My first encounter with scarification was at home. My mum has scars on her temples while my dad’s family has scars on their cheeks. When I was a little girl, I asked my parents about the meaning of those markings, they told me, “they’re the markings of our tribes; they show who we are”. As a curious child the questions were unsurprising to my parents and it was only much later that it became significant for me to carve my skin.
I’d consider my health and emotional journeys challenging ones that have shaped the woman I’ve become today. Life felt like hell as a teen. I didn’t like school (didn’t understand the point of it and found out I was dyslexic at university), I understood things differently, and have always been an arty dreamer, happiest when I was drawing, dancing or singing. Unfortunately, my mum didn’t share my sentiments, she demanded I stopped drawing and so I’d only go to dance classes on Sundays and discreetly sang in front of the mirror in my room when nobody was around. By this point Dad was busy being a ‘good dad’ elsewhere with his new family.
Even though I wasn’t seeing my dad very often, when we did meet, he always had a great story to tell about our family in Benin. My grandfather was a Voodoo Chief and healer while my grandmothers were initiated priestesses and shamanic dancers. My ancestors had followed the path of Animism. They believed in life and energy in everything and they had a great respect for the Earth and every living being.
Traditions and rituals of ancient people and tribes have always fascinated me, so I felt very proud to know I was coming from a family that had such magical histories. In my moments of doubt and despair growing up, I’d remember those stories and feel special thinking about them. In the back of my mind I always knew there was more to me than what society and my peers wanted me to believe. With the history behind those stories, I felt a quiet inner sense of safety.
Illness and Healing
In September 2001 I had the scariest diagnosis of my life. My mum was with me at the time and she told me, “My daughter, it is time you understand who you truly are, you have work to do, I am taking you to Benin”. My mum normally panics when confronted with bad news, especially any that threaten her children but strangely enough, this time around she was very calm. She sat me down and told me, “You nearly died when you were a toddler and your grandfather healed you, before he did this, he had to find out what your past life was. He found out you were a warrior that fought for the safety of the women and children of her community. It is time for you to step up, to focus and fulfil your life’s purpose.”
Our time in Benin was magical and it changed my life forever. I felt at peace, grounded, and acknowledged. I felt powerful. My connection to the land and my ancestors was strong and now Benin is my place of power. I went to my grandparents’ graves and lit a candle for them, then I gave thanks for my life and asked them for further protection and guidance.
When I returned to London I decided to enroll at the University of Westminster as I wanted to understand what was going on in my body and heal myself. I graduated in 2007 with a BSc in Natural Therapeutics and I have been a practitioner ever since. University was a great place to be, I felt I was learning so much about various ways of healing - Acupuncture and Reflexology were my favorites.
“Scarification is one of the most ancient ways of marking our skin, it is a strong statement and one I chose because I wanted to walk in this modern world honoring my ancestry.”
It’s always a good idea to try therapies and see how they will affect you. In my process of trial and error, I was introduced to an incredible acupuncturist, John. John had been practicing acupuncture and using Chinese herbs for over 30 years. I was often grumpy while going for treatments but he’d always find a way to make me laugh. He was genuinely interested in my background, my life, my wellbeing and I warmed up to him eventually. I was feeling better after all. One day John invited me to a sweat lodge weekend in the countryside (a sweat lodge is used by indigenous people, a ritual steam bath as a means of purification and connection to the ancestors). Though I was skeptical at first, I loved the sound of it and decided to go. There I was introduced to likeminded people coming from different walks of life, people that had made a choice to come and pray and meditate around the same fire.
I went to ceremonies, sweat lodge weekends and fire circles almost every month for about a year, there I made new friends and new connections. I felt like I’d finally found a great balance between work, social life, family life and spiritual life.
Even though the teachings were tough at times, I understood why and was supported by my spiritual community. One evening, John spoke about the Vision Quest: a four year commitment of your life, a rite of passage where you are invited to raise a prayer and vibration with humility, willingness, sincerity and integrity to the power of a mountain. I signed on.
The second year of the Vision Quest Willingness was very significant to me, this was the year where I got a clear vision of both my grandmothers coming to visit me in spirit. One night I prayed very hard, humbly asking the Earth to let me hear her heartbeat. And I did. When I got a visit from my spiritual teacher, she looked around my aura and said, “Thank you for bringing the spirit of your ancestors to the Mountain, they are all here!” It was another major turn in my life and as my spiritual journey went deeper, the journey with scarification began.
Scarification is one of the most ancient ways of marking our skin, it is a strong statement and one I chose because I wanted to walk in this modern world honoring my ancestry. Everything I have marked on my body has been a celebration of my spiritual breakthroughs. Before my first scars, I already had both my arms tattooed: I got my first tattoo at the age of 21, two little Ankhs on both wrists. This was after I became aware of the power of symbols and learned that the Ankh represented the key of life.
The arms were done a few years later: my left arm was done by Sanya Youali in Mexico and my right arm was by Touka Voodoo in London. However, after coming down from my seven day Vision Quest in the third year it was very clear that I wanted to carve my back. I wanted to unite my spiritual path with my ancestors using scarification.
Receiving a scar is a beautiful ritual with a painful process, especially when the anaesthetic doesn’t work. I think it is important to feel these things; it is an initiation, and the experiences have made me realise my strength. With my scars, the most challenging part was the healing process, it was very long (8 months to a year) and very uncomfortable. When keloids start to form, it’s like another body part is being created, and sometimes creation comes with pain.
Despite the pain, I wanted the magical and mystical work I’d experienced through my life imprinted on my body, a form of self-expression. My back scar is a map of my spiritual journey, my Vision Quest, my dream. The sacred cross in the middle is the ‘Chakana’, this is the place where we keep the fire of life burning during ceremonies. The four arrows represent the four nations, the four doors and corners of the Earth. The flowers represent the medicine plant teachers. The spirals represent the infinity of possibilities. I am literally carrying a dream on my back, a dream of seeing the four nations of this world enjoying the fire of life in harmony with nature under the care of Mother Earth.
My chest scarification was done just before I did my nine days Vision Quest in the third year, it is a tribute to the Divine Feminine energy. The symbol was inspired by the female reproductive system, the icon in the middle represents our beautiful clitoris. I feel that as women we’ve been taught from a very young age to disconnect with this precious part of ourselves. In some cultures it is even brutally removed and this symbol is important to me because it counters those lessons. The sole purpose of the clitoris is to give a woman’s pleasure, that alone deserves a celebration.
My ancestral history influences everything I do today: my healing work, my dancing, my modeling, my body art, my art, my life. I see the scars as an extension of this history, a celebration of life, body and spirit.
Essay originally featured in POSTSCRIPT Issue 2.