Body Modification has been an important part of my life since I first pierced my own nose when I was 15. Back then, body piercing was totally D.I.Y. You had to do it the punk rock way and stick a safety pin or something through your lip or nose. Below is a pic of my old pal Shannon...circa 1991, she was 18. She had a really cool mom who let her paint her room black! She gave me my first tattoo (I was 16) using a needle, thread, and India Ink! Me, Shannon, her sister Michelle and our friend Carol all had matching Yin Yang tattoos! It's hard to believe we all have kids now...time flies!
The first place in Chicago to legally offer body piercing was a a tattoo shop called Body Basics. The shop was owned by The Reverend Mad Jack, one of the most influential people in the Body Modifcation scene in Chicago. He was a Tattoo Artist and Master Piercer, and really felt like he was participating in an ancient trade. Shortly after this, another side of Body Modification came up from the underground. The revival of Circus Sideshow Culture. The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow was founded in Seattle by Jim Rose in the early 1990s. They came to prominence while performing on the second stage at the 1992 Lollapalooza. Acts included fire eating, sword swallowing, knife throwing, body modification piercing show like ritual suspension, and other dangerous stunts. Performers drew inspiration from circus and carnival sideshow acts of the early 1900's that featured "freak show" exhibitions "human oddities" including "born freaks" such as midgets, giants or persons with other deformities, or "made freaks" like tattooed people. The show featured people like Paul Lawrence aka The Enigma, who had undergone extensive body modification, including horn implants, ear reshaping, multiple body piercings, and a full-body jigsaw-puzzle tattoo. His tattooing process began under the needle of Katzen the Tiger Lady, whom he eventually married and performed with under the moniker "Human Marvels." (This gave way to the burgeoning Circus Culture we are seeing these days.) Soon after we saw more extremes in the industry like tounge spliting, branding, and scarification.
Enigma and Katzen...the Human Marvels
Bands like Genitortures and the Impotent Sea Snakes incorperated bondage and piercing into their acts. So body play performances became pretty common at some of Chicago's Punk/Goth clubs.
The following year (1993) I turned 18. I caught wind that an old friend of mine, Mike Leatherman, was piercing. He turned up at a Punk hair salon called Milio's Hair Studio where my roomate Nicole and my friend JoJo worked. Soon after he talked the owner into letting him pierce there....they already had a tattoo artist, so why not? Mike trained under the auspices of Cliff Cadaver of Hollywood California. Mike's business card said "Get a Hole with Soul", he put emphasis on ritual adornment and rites of passage. That's Mike pictured below.
Like Mad Jack, he held the art of body modification in high esteem. He was into the shamanic rites of passage of indigenous peoples and followed the doctrines of FAKIR MUSAFAR "Father of the Modern Primitive Movement" He taught that by using your body, modifying your body, you can go into states of consciousness and discover the true nature of life and yourself. This ideology was really appealing to me. I was already familiar with altered trance states because of my Occult studies. It was in alignment with all the initiations and rituals I read about. Below: Fakir Musafar's far out body play from waist training to ritual suspension with meat hooks, inspired by Native American flesh offering ceremonies!
In addition to the spiritual aspects of Body Modification, the erotic component in all of this was also very alluring. My (ex)boyfriend and I got our tounges pierced during this time. For me, this rite of passage marked the period of time where I embraced my sexuality, particularly the darker violent aspects of it where the lines between pain and pleasure are obscured. It was at this point of my life that I was liberated from the guilt and shame I associated with sex due to parental and religious conditioning. Tounge piercings and other blood-letting ceremonies are an act of spiritual purification in many cultures. In India, devotees of certain gods and goddesses undergo fasting, praying, and penance ceremonies. This is a spiritual discipline, a training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere under difficulties and prove their religious devotion.
Penance can get pretty extreme!
Within the next few years I collected many piercings (I've taken all of them out since then) and I started getting tattooed as well. I met an awesome tattoo artist named Deb Brody. She tattooed my leg from ankle to knee with swirly tribal work and big trippy looking flowers. I wanted something to represent growth and blooming. I started Columbia College that year to major in Fine Arts. I was totally disenchanted with the Fine Arts program by the end of my first semester...boring! I decided to take a few Women's studies classes the next semester instead. One was called "Women in Art, Literature, and Music" and the other one was called "Exploring the Goddess". This was the culmination of my Feminist/Riot Gurl kick! Once again I found myself really identifying with Warrior Goddesses...It was the Goddess, Kali that I identified with the most. Goddess of Death and Destruction, Liberator from the bonds of Illusion. All the Death and Destruction I had experienced up until that point was meant to make me stronger. I destroyed every false ideology fed to me as a child. Destroyed anything that kept me from evolving...including my own ego/self. I liberated myself from all false belief systems imposed upon me. I destroyed all negative, parental, religious, and social conditioning about who I was told I was supposed to be. I found her image extremly empowering and had her tattooed as an entire half sleeve om my right arm by my friend Kim Saigh. Kim started another piece on my lower back a few years ago but eventually I'd like my entire back done, so it will need to get re-worked. I miss my friend Kimmy, she was casted for the Reality TV show LA INK and moved to Los Angeles! Below is a couple shots of my half sleeve...I'm about to get it totally re-done because as you can see it's become quite faded after 10 years...
Kali is not Death personified in the sense that you might think. She is seen standing on her husband Shiva who is laying in the Satva (corpse) pose, thus symbolizing the death of negativities and the complete uprooting of negative patterns to such a point that, like a dead body, they will not come to life. The Hindus call the age we live in the Kali Yuga which means the Age of Kali, The Age of Darkness/Ignorance or The Iron Age. They believe death is a condition of creation. Kali is the destroyer of ignorance...and she will not stop her dance of destruction until humanity is enlightened...which is the beginning of the Golden Age. This is like many other End Time Prophecies throughout the world.
Below is a photo of me during that phase of my life...it was right before I got pregnant with my beautiful daughter Maya LeVey. After I had my daughter I slowly shed this identity. I was inspired by the Sadhus and dreaded my hair. The Sadhus are the dreadlocked holy mystics of India, devotees of Kali and Shiva. I suppose dreading my hair was my rite of passage between girlhood and womanhood. My daughter's father was in a band...they got signed to Sony Records...so he hit the road to go on a tour while I was pregnant. I was on my own, so I had to be strong...like a Warrior. I was used to "survival mode" cause my Dad was always coming and going when I was a kid...which left me to fend for myself emotionally, as I had a very mentally unstable Mother. Looking back I can sympathize with her...raising a child alone is exhausting sometimes. For most of my life I subconsciously, associated Men with disappointment and being inherently unreliable...this part of my journey brought all my buried feelings of loss and abandonment to the surface. I took me a while to sort it all out...to forgive and reconcile with my own parents. They just didn't have the capacity to be anymore to me than what they were because they were busy struggling with there own demons. They of course had fucked up parents too...I knew it was my shoulders to stop perpetuating the cycle...to heal myself and re-shape family Karma.
I've been through so many changes since then. After my son was born I cut off my dreads. I needed to shed my identity and everything associated with it. I'm ready to put the last decade of my life behind me. It's been a long road out of Hell! This is me a couple of months after my son Solomon was born, it was the last picture taken of me with my dreads (my crown). The other pic is my actual dreads after I chopped them off (notice the purple ruler) my hair was past my bum!
For the last couple of years I've been in Hermit mode...gathering strength and rebuilding myself. I'm finally at the crossroads of a new life, a rebirth, so it's time to get tattooed! Patrick Cornolo just started a piece on the same arm as my Kali tattoo...the face of Mahakala! He is a wrathful diety like Kali.The Western mind often mistakes wrathful dieties for evil beings or demons...but it is not so! Here's what it looks like after my first session!
Mahakala is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the God of Compassion. It is said that that by assuming a wrathful form he would be able "to subdue the degenerate beings of this Age of Darkness." Also he saw that even beings who practiced Dharma were unable to escape from the Bardo realms (time between rebirths where beings may face great anxiety and terrifying experiences) and he thought that in wrathful form he could also protect them in that way. And lastly, he thought that the beings in this Dark Age were poor and needy, experiencing only suffering after suffering, and that in wrathful form he could provide them an antidote to that suffering so that by simply making the wish (for protection) their needs could be met.
A crown of five skulls is worn by all manifestations of Mahakala and represents the transmutation of the five negative afflictions of human nature into the Five Wisdoms (positive virtues): Ignorance transforms into the Wisdom of Absolute Reality, Pride becomes the Wisdom of Sameness, Attachment becomes the wisdom of Discernment, Jealousy becomes the wisdom of Accomplishment, Anger becomes Mirror like wisdom. It's relevant to observe that the Crow is visualized in Tibetan Buddhism as an incarnation of Mahakala, whose name literally means the 'Great Black One.' The Crow is also the symbol for the Nigredo stage of Alchemy! He's most commonly depicted as black in color...but manifests as blue, red, and white as well. I'm getting the Red Mahakala...for energy, protection, and power.