What Isn't SI
There are a number of things which, at first glance look like they could be classified as self-injury. Some of them are specifically religious/Pagan, and it is important not to be confused about them. Its my contention that what separates self-injury from the things before is the intent behind them, that just to look for examples of self-inflicted or chosen tissue damage is to include a lot of people who are not self-injurers with those who really are.
- Tattooing. Lots of people now have tattoos and some people have quite a substantial number of them. Some (probably most) people get them professionally done, and some people do them themselves. Quite a lot of Pagans have tattoos - indeed, Llewelyn's 2003 yearbook included a ritual to dedicate your tattoos - but the population in general is quite keen on tattoos. The history of tattooing is rather interesting, but not relevant here. However, particularly with people with many tattoos some people have suggested that this is a form of self-injury. After all, tattooing causes pain, blood and tissue damage and is done because the person wishes it. However, I would not classify this as self-injury. The purpose of tattooing is to decorate the body rather than to harm it - the tissue damage that tattooing causes is more of an unfortunate side-effect than the intent behind getting a tattoo. Of course, alongside this most people do not do their own tattoos - which hardly classifies it as self-injury.
- Body-piercing. Like tattooing, body-piercing is undergoing something of a renaissance, with many more people getting piercings elsewhere than the earlobes than previously. Some people have enormous numbers of piercings - I recently saw on the television the man who holds the world record number of piercings all done in one session, for instance. Piercing has a very long history - as long as tattooing in fact - and has been practised in bulk by most cultures at one time or another. Like tattooing, the tissue damage caused by the piercing is not the aim of getting a piercing - in order to hang rings from your ears or elsewhere it is necessary to damage the body, but it is for the sake of the decoration rather tahn the damage that this is done.
- Shamanistic/ecstatic practises. A number of cultures, ancient and modern, have used pain and bodily damage in order to enter trance or ecstatic states. Sometimes this is passive - such as meditating outside in freezing cold, fasting, etc, and sometimes this is more active. Probably the best-known example of this is the mediaeval Catholic practise of mortification involving flagellation (whipping). Essentially this could be defined as injury in order to bring you closer to the divine. While some flagellants may have done this as self-injury, it is not really intended as such - again the injury is more of a side-effect than the purpose.
- Initiatory. Some cultures - mostly native religions - have some form of injury as a sign of belonging to that religion. Sometimes this involves tattooing or piercing, and sometimes more damaging practises such as those of Australian aborigines where sometimes the skin is scarred and males may be circumcised, which is of course also a Jewish practise. In some cultures women too are circumcised. As a cultural practise signifying adulthood and/or belonging to the culture/religion this is not defined as self-injury.
- Religious Identification. I only know of two religions who have or had this form. The priests of Attis (the Gallae) castrated themselves in imitation of Attis, and Christians in the Phillipines regularly crucify themselves in imitation of Christ. This is a voluntary activity in imitation of a divinity in order to express devotion and bring the person closer to that divinity. Again, while not a "normal" practise, it is not self-injury.
- Magical Practises. One form of extremely old magic involves the use of a person's own blood (and sometimes other bodily fluids). Some Pagans and magicians still use this. Naturally, gaining the blood involves injuring the self, unless menstrual blood is used, but again the purpose is outside the self, and is not self-injury.