Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad–when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel…
– Bram Stoker, “Dracula’s Guest”
Also remembered as the “night of evil” in the opening to Tod Browning’s seminal 1931 version of Dracula, the eve of May 1st has long been held in superstitious fear as a time when witches gather to hold their great Sabbat with the Prince of Darkness himself. The festivals to herald the coming of spring at this time of year later became Christianized under the name of Catholic saint Walpurga, Abbess of Heidenheim and protector against black magic and witchcraft. This has failed to put an end to the legendary happenings of this magical night, however, as great works of literature such as Goethe’s Faust, and even a famous ballet, will no doubt testify.
And what more appropriate place could there possibly be to celebrate such an unholy night than IDEA, the only mystic, fetish, and Gothic bar in Japan worthy of the title? As mentioned in one of my previous posts, IDEA is a dark sanctuary created by Japanese kinbaku artist and sorceress supreme Midori, located in the beautiful city of Kobe, Japan. No stranger to the world of the Western mysticism and the occult, Midori holds special “Sabbats” for each of the eight festivals on the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. On such nights, ladies may enter free of charge, and the eve is filled with decadent rituals and nameless rites. Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of Beltane, midway between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, and so is considered a cross-quarter day–a Greater Sabbat.
This year I had the great pleasure and honor of being asked my Midori to participate in suspension for this year’s festivities. For those of you who may not be aware, suspension is a form of body modification that involves suspending a human body through the use of hooks that have been passed through the skin of the participant. Originally a spiritual meditation technique used by certain Native American tribes, the practice has seen a relatively recent spread as a type of performance art in the US and other countries around the world. It was truly to be a most memorable Walpurgisnacht. Let me recount that evening to you now…
IDEA’s darkened space sees a full range of guests, from the curious spectators to the hardened connoisseurs, representing all ranges of the social spectrum and conjuring up an atmosphere reminiscent of a fin-de-siècle London salon. Or could this be a spiritual successor of the legendary Hellfire Club of the 18th century? While perhaps not so grandiose, one thing is certain: it will be a night of painful pleasures to memorialize a crucial period in the progression of the seasons and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
First to be sacrificed on the hooks is my long-time friend Sazuki, a petite Lolita who looks for all the world like a fragile doll as her skin is pierced with four 8 gauge hooks across her shoulder blades. DJ and body modification artist extraordinaire Bonzin is the man behind the magic this time, and he measures and marks with ease before inserting the wicked-looking instruments, which are actually angler’s hooks usually used for deep sea fishing. With the preparations complete, Sazuki’s thin frame is whisked up into the second floor gallery where she greets the many viewers above, hanging like a marionette in a frilly skirt and corset. She holds up admirably well for her first time, and there are a few cringes (and more than a few smiles) as the hooks are pulled from her skin and small rivulets of crimson lifeblood drip down from the fresh wounds.
I have just witnessed what will be happening to me in only a few hours, but before that, the high priestess of the coven herself, Midori, has a special rite planned for the witching hour. Model and IDEA witch Night is brought to the floor in a crimson robe as Midori slowly and deliberately sets the ritual accoutrements in their proper places: an elegant candelabra, a skull engraved with occult symbols, and, of course, ropes and whips. Midori’s hands work almost more quickly than I can follow, and it isn’t long before Night is laying on her side–in mid-air–with the ropes that suspend her forming a triangular spider’s web pattern and lit candles skillfully inserted into the weave…truly a living work of art. Midori skillfully whips out the flames without missing a beat, and after more punishment under a rain of leather strips the ritual is complete and the energy is released into the ether to affect its purposes.
After some more pleasant chatting with friends at the bar, the anticipation begins to reach a crescendo within me as I sit down to receive my steel baptism. This is actually my second time experiencing suspension, although during my first time I had only two 6 gauge hooks placed in my back horizontally. While the gauge is smaller, the vertical position and greater number of hooks provide a new challenge. It’s difficult to describe suspension, and everyone I speak to who has attempted it gives a different account of their experiences. For me it is a “spiritual” one, and with each hook I engrave upon my mind the memories of that night and its meaning for me personally and for the world as a whole. The piercing pain of the hooks is bearable, but as I stand up my body begins to rebel. The night has been a long one, and I feel lightheaded as my vision starts to go black…only my mental fortitude and furious refusal to give in to the pain allow me to retain consciousness. The ropes pull me slowly upward from the floor, and I manage to tell Bonzin to pull me up higher. He gives the signal, my body is hoisted up, and…I break out in a sweat and feel the rush of adrenaline through my veins. At last, I feel more alive than ever! I have passed through the dark tunnel and come out stronger than before. I discover that the higher position of the hooks allows me greater freedom of movement than my previous experience, as I tread on the air and even swing over the second floor balcony to receive a kiss from Mistress Midori herself! My journey with the sylphs ends all too quickly though, and I am lowered back to earth to have my new body piercings removed. A glass of my favorite poison, Laphroaig Scotch whisky, is waiting for me at the bar, and the rest of the night is enjoyed with friends, music, and libations.
This year’s Walpurgis was spent in a tenebrous sanctuary, a displaced reality. What occurred there was fantasy, elaborately woven and willingly entered into, but having a very real effect on the “subjective reality” of the participants and, by extension, on the “objective reality” around them. Suspended disbelief and suspended bodies can both have a potent significance, especially on a night such as Walpurgis. I will be looking forward to my next evening at IDEA…perhaps I will see you there?
2-17-8 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo-ku
Kobe-shi, Hyogo-ken, Japan 605-0004
10 minutes’ walk from Motomachi Station or Sannomiya Station
When traveling by taxi, ask to be taken to Hotel Honjin (the neighboring building).