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Hooked

BY CALLIE MITCHELL | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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KayLynn Hoing lies on the piercing table in a big open event hall at the Midnight Ballroom in Marshalltown, Iowa. Her head hangs as boyfriend Troy Blocker — who calls himself a “professional body modifier” — marks four small dots on her back with a blue marker. Those dots denote where the four-gauge Seademon hooks will enter and exit her skin.

Blocker, wearing Dons surgical gloves, takes the new sterilized hooks out of their individually wrapped, tightly sealed packages, while her eyes stare off into nothingness as if in a trance. The room goes black, the noise fades, and the 24-year-old later tells a Daily Iowan reporter that she soon became unaware of her surroundings. She prepares herself for the feeling of the hooks puncturing and sliding beneath her skin and the subsequent sensation of being lifted into the air.

Hoing describes this as her calmest moment. Then, she takes three breaths, and Blocker pierces her skin with each hook slightly positioned inside each shoulder blade. She is aware of the pain, but it feels distant and muted. After her skin is pierced she sits up on the table, with her head down deep in meditation. Her mind is clear of all thoughts, all stress, all frustrations. To her the room is silent and tranquil. She feels the energy circulating through her veins as Blocker does the final check of the pulley system. When he is ready, she stands in front of the pulley system with the ropes at her back. Blocker connects the ropes to the hooks.

As she slowly begins the suspension, the hooks tug at her skin — pulling the skin an inch away from its normal position. The weight of her own body seems to engage in a fight with gravity. Her toes lift off the ground, and she is carried higher into the air space of the ballroom floor until she is around 3 to 4 feet above the ground. Suspended in space, a smile grows across Hoing’s face. As she begins to fly, she feels free but is still conscious of the pain.

“This is when the pain is the most intense,” Hoing said. “That’s also where I’m focusing most of my energy on overcoming it. I’m just calm, I’m just letting it happen to me.”

Dating back to the early 19th century in the Mandan tribe of North Dakota, body suspension was used as a way to connect to the spiritual realm. The ceremony known as Okipa was a four-day ceremony performed every summer and tells the story of the creation of Earth. During Okipa, young men were starved, dehydrated, and sleep deprived for four days. They were then taken to a hut where the skin of their chest and shoulders was pierced and wooden rods attached to rope were inserted through the wound. The men were then lifted off the ground and left to hang by their own body until they lost consciousness.

Body suspension today is not much different from the Mandan rituals of more than 200 years ago. It is the act of hanging the human body from 4- to 8-gauge “regular” or “pulling” hooks, which are pierced though the skin in any number of locations along the body, including the back, face, knees, buttocks, and legs. Different hooks have different qualities. Gilsons is the strongest and most expensive, at $50 per hook.

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Clint Wedgewood of Marshalltown has been “going up” — the vernacular to describe suspension — for eight years. The 31-year-old remembers a particularly spiritual experience while doing a “suicide suspension” — a four-hook suspension along the back that reflects how a person appears when hanging from a noose.

“We were at the Midnight Ballroom,” Wedgewood said. “I was up for about 45 minutes to an hour, and I actually had an out-of-body experience to where I thought I was sitting next to the river at one of my favorite fishing spots. In all actuality, I was hanging by hooks at a concert with speakers right next to me.”

…….

Fakir Musafar, considered the “Father” of the Modern Primitive Movement — a movement that typically connects those in developed regions interested in rituals from primitive cultures — says that while body suspension is widely considered an art form, people choose it for several different reasons.

“I feel suspensions fall into three categories,” he wrote in an email to the DI. “Spiritual suspensions for deep self-knowledge and inner wisdom. Sports suspensions for thrills and physical/emotional challenges like bungie jumping, hang gliding, rock climbing, etc. Performance suspensions for attention, shock and awe, ego building.”

“The contemporary community of body modifiers is a very private club,” Musafar also noted.

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 Regardless of the impetus, body suspension remains a triumph of spirit for enthusiasts.
Typically, suspendees are 18 to 35 years of age, with a larger male following. However, women suspendees are not hard to come by. 

Tiffany Hahn, the minister of the California District of the Church of Body Modification, said in an interview that in California, they suspend new people every month.

There are only two shops in Iowa where body suspension is done — Marshalltown and Iowa City. Iowa City Assistant City Attorney Sue Dulek was not aware of the practice when contacted by the DI.

“It’s not regulated in Iowa City, but you might see something at the state level next spring, when the Legislature meets,” Dulek said, noting that interest might peak after reading this article.

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Preparing for a session of body suspension takes time and careful preparation. The piercer needs to make sure the pulley and ropes are safe and secure. Special knotting techniques need to be practiced to ensure they can hold the entire weight of a human body.

Blocker, 41, has spent years perfecting his technique. All those involved in helping with a suspension go through an informational training session, as well as a weekly safety meeting held in Blocker’s home in Marshalltown.

In addition to the piercer’s careful preparation, the suspendee must follow a healthy routine.

“Every day I do a suspension I make sure that I eat well,” Hoing said. “I try to stay healthy throughout the day drinking a lot of water.”

During a suspension, most suspendees identify the experience as a search for a spiritual awakening.

“I’m searching for the out of body experiences, the spiritual,” Wedgewood said. “Plus, I like to fly my ‘freak flag.’ ”


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