We can never know what other people carry with them through life. From our histories to our privileges, friendships, burdens, and joys, every person's reality is vastly more complex than the face they present to the world.
It's easy to forget that, but today's photo captures a pretty amazing moment that illustrates what I'm talking about.
The woman in the photo, one of the people I feel closest to in life actually, is preparing for a ball dance. For people who aren't familiar with the concept, a ball dance is a form of spiritual ordeal practice related to Kavadi, but adopted and adapted (like much of Kavadi) by the western modern primitives and body mod movement. It has also made its way into the segments of both the modern pagan/polytheist community and the kink/BDSM community who incorporate ordeal in their experience and expression of spirituality.
Every year this woman does a ball dance as a sacred offering. The charms and weights are sutured or otherwise affixed into her skin, and then she stomps and dances for a while. Traditionally she'd dance until they all came out, but that's not feasible due to both mobility limitations, and the fact that many are held in awfully well. Instead, she schedules the several hours needed to get her set up so that she can dance at sundown. Then she keeps them in through an overnight vigil, having it all removed at dawn.
Seen here are just a few of the fifty charms and weights that she was wearing in her skin by the time Asrik and I were done getting her rigged up.
Many people would imagine that each charm represents a struggle or hardship, a literal weight pulling her down, but for her, reality couldn't be farther from the truth. She collects the charms throughout the year, every one has meaning, and it's quite an honor to be asked to contribute one. There are charms here made by people who've been gone for years, and ones from new friends and family.
As each charm is sewn into place, it's one more person being a part of the ritual, even if they can't be there in the flesh. She creates a tapestry of love, joys, and yes, sometimes loss. As she makes her yearly offering, she cannot for a moment believe herself to be alone as she moves through the coming year, as the weight of her joys bounce, tug, and jingle with every breath or step.
From the outside, I know it's hard to imagine the needles, blood, and pain of the offering as something positive. But then, that's what's so incredible about people. Everyone experiences and interacts with the world in their own way, and they all have story to tell if we just take the time to listen.
If you'd like to see other photos from the ball dance, you can do so here, but be aware that they are NSFW (the lambs at the end were both born during the dance)