Fakir Musafar

Sensuous Sadie’s SCENEprofiles Interview with Fakir Musafar

Fakir Musafar is known worldwide for his fifty years research and personal exploration of primitive body decoration and rituals, and has been called “Father of the Modern Primitive Movement.” Fakir has played a significant part in the revival of body piercing, body sculpting, branding and other body-related practices for personal expression, spiritual exploration, rites-of-passage, healing and reclaiming. Fakir has introduced concepts and practices for the body first approach to explore spirituality in art, body modifications, BDSM and what he calls “body play.”

Fakir’s practices have been shown and his views expressed in the 1985 film “Dances Sacred and Profane” and in ReSearch publications 1986 book “Modern Primitives” (a word Fakir coined in 1979 to describe himself and a few kindred spirits). A comprehensive 50-year retrospective of his work titled ”Spirit + Flesh”, was published this year by Arena Editions. Fakir’s new book includes an introduction by Mark Thompson (author of “Leatherfolk”) and 139 unique photographic images (ranging from l948 to 2002) in an oversize art book format. Original signed and numbered prints of Fakir’s images are available for purchase at faheykleingallery.com. Spirit + Flesh” can be ordered from arenaeditions.com and both Amazon and Barnes & Noble books.

Fakir Musafar published his own print magazine, Body Play and Modern Primitives, for nine years; Body Play is now online at his web site. Fakir is currently director of Fakir Body Piercing and Branding Intensives, the only courses of instruction of their kind in the world, and only such school registered by the State of California as a career training institution. See www.bodyplay.com for more information.

SENSUOUS SADIE: Our culture commonly separates the body from the spirit. How does “body play,” broadly speaking, help to heal this rift? How does it do this?

FM: “Yes, our culture does seem to have an internal bias against a union of body & spirit, acting as if body & spirit were separate and incompatible parts of us pulling in opposite directions. But other cultures, on which I have based my practices and from which I have learned my lessons, have a reverse view. To them, human life is a constant interplay between body and spirit, a drama to be encouraged and explored. A drama whose ritual brings body and spirit interactively together. A drama that includes body, erotic energy and spirit. A drama that defines where one starts, the other stops and where they overlap. I call exploration of this drama ‘body play.'”

Sadie: You are a shaman with over forty years experience in the body arts. You write, “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.” How does your background in spiritual healing relate to primitive body decoration and rituals? How does this healing happen?

FM: “You’ve asked a big and loaded question here. But basically what some other cultures have learned over thousands of years of experimentation and spiritual insight is that deliberate ritual exposure to strong physical sensations (as in body modifications like tattooing, scarification, compression, deprivation and ritual piercing) allow humans to access altered states of consciousness. And in these abnormal states of consciousness, normal physical rules may not apply. Unusual physical strengths, immunities, transformations and healing can occur. This is the place where medicine men and woman work. The space between the ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ worlds where the body/spirit interconnection resides and can be manipulated.”

Sadie: In a society that generally does not appreciate or understand the work of a shaman, how do you explain what you are doing to people who don’t have a background in eastern theology?

FM: “I don’t try to explain it. I try to demonstrate it. Or try to have those who are willing to experiment with themselves, their own bodies, experience something extraordinary. It is not a matter of belief or theology. It is a matter of dipping one’s feet in the water and getting wet. People in Western Judeo-Christian culture are trained to discount the existence of a reality that is beyond the normal five senses. So step one is to have an experience that personally and deeply reveals the existence of an ‘unseen’ world that is inescapably connected to one’s own physical world/body.”

Sadie: You wrote that, “At a very early age I could touch a tree and get a whole vision of what had happened there. I could take a stone from an Indian burial ground and it would speak to me. I still do this.” What is the connection between your ability to see what is happening beyond the superficial physical objects, and your simultaneous connection to using your own superficial physical body to take you to another spiritual place? Are you in a sense having a vision of yourself through your own body?

FM: “I don’t like use of the word ‘superficial.’ Nothing is superficial. Everything has ‘spirit,’ even a rock. The spirit in a rock or any other physical manifestation can be communicated with when your own body and spirit are connected. No connection, no communication. And this kind of connection usually occurs only in an altered state. What is happening here is the basis for a phenomena known as psychometry. That was a gift I was apparently given in this embodiment.

So I could listen to a rock talk, or a tree, or later in my early development to other people in photographic images. That’s how I learned what’s behind the strange body rituals and body modifications of other cultures (like the Hindu Thaipusam, Native American Sun Dance and South Pacific tattoo rites). I could meditate on an image, and in time, feel what the person was feeling and thinking and experiencing at the moment the image was made. Early on I learned not to trust the verbal descriptions that accompanied such images. They were almost always incorrect, distorted, actions of people in other cultures as seen through European Judeo-Christian eyes.”

Sadie: You say, “Change the physical body and affect the way the world perceives you and you perceive the world.” Some might argue that changing the body is just a physical thing, that real spiritual and emotional changes happen in the mind and heart. How do changes in the body actually affect how we move through the world?

FM: “Ah, but the body and spirit and mind and emotions are all interconnected. They affect each other. So when you create a change in the mind or emotions it mirrors a change in the body. Contemporary Western medicine is now pretty aware of this interaction. But in our culture the reverse effect is still a mystery. The body is primarily looked upon only as a machine. We still have to discover that the body is more than a mere machine. Aside from the visual and tactile effect a modified body will have on others perception of us, the act of modification (physical change) also

feeds back into our own spiritual and emotional selves. It makes changes there too.”

Sadie: You said in an interview that, “I had an insight, an understanding – my body is mine to use. It’s my media, my personal living canvas and living clay to mold and shape and mark as an artful expression of the life energy that flows through it.” Being that you’re on the cutting edge of body modification, what is left that you haven’t tried?

FM: “It’s not so much a matter of quantity as quality. After many years of body play, I can honestly say I seldom seek a more intense version of something that has already brought me further along my spiritual path. One good experience is enough. And when I’m ready to move another step, by perhaps another means, I wait and resist the urge to act immediately. I wait until an inner spiritual pressure builds to the point where release is inevitable. I wait for an inner voice, a prompting to give me a ‘green light.’ By now I have absolute faith in my inner promptings. For years now they have led me safely through a long series of transformative experiences.

“These insights began with my earliest transformative experience, a conscious OOB (out-of-body)

journey at age seventeen. I had lashed myself in a cold cellar to a coal bin wall and waited for hours to see what would happen. The part of me that thinks and sees and feels and answers to a name magically separated from my physical body. I learned that I could temporarily exist apart from my physical body. I learned that in this state I was not subject to physical laws, that I could walk through walls, swim in the earth, fly like a bird. I learned that in such a state one could move backward or forward in time just like walking from one room to another in the physical body.”

Sadie: You have received very positive responses to your talks on sex, pain, and spirit. While the BDSM culture celebrates sex and pain, there is little focus on the spiritual side of things. [which is why I write and research it myself]. What are the challenges for us in the BDSM community as far as bringing the spiritual side of things to the forefront of the general discussion?

FM: “I think the rare and unusual experiences we sometimes bring back from a scene are the keys that open spiritual doors. If BDSM players can keep those moments in mind, meditate on them, and share them with others, they will gain more insight into the ‘body/spirit’ connection. Also a willingness to desire more of the same kinds of experience, to be open minded and exploratory about the types and styles of play one pursues. Be novel. Look for other kinds of play that also involve sexual energy and pain. Many of the SM players in my personal circle of friends spent years with a limited repertoire. Pulling against flesh hooks was way out in ‘left field’ to them. That is until they tried it. Now we have groups of up to 50 experienced SM players going into deep altered states pulling against flesh hooks – like this year in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Denver. We will also enact this erotic energy-pulling ritual at Black Rose in November 2002.”

Sadie: You have noted that many people assume you are a submissive because of the photos of you hanging in trees with fleshhooks and so on. And yet you are a top. How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

FM: “No real contradiction here. I truly am a switch as are most BDSM folks I know. As the man who hangs by flesh hooks, I am a submissive. But in this experience, unlike the socialized BDSM scene, I am submissive to the experience NOT to another person. And when I am Fakir the Master Piercer who may be putting flesh hooks in other people, I am totally a Top and am interacting with another person who bottoms. In my private play with others I can be either Top or bottom.”

Sadie: You have said that, “Physical difference frightens people in our culture more than anything else. You can be aberrant as hell mentally, politically, socially, but do one little thing physical-put a bone in your nose-and boy, you’re in trouble!” Why do you think the body modification scares people more than political views, when the latter certainly have caused more wars and death than any tattoo?

FM: “Our Western Judeo-Christian culture is based on a lot of taboos. One of the strongest is the mistaken belief that our bodies do not belong to us. We do not have the right to change or enjoy our bodies. Therefore when we do something radical to or with our physical body we have broken the taboo that ONLY the divine, or the divine’s human agents, have the right to grant permission for such an act. In other words, our culture has been operating under the assumption that the body DOES NOT belong to person living in it. We have been taught that our bodies essentially belong to God or god’s agents on earth (the church, priests, go-betweens), or our parents or spouses or doctors, or educational and governmental agents, or law enforcement agents or military commanders. So putting a bone in your nose, or dying your hair purple, or being tattooed or whipping other people consensually is a violation of our societies 2000-year old taboos. It is not taboo to stage wars or be a political dissident. But all of this is changing. Popularization of BDSM is a start.”

Sadie: You also commented that, “The whole purpose of “modern primitive” practices is to get more and more spontaneous in the expression of pleasure with insight. Too much structuring somehow destroys any possibility of an ecstatic breakthrough in life experiences.” Considering that most churches approach spiritual experiences through structure, I’m wondering why you feel that spontaneity is more effective?

FM: “As I said previously, Western religion and it’s churches and social structures depend on their rules, taboos and structure to control the populace and thus sustain themselves. They have a long history of non-consensual control. They do not like people to be inner guided (remember they killed the Gnosts and Pagans). They are at risk when people take control of their own bodies and desires. As I see it, ‘Modern Primitives’ are those contemporaries who have seen the truth and broken away from old structures, taboos and institutions. Thumbed their nose at what is essentially spiritually backward and unjust. Reclaiming ownership of ones own body and being guided by ones own inner voice (spontaneity) can be liberation from oppressive cultural forces. It can be a breakthrough in life experience that leads to spiritual enlightenment.”

Sadie: You write that, “The body-spirit connection becomes clear and sharp through any form of body modification.” Some might argue that modifications such as corsets that restrict breathing are by definition working against the body and spirit which have a foundation in deep breathing. It could also be argued that moving around one’s organs as happens with something like the waist reducing belt of the Ibitoe of New Guinea, is a deliberate misuse of the gift of our bodies. What is your response to this?

FM: “Whoa! Missing the point here. I have trouble with your term ‘misuse of the gift.’ That sounds like some of the oppressive ‘religious’ nuts or medical persons I know. Assumes we owe some kind of responsibility to the giver of the gift. If our bodies are a truly a gift to us, then don’t we own them totally? And shouldn’t we be able to do with them as we wish? As long as what we do does not harm or intrude on anyone else? Even if that means adjusting to shallow breathing or rearranging internal organs with a tight belt? Even if that means restricting movement or bending limbs unnaturally with bondage? Or making bruises or cuts with a whip? Freedom to use our gift is what this is all about to me.”

Sadie: Well, let me clarify a little bit. I think of the body as a “temple” in that I feel God gave me this beautiful vessel, and it’s my job to take care of it. That is, eat healthy food, work out, don’t get too stressed out, and so on. My spiritual approach is Eastern so when I say “God” I generally mean something along the lines of the Taoist tradition. What I’m trying to get to is a place where the idea of doing that is in alignment with the idea of the body as a sanctified place, and therefore one which needs to be allowed to function at its best.

Fakir: “Who is to judge what function is best? I am surprised that you can accept tattooing and body piercing and yoga and exercise in the ‘sanctified ‘body’ place’ but not corseting. How about African and Southeast Asian cultures where heads were elongated, limbs were constricted and modified, necks were elongated with brass coils, movement was restricted with encumberments (Inzilla), were ear and other piercings were made into fleshy loops?

“What is this all about? What was going on there? Think about it. I did. Wonderful part about the ‘gift’ we have been given is that our bodies are plastic, malleable, adaptable and seemingly built to be changed. It is a spiritual challenge to adapt our bodies physical stuff to our inner desires or vision (as with tattooing, body building, gender reassignment and even corseting and similar modifications). Modifying the appearance, proportions, size and shape of our bodies can be a constructive spiritual exercise. It has been for me and many others I know.

“To fit the body we have been given to our inner vision or desires takes courage, dedication, persistence, discipline and patience. All of which contribute to our spiritual strength. I suppose our attitude about this depends quite a bit on our feelings about the body we have been given (both by genetics and predispositions carried over from a previous embodiment). Are we happy or unhappy with the ‘stuff,’ the ‘gift?’ Do we feel cheated? Do we feel it is hopeless to alter the ‘stuff’ we are living in?

“Early in my life, I didn’t like the body I was given. It didn’t conform or fit into what was acceptable in the society around me. Too skinny, too feminine. After I rejected early conditioning and learned NOT to take others prejudices seriously, I found I loved my body. And I began a long-term , slow process making it physically fit my own inner vision of what it should be, feel and look like. I suppose I have been successful in this process. I am content and happy with the result. And along the way, following this path, I have gained a better connection with my spirit. This experience leads me to feel others can do the same. All can!”

Sadie: I think I’ll have to think on that some more Fakir. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

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