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Fakir Musafar is perhaps the most audacious body-modification advocate today. A shaman and master piercer, Fakir was born Roland Loomis in 1930 in South Dakota. He holds a degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in creative writing; he has spent much of his life as an advertising executive. He has developed his expertise through research and over 40 years of personal practice of primitivistic body ritual. Fakir publishes Body Play magazine. He is married. This interview was taken from the Body Modification chapter of Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. For full information about obtaining this book, visit our Ordering page.


I guess the most important thing [I'd like to get across] is that no avenues of exploration [about] the body/spirit connection should be callously discounted. Everything in our culture is changing very rapidly. A lot of views [which] might have seemed inappropriate fairly recently should be given a second look. Right now, [many] people [between the ages of] 20 and 30 are finding new ways to reclaim their bodies, to do their own rites of passages, to do group rites of passage. The means are different--it may be piercing, it may be tattooing--[but all] change the physical body and affect the way the world perceives you and you perceive the world.

[Young people] have begun to discover that they can explore life and achieve a great deal of self-knowledge by using their bodies. They're going at it full-bore. One of the first things they started to do was [to] tattoo the body. They didn't go for the daggers and the hearts and the roses; they [tried] black work, primitive motifs, very bizarre and strange tattoos that [covered] a great deal of body area. Almost simultaneously, the revival of body piercing came about. I remember sitting in the back of a Los Angeles restaurant 16 years ago with a handful of people. We all had piercings--most of us had pierced nipples. At that point, we could only count up seven people in the world who had pierced nipples. Since then I personally have probably pierced thousands.

I've been back several times to visit Dr. [John] DeCecco's class in human sexuality at San Francisco State: 900 students in an auditorium. One of the first meetings I went to was a very straightforward, rather dull presentation of body piercing. [It consisted of a] roster [of types] of body piercings. When certain piercings were shown, genital particularly, there was embarrassment, giggling, even outcries. They just simply weren't prepared for this. [But] the last talks I've been giving were on sex, pain, and spirit. I used examples and charts to explain the connection. In those presentations, oh, boy! Time zoomed. If given a chance, I'd probably [have] had two hours of questions afterward. I got a tremendously positive reception to subjects like sex, pain, and spirit presented among young people today. I [also] spoke [at the] California College of Arts and Crafts and had a wonderful time. I [was] there over four hours! I barely could get out of there: the questions and the eagerness and the excitement in those people was absolutely amazing! They were totally open. All of the negative things that I'd run into in audiences years prior just weren't there.

The only thing I can conclude is [that] a liberation has occurred somehow. [Young] people don't have the hangups and don't question things that people even a couple of years older question. A lot of old cultural programming has gone down the tube. The world is accelerating so fast: social changes, political changes. I think the greatest changes culturally probably started in the 1960s when somebody took LSD and discovered that reality may not be what it appears to be. From that time forward, establishments of all kinds have been tumbling by the wayside. Old cultural taboos and cult folkways have been questioned. So much has been thrown into question that finally we're getting a group of people [who have] none of the hangups.

I've had the good fortune of not having to tone down [what I] say. I can be passionate in what I'm doing and lay out what I really feel with the kind of audiences I've [had]. Number one, I've got a totally sympathetic audience with anybody into S&M.; Two, [with] anybody that's broad-minded or sexually liberated in any way whatsoever, I can [be] pretty freewheeling and frank. Three, [there are] young people who don't have all those hangups. They're ones who distrust banks, who don't think politicians know what they're doing: they [have a] history of disenfranchisement. Still, the bulk of people out there are probably not that sympathetic. I've learned to talk [to them] somewhat the way I did in [the film] Dances Sacred and Profane.

[In the film, I approached] the subject from the standpoint of spiritual exploration, spiritual discovery. Joseph Campbell was probably more radical than I am, talking about most of the things I'm talking about. But he framed it in an acceptable way. He actually [made] a scathing indictment of Judeo-Christian tradition [as] it's practiced in this culture. It was incredible what he got [away] with. But he knew what he was talking about, he knew how to say it, and he found a sympathetic ear.

I had a hard time for a long time finding anyone who followed what I was trying to do or say. You'd be surprised how much, even in Neo-Pagan circles, is left of Judeo- Christian tradition. We had a ball dance at the Ancient Ways Festival this spring. (A ball dance is [an] Indian custom of having fruits of various kinds, balls that rattle and make noise, sewn or pierced on [the body] then [joining] a procession and going into a state of ecstasy.) I was asked to come in and conduct [it]. There were witches and people of all persuasions. They couldn't believe this was going on at high noon up on a hill. One of them wrote a scathing article. She said we were up there mortifying the body! The whole concept of mortifying is negative and is Judeo-Christian. People in India do things like this; [it] is not mortification! This goes towards sexuality and ecstasy.

I [also] spoke to a lot of New Age groups. But as soon as I got into the body and that essential ingredient, sexual energy, Wap! They would split. I kept looking. The only place I found people free enough, exploratory enough, who had broken down a lot of programming-- who could understand this or who had been exploring it--was in the world of S&M.; They had [discarded] body taboos and a lot of cultural garbage to do S&M.; I found my niche. I found that, in a sense, everything I had been doing since age six always had S&M; overtones. [Now] I've been a practitioner of S&M; with other people for many years. Oddly, most people think of Fakir as a bottom because he hangs in trees with fleshhooks. That isn't necessarily so! For [the] most part, Fakir is a top.

Playing with intense sensation is what people do [in] S&M; for the most part. That is what we do in rituals and in piercing and in tattooing. Many people have found that this is a way of opening up their body/spirit connection. When one goes about this consensually and takes intense physical sensation in an expected way they find that they can separate the body- -which is feeling sensation--from the spirit in[side] the body. They're expanding their consciousness, their understanding of life. I have found that I can get into an altered state that can be used for many things, including healing.

Let's say we're going to inflict intense physical sensation--we're going to pierce 100 steel rods into my chest and back. At first this will be very unpleasant, but soon, if I'm in the right state and I've made the right preparations, my body's [chemicals]--endorphins, natural opiates--kick in, just like a lot of people in S&M; [find] when they're being whipped. [The] same thing [is] involved. It builds and builds until finally you [achieve] a euphoric state. This is not pain: euphoria and pain are opposites. Intense physical sensation can be either.

If a shaman and magic [are] present, ecstasy can be led into an altered state of consciousness in which physiology is subject to change; it is malleable. Native American cultures have used this in healing for a long time. It's been used all over Southeast Asia, Tibet. Deliberate, ritualized infliction of what we would call pain (or what I call strong physical sensation) [can] change the relationship of the body and that which lives in the body so that some kind of physical transformation is possible.

Intense physical sensation creates body focus. [Normally] your attention is scattered, diffused. It's extremely hard to focus. There are different ways to focus it: there's head-first focusing. An example of that might be Zazen meditation. You sit very quietly and deal only with what's going on in the mind. When you finally achieve some state of clear consciousness, your attention [is] focused in one direction. [A second way] is by devotion [as in Western religions]: you get all your attention focused into the love of Jesus. You're then able to do things in life that you couldn't do with unfocused attention.

The third way is the body-first way. This is the way of the shaman and the fakir. By using some kind of intense sensation in the physical body, you focus all concentration on one particular space in the physical body. After that, you can take the attention and make it go inward [to] explore your inner space. Your attention cannot wander when you're doing something intense. [And] when your attention [is this] focused, it's possible for something to happen. [You may] direct the attention into another sphere of consciousness. Shamanic activity for the most part [is] intent on body focus.

One of the neat things about the body-first approach is [that] the important element you have in the body system is sexual energy. This is the problem I've had [doing] Zen meditation. I always kept getting to a point where I was spacing out. I was getting the desired result, but always behind me was other baggage and I didn't know what to do with it. What happens if I got turned on? They give you no provision for this. The same thing is partly true for devotional systems of controlling your psyche and body. The missing ingredient in most of those systems is sexual energy. [In] body-first [focus], that's the first thing you deal with. If you create a body focus and it isn't erotic, this isn't going to work very well.

Magic is a technology, a process in the same way that physical science in our culture is a process. Magic is a process of transformation, of making [one thing] something else, of moving, of changing states. For instance, in our culture, if we have a large pile of earth, a hill or a mountain, and don't want it there anymore, we apply science and technology. We invent motors, wheels, levers, steam shovels; we lift the dirt up, bucket by bucket; drop it in a truck, which uses fire to make an engine go; and haul it somewhere else. That's the direct physical way of dealing with that mountain. There are other cultures that had the ability to make physical things happen using a different kind of technology. They thought that if they could use the right state of consciousness and focus on [that] mountain, that little by little, sooner or later, because [of] the changed consciousness, the mountain [would move].

In our culture, people have very little experience with magic technology and a lot of experience with mechanical technology. [But] I'll bet that to 95% of the people mechanical technology is magic. They haven't the vaguest idea what happens when they turn the key in their car. I do, because I started out [as] an engineer--I think of levers and crankshafts and pistons and pressure and how many fireballs are exploding as I drive down the street. But most people don't get that involved. They just accept it. They throw the switch, and the light comes on!

Tattooing, piercing, branding, sculpting the body by putting ligatures on arms and legs, corsets and belts around the mid-section, [all] cause a change of body state. This is a deliberate and usually ritualized change. One [result] is that you [may] get familiar with your body. You have control over the body. The body is responsive and plastic; [it] essentially conforms to the aesthetic ideal of the spirit that lives in the body. The body-spirit connection becomes clear and sharp through any form of body modification. All forms of body modification require commitment and some acceptance of physical restrictions and limitations. These may not last forever, but one must accept those to get the other side.

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