Scarification Part 2: Solar Branding
October 12, 2020 Jamey Alea 1 Comment
I tried scarification for the first time a couple of years ago, using a branding iron, and I documented the healing process in detail. So I wanted to do something similar for my second foray into scarification, which is a solar brand.
“What is a solar brand?” I hear you asking. And I feel you, because I didn’t know much about it beforehand either! It’s a relatively emergent form of body modification, although there is something about it that feels very primal, in a way none of my other body mods have. Like other types of branding, solar branding is a scarification method that uses burns – but in this case, the burns are drawn on with the light of the sun, focusing it through a crystal ball (in the same manner that you’d focus light through a magnifying glass). I had mine done by artist Neeko Bonzini, who is a really incredible person that I feel blessed to have met.
One thing that’s cool about solar branding is you can get whatever simple design you want (unlike last time, when obviously it has to be in the shape of the iron). I decided to get a spear, to represent Athena. It’s on my left forearm, right next to my most recent tattoo, the 6th Pentacle of Mars, which I also consecrated to Athena.
The act of having it done was extremely intense, literally one of the most intense sensations I’ve ever experienced. It’s legitimately hard to describe. I mean, on the surface level, yes it was painful. (One of my friends said she thought it was a little less painful than a tattoo needle; I found it slightly more painful but in a similar ballpark.) There were also some disconcerting side effects: while it was happening, I could both hear the popping sound of my skin burning and smell the unsettling scent of flesh burning. I was warned about these side effects in advance and they weren’t as unpleasant as I feared, because I was disassociating from my body pretty hard while it was happening anyway.
But beyond the purely physical, it was also a profoundly spiritual experience. Beforehand, Neeko and I spoke of my ancestors: an unbroken line of lives and trials and rituals that had to happen exactly the way it did in order for me to be where I was on that day, a line of strength that I’m connected to and can lean back on. (A little dorky, but I pictured it like Aang and the line of previous Avatars stretching out behind him.) He told me to think of it as a talisman, not a trial, and that I would be stronger afterwards than I was when I woke up that morning. And I absolutely did feel stronger. While it was happening, I closed my eyes and felt almost entirely out of body. My arms, chest, face, almost my whole body above the waist, went completely numb and tingly while it was happening. One of the beautiful things about the process is that it looks like white light is entering your body, and that’s kind of what it felt like too. This is the part I’m having trouble describing. It was very intense, and it was like I was somewhere else, and then after it was done, I was back.
Here’s what it looked like directly after he finished. I’m pretty sure the reason it’s so black is because he drew the design on in sharpie beforehand, although I suppose it’s possible there was some charring. It was a little bit tender to the touch, but overall it didn’t hurt much after. I was able to wash it later that evening without experiencing a lot of pain.
Around day 2, I noticed some redness spreading around the scar and I started experiencing some mild soreness, but it felt more like a bruise — like an ache under the skin, not a pain on the actual scar. Around the same time, it started to look and act like a scab. The surface got hard-ish and the straight line of the spear started to pucker.
Around day 4, it was still pretty noticeably puckered, but some of the upper layers of the scab started to gently flake off, including the black sharpie lines. This wasn’t painful at all, though there was still an ache beneath.
Around day 5, the red aura around the scab started to get angrier. Not a huge change in pain levels or anything though. And otherwise, not even a really noticeable change in how it looked.
Day 6 is when it really started to feel like a proper scab. The areas that were puckered started to flatten out, although you could tell where it had been previously puckered because the scab formed a little bit differently there? (I think you’ll be able to see what I mean in some of the photos.) Day 6 is also when I started really picking at it. Picking at the scab was the only time it ever got really painful while it was healing, but the scab and my skin were starting to kind of separate on their own, which made it really hard to stop myself from picking. It was also really interesting because it was kind of like the scab was inset into my arm, so when it came out, it left a little spear-shaped groove in my skin. (This will also be more obvious in subsequent photos.)
For the next few days, I kept picking at it idly and occasionally snipping off pieces of the scab that I’d managed to pull up. I didn’t take another picture until day 9, and I think here you can see what I mean from before, both about the groove and the way the puckering affected it, with these little divots. You can also see that it’s still pretty red around the edges, but again, pretty much any pain I was experiencing was when I was actively messing with the scab.
Day 10 was when I finally got pretty much all of the original scab (and all the remaining gross looking black sharpie) off, so it was looking a lot better at this point. A new scab did start to form inside the groove – you can see this a little at the very end of the spear shaft – but it wasn’t as hard as the original scab.
I did keep picking at it a little bit even after that, mainly at the very tip of the spear, because the scab was behaving a little bit different right where it met at the tip. At this point, it really wasn’t very painful, but it did bleed a couple times when I picked at it the right way. Luckily, bleeding right out of only the tip of the spear looked really cool, like my talisman had actually gone into battle.
At this point, it was really on the mend. A second scab filled in the groove and then started to heal. The redness from around the edges started to fade. There was absolutely no pain at this point and I ran my fingers over the scab all the time, so I felt how it was slowly getting smoother.
Eventually, it even started to turn white-ish, which was my understanding of how it was supposed to look when it was fully healed. Day 21 is when I decided to consider it “healed” and stopped taking frequent photos of it.
Since then, I’ve really had no problems with it at all. It has been a little over two months now since this was done, and the scar has continued to heal and fade. I actually think it has a little bit more healing to do still, because it’s not completely smooth on my arm yet, and my hot brand became completely smooth once it was fully healed. Obviously I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s also going to fade more quickly than my hot brand (which is actually also fading more quickly than I expected, I guess my skin is just resilient to scars). But only time will tell! In the meantime, it looks very cool. It’s subtle and looks a lot different in different lighting, which is neat.
Overall, I’m really happy. I love my scar, it has an interesting story, I had a really unique experience and I do feel stronger and more connected with my ancestors – and with Athena – than I was before. It was really interesting (and more than a little nerve wracking!) to participate in a body modification that’s so uncommon and that I knew so little about, and I’m really grateful to have met Neeko and had this very cool opportunity.
January 25, 2021 - 6:47 am
This was an incredibly beautiful journey! Ive been looking more into solar branding and Neeko Bonzini’s work. I am so intrigued by the process and someday hope to get/perform these ritualistic practices. I wish you well!