Sept. 24, 2011
MIAMI – Piercings, tattoos, and other forms of body modification have been part of the human experience for millennia. The motivations our distant ancestors embellished their skins were similar to what compels us today. Highlighting one’s physical beauty, showing off artistry, symbolizing self-expression and linking people with a particular identity are commonalities shared across distant times and lands.
For many people, bodily markings also symbolized cultural rites of passage and spiritual initiatory experiences. Today, many of us relate to modifying simply as vogue de jour. What was once shocking and fringe has become very normalized in our culture. A 2006 study conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 24% of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed. While each has their own particular motivations for doing so, it’s very rare that you hear of wanting a piercing for the main purpose of a religious or spiritual act, except when controversy makes headlines.
In the past eight years among the Florida Pagan community – up until this month – I had never heard of Pagan ritual specifically using piercing as the focal point of an Esbat. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the many Pagans, Wiccans and spiritual kindred among us who receive piercings or ink to dedicate to a particular deity or spiritual expression after they have already dedicated at some other moment and place. What I’m describing here is within a full community ritual, the participant gets pierced at the penultimate height of the ritual itself, linking the physical act, the symbolic expression and the magical rite all into one.
On September 12, as the full moon rose in the sign of Pisces, nine members of the South Florida Pagan Meetup group gathered at 7:45pm and guided Carla into an initiatory dedication to her matron Goddess Demeter. Bathed in darkness illuminated by tea lights and lanterns, the rite included anointing oils, incense, energy raising and drumming. Carla’s ears were pierced by the ritual Priestess Jesi Ruiz at the pinnacle of ritual. Held on the premises of Unitarian Universalist of Miami, Carla was presented to the community while a potluck feast was shared by all.
The events leading up to this unprecedented community collaboration had Fortuna smiling widely upon the efforts of many talented Pagans. The idea was conceived by Jesi Ruiz, a piercing artist at Phat Joes Tattoo Parlor in Miami, and also a member of the South Florida Pagan Meetup group.
Jesi recounts, “This had always been an idea in my head, but it didn’t start out as refined as what occurred that evening. When I was training to become a piercing artist, I had traveled to California study under Fakir Musafar at his training school. Fakir, the father of the modern primitive movement, has a philosophy that purports piercing is not just about putting a hole into your body. His work incorporates piercing as a transformative spiritual act, symbolizing a reclamation of self. I had seen these ‘spiritual piercings’ conducted and I participated in one myself. Ever since that day, I’ve wanted so badly to bring this back here to our Florida Pagan community.”
Jesi kept speaking about her vision for over a years time. She eventually attracted Carla who was interested in the idea of a religious piercing. Carla is attending a Paganism 101 class with Humberto, a longstanding member of Pagan Meetup, where she recalls a pivotal meditation exercise. Carla says, “Humberto had urged us to explore and find a pantheon to work with. I was researching the Greek pantheon, and I found myself really drawn toward Demeter, the mother. When we did the meditation exercise, I felt this weighty, earthy energy surround me, I was definitely shifting into an altered state of awareness. The energy I felt, it so resonated with me. After this experience, I knew I had found my connection to the mother, and to mother nature, and the pathway for finding grounding in my life.”
Suzy, another longstanding member with Pagan Meetup and a Tarot reader for over 17 years, was approached by Jesi to help create and organize the community ritual for Carla. Suzy commented, “I helped Jesi find different ways to manifest her vision of the ritual. The best rituals I’ve either lead or attended were not spectator sports. I encouraged her to get everyone involved. We talked about ways to include each one that was special to that person. I was touched that she and Carla asked me to be a part of this.”
Suzy added, “This was not only an initiation for Carla, it was an initiation for Jesi, and for the Meetup group people as well.” Jesi interjects, “When I started going to Meetup, I felt like such a newbie. I would come home and find my parents had gone through all my Pagan books and had thrown them in the trash. Never did I imagine myself as someone who would be leading ritual for a community. I would just be happy to be invited somewhere just to watch on the sidelines. Without even realizing it, I found myself capable as a center-point in a ritual. Suzy really was a great mirror for me and a mentor in this process.”
Suzy says, “We are coming into a fascinating phase of our growth as a Pagan community. We’ve done all the book stuff, and we’ve learned a lot from each other. Now we’re coming to the point where we are taking the initiative and making our own rituals. This is really the next step is for us. Creating our own rituals that are not out of someone else’s book, but are things that we as human beings want to really celebrate. I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
Jesi continues, “When Carla told me this was a ritual about Demeter, it gave me the idea of a womb. In the myth, Demeter goes searching for Persephone, and there is loss and grief, and Persephone does comes back. I pulled from the myth this ‘descent, search and ascent’ theme. This provided the structure for the ritual. Carla was blindfolded as she was circled around the table, symbolizing the descent into the underworld. After the first piercing, the blindfold was removed. Once the second piercing was complete, we brought her up from the table, she ascended, and we repeated her name and presented her to the community.”
Carla shares, “When I was on that table, I had this intense feeling of heat pouring off of me. Living in Miami, I’ve felt hot before, but I’ve never felt heat radiating off of me before like that. I felt very safe, and enclosed, like I was in a cocoon. It felt like I was inside something. Even with the blindfold on, while Marian was guiding me, I was able to let go and have other people guide me. I felt the piercing, but it didn’t hurt at all. I sinked into it.”
Carla continues, “This whole ritual was very special and significant to me. September 12th is my aunt’s birthday. The four women in the picture on the altar are my grandmother, my mother and my two aunts. All four of these women were a huge influence in my life.” (Author note: the number on the door to the ritual room was “4″, serendipitously). “My grandmother and my one aunt have passed on. I feel like my aunt has watched over me in my life. This is also the traditional time of the Eleusinian mysteries. It was a full moon and it was on a Monday evening. The other amazing thing is that the ritual started right on time, an incredible feat for many Pagans – not to mention Latin Pagans!”
Carla also shares, “This whole ritual was about me embracing myself. I realize I don’t have to live my life by someone else’s standards. This is my version of life. I can be eccentric. The physicality of the piercing was about embracing my own eccentricity. There is so much going on in my life right now, I’m trying to connect my spirituality, my belly dancing, and all of the other things I have going on. In one of my Tarot readings with Suzy, I am like a spider that has built her web and now I can connect with that spot. Sometimes everything around me just needs to happen. And I can rejoice in being the center of all of it.”
After the ritual, Carla was presented with gifts and tokens to commemorate the experience. “I loved everyone’s gift, I wasn’t expecting any. It felt like a birthday. It’s was a rebirth, actually, in a way.”
This first successful piercing ritual has created a buzz among the Pagan Meetup group. Jesi has articulated another piercing ritual will be conducted soon. She has already accumulated a waiting list of eager souls who are awaiting the opportunity to participate in a Pagan piercing ritual experience.
The South Florida Pagan Meetup group thanks the contributions of WW Photography for the beautiful ritual pictures. To contact Jesi the piercing artist, visit her at Phat Joe’s Tattoo Parlor on Bird Road in Miami. The South Florida Pagan Meetup group has a variety of meetings and events available on their website.