Going Deep: Topspace, Bottomspace, and Sado-erotic Ecstacy Part Seven

Author: Chris M © 1998-2002
of SubBondage.net

Used With Author(s) Permission


Rituals are human activities that deliberately alter or suspend the laws of everyday life and replace them with the rules of the ceremony. The ritual space can take many forms: the courtroom, the baseball diamond, the sandbox, the altar, the dramatic stage, the boxing ring, the gaming table, the bullfight, the funeral. They can be as elaborate as a wedding, or as humble as the meditative polishing of shoes. They can be as explicitly religious as prayer and the singing of hymns, or as secular as a baseball game. Some rituals exist to honor individuals, like the retirement dinner, birthday, funeral, or the going away party. Others provide simple joys or symbolic expressions of good will: flowers, chocolates, "I love you"s even the lukewarm blessing of "have a nice day". Sports, ritualized demonstrations of strength and skill, are so popular that they occupy a whole section in the daily paper. Rituals tend to benefit from being old like the Sabbath, the Haj, or wedding ceremonies. But they can be as readymade as the shrines young people assemble in their bedrooms to their teen idols of choice. There is no end to the kinds of rituals we humans invent and indulge in: pilgrimages, feasting, fasting, holidays, prayer, confession, blessings, parades, retreats, meditative walks, games of catch with a young person. Each ritual has its own attendant roles, rules and tools (chopsticks with Chinese food, for instance). And what might be appropriate for one ritual, might be perfectly absurd for another. Think how preposterous it would feel to use chopsticks to eat a cheeseburger.

In the distant past, rituals often encapsulated human knowledge - of medicine, agriculture, marriage, sickness, birth, warfare, death. They ranged from the simple to the elaborate, involving costumes, singing, dance, sacred invocations and sacrifice. These rituals brought communities together and created a sense of communion with invisible powers. Though they appear primitive when viewed from the technologically advanced present, rituals, at their best, they satisfied profound human needs for the participants: skill, empowerment, engagement with members of the community and a sense of tradition. Because they invoked higher powers in nature and in the spirit realm, they satisfied people's spiritual needs to be connected with the eternal and sacred. Many rituals encouraged their participants to 'see' supernatural forces in active participation with their lives. I'll leave that for you to decide, but even rituals that evoke the supernatural contain elements that work psychologically as well. The rituals of tribal bonding are legion: sport, worship, battle, barn raisings, and quilting bees. Communal singing, drumming, dancing or playing music in a band creates a sense of belonging nearly impossible to describe. Tribal rituals are used to codify group identities around cities, sports teams, even the bar up the street. We use dietary rituals to strengthen our links to cultures or places: Philly cheese-steak, New York bagels, Baltimore snowballs, crawfish Ettouffe, Chesapeake Bay crabs . . . There is no end to how rituals are used to satisfy human need.

Rituals are created through action - physical action with spiritual intent.

Ritual in SM

The SM community is infused with ritual: in our dress, in our nocturnal gatherings, in the highly ritualized SM encounter itself, in our invocations of alternative personalities as Master, slave, dominant, submissive, sissy girl, leather daddy, and the rules of deportment they require. Ritual is infused in our symbols: the report of a cracking whip, the bustier, the leather run vest, the engineer boots, the stiletto heel. In SM, we often engage in practices echoing the rituals of primitive cultures. They use piercing, branding, cutting, tattooing and other arduous, painful rituals to commemorate important events and achievements. So do we. We have tribal creeds like "safe sane and consensual". We have ritual attire that signals our membership in the leather tribe: the collars, corsets, and stiletto heels, the motorcycle chic, and of course, blackness- the color of the unknown - sealed into a leather jacket. What does it mean to be part of the leather tribe? It means feeling included, familiar, valued, respected, by others like you. It means knowing you're not alone. It means having access to mentors and guides. It means you have a circle of folk you can share with and talk to about issues you can't share safely with anyone else. And it means knowing that in each new town there are people you've never met who have lived secret lives similar to your own. It's a family, a team, a congregation. Many of our rituals serve the purpose of strengthening the bonds that hold the tribe together. I think one reason we have play parties is to remind us that we are not alone in our desire for secret and stigmatized pleasures. It also reminds us we are part of something larger than just ourselves (gay bathhouses and sex clubs do something similar). The SM community is, to some extent, our church, the place we go for fellowship, recognition, and rejuvenation.

Why do we do it? Because the ritual opens the door to a feast of experiences not ordinarily available: fear, delight, familiarity, excitement, shame. . . any number of feelings which heighten the importance, significance and experience of the ceremony. Let's take an example of how ritual can heighten the experience of a scene. It's no big deal to strip down before stepping into the shower, right? In the privacy of your own bathroom? Now, imagine doing it under the order of a hot dominant in a candlelit dungeon, before a tribunal of 20 voyeurs. Different feeling, isn't it? That's what ritual does.

Return: Transgression, Transcendence, and The Edge

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