In our Extreme Body Modification Series, we’ve talked about the spiritual side of body modification and the way it is used by many to strengthen the bond between mind, body and soul, gain spiritual enlightenment, and become one with the Universal Soul, or God. Several of the most prominent types of worthy body modifications—named so because of the spiritual aspect associated with performing these extreme modifications—include extreme piercings, scarification, suspension, and tongue splitting. You can read more about scarification and extreme piercings in our last two Extreme Body Modification Series blog posts, and we’ll cover suspension next week. Today our focus is on tongue splitting—what tongue splitting is, the history behind it, why it’s considered a worthy modification, how the procedure is performed, and how and why it is sometimes reversed.
What Is Tongue Splitting?
Tongue splitting is the process of dividing the tongue in half, sometimes as far back as where the tongue intersects with the base of the mouth. This process is also known as tongue bifurcation (because the tongue is literally “bifurcated”, or split in two) or forking. Tongue splitting is one of the most popular worthy modifications, and it’s said to provide more long-term satisfaction than any other extreme body modification.
How Is Tongue Splitting Performed?
The most successful split tongues begin with well-healed tongue piercings. The longer a person has had a pierced tongue, the more reinforced the fistula (piercing hole) will be by scar tissue and healthy tissue alike. Starting the bifurcation process with a healed tongue piercing minimizes the risk of a split tongue healing back together, because the very back of the split will be healed before the bifurcation process begins.
There are several methods a person could use to obtain a split tongue:
- The Tie-Off Tongue Splitting Method – Dustin Allor, a young piercer, was one of the first people in documented modern history to have a split tongue. She split it herself using the tie-off method, which involved threading fishing line through her tongue piercing, tying it tightly at the front of her tongue, removing it when it loosened up after cutting through a bit of tissue, inserting a new strand, tying it tightly, and repeating the process regularly until she’d completely split her tongue. The line actually cuts into the tongue from the front back, from the piercing forward, and along the top and bottom as it’s tightened. This is really the only safe method for self-performed tongue bifurcation, and it tends to result in an easier adjustment to speaking and eating with a split tongue.
- The Cauterization Method for Tongue Forking – This is the preferred method used by licensed medical professionals (typically plastic or oral surgeons) to split tongues, because it controls bleeding better than the scalpel method detailed below. To bifurcate a tongue using the cauterization method, a surgeon will thoroughly numb the tongue and then divide it in half from the tip back using either an argon laser or a cauterization tool like a cautery pen or heated blade to burn through the tongue. Since the “cut” tissue is cauterized in the process, it almost completely eliminates bleeding. The procedure can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 when performed by a trained medical professional in the U.S.
- The Scalpel Method of Tongue Bifurcation – Quite simply, a scalpel is used to cut through the center of the tongue with this method. Bifurcating the tongue with a scalpel causes intense bleeding. The raw inner sides of the two halves of the tongue have to be sutured or cauterized afterwards. Those body modification artists who perform tongue splitting often use electric cautery pens to close the wounds after performing a tongue bifurcation. Since it is illegal for anyone but a licensed medical professional to use anesthetics, some extreme modification artists prefer to perform scalpel bifurcations in stages, for their clients’ safety and benefit.
Tongue splitting is considered a medical procedure, so it’s illegal for body modification artists to perform in some states, like Illinois. In other states, it’s a gray area; it’s legal and recommended to see a medical professional for the procedure, but it isn’t illegal to have an extreme body modification artist perform tongue bifurcation for you, if you can find one willing to do the procedure. You can call well-reputed tattoo and piercing studios in your area and ask if they will split your tongue, but be prepared to look for an oral surgeon or plastic surgeon next.
If you have your tongue split, the initial healing time will be 1 to 2 weeks. By then you should be able to eat normally, but you will have to retrain yourself to speak without slurring your words or a lisp. Just as with a tongue piercing, it will take 4-6 weeks for your tongue to fully heal. During that time, you’ll have to work to keep the two halves of your tongue from remerging, particularly if you didn’t have a well-healed tongue piercing before the bifurcation. Before cleaning your mouth with a sea salt solution like Recovery or H2Ocean oral rinse, which you should do 3-6 times per day during the healing period, you can wipe along the healing edges of your bifurcation with a Q-tip soaked in sea salt solution. Also, carefully follow the other tongue splitting aftercare instructions your doctor or modification artist gives you to help your split tongue heal properly and prevent remerging.
Was Tongue Splitting Performed Further Back in History Than the 20th Century?
Forked or split tongues aren’t a new concept. The serpent goddess Kaliya and others in Hindu mythology are depicted with forked tongues. The naga spirits detailed in Buddhism have forked tongues. Even the Bible makes reference to the Antichrist, Satan, as having a forked tongue akin to a serpent’s.
In practice, Khechari Mudra yogis have split and “milked” their tongues to stretch them for thousands of years; this is done so that the tongue can be trained to flip up/back, plug the sinuses and seal off areas where energy may leak from the body during a meditative exercise to obtain spiritual enlightenment.
In more recent years, Dustin Allor split her tongue in 1996, but it wasn’t documented until she appeared on the cover of Body Play Magazine in 1997. The first modern man to split his tongue is believed to have done so in Italy in 1994, with the procedure performed by a dentist with a scalpel and silver nitrate to cauterize it; the procedure was reported to the Online Body-Modification Archive in 1997. The Lizardman, Erik Sprague, and Shannon Larratt popularized the trend in western culture, and interest in tongue splitting has continued to grow ever since.
Why Is a Split Tongue Considered a Worthy Body Modification?
As the Khechari Mudra yogis utilize split tongues to enter a highly-spiritual meditative state, followers of the Church of Body Modification (CoBM) believe that tongue splitting and other extreme body modifications should be performed with a higher purpose in mind—in hopes that it will be transcendental and bring them closer to God or the Universal Soul, as well as help them be more in touch with themselves. Even those body modification enthusiasts who do not belong to CoBM often say that the modification process induces a state of euphoria that’s almost hypnotic—one that can become meditative and allow for inner reflection. The adrenaline rush that comes with extreme body modifications is likely a contributor to reaching that state of mind.
Can a Split Tongue Be Remerged?
Sometimes split tongues remerge naturally, whether desired or not. There is also a procedure for encouraging the tongue to remerge that is said to be more painful than the original bifurcation process. The process involves removing the healed tissue lining the bifurcated area so the fresh tissue can interconnect again. Few who have split their tongues will willingly remerge them, but military regulations now require personnel with split tongues to remerge them.