected by one nine foot length of nylon rope. When we were ready to pull, we linked the middle of each of our ropes to a metal ring between the two of us. We then slowly walked in opposite directions and gently began leaning our bodies away from each other until we were balancing the weight of our bodies with little effort. I soon realized why these are called energy pulls. Not only could I feel Evan’s energy, but I could also feel my own and that of all of our surroundings. The holes in our backs were not only serving as release valves, but also as channels through which all the elements and emotions around us could pass.

In addition to pulling with each other, we also hooked ourselves to a friendly tree so that we could experiment more freely with varied tension, bouncing, pulling, and leaning. Throughout the experience Heidi was there to guide us. She helped us communicate the mechanics of what was going on as well as how each of us was doing. She was also very grounding and supporting. The pictures that she took to help document our ritual can be seen on our website: . As a final closing to our circle and ritual, we all gave thanks to the elements and each other as we disassembled the physical and symbolic circles and began our journey home through the mountains.

References, Additional Readings & websites

Brown, D., J. Edwards, and R. Moore. 1988. The Penis Inserts of Southeast Asia: An annotated Bibliography with an Overview and Comparative Perspectives.
Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California.
Candaver, C. 1996. A Basic Guide to Body Piercing. USA: Purple Pit Press.
Hanna, T. 1989. Somatics. MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.
Hartsuiker, D. 1993. Sadhus, India’s Mystic Holy Man. USA: Inner Traditions.
Hoskin, J. and J. Dugast. 1993. The Supernatural in Thai Life. Bangkok, Thailand: The Tamarind Press.
Hasbro. 1996. The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Third Edition.
MA: Merriam-Webster
Randall, H. 1988. Piercing: Moderne, Uiteenlopende Toepassingen. Netherlands: Zuid Boekprodukties.
Rubin, A. 1988. Marks of Civilization. USA: Regents of University of California.
Vale, V. 1989. Modern Primitives. USA: Re/Search Publications.
Yearna, D. and K. Martinez. 2000. Perforaciones Corporales: Ritos, Tradicion,Moda y Dolor. Mexico City.