July/August 2001

by Chris M.

The story is long forgotten, lost, even in the times we know call ancient. It is one of the very earliest, possibly predating Lilith's banishment from Eden. Had it been remembered it would have been in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. God was a young man himself in those days, and this was the first of God's rages, like the ones later that drowned the world, destroyed Sodom, or his sudden violent decision to murder Moses. No cause has been remembered. Perhaps his two human creations were fighting; perhaps one was being cruel to the other, perhaps they were merely not loving each other enough. God went crazy. He lashed out, intending to kill one or both of them. He grabbed a claw full of flesh, tore it away, and hurled it, far far over the walls of Eden, far across the world outside. Whoever was stronger helped the other limp away, where they could hide and heal, until Gods fury had passed. The tree of life, the fall of man ,the banishment from the garden - all that came later, and at that point God released his creation go out into the world. It was the final straw rather than the first offense. How could it be otherwise? Why else would god have delivered so harsh a judgment for a first time offense? And why would they have even been tempted unless there was a terrible hunger, the presence of absence, a yearning for what was no longer there. How cold they eat unless they were hungry?

The wound never healed. It has been passed down through the millennia from their descendants to us. In one irrevocable instant God took away what even he even he can never fully restore. So we go on. Through every day, hungry, searching for the missing pieces of ourselves. But here's the good news, we recognize it when we find pieces of ourselves strewn throughout the world. And when we find one of lost fragments of ourselves we feel restored, more whole …. In a poem, a song, or a stranger so beautiful it knocks the wind out of you, in moments we are sure, correctly, that we have lived before…

A fragment remembered from a dream.

Why even talk about spirituality? In this technologically advanced age, of moonwalks, supercomputers, and medical miracles you might think we had outgrown our primitive spiritual needs. The power of science has explained away much of what used to lay beyond rational comprehension. The ancient and revered idea that we are surrounded by hidden, supernatural forces that actively control our weather, harvests, and health, has been violently displaced by the deterministic laws of physics, meteorology, and medicine. We no longer attribute floods, famines or hurricanes to the wrath of angry gods. We call a mechanic, not a holy man when our car won't start. For the first time in history, we know that instead of heaven just beyond the clouds you have the ever-thinning stratosphere, then finally, empty blackness.

Yet, in spite of this, spiritual practice thrives in all parts of the world today: Many have found meaning and purpose in the worlds great religions. Others have turned away from the major faiths to seek sustenance and growth in Goddess worship, Wiccan gatherings, and new age practices. Others still, have found it in nominally secular activities like meditation, painting, yoga, poetry, acupuncture, martial arts, the study of literature or philosophy, kiatsu, even serving tea - in short any activity where pleasure, personal effort, and an experience of the sublime intersect. Spirituality has a thousand faces, and has been approached by a million paths, both religious and secular. You can hear spirituality in the music of Al Green, Beethoven, Bach, Van Morrison, and Aretha Franklin. You feel it in the words of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Albert Einstein, and in the literature of Joyce, Jung and Joseph Campbell. You see it in painters from Rembrandt to Rothko. You encounter spirituality in everyday acts of charity by strangers and friends alike. You can find it in sex, in the blissful union of two becoming one. There are no limits to places and circumstances where you can be surprised by spiritual rapture. And some of these experiences occur during SM.

People who engage in SM (bottoms more often than not) have reported all sorts of strange experiences that lend themselves to description in spiritual terms. These include feelings of transcendence, healing, euphoria, and intimate connection with your partner, divinity, even the entire world. I, myself, have encountered such feelings. Maybe you have too.

Yet, talk of the spiritual experience in SM is still comparatively rare. Perhaps it's because spiritual feelings are so personal, so private, so different, that we don't know how to discuss them. Perhaps it's because so many think of SM as mere "kinky sex' making the idea of SM/Spirituality seem as silly as the spirituality of bowling. Perhaps this is because many SM folk feel exiled from the religious practices of their youth, and the idea of spirituality connotes an authoritarian voice intoning, "You're a sinner and you are going to hell".

But exile from religious institutions needn't mean exile from religious experience. My deepest periods of spiritual growth were my studies of mathematics in college where I truly learned how to think, my three years of therapy, my first year of exposure to the SM scene, and my ongoing love affair with literature and art. Four totally different kinds of experience: intellectual, psychological, physical/sexual, and aesthetic, none of them explicitly religious in nature. I am certain that I'm not alone in finding spiritual awe in unusual places. The man kneeling with pants unzipped, licking at the boots of a hot dominant may not be looking for orgasm at all, but the experience of worship.

My main contention is that SM is nowhere nearly as strange or uncommon as one might initially believe. Despite SM's radioactive public image, and the toxic view of it held by radical feminists and fundamentalists alike, a lot of the SM experience can be seen in everyday life. Cussing someone out, target practice at the shooting range, kicking a wall in anger all share SM's practice of fantasy enactment as a substitute for aggressive action. Its pretty ironic that dungeon parties retain the capacity to shock when expressions of violence, even murder ("I'm going to Kill that son of mine if he forgets to do his chores again!") are so commonplace, we no longer find it strange to threaten our loved ones with death for small transgressions.

A brief aside: When I was eighteen I took a first date to see "Alien" the sci-fi shocker with Sigourney Weaver. It traumatized me so badly I never returned to see it again, despite my love for horror films, as a genre. When the sequel appeared in theaters six years later, I discovered at the office water cooler that "Alien" had scarred another young analyst in my firm, Paul. We discussed the horrors of the first film and the rave reviews of its update, which described it as a white knuckle roller coaster ride, and finally agreed to see it together as a kind of maturation rite. We went to a bar first and got roaring drunk, and arrived at the theater early to get perfect seats. As the crowd from the previous show poured out onto the sidewalk Paul and I watched dumbfounded; they were laughing, chattering, grinning from ear to ear. You would think they'd seen the funniest comedy ever made. Two hours later we left the theater feeling like we had just scaled K2. Silly as it sounds, it was something I still remember as a milestone.

Six years and a lifetime later, I attended the unveiling of Jack McGeorge's newly refurbished, now legendary dungeon in the suburbs of D.C. It was 1991, I was still barely a year into the scene, and had never attended a private party before. Downstairs the mood was very serious: shadows, Gregorian chants, naked bodies, and dungeon work: some of it quite heavy. But upstairs the mood was festive: Bright lighting, party balloons, smiles and laughter. And I remembered that crowd coming out of "Aliens" and marveled how trauma, fear, and pain, if carefully orchestrated, could produce joy, release and empowerment. When you come right down to it, scary movies are really just a sub genre of SM dungeon scene. They happen in a dark, cavernous temple cave, the film director guiding you through a fun house of horrors, whose ultimate effect is catharsis and release. Weirdly enough, maudlin tear-jerk cinema, and weepy love songs do precisely the same thing. By forcing you to witness something tragic and sad (Debra Winger gets cancer, Spock sacrifices himself for the good of the ship, et al) you are tricked into releasing pent up grief and sadness in a way that relieves, purifies, and ultimately makes you feel good.

As you can see from this example, spiritual epiphanies can be found in pretty unexpected places. This book will show how SM has been a spiritual activity for me, although it is certainly no religion in any conventional sense. It is an adhoc art form borrowing from a great many traditions, some explicitly religious others not at all. It worships no Deity, has no sacred doctrine or literature, no liturgical music, no clergy, no mandated forms of worship. Its practitioners span the gamut of religious affiliation: Protestants, Jews, Catholics Wiccans and Agnostics engage in SM practice, most of them with no feeling of conflict between their faith and their SM interests.

But SM does lend itself to expression in spiritual terms. It involves the explorations of transformed internal states that "feel" spiritual in nature and seem to involve a discovery of mystery, beauty and a longing and awe of the unknown. SM does have a sort of "chosen people" who self identify as members of the SM tribe. It does have a sort of "church" in the organized groups, where practitioners assemble for fellowship, friendship and to learn and perform the rituals, to perform them. It boasts an impressive number of rituals and rites that perform something of a devotional function. In many ways SM resembles Zen Buddhism in the idea that spiritual grace can be found in nominally secular activity, or new age practices which offer great flexibility both in the beliefs espoused and the practices engaged in. And the subjective experience of an SM scene is in many ways a pure expression of spiritual rapture.