Scarification is a form of body modification in which scars are artistically or creatively applied to the body in a controlled manner, typically in a predetermined design or pattern. Scarification can involve cutting, branding or burning (known as stigmatizing), abrasion, and/or etching. Whatever method is used, the process usually results in the formation of keloid-like scars that are raised, smooth and more dramatic in appearance than the fine scars that superficial cuts create. 1, 2
Why Do People Engage in Scarification?
The process of scarification is a time-honored tradition among many indigenous people. As in other primitive cultures, scarification served as a form of identity among the Maoris of New Zealand, since no two patterns were identical. More importantly, the deep etches on Maori men’s faces made them “look fierce in battle and attractive to women”. 3 In many African tribes, scarification is used in a ceremonial way, to mark milestones such as puberty and marriage. Additionally, scarification of the stomach serves as a symbolic affirmation of an African woman’s readiness to become a mother. 4
Scarification started to gain popularity in western cultures in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, a “modern primitive” movement began—a movement that aimed to “get in touch with a more authentic or spiritual experience of the body” 3 utilizing body rituals performed by indigenous people around the world, past or present. Out of that movement, the Church of Body Modification (COBM) evolved. COBM’s “mission is to educate, inspire, and to help lead [its] members along a path of spiritual body modification” that unifies mind, body and soul and helps them connect to a higher power. 5
Today, scarification is as spiritual as ever for some and as culturally significant for others, but the vast majority of those in western culture who are interested in scarification engage in the increasingly-popular trend purely for aesthetics. It’s now “remarkably widespread in the U.S. and Australia and across Europe.” 3
The process of scarification can be carried out using a number of implements, such as cauterizing tools, scalpels, branding irons that are either heated (strike branding) or frozen (cold branding), lasers, or even abrasives like sandpaper. Skinning may be used to enhance the appearance of scars formed by cutting, since peeling off larger patches of skin will form larger, more dramatic scars. Hatching is a method of cutting akin to sketching that allows a scarification artist to create the effect of shading within a design. Packing, which is performed primarily in Africa, is a method of scarification in which a wound is packed with clay or ash that will form a more significant hypertrophic scar because of the way the body pushes out the foreign substance. 4 Regardless of the method used, scarification is a practice that only highly-skilled, professional body modification artists should perform.
Is Scarification a Worthy Body Modification?
In the first installment of our Spiritual Modification Series, Enlightenment Through Body Modification, we talked about the range of extreme body modifications encompassed by the term spiritual, or “worthy”, body modification. While scarification is one of them, it’s historically had more cultural and social value than spiritual. However, there are some indigenous cultures in which religious leaders wear patterns of scars that designate their positions and that they may have felt provided a channel for spiritual enlightenment when applied. Additionally, COBM members believe that scarification can be as transcendental as any other extreme body modification.
The scarification process releases endorphins that trigger a euphoric state, which may enhance one’s ability to meditate and achieve heightened spiritual awareness. Using scarification for spiritual enlightenment requires quieting your mind, looking inside yourself, and using the pain to strengthen the connection between your mind and body. 5
Where Can I See Scarification Pictures?
If you’re at all skeptical of a body modification artist’s ability to engrave, etch, carve, or burn a stunning design into a person’s tender flesh, you should take a look at the Scarification Pictures section of our body mod photo gallery. All photos are shared by our online community members. Their modifications reflect a variety of techniques performed by a range of scarification artists and will give you a better idea of the aesthetic possibilities associated with scarification.
If you’re a scarification enthusiast or a scarification artist, we’d love to see pictures of your designs! Simply create an account or log in to the gallery, upload a photo using the link in the left-hand navigation, associate your photo with the Categories “Other Modification Pictures” and “Scarification Pictures”, and we’ll review and publish all scarification photo(s) you submit within 24-48 hours.
Any Final Scarification Advice?
Whatever drives your desire to be scarified, carefully choose your design and body mod artist. Remember that scarification is in fact minor surgery done outside of a hospital, without full anesthetics. Partner with a scarification artist who works in a sterile field and is incredibly fastidious on top of being extremely talented at his or her craft.
If you’re an industry professional interested in purchasing scalpels, blades, or cautery tools, gloves, antiseptics, ointments, anesthetics, or other supplies for scarification, tattooing, piercing, or other body modifications, Painful Pleasures has everything you need in our Wholesale Store.