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IN THE FLESH: Transcendence Through Body Modifications Among the Classic Maya and Modern-Day Western Subcultures.

A comparative look into transcendence through body modifications in Classic Mayan rituals and Modern-Day Western subcultures

Gabriela Galeano

on 26 April 2011

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Transcript of IN THE FLESH: Transcendence Through Body Modifications Among the Classic Maya and Modern-Day Western Subcultures.

IN THE FLESH Transcendence Through Body Modifications Among the Classic Maya and Modern-Day Western Subcultures Question(s): Is transcendence involved in different
types of body modifications among the
Classic Maya as well as nonmainstream
subcultures in North American and
Europe in the late 20th/ early 21st century? Are there continuities/connections? Claim: There is evidence of transcendence
stemming from body modifications,
especially those involving blood,
among the Classic Maya and Western
subcultures in the 21st century. Definitions Transcendence... is overcoming present stimuli/sensations
in order to ascend into or cross over to
another level of consciousness and state of mind. (Lévinas 1995; Baumeister & Heatherton 1996) It is often achieved through suffering, and often times that means pain... Body Modifications... are deliberate, non-medical, permanent alterations to the human body They are often performed in rites of passage, deaths, births, rebirths, and initiation, and worship... (Atkinson & Young 2008) Branding Bloodletting Elongation Implants Suspension Piercings Tattoos Tooth filing Cutting Body part removal Scarification Binding/bondage Gaging The Classic Maya Classic Period: AD 150 - AD 900 Common body modification practices: Bloodletting Tooth filing Gaging Piercings Bloodletting consisted of piercing a body part (generally
the tongue, ear, or penis) and collecting the blood on bark paper and then burning it...or by smearing the blood on stelae. "During the Classic Period, the heart of Maya life was the ritual of bloodletting" (Shele & Freidel 1990: 89) Bloodletting rituals were performed for large audiences by both the elite and commoners It was based on the belief that the gods needed blood sacrifices
on order to prevent the world from ending, and... ...it was a way to communicate with the gods and the ancestors through a Vision Quest. "The aim of these great catharctic rituals was the vision quest, the opening of a portal into the Otherworld through which gods and the ancestors could be enticed so that the beings of t his world could commune with them" (Shele & Freidel 1990: 89) (Joralemon 1974; Helen & Haines 2008) Naysayers :( Pain: Pain is not necessarily explained in ritual contexts only... (Houston 2009) Alcohol, Narcotics, and Blood Loss: Blood loss from bloodletting, alcholic drinks (pulque), and narcotics (toxins from frogs) could have been the real cause of the trances and visions... (Haines, Willink, & Maxwell 2008) Western subcultures in the late 20th/early 21st centuries The West: North America + Europe 1960s (beginning of the Modern Primitive Movement) - present Explosion of nonmainstream body modifications! Body mods involving blood letting: Branding Scarification Bloodletting Piercings Suspension "Spiritual transformation requires that we learn to suffer consciously-that is, to fully experience ordinary or extraordinary pain, which may be physical, psycho-emotional, spiritual, or all of those..." (Young 2005: 21) Most nonmainstream body modifications today are found in underground performance art ("torture houses", "fetish houses", conventions, etc.) and, most notably, the Modern Primitive movement... Ideology: "Urban primitives live in cities and modify their bodies in ways that have symbolic and significant meaning...[They] participate in painful rituals of the flesh for reasons of personal growth, self-healing, and transformation" (Atkinson & Young 2008: 127) Modern Primitives strongly believe that physical pain is the best way to achieve altered physical and mental states. It's not about the product, it's about the process. Naysayers :( Exoticisim & Bricolage: Bricolage=cultural appropriation By decontextualizing cultural objects and ideas from the past, we are making them exotic. Identity: It's not about transcendence, it's about the formation of a collective and individual identity. No continuities between "primitive" cultures and today's cultures because of our non-religious contexts Context: Importance: It is important to highlight the similarities and continuities between cultures in order to further study the underlying themes and human desires of people. There are always connections; we just have to find them...
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