By Wintersong Tashlin
A week ago I posted part one of Marking a Journey in Flesh, a four part series about my shamanic death ordeals and the specific body modifications I got to mark each one. Where last week I wrote about my fire ordeal and the branding that accompanied it, this week I'll be describing my water ordeal and the tattoo that was done to commemorate it. I would strongly encourage you to go back and read part one and before you go ahead and read this essay.
Part one of Marking a Journey in Flesh can be found here.
Water ordeal: Tattoo
My water ordeal would be my other timed ordeal. It would also been one of the places in my ordeal cycle where I felt I really screwed the pooch. My Lady spelled out the requirements of this ordeal soon after the fire was over. I would need to do a vigil from sundown to sunrise in a body of water. This automatically meant a respite for a period of time as it was still far too cold for anyone to survive that. Summer in New Hampshire however, is still not exactly the Caribbean, and I kept putting the ordeal off. Finally one day I went to the lake with my family for a swim. When it came time to get out I've found that I was unable, and I was informed that it was now time to do the ordeal.
Unlike my fire ordeal there isn't a lot to say about my water ordeal. Even on a warm summer evening the lake saps your and heat and strength surprisingly quickly, and I alternated between huddling up in a fetal position wrapped in a space blanket underwater to keep warm and dancing in the water to keep moving. I learned how to move and dance with the water as opposed to against it and I spoke to the spirit of the lake about what it meant to be a lake. Around 3.00 AM, when I felt I was really starting to understand and "get" what I needed to the police arrived.
Fireheart had agreed to stay with me at the lake through the evening to make sure I stayed safe. She quickly and deftly spun a story for the officers about us testing a new underwater life saving device. Although the police seemed to buy her story they informed us that we had to leave. She asked for half an hour to get our supplies together, planning for us to move to a different part of the beach. However, I took the time to ask the spirits if I had gotten what I needed to get out of the ordeal. Since I had already gained what I needed to I was told I could end the ordeal early.
It was hours and hours before I was warm again, I had underestimated how much the lake had sapped my energy and my strength. As with the previous ordeal I came away with little more of my Life Energy gone. In its place in my heart there is the cool, graceful, flowing energy of the lake.
The body modification:
Just as branding was used to mark my fire ordeal, it only seemed appropriate that water or liquid be used as the modification to mark my water ordeal. The most logical way to do this with a tattoo. When one thinks about it, a tattoo is about taking ink into your body and in doing so change your body's appearance forever. Just as I procrastinated with the ordeal itself, I waited for far too long to have the tattoo done. The problem was that I couldn't find a design that felt right. My perceptions of water changed during that ordeal, and I felt that I needed to express that in my tattoo.
I also felt it was important that the tattoo honor the lake itself. Part of what I had experienced during the ordeal was a personal and intimate connection to this body of water. In a sense, the lake had been the facilitator of my ordeal.
For this reason, the imagery needed to be evocative of freshwater rather than the more common ocean imagery. One obvious way I could have done this was with a koi tattoo. However, koi imagery is very popular at the moment in the tattoo world. This journey is one that few people will ever make, and I wanted that reflected in some way in the tattoo, if only by the selection of less ubiquitous imagery.
The final design featured about 15 lake or aquarium fish in silhouette spiraling up my right calf with blue and green wash following them in the spiral. As with many of my tattoos, Fireheart did the initial design, and then worked with the tattoo artist to make it a design suitable for inking.
Getting the tattoo itself proved far more unpleasant than I had anticipated. Worse, despite going to one of the more reputable studios in New England, two days later I found myself with a severe infection in my entire leg, which swelled dramatically. It took over a week and 1/2 and very powerful antibiotics before I was doing better. It somehow seems too appropriate that the water ordeal body modification should end with my leg full of fluid. More than once I asked myself if I was making up for the time I missed in the lake by leaving early, or perhaps for the intervening years when I kept not getting the tattoo that I knew I needed.