non-gay leather people, the lesbians would have nothing to do with the gay men and so on. Up here in San Francisco we’re having great get-togethers where lesbians and gay men are having all kinds of interesting explorations together. We’ve gone to another phase.
Rebecca: The “modern primitive” movement that’s happening in the west, is this a desire for a closer knit tribalism – a sense of community beyond and apart from the cultural homogeny?
Fakir: Out of the mass fusion. Yes, there’s this desperate hunger, this desperate crying need to belong, to find a place and some kind of meaning. It’s very hard to have meaning unless you have family and tribe. Human beings are basically social and we have alienated the things that make us more human. Sitting playing Nintendo or watching sitcoms on television does not necessarily make us more social.
Rebecca: Do you see a future where this tribalism has spread to the point where people with similar cultural attitudes will live in communities which provide for their lifestyle? It’s already happening – San Francisco is a good example.
Fakir: It’s been going on for about ten years, as far as I know. It’s cultural fusion. I was searching for a tribe for fifty-five years. (laughter)
Rebecca: When did you first meet people you could relate to, apart from the indians?
Fakir: When I moved to the city it was more difficult. People that were different, queer in one way or another, didn’t necessarily show up and say, “I’m queer, let’s get together.” First I realized there were things I couldn’t do without help. I desperately wanted to do the O-Kee-Pa, that is to be hung up by flesh-hooks, or the Kavandi-bearing; it’s very hard to do these to yourself. I did little tattoos on myself, but only where I could reach.
I had a vision for years and years that I would only be me if I had a certain tattoo on my back. It’s a Native American design and depicts flame coming out of the earth. I made a large photograph of my back and I took what I saw in my vision and sketched it on tissue-paper. I started going around to various tattoo artists and they’d look at this and laugh. They’d say, “You want that on your back? How about a nice panther, how about a rose, how about a dagger with `Mom’ in it?” (laughter)
Finally, after a lot of searching I found a man called Davy Jones who was receptive. He was the official tattoo artist for the Hells Angels. He saw my tattoo and instantly connection with it. As far as I know that was the first blackwork that was ever done in this country.
Rebecca: The Kavandi-bearing entails wearing a frame that’s filled with sixty or so spears inserted into the torso. Could you describe your first experience of this?
Fakir: Well, Davy came over and I prepared myself. I fasted and meditated and did all the things I felt I had to do to get myself psyched up. We did a Kavandi that lasted all day. I totally spaced out, projected out of my body, floated up out through the roof and looked down on all of this with great interest. Davy had said, “I’ll only do this if you’ll sign a release that says in the case of injury or death you won’t hold us responsible.” And we did a very formal document so if a body was found laying there, they wouldn’t be in trouble.
I had a marvelous experience. The only problem I had was that I wanted more space but I couldn’t communicate because I was projected out of my physical body. It was like an automaton, a puppet, and I felt I couldn’t speak through the mouth. I wanted them to open this door so I could run down the driveway and out into the street and the only way I could communicate this was to run up against the door and go smash! with all these rods in. That scared the hell out of them. All I was trying to tell them was, “open the damn door!” (laughter)
I had experimented and hung myself up O-Kee-Pa style a few times but I could only go so far. I knew that if I spaced out and hung that way for twenty minutes I’d strangulate and die. So I appealed to Davy and his friends to come over again. That’s when I first met the white light. When I got to the point of getting 98% of my weight on the piercings I had made in chest, to go the other 2% I either had to come out of my body or quit. There was no way I could endure this, it was so intense. I was hoping that in this condition I would just click! And then it happened and I was free, floating in warm, sticky glue.
I saw a ball of white light and it was singing. The music was wonderful and it was talking to me. It said, “Hi, I’m you – greetings.” And the love! I’ve never felt love on a human level like this. The communication was telepathic and instant. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. To me, that was the Great White Spirit, my higher self, my God Self. My guru had told me years before, “One day you’re going to meet your Godself and you’re going to be really surprised because it isn’t going to be at all what you think.” Well, I did, hanging by flesh-hooks.
Rebecca: Was that the original purpose of the Sun Dance – to meet with the Great White Spirit?
Fakir: Yes, many times. It was a way of getting into a shamanic state of consciousness where all things are possible, where you escape the boundaries and limitations of a physical life in a physical body.
Rebecca: Is part of the purpose of ritual to teach people how to deal with pain?
Fakir: Yes. It’s one of the things that’s missing in our culture. A few people discover it because of what they do. I had an interesting conversation with Fran Tarkenton, the football player. He talked about deliberately getting involved in a situation where you know there’s going to be pain, and we kind of connected. I had a standby position on a talk show and the guest was unable to make it. I didn’t find out until a year later who that guest was. Everybody on the show was surprised because they were expecting someone else to be there.
Rebecca: Who were they expecting?
Fakir: George Bush. (laughter)
Rebecca: That’s great. Isn’t the desire to make things as comfortable and as painless as possible a natural and healthy one, though?
Fakir: Well, you can learn to transform pain into something else through ritual. And a society that functions by trying to make things as painless and as comfortable as possible might be missing the boat because a lot of what we’re here to learn in life may be locked away. There are people who realize the value of hardship and people who climb up cliffs. All these physical challenges are where you discover spirit. There’s a validity in doing this other than getting up the wall.
Rebecca: What do you think happens to a society that doesn’t offer ritual and rites of passage?
Fakir: It turns out a bunch of zombies and robots. How are they going to explore their spiritual dimensions without some challenges? You either create them yourself or someone else creates them and guides you through it. You need challenges; emotional, physical, mental.
Rebecca: Many societies offer a very specific rite of passage for the journey from puberty to adulthood. Like many people I found puberty a very confusing time and was looking for something to relate to, to help explain what was happening to me. It felt like a transition but….
Fakir: You had nothing to say it was a transition. A transition from what to what? Of course you were totally lost. Remember, the traditions and rituals didn’t happen because someone sat down and invented them, they came out of one person’s needs, experiences and experimentation. They were guided to do certain things and it seemed to work. They became the elders and they passed what they had learned on to those who came after them and so on. When the whole system of traditions, families and tribes vanished there was nobody to pass anything on to, and now we’re all wandering around in limbo not knowing how to proceed from one phase of life to the next.
Rebecca: Much ritual in the major religions of today is purely symbolic, a hangover from an experience which was probably initially quite powerful, like baptism, for example.
Fakir: Ritual, if it’s valid and has real magic in it, is truly transformative. You are not the same person you were before the ritual. So many people want transformation, they want to be freed and cleared of old stuff. When I did piercings commercially in San Francisco I would ask people, “why are you getting pierced?” and to my surprise, instead of getting replies like, “because my buddies are,” or “I just always wanted a gold ring in my tit,” I got real answers. They were creating their own initiations, their own rituals. Almost everybody had a good reason for doing what they were doing. It wasn’t a hollow thing.
Rebecca: I heard about a girl who got her labia pierced, partly because she has a very straight job and was feeling she was losing her identity. So she’s got this secret rebellion going on under her clothes.
Fakir: Right. I may look like everybody else but really I’m different to you! I’ve had that secret thing going for years, ever since I pierced my dick. They may think I’m fitting in, but I have the secret pleasure of knowing I’m not.
Rebecca: Is body modification largely about reclaiming the body, taking it back from social pressure and control.
Fakir: Reclaiming is a major reason for this. We run into an awful lot of women who have been raped, who by the act of getting pierced or by doing one of these rituals feel their reclaiming. Somebody has abused and usurped and used them and they want to say to themselves and to others, “I’m taking my body back from someone who took it from me, and by this act I bring my body back to me.”
Rebecca: Judeo-Christian attitudes that the body is sinful has seeped into the culture so much. Is redemption also a part of this, absolving the body of sin?
Fakir: Perhaps. This culture seems to have lost all the original Goddess, nature-orientated, animistic, shamanic