Eo Hermes. This is dedicated to you, the messager. Please carry my message, let it be heard.
From time to time, there’s an opportunity to try and show others some beauty you see in the world. This is such a story: a story about BDSM and spirituality. It’s a story about how together, we can work in community, work with our gods to heal and grow. It’s a true story, at least as true as any story I can tell about something that happened about a month ago.
This is a story about one specific ritual. However, rituals don’t happen in a void. Rituals themselves are a story about the symbols, patterns and people that make up the ritual. So any story about a ritual is also a story about the context, about the preparation, and about the intent that all come together in the ritual.
I was really looking forward to Beltane (May day), which for me is probably my biggest religious holiday of the year. Spending a few days celebrating openness, embracing passion and love, off with my gods and community was just what I needed. April was tough.
Shortly before the festival, my girlfriend lets me know that she won’t be able to come. In many ways, this was our event, the time when we get to be as together as we can be. However, a critical family emergency kept her away. Being all alone at a sex-related festival is very different from being there with a cherished lover, and I was having trouble adjusting. She was going to help me teach a class, and I wasn’t sure who I could find that I’d trust enough to take on that role.
The weather was looking discouraging.
I got on the plane and felt nervous, wondering how things would work out. Still, I was heading to the space where I first met Venus, where I first embraced spirituality and real openness. What could go wrong.
I found out as the taxi turned off the highway about 45-minutes away from the airport. “O, fuck!,” I said.
My stomach was knotted so tightly I couldn’t get the words out for a few moments. On top of everything else, I just couldn’t deal with this. “This isn’t my bag.” For a few brief moments I considered abandoning my luggage and just going without for the festival, replacing everything later. The festival was clothing-optional; there isn’t a lot I strictly had to have. Giving up that dream, I faced the long, expensive trek back to the airport and back to the camp ground. The driver was happy to tell me of the plans he’d already had to cancel to pick me up. He wasn’t upset, we were both commiserating in our misery.
Eventually I got to camp. I was a mess. I was stressed by life, and by the immediate logistics of getting there. I had no idea what I’d be doing nor how I was going to manage to teach my class. I didn’t feel connected with myself or my spirituality.
A significant part of my spiritual path is working with an aspect of Venus. I experience her as a goddess of love and sexuality, particularly focused on transformation and growth through the more fiery aspects of love. I think there are times when she’s sitting there in our hearts, or wherever we perceive her, smiling as she has an opportunity to nudge two people closer together hoping they will be good for each other. Looking back on my arrival at camp, meeting Susan was one of those times. Susan was new to our cabin; she had been at the event before and was nervous about whether she would fit in and connect this time. I knew this because the person who brought her met me at check-in, anxious, hoping that I could help her feel welcome. I’d do my best.
She’s there when I, exhausted and soul-weary, get to the cabin. I say hi and generally give people an update on my state. She suggests she might be able to help with my class.
We hang out. It could be warmer. Normally at such an event I’d be naked almost all of the time. Quickly I find that I need at least a coat. I get to know her; she seems like someone I could work with. The group is trying to figure out whether to do anything or just head to bed.
Susan and I had talked about needing to do a scene together if she’s going to help. Part of what I’m looking for is a safety monitor for short scenes taking place in the class. I point out we could wonder over to the play space and see how we work together. We’re feeling each other out and discover we’re both interested in doing that.
So, I find myself tied to a bench while someone I have known for less than four hours sorts through my toys. It’s safe: there are monitors and the event organizer is sceening on nearby equipment. The scene is physically intense, or at least, it feels that way. However, at another level, it’s a very light scene: a combination of me giving instruction in how to use my body with exploring the use of surprise and a few other tricks. We are happy: she feels included and I’ve started to relax somewhat. We talk about the possibility of doing a scene with more complex intent later.
It’s Friday. Susan helped with my class. It was a success. Really, that doesn’t begin to describe it: the class became a cabin project and together we rocked the world inviting people to be open and challenge themselves. That, however, is another story.
She wonders over and asks, “Hey, want to go to the flogging ritual?” I think the class is called “Driving Toward Ecstasy”, but everyone calls it the flogging ritual. I’ve been interested in going for years, but never had a partner who I thought would be interested in topping or bottoming at that ritual. “Sure, do you want to top or bottom?”
Now I have to think. I feel like I’ve been submitting a lot so far, and feel like I ought to want to top. I don’t though. I look within myself and find that my confidence is still fairly low from the month before. “If I had my preference I’d bottom. However, if there’s something you need to do at the ritual, I can top. My confidence is still fairly low and it would be easier to bottom.”
“Okay; you bottom. You will supply toys?”
“Sure, I’ll bring Mr. Thuddy and the small flogger.” Mr. Thuddy is her name for my wonderful, large, heavy flogger. Mr. Thuddy is not to be confused with Mr. Thud, that huge hunk of metal that the asshole in Connecticut keeps offering to hit people with at events, claiming he’s “got thud.”
New people think Mr. Thuddy is scary; you hand him to them and they feel the weight and think they aren’t going to like that. Bashing people with the handle would in fact be rude. However, there are lots of wide straps, and the weight of the handle brings inertia into play: unless you’re really strong, you’re going to get a nice even stroke. So, you actually get a wonderfully relaxing thud with very little sting, except possibly on the wrap.
Because Susan does not identify as spiritual, I guess the experience will be more physically intense than spiritually intense. For me, thinking of flogging as leading to ecstasy is very easy. I find flogging, especially with a nice thuddy flogger, relaxing. It can almost be some form of deep massage. With not very little ritual help to create space, stay in the moment and give into the experience, I could easily see getting to an ecstatic high. I’m assuming it will be something like that.
I arrive. I’m standing in front of a St. Andrew’s cross. It’s an X-shape with rings to attach wrist and ankle restraints. I have attached padded cuffs for my wrists but will not restrain my ankles.
I’m nervous. Susan is not there yet. I need to pee, and I go, but I’m worried about whether I’ll need to pee again during the ritual. I’m worried about whether the wrist restraints are too high. It might seem silly to be worried about comfort when I’m about to get flogged. However, the point is to be open to the experience of the flogging, to experience that as fully as possible. Other discomforts can get in the way. Also, discomfort from restraints can be a sign of bad blood-flow or a pinched nerve, both of which are safety issues.
The time of the ritual approaches and Susan is not there. My nervousness grows. I’m not looking forward to sitting there and being unable to participate because I don’t have a top.
I realize that I’m not doing well. The people at the festival have been wonderful; connections have deepened within our cabin especially. However, the festival itself has been challenging. A lot of it is the weather: it’s been no-fucking cold with lots of rain. I don’t mean fucking cold; cold that has to be defeated by warm bodies and lots of activity can be a lot of fun for Beltane. I mean it’s so cold that the idea of getting undressed enough to fuck is entirely unappealing. I’ve been wearing most of what I brought (admittedly not much) the entire time, often wishing for more layers. Now, I’m standing only in a trench coat, hoping that when I take the coat off to be restrained to the cross, I won’t be too cold to be naked. There are space heaters, but they don’t seem to be doing much.
I have enough experience both with BDSM and with spirituality that I should be able to fight through the nervousness. I’m in a position of great strength. This is the room where I first made a vow to Venus. This is the room where I was first flogged for that matter. My people--my tribe--are here and all around me. I try to relax, opening my senses. I smell the wood of the cross. In all probability I’ve tied people to this cross. For all I know it’s the cross where ... well, where some great growth happened. There’s an even higher probability that I’ve been tied to this cross before. No matter what happens, I will be fine. I breathe, reaching to ground myself.
Susan sweeps in. She’s the top; she can help. I’m not used to leaning on my top emotionally quite as much as I’m doing, but if she’s up to helping, it will make things much easier. I’ve certainly been in the position of helping a bottom out before. She is up to it; she helps me check the restraints, I go to the bathroom one final time, and we’re ready.
Everyone gathers in circle. The ritual leader uses the same grounding exercise I incorporate into my rituals. As we breathe together, I find myself focusing, more centered, ready to open. That’s the value of the ritual aspects of ritual: through shared symbols we can train ourselves to quickly and easily enter into a shared experience and context. I’ve done this enough times that even when I’m near my worst, the words of a common spiritual path combined with trust I have in the ritual leader and community bring me to a place where I’m ready to be open, ready for an experience.
We discuss intent. The plan is for us to do chakra work--work focused on spiritual nodes of our body that tie us together and to the world around us. We will find things within ourselves, use the energy of the flogging to separate those parts we want to keep from those we need to discard. Then, in the climax of the ritual, we will release that which we no longer need so that it can be recycled back into the world.
Ah, fuck, so much for my plan of a nice, simple physical experience with a ritual backing. What the ritual leader is describing is deep spiritual work. I briefly consider whether I’m really going to dive fully into that intent and try to do the deep work. I’m here, so I need to be here and this is the work I need to do. Later, of course, looking back on that reasoning, I’ll see the holes in it. However, I’m in my spiritual home, in my community, in a place of safety. I’m in a place where I have chosen to be vulnerable, chosen to take risks. I have chosen to trust the people, the experiences and the gods of this place, this event. I have full confidence that no matter what happens, I will be safe. Even if I end up an emotional wreck at the end of the ritual, I can find people to help me. I’m here in part because I can be this open, because there is enough trust that when I need healing the most, I can trust enough to do it. That trust and confidence is something I’ve built up over years.
Interestingly, if I had been doing better, I might have chosen to adapt my intent to something closer to what I had originally imagined, while still working within the overall intent. In part because I recognize that I’m not at my best, I’m open to doing more intense work.
The ritual is set to popular music. The ritual leader has picked a play list and will guide us through building the energy, using the music for rhythm, pacing and tone. As I would expect, the safety arrangements are good.
Susan and I return to our cross. I realize that I face the interesting challenge of working as a bottom to guide a top who is not spiritual through the process of creating a deeply spiritual experience for me. I never stop to think about whether I’ll be able to do that, whether Susan will be able to do that, or whether she wants to. I trust her to look out for her own safety and needs: we had that conversation as part of the first scene we did. If she’s uncomfortable she’ll let me know. Instead, I focus on how I can help her accomplish that goal.
She’s got everything under control. We touch and hug and the ritual begins.
She restrains my wrists and begins to connect with my body. There is touch, contact, warmth. Music plays; it is important, setting a rhythm. However it is important to my primal self; that part is greedy, my rational self doesn’t even get a memory of the music. Still, it forms a base line for what is to come.
We breathe through our feet. That is, we feel the ground under us, we reach out to the connections between us and the space, and as we breathe air, we also pull in and out the energy of those connections. We bring ourselves into alignment with the ground, with our sacred space through our feet. They support us; they bring us a source of power that we will use to do work.
As I begin to connect with my body, she caresses me with Mr. Thuddy: the wonder of leather against skin, soft supple straps gliding across my body, the rich smell of well-cured leather. The experience is sensual. I open to her as I open to my body. Our relationship is complex. I’m in her hands physically, I trust her to bring my body where I need to go; I have surrendered fully. Even though I have only known her for a couple of days, at this moment, I am hers. We know safe words and have discussed communication, but within my mind that’s all hidden behind a break glass in case of emergency mental box.