Many mulitative practices are culturally sanctioned
and are associated with healing, spirituality, and or social status of
individuals within that culture.
For example, consider the case of a shaman. Before
an individual becomes a shaman, he must undergo severe suffering and mutilation
to gain the special capacities for healing himself and others.
A second example involves adolescent initiation in which adolescents undergo
painful body modifications as a rite of passage into the adult world.
Australian aborigines use stones to slice open their penises along the
length of the urethra during adolescent initiation rites. Do these examples
qualify as self-mutilation?
Although these rituals and cultural activities
fall within the definition of self-mutilation, many anthropologists choose
not to use this term because of its negative social implications. Instead
anthropologists refer to these rituals and practices as body modification.
In contrast to self-mutilation, body modification not only affects the
individual, but also has greater consequences for the entire society.
Body modification rituals often serve the purpose of correcting or preventing
conditions that threaten the stability of the society: disease or angry
gods. Furthermore, some rituals such as adolescent initiation help maintain
order within the society. Adolescents undergo suffering and pain to gain
acceptance into adult communal life.
Although culturally sanctioned rituals and practices may meet the criteria
for self-mutilation, they do not qualify as deviant or pathological self-mutilation.
The difference lies in the motivating factors and the greater effect on