Search This Blog


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Branding: my rite of passage into my 30's

July 7, 2013 was my 30th Birthday.  This felt like a significant milestone for me, a new phase of adulthood, stepping closer to my inner wise woman -- the elder within.  I hope to finish my journey as a mother to babies here and gain back some independence as my children grow into their own.
I decided I wanted to do a rite of passage, and quickly settled on an overnight canoe trip with my husband and a home-made spiral brand on my right shoulder.
The spiral represents, for me, the path of struggle, resistance, joy and creation.  The trip would be our first overnight without any kids since our daughter was born last year.  My plan to have my husband apply the brand had special symbolism because it was representative of my submission to a deeper trust.
In my research during the planning stage, I read about tribal rituals, and also some of the history around the branding of African slaves by American slave owners.  Connecting with this history (and all the power, pain and healing associated) felt like an important part of connecting to my distant grandmothers -- the ancestors at the root  of the human experience which began in Africa.

I woke up early the morning of my birthday, built a fire and enjoyed a quiet sunrise alone as my husband slept.
I relaxed in the sun...

And tried out my brand on my knife sheath to get a feel for how hard it would need to be pressed and for how long. 

This is the brand I made out of a hose-clamp bent with a needle-nose pliers.

After Jason awoke, we spent some time discussing the positioning of the design (he wanted to be sure he got it just right) and how it would be applied.  We found a small log he could use to press it down evenly, and practiced on my thigh while the brand was cool.

We heated it in the campfire...

 psyched ourselves up some more...

 Cleaned the area with Betadine... and went for it!

My main concern was determining the right length of time to get a good scar.  After discussing it a while, I concluded that I'd be best off thinking not in terms of how painful it was (and risk panicking and asking him to stop too soon,) instead focusing on my awareness for my own body and when the burn felt deep enough.  I used to self-injure as a teen, including some minor burns, so I drew from that experience a little.  It felt good to apply those dark memories towards something celebratory. 

I think it was between 1.5 and 3 seconds that he held the brand to my skin when I felt it had burned sufficiently. When he removed it, I felt immediate relief from the pain. It looked really pretty. My only concern at this point was that there was so little pain I thought it might not scar like I wanted.  As it has healed, I've determined that a shorter burn time actually would have been ideal (as you will see further down the page, the skin around the spiral was burnt causing the pattern to run together)

 7/7/13 (immediately after applying the brand)

 I bought some water-proof bandages which I attempted to use for swimming. In the photo below you can see that I've applied some antibiotic ointment.  Mostly, though I kept it open to the air and applied Tea Tree Oil a couple times a day.


These photos were all taken by reaching my arm around my back, sometimes in poor lighting, so the quality isn't great; but I wanted to share about the healing process because I would have liked to see this kind of progression when I was planning my brand.





 7/14/13 - 2 weeks
(this was after a day of swimming with a "waterproof bandage" that wouldn't stay stuck.)

It was right around 2 weeks that it started to hurt (prior to this point it felt mild like a sunburn) 


The pain was significant for several days...

And some days I thought it was just going to turn into an ugly blob.  Note: Unlike a tattoo, where you get to enjoy the artwork as soon as it's etched into your skin, the brand is a process. I found myself contemplating my own sense of confidence and trust far beyond the application.

 7/21/13 - 3 weeks

I put on extra Tea Tree oil when it looked nasty like this...



Here is about where the pain subsided and the scar started to become visible under the scabs.



7/28/13 - 4 weeks




 8/5/13 - 5 weeks


The healing process is not complete. The skin is still flakey, and I know the appearance will continue to change over time. But there you have a month of my home-made brand!


  1. That is crazy wicked!

    Thanks for sharing the pics. :) This was fun.

  2. What a cool idea and i think it already looks pretty...

  3. Thank you so much for posting! I just got my brand almost a week ago and its very cool comparing your experience and healing process to my own.

  4. I don't understand this. If you want to celebrate life and crossing the milestone to 30, do it by admiring your perfection. You took a beautiful thing and damaged it. You guilded a lily.

    1. Your logic relies on the assumption that I was somehow undamaged or perfect before this ritual. I was not. I celebrate the way I was, the way I am, the way I will be, all of which are imperfect & evolving, damaged & healing, ever-changing & still beautiful (by my own definition not someone else's.)