Religious and Ritual Body Modification

Body modification has strong roots stemming from many ritualistic societies and religious societies. It has traversed time and made its way into our modern times, evolving while at the same time keeping to its roots. There are many different types of body modifications that involve stretching, scarring, hanging, and cutting. These practices may be done for many reasons, including religion, societal norms, beauty, adolescence, or social standings.


Scarification has its roots in tribal Africa, and is the process in which the skin is repeatedly cut in order to produce a design, picture, or words into the skin. The result is a permanent body modification. The reasons for doing what may seem as such a harsh practice may vary all over the world, but it is mostly done ( amongst tribal cultures ) to represent an entrance into society. The process itself is very risky, as in order to make the marks more visible, constant irritation is added during the healing process. This in turn leaves the wounds susceptible to infection.

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Tooth Filing

Also known as tooth sharpening, is the manual process of altering the teeth. Historically it was done for ritualistic and spiritual reasons. "In Bali, teeth were filed down because it was thought that the teeth represented anger, jealousy, and other similar negative emotions." It has also been done for sociable reasons such as adolescence, and upper-class people in ancient Mayan cultures. In modern times, it is done as an extreme body modification or for aesthetics.

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Cranial Deformation

Cranial Deformation is the artificial deformity of the skull, done usually at childbirth when the skull is not yet formed and easier to manipulate. It is done so by applying force to certain areas of the skull, which will produce desired effects ranging anywhere from deformation to even common shapes. The practice, although very rare in modern times, has a history that goes back to before written times, where " Neanderthal skulls from the Shanidar Cave in Iraq" show intentional skull modification. It may have even served a purpose of social stature in ancient cultures.

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Suspension Modification

"A suspension is the act of suspending a human body from hooks that have been put through body piercings. These piercings are temporary and are performed just prior to the actual suspension." The history of suspension dates back to the Mandan tribe of Missouri. In modern times however, they are mainly done for either artistic purposes, or for spiritual / meditative ones. Variants range from Suicide Suspensions, Superman Suspensions to Resurrection Suspensions and Crucifix Suspensions.
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Circumcision in males is the process of removing the foreskin of the penis. This practice is most common in Judaism, where it is mandated by Jewish law, and in Islam, where it is not mandated, but instead common practice. It is a process performed usually at childbirth, or during a conversion of faith. Catholicism however, "condemned the observance of circumcision as a mortal sin and ordered against its practice in the Ecumenical Council of Basel-Florence in 1442." Female circumcision is the process of removing the female genitalia, but is often referred to as female genital cutting or female genital mutilation.
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