“Your body belongs to you. Play with it.”
with Fakir Musafar
By the age of four; Poland Laomis was regularly dreaming about his past lives; by six he was experiencing psychedelic visions while riding his bicycle; by twelve he was poking his mother’s sewing needles through his skin. By the age of thirteen he had pierced his foreskin in the coal cellar, by fourteen he was experimenting with his newly found psychokinetic powers; and by seventeen he had a full-blown mystical shake-up of the kind recounted by saints, sages, and madmen.
Gradually, the puzzling elements of Roland’s childhood began to slip into place, like the ribs beneath a whalebone corset. This odd and awkward boy from a strict Lutheran family in whitest South Dakota had been born again in the regal personage of Fakir Musafar: Fakir Musafar was a misunderstood shaman in thirteenth-century Persia who entered mystical states through manipulating his body and died of a broken heart after a lifetime of ridicule.
This could also have been the fate of Roland had he remained within the walls of his family cellar; where his experiments began. Instead, Fakir came out, and now, at sixty-three, he has not only been accepted by the tribe but has been granted something of the status of an elder statesman. He is undoubtedly America ‘s master guru of body ritual, offering wisdom and experience in a movement with more than its share of neophytes searching for identity.
Fakir’s role models are Hindu sadhus who sleep on beds of nails, African women with necks elongated by metal rings, and New Guinea tribesmen with belts that reduce their waists to a whisper. It was he who coined the terms “modern primitive, ” and “body play, ” terms that now, thanks to the information revolution, have become almost as familiar as “cyberpunk” or “generation X. ” The modern primitive movement is a tribal concoction of neopagans, lesbians, gays, artists, punks-creative misfits who have taken the term “queer” from the exclusive domain of homosexuality and applied it to all who find themselves trying to squeeze their round pegs into the square nipples of society.
His twenty-seven years as an advertising executive allowed Fakir piercing insight into the power of symbolism, a knowledge he exploits beautifully in his quarterly magazine, BodyPlay. He is also the founder and director of the School for Professional Body Piercing, the first in America.
I interviewed Fakir on October 17, 1992. Sitting in the garden of his suburban bungalow in Menlo Park, California, bespectacled with a button-down haircut, in sports shirt and slacks, Fakir could still be that executive. There is little to suggest what lies beneath, except that poking through his nose is a five-inch porcupine quill. Fakir is a misfit who, unable to find a mold to fit into, simply fashioned one for himself
Rebecca:. What first inspired you to start changing your body state?
Fakir: I always seemed to have that inclination. When I was growing up all the people around me lived under Judeo-Christian principles and rules, and the whole thing was operating under a very hard, patriarchal society. My biggest problem as a child was spacing out and I would literally go into trance states at the drop of a hat. It was very difficult for me because I thought I was going nuts. I would try and stay there but I couldn’t help it, I’d fade away. Bells would ring, I’d have audio and visual hallucinations. I remember riding a tricycle and having wonderful hallucinations like on acid.
I had a particular problem in social situations which still bothers me today. I guess it’s an escape, a coping mechanism. This family was so repressive and dysfunctional that it was natural for me to use this ability to space out, to cope with the boredom and abandonment.
Rebecca: What were you like as a child – apart from spacy? (laughter)
Fakir: I was very much alone, I was very thin, I didn’t do too well with other kids, I didn’t do too well in sports. I couldn’t catch a baseball because I was blind as a bat. But I was also very bright. I devoured books because that was my only escape from this very limited society. I started on Volume A of the best looking encyclopedia. I read the whole thing from cover to cover and then I started on Volume B and so on. When I got through that set of encyclopedias I went to another set and read that one. And I found out that I was really interested in how other cultures lived.
Rebecca: And when you first saw pictures of people with scarification, tattoos and piercings, did you suddenly go, aha! this is it?
Fakir: Oh yeah – instantly the light went on. Very often I could recognize that whatever they said about these people in the photo caption was not what was going on. I could look at them and feel how that person felt at the moment the photograph was taken. It was a mixture of fear, pain, intense sensation, awe, and I thought my God! they’ve got something! And I would secretly try to do these things, the Ibitoe of New Guinea which is the waist reducing belt.
One of the abilities I had when I was young was psychometry. We lived in an area that was heartland for Indians’ last stands and the last survival of Indian culture, so there was a lot of Indian atmosphere. The towny’s would just plow over Indian graves, but I would go out on my bicycle and find Indian campgrounds, burial spaces, places that were blessed and had a charge in them. 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.
Rebecca: And you used to visit the Indians and hang out with them.
Fakir: Yes. They were treated very badly, worse than dogs. I found a kinship because I was a loner. I always felt I was on the edge, on the fringes of society. My search through life has always been to find the disenfranchised, I always had more in common with them. I had a very hard time with the establishment.
Rebecca: What kind of reactions do you get from Native American people to the things you do?
Fakir: I have a lot of friends who are Native Americans. I did some rituals at a place called Rancho Cicada and Hawk (could you describe briefly who Hawk is?) was one of them. He was quite taken with it, we exchanged presents and energies and he participated in some of the ceremony. In general I’ve had nothing but respect and awe from Indians.
Rebecca: You don’t ever come across people who think it’s just another example of the white man encroaching on Indian terrain?
Fakir: In Boston I was on a television program and they had Native Americans on there who were very un-native compared to the ones I grew up with on the Lakota reservations. They had always lived in cities and they were very Catholic or Lutheran. They didn’t seem to have much connection with Indian culture, but I had objections from them that I was ripping off Indian culture and exploiting it.
Rebecca: Going back to your childhood….
Fakir: I was the head of the class in the Lutheran confirmation. I knew all the dogma and all the theories and the doctrine of transubstantiation. We had a very aristocratic pastor who came from New York. He was quite a maverick because he didn’t preach hell and brimstone as much as he did love. He used to think the world of me.
One of my favorite meditation spots was church. I was in the choir and we sat in this separate space in front of the organ which had all of these beautiful vibrations coming out of it. And I had some of the most beautiful fantasies including erotic fantasies in that choir loft.
Rebecca: Was there anyone you could share your true urges and visions with?
Fakir: I couldn’t share what I was doing with anybody at all. It was so way out and bizarre compared to how everything was. In school I was an avid lucid daydreamer. I was near-sighted so I couldn’t see the board, it was so boring and the way they did everything was so rigid. They’d explain something and I’d jump twenty-eight steps before they’d even got to step three with the rest of the kids.
So I’d look out of the window, I’d look at a tree and I’d become sunlight falling on a leaf – I learned how to have visions. Some of them were alarming.
Rebecca: If your environment had been more interesting perhaps you wouldn’t have been encouraged to develop your inner world so much.
Fakir: Yes, that’s true. At home on Sunday afternoons you had to wear your Sunday best which was always very uncomfortable and you had to sit in an upright chair for hours while the family droned on and on about the crops and Aunt Tilly’s tumor – all this neat stuff. (laughter) I would sit in this room and stare at my Uncle Milton and all of a sudden I would start going into a trance state.
All the voices would go vzzzzzzzzz, like turning down the volume control, and everything would start to get dark except for Uncle Milton who’s head would get brighter and brighter. Then it would start to recede until it was a pinhead and then it would come back, but instead of Uncle Milton it would be an old Chinese man and he would be speaking Chinese! I was totally fascinated by this.
Up until I reached puberty I had some