"Eric, there are easier ways to leave your body, bro... if that's the goal... we can talk about it any time," one commenter writes.

"I was formerly a young man who had a Mandan father. He told me I was known as 'man who had holes in his chest.' "

"I leave my body all the time," Madrid responds. "This was different."


The idea of piercing one's skin with a hook and then suspending oneself to achieve spiritual clarity began in North America with Mandan tribesmen, who lived in the modern-day Dakotas. To become men, Mandan boys would participate in a four-day ritual called Okipa, in which they fasted, painted themselves, and wore animal skins to perform what was known as the bull dance. All of this culminated with being skewered and hung from their chests while weighed down with animal skulls.

"The goal was to make a sacrifice for the community," says Sebastian Braun, a professor of Native American studies at the University of North Dakota. "So that is the way that you sacrifice: You fast, and then you suspend yourself. You take a little bone and fold the skin and push it through like you would attach a button to something, and you would attach a leather rope to that."

George Catlin, an American painter, was probably the first white man to observe it. He traveled through the Old West five times during the 19th Century to paint a portrait series of native people. During his adventures, he also kept a journal.

"The brave fellow, whose proud spirit can controul [sic] its agony no longer, burst out in the most lamentable and heart-rending cries that the human voice is capable of producing, crying forth a prayer to the Great Spirit to support and protect him in this dreadful trial," he wrote in the summer of 1832. "There is no hope of escape from it, nor chance for the slightest relief, until by fainting, his voice falters, and his struggling ceases, and he hangs, apparently, a still and lifeless corpse!"

And as soon as an outsider was willing to watch them, it seems suspension practitioners were willing to show off.

"Several of them, seeing me making sketches, beckoned me to look at their faces," Catlin noted.

Mandans believed they had originally lived below ground. One day, a tribe member had screwed up his courage and climbed a grapevine to check out the Great Plains. As soon as his fellow tribespeople got word of the bison-heavy paradise, many others followed suit.

The population slowly migrated above ground until a particularly overweight lady broke the vine, according to the story, which meant the vast majority of Mandans were stuck below the earth, forever desperate to see what was happening on the surface.

Thus began the tribe's obsession with upward motion. And although the last legitimate version of Okipa occurred around 1889, one American teenager — Roland Loomis — became obsessed with replicating it more than 50 years later.

Loomis (who would later change his name to Fakir Musafar) was born in 1930. He grew up on a Depression-era Native American reservation in Aberdeen, South Dakota, as a nerd who couldn't make the track team. In an interview with New Times, he said he had dreamed of past lives every night and then began piercing himself when he was 12 years old. At the age of 17, he waited until his parents left town and then engineered his first out-of-body experience by fasting, dancing, and subjecting himself to extreme sensory deprivation.

"I had to do the whole thing in secret," he says. "I was scared, but that was the whole thrill of the thing."

After a short stint in the Army as a demolition instructor, Loomis moved to San Francisco to work as a high school teacher and study theater. He was also drawn to the city's many tattoo parlors.

His dreams often centered on a large black geometric symbol that represented fire coming out of the Earth. In native cultures, such "magic marks," as they are known, imbue people with shamanic powers.

"I had this vision of me for many, many years, and I would see my body in these visions with this mark on it," he says. "It was my higher self telling me that I couldn't be me until I got this mark, and then I would come to a higher power."

In Southern California, he found himself hanging out at parties that would eventually birth the concept of "modern primitives," or people who search for identity and meaning in the rituals of the past. That group would later spawn the body modification movement in America.

During one such get-together, at a mansion near Disneyland, Loomis learned he was haunted. Doug Malloy, an audio engineer and Hollywood socialite who lived catty-corner from Nancy Sinatra, told Loomis that a young Mandan tribesman was following him. "He said it was a young American Indian from 90 years ago in a place where [I had] lived, and he gave me a full reading that said I was formerly a young man from the eastern part of South Dakota who had a Mandan father," Loomis says. "He told me I was known as 'man who had holes in his chest.' "

Soon after, Loomis traveled to the Kandan district of Tokyo, where he came across a book by Catlin, the man who first catalogued Mandan rituals in 1832.

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