Sexuality has always been our path, even before S/M became available to us. Starting with the task of reclaiming our sexuality from the Puritans, sex has been the path on which we explored psychological growth and healing, feminist empowerment, self-knowledge, and spiritual communion.

In the BDSM communities, spiritual practice has always been common, if not always talked about. A number of the early S/M support groups were established as churches with very serious religious intent. In recent years, ceremony and practice involving S/M and body modification have become more widespread and better known, and many support groups and circles, even businesses, have sprung up to fill the needs of ritual players and modern primitives. It will be impossible to let you know everything about this complex and wonderful subject in one chapter, but we will do the best we can.

Sex is Spiritual

Every orgasm is a spiritual experience. Think of a moment of perfect wholeness, of yourself in perfect unity, of expanded awareness that transcends the split between mind and body and integrates all the parts of you in ecstatic consciousness. Sound familiar?

Western tradition is to think of sex and spirituality as being in opposition, as if enjoying sex could somehow take you further from spirit. This superstition may already have caused you a lot of grief.

Divine consciousness, the tao, all the deities that have ever inspired anybody, and sexuality, flow through all of us all the time. Just as there is no time when you are separate from your sexuality, and no time when your sexuality is not part of you, there is no time when you are separate from the divine. When you bring spiritual awareness to your sexual practice, you can become directly conscious of – connected to – that divinity that always flows through you, even when you are not paying attention. So for us, sex is already an opportunity to see god.

Far out, huh? Please remember that we are not talking about the extra-special experience of somebody who spent twenty years in a cave in the Himalayas. We are talking about your orgasm, your play, your integrity with your spirit, your moment of ecstasy. Whether you want to think about it in this way is your choice.

Many of us are choosing to pursue our spirituality and our sexuality together through S/M and related practices. Following is some information gathered from our own experiences and the experiences of those who consciously explore spiritual BDSM play.

Sex is spiritual. We live in a culture that has historically insisted that sex and spirituality are mutually exclusive, in a country founded by puritans who were convinced that God hated sex. But as radical perverts, our experience and our belief is that sex is spiritual, and that a simple honest orgasm is a spiritual experience.

Sexuality has been a path for both of us – the road we originally took to question our individual and social programming. Discovering the ways in which we as women could grasp our sexuality was a powerful way to heal from our childhoods and from our sex-negative culture. We have proceeded from that healing to further self-exploration, and to celebrating our spirituality in the practice of S/M.

Michel Foucault, a 20th-century philosopher whose insights into the relationship between power and sex have informed a great deal of current thinking about BDSM, tells us that attempts to distinguish and set apart specific “sexualities” are an artifact of a culture that fears and fences off sex, especially unusual sex.

If our culture truly accepted its sexuality, we would all instinctively understand that sexual energy flows through everything all the time, like spiritual energy, like the life force, like the Tao, like a river. The cosmic river flows through each of us, bearing nourishment, washing away what we no longer need, making us wet. With S/M as our boat, we can travel on that river to and beyond our wildest dreams.

Shadow and Spirit

Remember the diagram in the previous chapter of Carl Jung’s map of the human mind? Jung understood spirituality as both a personal and a universal awareness that he called the Collective Unconscious. We told you before about the Shadow, that dark and scary reservoir of everything we have decided to banish from our awareness. And in this murky realm we find the archetypes we play with, the pantheons of villains and rescuers, that offer us scripts for exploring our Unconscious minds, and ultimately that Collective Unconscious. We explained how we use S/M to explore out darkness, illuminate it without clear awareness, and reclaim forbidden territory as psychological healing, a way of becoming whole. And all of this is spiritual.

When we add ritual to our S/M, performing it with spiritual intention, we can travel deeper yet. .. beyond the personal unconscious mind and into universal consciousness, or spiritual awareness. So the shadow, our personal garbage pit, becomes the gateway through which we pass to travel in realms beyond ordinary consciousness, like Crow who dances between the worlds.

Sacred Space

A lot of what we do in S/M qualifies as ritual in and of itself: games we play, roles we enact, fetish objects, acts of symbolic significance, and the whole theater of psychodrama have all the elements of a mystery play. The unbounded space we enter when we play is mythological: a land of archetypes, of mystery, of symbolic enactments, where we use the path of ritual theater to pull up tremendous physical and emotional intensity. This altered state of consciousness that we can enter into is known by many names: dream time, inner space, higher power, the place between the worlds.

These rituals and ceremonies are all ways of opening awareness and expanding consciousness. When we open ourselves up in this way, we let go of some of our usual boundaries, and our normal defenses, so we need to take care to protect ourselves when we are in this vulnerable state.

To this purpose players normally establish sacred space, a ritual environment, a circle. When we form the circle, we cast out negativity, temporarily send away difficult stuff and create a special place of caring and high consciousness, where the physical world is taken care of in advance so that we are free to focus on spiritual experience.

You can get the idea from the text of one of our favorite circle incantations:

Everything to the North of here is sacred
Everything to the South of here is sacred
Everything to the East of here is sacred
Everything to the West of here is sacred
Everything above here is sacred
Everything below here is sacred
Everything here is sacred

People who circle together often feel a special bond, since when our boundaries are down, more open, or more permeable, we feel closer to one another. Doing group sex in sacred space can feel very warm and intimate, as the circle brings people together in safety and harmony to celebrate their sexuality with the highest of awareness. In group ritual, you get to focus the energy of all the people present, which amplifies the power.

Doing a rite in the presence of others can give you more commitment – partly from their support, and partly because it would be more embarrassing to quit in the middle, so you may push yourself a little harder, and maybe get further. Sometimes it is necessary to quit in the middle no matter how embarrassing it is: safewording out of a ritual is an act of tremendous honesty, and deserves respect.

Kundalini and the Chakras

S/M ritual requires considerable knowledge and experience to perform successfully and safely. Training often starts with learning how to go into trance states by means less drastic than the physical pain of opening the skin. You can learn to attain trance states through many different practices, including self-hypnosis and meditation. We especially recommend yoga for its powers of physical conditioning, relaxation and mental clarity – important skills for any bottom (and anybody else).

Hindu teachers see our spirit in the form of centers of energy going up the spine, with spiritual force, kundalini, envisioned as a snake made of pure energy that can crawl up our spine. Imagine your backbone as beads strung on a serpent. To get a feel for kundalini, try the following grounding exercise:

Sit tailor fashion, or lotus if you can, or any comfortable position with your back straight. Imagine that your vertebrae are blocks, and you can line them up one atop another like a block tower, so perfectly that your body could stay erect without any effort at all from your muscles, with your head balanced on top like a ball on a seal’s nose. Relax. Breathe. Let your bones support you.

Imagine a string going down through the centers of your vertebrae, down into the ground, through the layers of soil, through the rocks, down into the magma, all the way to the center of the earth where it’s hot. Imagine the heat at the earth’s core coming up your string, and up your tower of blocks.

Imagine that you can send anything you have extra, anything you don’t want, down into the earth to melt in the magma.

Imagine that you can pull the earth’s energy up your string, through your body, and out the top of your head all the way to the stars. Enjoy this for a while.

When you are through imagining, pull your string down from the stars with a thank you to the cosmos. Send down into the earth any energy you don’t need, pull your string back up into yourself, and thank the earth.

As you pulled the heat up your spine, you may have noticed certain places where there is particularly strong feeling. The Hindus call these centers of energy the chakras.

To find your chakras, start at the bottom where your string comes into your body from the earth. This is the root chakra, the ground of being.

The second chakra is the sexual chakra, located where you feel it, in your genital area.

Third is the chi, center of gravity of the body, located near your navel. Martial artists find their strength and centeredness in this place.

Fourth is the heart chakra, located by your heart – this is where we love and cry and feel other strong emotions.

Fifth is the throat chakra, where you speak – it governs communication, the feeling of peace, and the love of truth.

Sixth is the third eye, located between your eyebrows ­ here there be visions, colors, pictures – and intellectual concepts.

Seventh is the crown chakra at or slightly above the top of your head, where your string goes out and all the way up to the cosmos, and may return in the form of sweet rain all over your body.

When you touch these places on yourself or another person, there may be special feelings of connection, grounding, emotion, serenity or ecstasy. We like to hold the tops of people’s heads when we feel they need containment, and touch their heart for strength and safety in the presence of strong emotion. No chakra is higher than another chakra – all of them are essential. It’s like an electrical circuit: you gotta connect all the poles, or the kundalini doesn’t flow.

Conscious Ritual, Here and Elsewhere

Mystics throughout history have used physical and sexual stress to raise endorphins and engender a visionary experience. Dossie says, “I used to think that these people were so spiritually advanced that they could endure all this pain as proof of their detachment from the material. Now I know that they seek out the pain in order to achieve the transcendent state.” The pain brings them to ecstasy, an endorphin rush directed to a spiritual purpose.

Many ancient practices have been adapted by S/M spiritualists for use in our rituals here and now. We learn from sadhus in India who modify their bodies and genitals by constriction, piercing and stretching as a lifelong practice.

At a festival in Kuala Lumpur people have their skin, cheeks and tongues pierced with needles, hooks and spears; they dance to a shrine as a sacrifice to the gods, for the granting of a wish or in thanks for a particular blessing. Pacific Island traditions include scarification, genital piercings, tattooing of much of the body. The Maoris tattoo patterns all over their faces that signify communion with their ancestors.

Native American traditions include the Sun Dance, where participants attach a rope to a tree and to a chest piercing, and lean on the rope until the piercing breaks through, a meditation that may take several hours. Flagellation is still practiced by Roman Catholics in the Philippines.

All these practices are done in trance states, and it is often noted that there is little bleeding and that wounds close up faster than one would expect and heal with magical speed.

Current Practices

Modern primitives here in the U.S. may choose to build a ritual around a piercing, or have cuttings or tattoos with symbolic themes as a rite of passage to mark a transition in their lives. Sexual piercings are reputed to increase the sensitivity (awareness) at the site of the piercing, and rings are placed so as to remind you of parts of your body you may have been taught to ignore, a step toward more complete consciousness.

Rhythm can also carry you upwards, and drumming, chanting and trance dancing are often included in S/M rituals. Dassie is particularly fond of being drummed on:

“As the drumming becomes more intense, and the pain more difficult to deal with, I find my my whole body gets pushed into the rhythm, my consciousness gets pushed into the rhythm, and I get pushed over the edge in a communion with the drummer that sends us both flying.”

Various types of suspension, stretching and hanging can be the stretch that expands consciousness – this is the secret meaning of the “Hanged Man” of the Tarot, and the reason he looks so happy. Hanging in rope bondage with the body fully off the ground is not only an amazing bondage experience, but can also be a very trancey trip. The ultimate in suspension is when people suspend their entire body weight on a large number of piercings (carefully designed to distribute the weight and allow for a comfortable trip and a safe return).

The ball dance is a piercing ritual adapted from the sadhus in which balls, bells, lemons or other objects are tied to the skin by putting sterile filaments in shallow piercings, most commonly on the chest, back and arms. People come together in groups with trained piercers, preferably in a meadow somewhere on a mountain. Dossie, who has participated in many ball dances, explains:

You establish trance first in whatever way works best for you, then let the piercings entrance you further. The circle is made, the drums start up, and you dance with the balls on. At first, you may move with caution as you test the sensation of swinging a weight that is attached inside of you. Then it becomes intriguing to play with the risk, and let the sensation carry you out a little further. After a while, the dance takes over and you might jump up and down or swing wildly, deliberately maximizing the pull of the balls on your skin. The body goes way out into ecstasy, and where the mind goes defies description.

Communion, Transcendence, and Transformation

We very strongly recommend that you not try any of this until you join a community where you can find knowledgeable people to learn from. This is advanced activity, and it’s not for everyone. It requires a lot of commitment and hard work, as well as great care for safety and health, to pull off successfully.

When you do body ritual, it is imperative to have a goal in mind – these practices are too powerful to just use them to get high without any sense of purpose or direction. Goals might be to celebrate a transition, to give thanks, to look for healing, to connect with gods, ancestors or spirit guides, or to seek a vision. Goals are as varied as the people who do ritual. A good goal is to seek communion with the divine.

States of trance and ecstasy are experiential. They are what you feel. They have no causes, and are not about figuring anything out – there are no whys and wherefores. This is a holistic experience, so you are best advised to shut up and listen, or as we used to bless each other in the sixties: “May the Baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind.” As in all forms of BDSM, when you believe enough in the game you are playing, it becomes true: this is the power of manifesting.

In the state of transcendence we have a heightened awareness, which makes this a good time to let in new truths. This is a time of suspense  – remember the Hanged Man? – a time to let go of our self-consciousness, to leave ourselves, propelled by divine mercilessness.

This experience of Dossie’s helps illustrate the dark energy of S/M spirituality:

A while ago I was having a lot of difficulty with some painful losses in my life, and had gotten stuck blaming myself for my losses, and blaming myself for feeling bad when I was terribly sad and angry – I was in sorry shape. I contacted a friend of mine, another heavy bottom, and asked if she would be willing to channel some of my disturbed energy in the form of a caning that I would perform on her. I promised to own my energy, and take it back when we were through, not to just dump it on her and leave her with it. She agreed. I began caning her, and after a warmup time the energy, and the caning, became really intense, and I definitely had the feeling that I was throwing out a lot of my rage and grief along with the cane, and that she was taking it in and riding it with great pleasure. I was using my rage as the scary part of the rollercoaster. Periodically, as we went along, and as the play became harder and faster, I would move up to her head and hold her while I checked in to make sure she was all right. After a particularly violent attack from me, when I checked in, she turned to me with a beatific smile and said, “I love your energy. I love your shadow.” This was a revelation to me – that she could find a way to love what I most hated about myself – what a lesson. This bottom transformed her top.

We can do healing, change and growth with S/M and ritual. We believe old wounds can sometimes be healed by going through the wounds, as if there were parts of us that we can only access through those painful openings. How can we do spirituality and healing with such dirty stuffi A lover of Dossie’s had a fine answer for that – “I know my fantasies have dirty roots.” And how else would you grow roses?

Power and Manifestation

We are using the metaphors of power and cosmic energy interchangeably, because our understanding is that personal power is the universal life force, power that we can access whether we envision it as coming from within or from outside us. Janet, when a scene is working well, feels energy from some external source pour into her like white light – others report seeing that light in her too. When this is happening, she feels as if she can do no wrong, that she is totally connected to what she is doing with her bottom. Dossie feels the energy welling up from within herself, or perhaps from underneath her, power from the earth’s hot molten interior, and when that power is with her she also feels totally empowered and in total communication with her bottom.

With that power – personal, planetary, cosmic – comes the understanding that we are all manifestations of the same energy, and that we have the power to change how we manifest ourselves. This is the power of transformation, and of transcendence. To manifest is to realize, to make real and thereby understand. In S/M we take a fantasy, a myth, a vision or a dream and manifest it, live it out in our bodies, sculpt it with the forces of endorphins, eroticism and consciousness, and bring it into the material world.