A week ago I faced one of the most intense rituals of my life. In order to break through some of the spiritual walls that have plagued me for the last year, I joined a hook suspension ritual. The idea is that two large hooks will be run under the skin of your back and then you will be suspended from the hooks. As you might imagine, it's physically and emotionally intense, and in the right context that intensity can be very spiritual.
I'd like to share this note I wrote to the community discussing what a transformative experience it was.
I want to share my experience Saturday night. We have a wonderful tribe and I'd like to share exactly how amazing it is.
I came into this set of rituals confused and deaf. I haven't been able to hear my gods clearly. Venus has been trying to say something in my dreams but it hasn't been coming through. Connecting with fire has been spotty. There are big things in the future and I've found it challenging to prepare for them without deeper connection to the spiritual.
I am very uncomfortable with divination in general and oracles in particular. I think you should be very careful asking the universe a question: you might get an answer. Generally I've found it is far better to live in the moment than to be constrained by an answered question.
But I was stuck. So, when an oracle was offered at Friday ritual, i took advantage. I learned that to hear the spiritual easily, I needed to finish healing my own spirit from the pain of the last year. I'll admit that the “well duh” gong sounding with that realization was kind of loud and I’m sort of surprised that I didn’t hear it sooner. On the other hand, It’s easy to hope and believe that we’ve finished our healing: the healing is long and hard, and it’s disappointing to admit to ourselves that there is more ahead.
Further, the oracle suggested that I couldn’t always be driving my own work. I didn’t always need to be the one doing; I needed to trust in my community—I needed to be taken care of.
When I attended my first hook suspension I admired the courage of those who went through the ordeal. Back then, I thought it would be unlikely that I would need an experience so intensely physical . My trials seemed to involve finding the courage to be open and honest, not the physical ordeal that the primal rituals are best known for.
Yet when I heard that there would be hook suspensions Saturday, I immediately began to wonder whether it was my time. I needed something powerful enough to knock down the walls I built around my spirit. I needed something powerful enough that I could surrender to the community; something I could not face without letting go and trusting. Over the past couple of years I’ve been getting some strong messages of welcome and belonging from the tribe. I wanted a way of saying “I hear you; in my brain, breath, bone and blood I know that this is my fire.” Surrendering to the hooks would do all that.
Yet this would be a big step for me. I’ve only been suspended once; a very mild experience offered around the fire a couple years ago. I’ve only had one piercing scene before: I received a few 24-gauge needles on my front. A hook suspension is not really comparable to either of those. I had no comparison. I was jumping into the ocean; I knew it was bigger than my bath tub. I suspected I might need something that big.
So I meditated. By the time I was ready to go down to the fire I was reasonably sure that I needed hooks. The community considered my request and I was given a slot.
I submerge myself in the ritual. The ritual, the fire are beautiful. I dance and hold space. I am calm; I made my decision. I let go more and more. I lose track of where I am; I float between the fire and the drums. I lose track of the orientation of the circle: as some of the drummers moved, I lost track of which end was the drum pit and where in the circle I was. That’s only happened once before. The fire is hot. I continue to drift.
The Hooks Go In
I am called over to get ready. I lay on the table and the first hook goes in. It hurts; I don’t know that I could have taken it two years ago. Now, it is a pain I can breathe through. That first hook settles easily. Three breaths later, the second hook goes in. That hurts! It hurts a lot. And it does not stop hurting.
A couple minutes later it has sort of settled and I prepare to try and sit up. D is there to rig me. We’ve been together since the Temple of Flame. His voice, calmly and carefully walking someone through a scene that was very close to their limits, is one of the memories that typifies the strength of our tribe. I trust no one greater for this sort of experience.
I sit up and turned to my left. Holey fuck! That hurt a lot. As I moved, both hooks, but especially the left really start to hurt. Waves of dizziness roll through me. Wow, that hurts,
I think. Fuck, I'm going to have to stand up, walk over to the rigging station, and then things are going to get a whole lot more intense. Hey, body, are we up for that?
My body responds viscerally.
“Sam, you passed out for a bit.” Yeah, seems about right. Discontinuity in my sense of time. I don’t know how I got into this position. Hmm, soon someone is going to want to put a bunch of large meat hooks in my back. I’m already hurting. I don’t know if I can take that.
“Are you with us?”
“Yes. I’m safe.” I realize it’s true. There are the drums, I’m floating in their energy. I’m surrounded by my tribe. I am absolutely safe. I realize that at no point in this entire experience have I felt any significant fear.
Stop and think about that for a moment. I’m going from the experience of tiny needles and a simple rope suspension to hooks and possibly a suspension. I’m not afraid. I’m not even afraid when my body seems to be telling me that I’m asking too much of it. I’ve had hours to consider this upcoming experience and all I felt was nervousness.
And let me tell you that I’m not immune to fear. I know the mind-crippling fear that locks down your body. Again and again I have challenged my fear around the fire.
But for me, this time around the fire is about surrendering to trust, not fighting fear. We’ve built a spiritual container strong enough that I can face an experience this intense without fear. I know I’ll be safe. And as my body relaxes there on that table, even as the scene takes a turn for the unexpected, the trust and acceptance of my tribe fills me.
The medic tries to reassure me that “Yes, you are safe.” She’s funny. The safety and trust are so intrinsic that her reassurance is meaningless. I’m letting her know that I’m in my scene, in a good place, and I’ve returned from passing out to a very wonderful sub space.
I fade in and out a bit more. Eventually, I regain enough verbal acuity to ask for help. “I’m not sure if I can take going up. Standing up and walking to the rigging station seems like it’s going to be a lot. How should we make that decision?”
“O, I don’t think going up tonight would be a good idea.” She goes on. She then tries to reassure me that I can try and go up some other time; I did what I could that evening. I laugh and explain. Flying was not my desire. I wanted to release my spirit to the cosmos. I wanted to take down the walls. I wanted to surrender to tribe. Flying was only a tool. All that has happened without that tool. I got the ordeal I needed. The ritual was already a success, and I was happy to rely on her recommendation. If flying is in the cards some day, so be it, but that shall be a ritual for its own reasons, not a completion of this.
The hooks were removed and I made a few rounds around the fire to celebrate trust and surrender.
I am honored to be part of our community. I am honored to help bring people to the fire, to provide encouragement, and to provide care when needed. There are many who strive for flash or show around the fire. That was not my role, not even this time. I’m there to find the simplest path to where I’m going and to help everyone believe that this is their fire. I’m there to help people see that the fire is for them listening to the drums and watching from the side with intent. I’m there to say that the fire is for those of us giving our energy to the dance and holding space no matter our level of skill or flash. Saturday I was there to say that the fire, the ritual is ours, even when we face the unexpected. So long as we bring what openness we can, so long as we bring our intent, this is our fire.