This simple, one word question captures the most prevalent attitude towards all sorts of body modification, but none so much as suspensions and hook-pulls. For those outside of the modification world, it’s difficult to imagine just what would tempt anyone to allow large hooks to be pierced through one’s skin so that they may hang, tug, and pull. Pictures of suspensions and pulls are most often met with gasps and cringes, and YouTube videos of these events garner far more negative comments than positive.
Like most forms of modification, however, suspensions and pulls do not originate with masochists or weirdos, but with ancient tribal rituals. As far back as five thousand years ago, and in many unrelated parts of the world, people have been engaging in these practices. Some, like the rituals of ancient India, were meant as an expression of debt and honour to the gods. Certain Hindu devotees would (and still do) use skewers rather than hooks – a symbolic nod to the spear that Shiva’s wife gave to the war god to kill demons – and attach ropes to them so that they could either be suspended, or pulled. Native American tribes, such as the Mandan, had similar suspension rituals involving hooks, skewers, ropes, and weights, both to prove their strength and endurance, and to celebrate the creation of the Earth. Their suspensions came at the end of a four day ritual of fasting, prayer, dancing, and tests of will. Participants would hang until they fainted, and elders would then release them. Upon waking, the initiate was said to have been approved by the spirits.
Modern versions of these rituals have been practiced since the 60s, when Fakir Musafar and other early members of the “modern primitive” movement began exploring ancient customs and body modification related rituals. For the modern primitives, suspension was about rites of passage, and bringing back traditions that had since been lost or replaced, such as the Mandan rituals. For others, it was about pushing one’s body to its limits, and exploring feelings and sensations that would otherwise remain locked away in our subconscious, much like the ancient Hindus.
We are, of course, separated from these rituals by both culture and time, but the reasons have not changed much. Participants in modern suspensions and pulls speak of the meditative and healing qualities of the act, and describe a strong sense of euphoria and peace both during and after the event. While no gods are being appeased in these modern suspensions, the feeling of oneness with the universe and rising above our day-to-day concerns remains. And, much like the ancient practitioners, initiates walk away with the knowledge that they can endure and overcome any challenges or pain they may face in life.