Bloody Details From Thailand's Sacred "Self-Mutilation" Festival

As the annals of religion go, self-mutilation (AKA "corporal mortification of the flesh") is a tradition that's almost as ancient as the mystery of how we came to have flesh, itself. Voluntarily torturing the physical body (and its pesky tendency to lust after other bodies, sicken, and die) remains a diehard tenet of many spiritual practices, even in this day and age. Every year, for example, droves of hardcore Catholics celebrate Lent by cutting themselves with blades, wearing crowns of wire that cut into their skin, and deliberately roasting themselves under the hot sun.

One group we don't expect such extravagant shenanigans from, however, are hardcore vegetarians. Nevertheless, the participants in Thailand's Vegetarian Festival (AKA the “Self-Mutilation Festival” or the “Nine Emperor Gods Festival”), definitely take self-flagellation to full-blown levels of cinematic, Lovecraftian torture. Moreover, they do it every year, and in front of thousands of rapt, hard-partying followers.

According to Pacific Standard, the festival is meant to celebrate “observance to the vegan diet and a welcoming of the emperor gods.” And to be sure, it does feature music, elaborately choreographed dances, delectable street food, and general merrymaking, like any other world-renowned carnival would. However, its main claim to fame still consists of presentations that are perhaps more akin to voluntary-snuff-films-as-Broadway-musicals (even though no one dies... usually). Below are a handful of harrowing details that may or may not inspire you to consider giving up any food that once had to pass through a slaughterhouse, 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • Human Pincushions

    Acupuncture or torture? If you've truly mastered the Zen-like art of transcending pain, the two are merely different names for the same kind of spiritual therapy. (In other words, torture by any other name would feel as blank-but-excruciating).

    In this video, a reveler sits in a meditative-yet-agitated state (note the frantic head bobbing) while being beautifully decorated with a lavish array of long, razor-sharp, iridescently pink needles.

  • Bicycles Through The Face

    When most people hear the words “bicycle through the face,” they undoubtedly think of wiping out on the trail, or sustaining some type of injury that necessitates incessant Oxycontin jonesing and bouts of agonizing facial reconstruction surgery. But for the reveler in this picture, a bike through the face is just spiritual business as usual

    The artistry of the act comes not from the technical process of mangling one's visage, mind you, but from the unexpected whimsy of what one decides to insert through one's cheeks. And no one can deny that a bicycle is a completely (and refreshingly) unlikely choice.

  • Barbed Wire Through The Face

    Usually, barbed wire is used to indicate a line that must not be crossed upon pain of shredding, but at the Self-Mutilation Festival, boundaries are limitless. One can make as many barbed comments as they like, but they can't say that this reveler isn't putting his pain (and tourists' money) where his mouth is.

    In the meantime, other partygoers (like this man with a power tool through his face) are busy finding creative ways of nailing their own mouths shut.

  • Meat Hooks Through The Back (And Face)

    Most of the spectators in this video were undoubtedly on tetherhooks, as the saying goes; but that surely pales in comparison to being on literal meat hooks. The participants in this ritual appear to be entirely unconcerned as they levitate far above the earth - not by way of the spiritual ecstasy they're seeking via self-mutilation, but by way of their actual flesh. (A few festive and "cosmetic" hookings through the cheek make for an even more impressive display).

  • Guns Through The Face

    Guns Through The Face
    Video: YouTube

    We all know the phrase “I felt like I had a gun to my head,” but few people think of putting the gun (that is, the weapon itself, not merely its bullets) through their head (or at least through the flesh that covers it). This ritual, which could have come out of a cinematic mafia torture rite à la Scarface or Goodfellas, proves that it's possible to do it, however. We don't know if the weapons used in these feats are loaded or not, but the high level of risk associated with this festival, in general, definitely suggests full chambers.

  • Nail-Bridge Crossing

    Nail-Bridge Crossing
    Video: YouTube

    Most of us know what it's like to cross a rickety and unstable bridge, but when that bridge is made of plank after plank of nails, all sticking impale-side up, the mechanics of executing said journey successfully become harder and harder to nail down. Fortunately, the participants in this video know how to step lightly, but one can also assume they've spent years building up the kind of calluses that you could probably drive nails through, anyway, so no big feats going on here.