"Your body belongs to you, and in the appropriate ritual, it has been given to you to explore the full dimensions of your being." -Fakir Musafar
Putting a sharp pointy object straight through the skin is a time honored practice among us humans. Piercings have long been a way we have sought to make ourselves beautiful. Wearing jewelry through the skin has been a part of our aesthetics of adornment dating back thousands of years.
But why do we pierce? The answer to this question has varied depending on the time and era. Some people have gotten piercings for magical, mystical and spiritual purposes; for others it is just a way of expressing themselves. Some get piercings for sexual pleasure, such as on the nipples or genitalia. There was a time in America when getting your ear pierced as a man, was seen as an act of outright rebellion. Getting another part of the body punctured was beyond the beyond of proper decorum, for either sex. Yet in other societies being on the receiving end of a needle for a piercing is a way to conform to the norms of the culture, be a part of the group, and fit in. It is much the same with those who belong to certain subcultures, such as punk, where a piercing can signify affiliation.
Piercings started to regain prominence in western society starting in the seventies, and underpinning their revival was a strong current of magic.
ENTER THE FAKIR
The late Fakir Musafar was often called the father of the modern primitive movement, for his pioneering work in body piercing, modification, ritual and teaching. Fakir was born on August 10, 1930 as Roland Loomis on what was then the Sissiton Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota, a baby of the Great Depression. There wasn’t a lot going on in Aberdeen, where he grew up, and by 1943, at age thirteen, he was a bored teenager, looking for something to do while the world was at war. He felt different, and knew there must be something different to discover out there in the wide world; something other than what was presented to him by straight-laced society.
Loomis took to haunting the school library, in search of anything strange. In one of the libraries dusty and forgotten corners he found what he was looking for in some old issues of National Geographic Magazine. His imagination became captivated by the pictures and articles he saw of people from other times and places. There was one issue in particular, from the 1920’s, where he saw photographs of people in India who had pierced their flesh with hooks and hung suspended from a cross arm high up in the air. The thirteen year old wondered why they were doing this. He also wondered what it felt like. The imagery called to him, touched something deep inside his soul.
A couple of years later Loomis learned that some Native American tribes also practiced piercing their flesh so they could either hang suspended from it, or be pulled for long hours against the these piercings in a ritual known as the Sun Dance. This set off an aha! moment for Loomis. The tribes who practiced these rites had been those of the Plains Indians, many of whom lived in South Dakota, his birthplace. These ceremonies had last taken place some fifty years before he was born.
There are a number of commonalities across tribal cultures that held the Sun Dance. A sacred fire, smoking and praying with the sacred pipe, and fasting from food and water were all typical. The songs and dances used were passed down over many generations. Traditional drums and drumming accompanied the song and dance, the latter of which was seen as an arduous spiritual test. Some Sun Dances involved a ceremonial piercing of the skin, a further test of bravery and physical endurance. The pain and blood were seen as part of the sacrifice involved in the ceremony, that was used for the benefit of the tribe. Some dances involved going around a pole that the men were attached to by a piece of rawhide pierced through the skin of their chest.
He also learned about the Okipa ceremony of the Mandan people of North Dakota. It was a four-day ceremony performed every year during the summer that retold their creation story. Like the Sun Dance, the Okipa involved dancing inside a lodge filled with their sacred objects, while men prayed, fasted and sought visions. The younger men demonstrated their bravery by being pierced with wooden skewers pushed the skin of their chests, and backs. These men were hung by ropes from beams in the lodge or from trees, while their legs were weighed down from other skewers sent through their thighs and calves. Crying was seen as cowardice. Those who could withstand these intense sensations the best went on to become leaders within the community.
Loomis started hunting out the places where the Sun Dance and Okipa ceremonies had taken place, and went to visit them on his bike. He found they had left behind a psychic residue and that this residue seeped into his own life as he absorbed the energies from the places where the Lakota, Arikira and Sissiton peoples had pierced their flesh, sometimes in rites where they hung from a tree. Loomis got to know some of the trees, as some were still there, holding memory on the living land. This became a tremendous inspiration to the young man.
He was so inspired by these discoveries he had to try piercing himself. He even felt like he had done these things before -perhaps in a past life. He claims his first experience of these past lives came to him at age four. His later anthropological studies gave confirmation to his feelings. So he started modifying his body. Loomis did his first permanent body piercing, on his penis, at age fourteen, conducted his first mini Sun Dance ritual and had an out-of-body experience as the result at age seventeen, and his first self-made tattoo at age nineteen. At first it was a private thing, and he kept it private, kept it secret for thirty odd years before he went public.
While he pursued the inner calling of exploring the outer body his destiny had born him into, he also racked up some impressive skills inside the confines of the culture at large. He worked for the U.S. Army during the Korean War between 1952 and 1954, where he was an Instructor in Demolitions and Explosives. He taught ballroom dancing at Arthur Murray’s. Loomis picked up a B.S.E in electrical engineering from the Northern State University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, the city he’d moved to at age 25. His creative abilities as a writer helped him in his work in executive positions as an ad man in San Francisco. He also operated his own advertising agency in Silicon Valley for a spell.
Yet there was also isolation and shame around the things he was doing in secret, and those came from fear. Fear, that if he let people in his interests and practices, he would be deemed crazy, institutionalized, locked up and the key thrown away. Through his extensive research into other cultures, and long talks with native elders, he had learned that his interest wasn’t something that should be considered a sickness, a perversion or a mutilation of the body, but a practice that could lead into what some traditions called a “state of grace.” Rituals of piercing could be used as a way to access different modes of consciousness.
Loomis eventually came out of the closet as piercing freak, a process that started when he met Doug Malloy in 1972, an eccentric millionaire, and ally who proved to be the alloy that bound the disparate elements of the underground piercing scene together and brought them up to the surface.
AN ECCENTRIC ALLOY
Malloy was a man who led a double life. His first life was as Richard Simonton, an aficionado of organ music, steamboats, a family man and a businessman who worked for the Muzak corporation, selling their piped in sounds to corporations in California. The side of him that was Simonton led a fascinating life in his own right, but I don’t have space to get into that aspect of his personality in this context. Simonton tended to keep his fly zipped anyway with regard to his penchant for piercing his penis, except in sympathetic company, or when he wrote about the subject as Doug Malloy. His double life was also exemplified by his bisexuality.
Of his many interests, Malloy had made a study of the New Thought movement, even going so far as to meet Ernest Holmes, author of The Science of Mind, in 1932. His interest in metaphysical and spiritual topics prompted him to traveled extensively in India and the Philippines where he explored Eastern thought-ways. His mind had always been bent towards the unusual and different. Adorning his body with bits of metal poking through the flesh wasn’t so weird. At some point he started getting pierced.
In 1975 Malloy’s fictional autobiography titled Diary of a Piercing Freak came out, released by a publisher who specialized in fetish material. It was later republished in softcover as The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos. Malloy had also started to cultivate a network of like minded individuals. These included Roland Loomis, Jim Ward, Sailor Sid Diller and the Londonite tattooist Alan Oversby, better known by his alias Mr. Sebastian.
Malloy had also organized the Tattoo & Piercing group (T&P) of ten to fourteen people or so who would meet once a month for a “show and tell.” Malloy had seen some photos of the experiments Loomis was doing with his body that dated back to 1944, and invited him to be a part of T&P. This group expanded the practice of piercing and tattooing as the individuals gathered would later help each-other execute further body modifications. Together they developed a lexicon around body piercing, what each type of piercings was called, and what the best practices and tools were to do them.
Jim Ward, the other prong in the trifecta that catapulted the practice of piercing to what it is today in America, was a close friend of Malloy’s and co-founder of the T&P gatherings.
WARDEN OF THE BARBELL
In the course of his long time wandering, Doug Malloy had made a visit to Germany where meet Horst Streckenbach, better known as Tattoo Samy. Samy had been born in 1925 and got his first tattoo at the ripe old age of ten. By 1959 the rubble had stopped bouncing from the second world war and Samy opened a tattoo shop in Aschaffenburg. Later moved he moved it to the bigger burg of Frankfurt in 1964. There, one of Samy’s students was a guy named Manfred “Tattoo” Kohrs. Together they worked on developing some new styles of piercing jewelry, namely, the barbell. In time, Samy started to make trips to America, and on these visit’s he would come to LA to visit Malloy, who in turn introduced him to Ward and others in the T&P circle.
Ward was born in 1941 in Western Oklahoma, moved to Colorado at age elven, and by the time he was 26, was in New York city where he joined a gay S&M biker group, the New York Motorbike Club. That’s where he got on the nipple piercing tip, and started studying how to make jewelry. Ward stated, "The first barbells I recall came from Germany… On one of his [Samy’s] first visits he showed us the barbell studs that he used in some piercings. They were internally threaded, a feature that made so much sense that I immediately set out to recreate them for my own customers."
From his own studies, and from Samy’s innovations, Ward began to put his spin onto the piercing jewelry he was creating, including the fixed bead ring design. Meanwhile Malloy had encouraged Ward to start a business for piercing people and gave him the funds to do so. Ward ran this business at first ran privately, out of his own home starting in 1975. He dubbed his studio the Gauntlet. Malloy drew upon his contacts to help Ward build a clientele. Ward the placed ads for the Gauntlet in underground gay and fetish publications.
His business started to boom.
BODY MODIFIERS UNITED
Next up on Malloy’s masterplan for modifying the body of the American republic was to host an International Tattoo Convention, in Reno, Nevada. He did this with the help of tattooists Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy, and invited both Loomis and Ward to participate in the convention and show their piercings to the public. From this fixed point, 1977 on the timeline, piercings began to take off in tandem with tattooing.
Malloy asked Roland Loomis to demonstrate the various practices he had begun to adopt from other cultures, such as laying on a bed of nails or bed of swords for the convention. Malloy didn’t think the name Loomis was memorable, and he encouraged him to change his name for the event so as to receive more publicity. Loomis had revered the 12th century Sufi saint whose name was Fakir Musafar. This saint had also practiced piercing himself as a way to get closer to the divine. Loomis adopted the name for himself and it stuck.
His namesake was a mystic from Meshed, Persia (now Iran) who lived for sixteen years with six daggers embedded in his chest and back. He also had six horseshoes he kept suspended from twelve permanent piercings in his arms and shoulders. He believed, as did the man who took his name, that unseen worlds can be accessed through the body. From the unseen worlds the very source of being can be found. The stories around the original Musafar speak of how he was ridiculed and thought of as strange. He felt his message was going unheard and these rejections caused him to die of heartbreak.
At the convention Loomis “came out” as body piercer and started to go by his adopted name. Fakir Musafar became the mystical and magical pioneer around these practices in modern times laying out a metaphysical and cross-cultural groundwork for body modification. Meanwhile, Jim Ward, bolstered by the success of his private practice, took The Gauntlet public in 1978, and laid the framework for the commercial success of piercing with its first business.
All of this was synergerzied by the networking and business acumen and can-do spirit of Doug Malloy. Together these three exerted a lasting influence on the American body. As Musafar, Ward, and Malloy continued their crusade, they each also contributed further metaphysical, theoretical, and practical material to the growing scene. Malloy wrote the pamphlet Body & Genital Piercing in Brief, which continued the process of getting stories into circulation about the origins of various piercings, especially those relating to private parts. In 1977 Jim Ward started publishing Piercing Fans International Quarterly, which featured contributions from both Malloy and Musafar, as well as the coterie of metal clad pierceniks who had begun coming out of the shadows.
Fakir Musafar continued to develop the ritual dimensions around piercing and other more extreme forms of body modification, transforming himself in the process into a contemporary shaman and father of the modern primitive movement. Along the way he racked up some impressive experiences, within the body, and while hanging from hooks, in the planes beyond out of body.
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Read the other articles in the DOWN HOME PUNK series.
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.