"When they were interviewing these people, I was so intrigued with what they called 'out-of-body experiences,' " he recalls. "I wanted to know why they were doing what they were doing."

The 250-pound behemoth cheerily hung from his massive body and laughed when he came down.

Seeing the men hang from hooks spoke to something deep inside Madrid. His great-grandfather was a mystic, and his grandfather was a Freemason in Colombia. Other people in his family could predict when someone would die, he says. Perhaps a sixth sense was in his blood.

Then there was that annoying, persistent droning in his ear. The best way he can describe it is that it felt like a yawn. It would make him go into a trance-like state whenever it popped up.

Fakir Musafar brought Okipa, a Native American ritual, into the modern era.
Courtesy of Fakir Musafar
Fakir Musafar brought Okipa, a Native American ritual, into the modern era.
Fakir Musafar hangs from meat hooks.
Courtesy of Fakir Musafar
Fakir Musafar hangs from meat hooks.

When Madrid was 13 years old, his mother and stepfather divorced. "Not having a father has affected me in certain ways," he says. "Even though I don't feel like I consciously have a father issue, it's deep inside me."

What's more, Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer four years after the divorce. She stopped attending Mass because, as Eric puts it, "she didn't see the point anymore."

Instead, Jeanette began seeing a shaman named Juan Leal. He taught Qi Gong, a series of slow movements that some people believe can cure serious diseases. He had quite a presence. "People said he looked like an extraterrestrial," she says. "He was very tall and very skinny and had a peculiarly shaped head and yellow skin."

By that time, Eric had forgotten about the sensation in his ear, the dreams, and the aliens. As a 15-year-old, he was dismissive of all parental authority. He didn't want anything to do with shamanism or Leal's teachings because it might interfere with his smoking weed, listening to NOFX, and skating handrails outside the downtown courthouse. His best friend at the time, Carlos Pachai, remembers how they'd take ecstasy and pull daredevil stunts like jumping off the University of Miami engineering building.

"At that age, I didn't even believe in the stuff that [my mother] was learning," he says. "I was really ignorant of it."

But sometimes he would discuss Leal's ideas with his mom, and by the time Madrid turned 19, he had watched the guru become a presence in his mom's life. Jeanette hung a giant photo of her teacher above the TV set in the living room. He ended up introducing her to a new guy, who eventually became her third husband. Most miraculous, Jeanette claims Leal's exercises cured her breast cancer.

"I was looking in the mirror one day when I saw a red dot of light that came over my shoulder and rested on my breast," she remembers. The next day, at her biopsy, the doctors were shocked to see the tumors just melt away when prodded with a needle.

(A multitude of studies have been done to see if Qi Gong effectively treats cancer, and at least six have concluded the exercises help reduce symptoms. Still, a literature review conducted by Myeong Soo Lee at Exeter University in the United Kingdom found that the methodological quality of these studies is typically poor.)

After witnessing this miracle, Eric decided to attend one of the shaman's classes. The Argentine guru had traveled widely before coming to the United States at the age of 50. He had collected a bunch of tai-chi-like practices from monastic communities around the world.

Madrid says he tried them once and had a mind-bending dream that night in which Leal helped him escape from a pyramid.

Leal died two years ago from "blood complications." Just before he passed, Leal told the Madrids to teach others his Qi Gong moves. But there was a caveat. Eric says the master told him that if someone who wasn't ready to perform the moves tried them, he or she would run the risk of becoming schizophrenic.

"The son of a woman in [Juan's] class would take mushrooms and smoke weed and do the exercises," Madrid says. "He had to be institutionalized. I don't want that kind of responsibility."

Around the time his master died, Madrid stopped practicing Qi Gong almost entirely. But newly awakened and equipped with a psychic vocabulary he hadn't possessed at age 8, a 20-year-old Eric Madrid sought out the men from the Okipa documentary.

Madrid was working as a photographer at a party in Miami Beach when he met Pinhead. The 32-year-old Broward County man had eyebrows and a goatee tattooed onto his face. Madrid soon learned that his new buddy had a suspension rig, and on November 16, 2010, after 20 years of waiting, Madrid went up for the first time at a warehouse party in Fort Lauderdale hosted by Pinhead.

"Nobody was sure I'd be able to do it, because I have no tattoos or piercings," he says. "But I was up there for 20 or 30 minutes, and as soon as my feet touched the ground, I felt a sense of happiness, calmness, and clarity that lasted a few days."

The next year, he met Michael Hooten, the Matt Damon look-alike who pierced him this past January when they performed the Okipa ritual. They were both working on the set of the now-canceled Starz show Magic City, with Madrid as a production assistant and Hooten as an extra. The two became friends, and another convert was born.

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