Thursday, 4 October 2007

Spirituality and BDSM

So this is coming up in some comments in other threads, and it's one of the things that I'm interested in, so what the hey, I'll open up the thought for some more general discussion.

For how many folks around here is their BDSM entwined with spirituality? I know I've been writing a fair bit on and off over at my place on things that touch on ecstatic practices around the world, which include things like orgasm/sex denial, flagellation and other forms of pain endurance, ordeal training, descent into the underworld and other things that are readily metaphorisable in terms of d/s, sensory deprivation, and so on; all things that translate rather well into kink and have been written about in kink/spiritual terms by various authors. I know that my current explorations of sadomasochism in specific are explicitly religiously driven at this point.

The biggest thing for me in kink and spirituality is actually in terms of my work with Feri witchcraft. For those who aren't familiar with the Anderson Feri tradition, it's an American tradition of religious witchcraft with ties in a whole bunch of places, and one of the parents of the far better known Reclaiming tradition, associated with Starhawk, which is a mover and shaker in the goddess spirituality / feminist spirituality circles in the States.

One of the major tools of the Feri tradition, which it shares with Reclaiming, is something called the Iron Pentacle. The relevant part of this is that each point of the Iron Pent is, for lack of a better word, a virtue, something which the tradition founders considered unreasonably denigrated in surrounding culture, which needed to be claimed by the individual in order to become a whole human being. Those points are Sex, Pride, Self, Power, and Passion. These are all things I write about and explore in terms of kink, and my d/s relationship both in its development and practice has been intensely intertwined with my work with the IP; I've been working with them both for about the same time, in fact, as my relationship with my liege began in the part of my training where I was formally taught the IP. I've gotten into arguments with other Feris about whether it's possible for a submissive to present the virtues of Iron, and this is one of the reasons I get vehement about things like expanding an understanding of what it means to have, hold, and manifest power.

One of the fascinating conversations I had a while back about the intersection of BDSM, specifically d/s, and spirituality was with someone who had a hard time understanding how a submissive could be a worthy follower of a god -- because all of their experience with subs was with the surrendered doormat style, "I can't do anything, do it all for me, what master says is what goes" thing, rather than someone who was capable in their own right and choosing a path of service. I about broke their head a little when I pointed out that I am a sub, and further that I frame some of my relationships within my faiths in d/s terms.

So, there's a little of how the kink and spiritual interact for me; anyone else want to share?

20 comments:

Trinity said...

Most spirituality things are messy in my head and self-contradictory, so people who are fans of a very rigid path with set rituals should probably run screaming. I also consider myself devoted to Kali, so anyone who takes issue with a white girl serving such a deity (or with the combination of that and my own practice being pretty messy and fluid) should leave the room as well.

Now that the room is clear: I think that there's a lot of links between certain kinds of spiritual experience and certain kinds of altered state. People of a particularly materialist bent could say "well, that's just because altered states of consciousness FEEL all Goddy and fun" and, well, I've no proof that's not so. But I think there's something important about those experiences and what they mean that goes beyond getting high. And I think that's why things like ritual sex and flagellation and the like have always been a part of many people's spirituality.

For me personally, the high I feel when I'm topping... means far more to me than any fleeting state of euphoria. It means experiencing myself and my full potential, experiencing the world as a fully open world of possibilities. And it often makes me feel as if I am channeling some sort of divinity/divine power, as well, though I'm not personally entirely sure that God/gods "exist" as objective entities in the world, whether floating above us, walking among us, or incarnating in various forms.

(I don't really care about this, either; my experiences of the Divine matter a lot more to me than whether they're *actually* hooked up to entities I can't see or hear. Which is why people picking at whether others "believe in God" always throws my brain into a knot. Do you have to "believe" in that exact way to have meaningful experiences like these? I don't think so. In fact I think that if that's what we mean by the "exist" in "God/s exist", the statement is probably false.)

Which is going, perhaps, to sound really *odd* given what I'm next about to say, but I warned you I tend to contradict myself. But part of the way I find meaning in some deeply traumatic experiences I've had throughout my life and how they've shaped me is to see myself as either guided by a "creator/destroyer" deity, or... eh. I'd say "chosen" by one, but that makes me sound particuarly more special than others, when all that I mean is something like:

Deity sees me, sees what I survived/am surviving
Deity is intrigued and either helps me out of it or "marks" me afterward.

For me personally the sort of deity like this that most resonates with me is Kali -- I always had this feeling when looking at other deities that they fit a bit wrong, like an off-sized shoe.

So... yeah. I do feel that some of the very intense high of topspace for me (I've been told by many, many other tops that I'm lucky to go off into the stratosphere so generally consistently, as well as by many people that I'm the toppiest person they know, in various ways) is Her blessing. I don't think crediting myself with that is anything but arrogance. Yeah, I've always been dominant so there's always been something there, but there's more going on and I'm lucky. Easiest way to parse: Blessing from those kinda gods. Specifically, this one here. :)

And the other thing that is spiritually important to me is, paradoxically enough, that it gives me some framework under which to submit. I can't do that with humans. I could as an exercise, a show of respect, a way of learning something. But nto as a "this is just my rank with respect to you."

But with Ma... I can't be arrogant. She's... infinite? (word not right) I'm not. It gives me a place for service that doesn't involve my brain going "Must possess the human" the way it eventually would with fleshbags. It gives me a way to organize and understand the times and places in my life in which I'd need absolute humility -- which, again, isn't part of my dealings with fleshbags (though appropriate humility is.)

Which is interesting to me -- my family was always trying to get me to submit to Jesus, which just doesn't parse to my brain at all (hello? people? he's a sub?) or to his dad, who I never really understood at all, certainly not well enough to *serve*...

Trinity said...

It's also really freeing to me to get away from the Christian paradigm of "C'mon c'mon PRAAAAAAAISE HIM PRAAAAAAAAISE HIM HE NEEDS YOUR PRAAAAAAAAAAAISE! HALLELU!" which never made sense to me. It always struck me as the insecurity of the ultimate bad top. "Tell me I'm a good dom! Tell me again! Tell me again! WAAAAAAAAAAH *tantie*!"

Which is surely believable coming from humans -- I've done things embarrassingly similar to that when I've felt insecure, myself, though hopefully with less yowling. But it strikes me as bizarre behavior from a god. Even though gods can surely be petty, bratty, or obnoxious if you lean more toward the pagan side of things. It just... Yahweh & Son seem to need far more ego stroking than makes sense to me.

Sure, Ma is worthy of praise. There's no particulr reason not to, or not to do so often. But at least as I understand Her She wouldn't have some kind of identity crisis if the fleshbags didn't. She does with us whatever the hell She wants.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Raven Kaldera writes about Hela the way you're writing about Ma there in Dark Moon Rising, the ... of course he submits to Her, She's bigger than he is. He couldn't do it any other way.

He also has commented that his boy Joshua was sent to him by the gods to give him a good example of how to submit, because he's bad at it, while Joshua has a natural calling. (I know Joshua vaguely from pagan circles.)

For me personally, the high I feel when I'm topping... means far more to me than any fleeting state of euphoria. It means experiencing myself and my full potential, experiencing the world as a fully open world of possibilities.

I get something similar from a good round of subspace, a sense of ... expanding myself until I'm able to fill the entire space that is right for me in the world.

Anonymous said...

Really glad you wrote this as it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

This is all going to sound horribly *fluffy*, because I'm a complete newbie to being a sub, let alone using that space to have spiritual experiences. I don't have a framework yet for developing or understanding my experiences.

I had my first real life Master/slave scene last week. I can feel the spiritual potential there because I've never had an experience of such focused mindfulness before, I was absolutely present and for once my anxiety prone scatter-brain had centred itself in one point. There is also something very Dionysian about it. I was in no way intoxicated, yet the memory of if seems as if I was deliciously drunk. My whole world had come focused down to a very small circle around me, like it can do for me under the influence of alcohol.

My spiritual experiences have most often come from singing and dancing, and I’m drawn to Gods of ecstasy, song, dance and pleasure – Dionysos and Hetheru especially. It seems like I will always come to know the Divine with my body and with instinct, not with some sort of rational Apollonian thought-process. (Hmm, seem to have wandered somewhat off topic here).

Maybe there is nothing particularly spiritual about what I felt - maybe it’s just the wonderfulness of what sub space feels like and I don't know it yet. My mood is still pretty dreamy, and this happened nearly a week ago *sighs*. But it certainly feels like it has spiritual potential at least. And if it's not going to turn out that way, I think that focusing my mind like this could be very healing in a psychological sense.

Now I'll go and run and hide from the fluff-bashers...

- Olympias

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Hi there Olympias, nice to see you posting. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks! :) Everything's so new and wonderful for me at the moment that I feel I've got to express what I'm feeling somewhere. Even if I am in a very dreamy place and writing very soppy things.

Trinity said...

"I had my first real life Master/slave scene last week."

forgive me, but I can't parse this: Master/slave *scene*? I understand those words to mean a serious deep commitment, but a scene to mean one instance of SM. Are you saying you have a Master to whom you have this sort of commitment, but had never played with hir before?

Trinity said...

"Raven Kaldera writes about Hela the way you're writing about Ma there in Dark Moon Rising, the ... of course he submits to Her, She's bigger than he is."

Yeah, not submitting to Ma would be like standing on a tiny rock in the middle of a tsunami, with an enormous wave coming right for you, shouting "You can't hurt me! I have control!"

Not recommended.

:)

and honestly, the whole D/s capitalization silliness around pronouns? I'm sorry, Someone else gets that...

Anonymous said...

Hi Trinity,

I'm really sorry if I used the wrong language to describe my experience. Like I said, I am extremely new to this, and I haven't quite got a hold on the right language and frameworks to express myself. I'm probably doing things a little wrong, and then using the wrong language to talk about them. I'm sorry if I have caused you any offence by the way I described things.

What I meant to convey was that, yes I do have an ongoing Master/slave relationship with this person, but this was the first time we had explored this in person (as opposed to via phone or MSN). If this is not called a 'scene', please excuse me.

I know I am not very experienced and certainly not an authority on anything, but I just posted here because I wanted to express what I was feeling to people who might understand just slightly. Please bear with me because I do appreciate that I am a newbie who doesn't quite know what she's talking about. But I still want to talk about it.

-Olympias

EthylBenzene said...

Welcome, Olympias. But geez, you totally don't have to apologize so much :) I think a lot of people around here are willing to help you get the hang of the language, so don't worry. Congrats on finding such a happy place in your life, and I hope things continue to go well for you.

I just wanted to say I find this a very interesting discussion. But I'm an atheist, so I'm not sure I've got much to contribute. I definitely identify with Olympia's feeling of finally having your brain completely focused on one thing and have the rest of the shouting shut up for a little while. I think sex in general is good for me that way, but BDSM in particular gets me focused a lot more quickly. It's nice, it's important, it keeps me happy and focused for a couple days afterward, but I don't experience it as anything divine. Does that make sense? Sort of similar AFAIK to Buddhist meditation.

Trinity said...

Olympias,

No need to apologize. Lots of people use lots of terms in lots of different ways. For me "master" and "slave" are expressions of really profound commitment, so not knowing you already had one, I was tripping up wondering if you meant you had it, or if you meant something like "this was a scene in which he had lots of control" or what. Even if you'd meant them very differently than I would, that doesn't make you wrong. I just wasn't sure how to parse what you were saying about that scene.

Nat said...

Well, I guess all the apologising might be put down to my Englishness :). Added to the fact that I'm an absolute perfectionist and really hate being new at anything and not knowing what I'm doing. But at least I'm in 'training' now so hopefully that will be remedied soon ;)

Gauge said...

BDSM is tied up in my spirituality, too. Not in the sense that every scene is a ritual, but in this very real sense that sometimes BDSM is ritual, and that it is always teaching me something about myself and always giving me a sort of focused state of being. The altered states match up well to the sort of focus in mystical work.

I can identify a little with Trinity's messiness and fluidity of spiritual practice. I'm heathen, and keep myself to the Aesir and Vanir, and stick to traditional ways when they're practical, work for me, and available - but that leaves huge blank spaces, and I'm perfectly willing to do something if it works better for me. And I'm in the same place of not being sure and not caring exactly how god/desses exist.

I relate somewhat differently to the idea of submitting to them. Probably because there are a lot of traditional stories about people going against them, and probably because also, at least the way I see it, my faith has a big emphasis on not completely submitting to anything. To me, it's about respect and acknowledgment that compared to them, I'm insignificant, but that that is all just matters of scale.

I'm closest to Freyja, and I see that as more complementary to what and who I am then contradictory. And I definitely at times feel molded by this, having been drawn to a goddess for as long as I can remember that embodies a lot of things and has a lot of contradictions in Her nature (being tied to love and sexuality while also tied to ritual altered states, seidhr, and death).

With Her, I acknowledge that when I blot to Her (give an offering of drink), that I feel cared for and somewhat looked after, even if there is this knowledge of "I need to do things for myself". And then in other moments that I'm in touch with something bigger than myself. And then there are the times where I feel like I'm being a bratty kid and almost feel like Someone's shaking Their head.

There are a lot of god/dess I don't really deal with outside of a ritual offering, or, a couple where I feel much more adversarial toward, or like the appropriate way to approach them is "to whatever extent they are there, they test me". With one, it's a matter of not showing my throat, because I feel like if I did, to whatever extent He's there, I'd be missing the point.

Having run ordeals for people at their request, it's particularly hard, draining work, to be doing something for someone to push their limits so that they can grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. And specifically when you are supposed to embody some archetype or even deity for them (though one of my hard limits is that it has to be one of the Aesir or Vanir for me - I acknowledge that other deities have the same sort of existence/meaning as them, they're just not mine, if that makes sense). It's a huge responsibility and definitely something that I tend to lose all concept of who I am in, such that afterwards, it takes me a while to come back to myself and remember who I am.

And I think that's an important part of the ordeal - when someone comes to me and says whom they need to put them through that ordeal, it is my responsibility to either be that being as best as I can, or say I can't do it. They're not coming to me saying, "Gauge, could you do X, Y, and Z for me?" but saying "I need to X, Y, and Z done to me by _____, can you embody that for me?"

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Oh man. I'd so love to have a conversation about kinky-mystical ordeal work if it weren't for the fact that I'm fucking in the middle of long-term hardcore kinky-mystical ordeal work and thus can't get a coherent sentence out about it.

Meh. :}

subversive_sub said...

What's really been interesting for me is how S/M play has led me *away* from spirituality, or rather, has led me to reinterpret previous "spiritual" experiences. I used to "fly" during meditation (and sometimes at random moments) and always thought it was evidence of touching some sort of otherworldly, divine essence. The fact that I have experienced the exact same sensations in scenes with my partner has made me rethink a lot of the assumptions I made about where those feelings were coming from.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell I'm glad I found this blog? :-)

Dw3t-Hthr - I know more than one Feri. In fact, my ex is Feri. I am sure she (as a sub) would be intrigued by your thoughts on whether a sub can embody the virtues of iron. I suspect if she had thought them less in conflict, things might have gone better.

Interestingly, my most spiritual SM experiences were somewhat as ritual. I can think of one in which I felt far more a shaman, guiding a bottom out of her body and back. Post break-up, I asked a few trusted tops if they might be willing to top me - I knew I needed an ecstatic experience to go out of my own head and body and back, I just wasn't sure if I wanted it to be dance, some kind of intense physical sport, or being topped.

I think many people incorporate sexuality as part of the BDSM - but I find it odd when people discuss *every* sex act as being a ritual. (Sometimes fucking is just fucking. *grin* )

-victor

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