July/August 2001

by Raven Shadowborne

"Rituals anchor us to a center while freeing us to move on and confront the everlasting unpredictability of life. The paradox of ritual patterns and sacred habits is that they simultaneously serve as solid footing and springboard, providing a stable dynamic in our lives." Robert Fulgham, from "From Beginning To End, The Rituals Of Our Lives" pg. 261 hardback edition

The above quote speaks volumes about rituals and their purpose or value to people. There are many kinds of rituals in the world. Most people think of formal ceremonies, such as weddings, to be rituals. But there are many different things that we do that are rituals according to the quote above, and the emotions or attitudes they inspire in us.

Not every ritual is a formal show for lots of people. Nor are all rituals celebrated with music, dancing or talking. Some of the most important and meaningful rituals are often silent ones, done in complete privacy or alone between two people. A daily walk, for example, used to soothe, relax, dream and/or relate with a partner is a ritual. Specifically a ritual of revival, the reawakening of oneself or ones relationship. Any actions, done in a consistent manner, with the express purpose of refocusing yourself is a ritual of revival. In BDSM things such as kneeling quietly for a few moments, writing in a journal, or other things, fall under the category of "rituals of revival". In so much as those actions are intended to refocus the person on the power exchange, their role within it, and the relationship itself. They become a reawakening of self.

Another common ritual found in BDSM is that of reconciliation, a ritual of penance and forgiveness. A ritual that every person knows and usually starts with the words "I'm sorry.". For some the ritual is very involved. It starts with a discussion of what was done wrong, why it was wrong, and what should have been done instead. For some it then moves into a punishment of some sort, be it corporal or not. The act of punishment itself is a ritual of penance, the payment or repercussion for the bad deed, through which guilt is purged thus freeing the way for forgiveness. Some people require certain penitent behaviors such as kneeling, third person speech, counting the strokes of a corporal punishment, asking for each strike then thanking for it, and saying thank you once it is over (and other things); that are ritualistic in nature. Designed to maintain the focus on the reason for the punishment, and the punishment itself. Once the punishment is over, a ritual of forgiveness starts. It could be as simple as a hug or it can be as involved as a long drawn out cuddling and talking session. No matter what the exact actions, somewhere are the words "it is forgiven" or "it's all right now". The ritual of forgiveness is necessary in that it allows for closure to the incident and reaffirmation of the bond between those involved, plus it frees the way for growth by removing guilt.

The placing of a collar on the sub, at night (for sleeping), during play (for scening) or in the morning (day time collar of some sort), whenever it may be, is a ritual of reaffirmation. In that it is a reminder of who is who in the relationship. A non verbal restatement and acceptance of those roles. A silent confirmation that the relationship is the same, the power exchange is still there and each person wants it that way. The actions reaffirm all agreements between those involved without words being spoken. Words are not necessary for this ritual, but some find that words enhance the experience and make it mean more. In some ways a ritualistic placing of the collar on the sub, by the dom, is a ritual of revival as well. It silently restates the agreement of the original collaring and reawakens it in spirit. It is a restatement of the giving and acceptance of both submission and domination.

Scenes, pain play or sessions (whatever you may call them) can be rituals as well. Some sessions take place for a specific purpose, such as stress release. In this way the play becomes a ritual of revival. The removal of unwanted emotions, refocusing, and thus reawakening those involved to a calmer place within themselves. It can also be a ritual of reaffirmation. The obvious relinquishing of control which is immediately used by the dominant is a powerful physical statement of who is who in the relationship. It can also be a ritual of communion in that it's focus may be to bring the two people closer together. The intense physical sensations often inspire equally intense emotional/mental responses. It is those reactions and interactions between the people involved that make the play ritualistic.

Many dominants order their submissives to do certain things on a daily basis. These actions are usually designed to alter the submissive's thinking and bring about a specific reaction or focus the submissive on being submissive. To many, these specifically set rituals are helpful and desired. TO others they are not necessary. Some need the added focusing of a specific ritual. For many people, these additional rituals (in addition to the ones that are inherent in a relationship) become powerful motivators, sources of strength, or the means through which they can reach a desired level within themselves.

There are many other things that can be taken as ritualistic. Just as there are many actions that are specifically set as rituals. Not everyone enjoys the formal ordering of ritualistic behavior, yet every relationship has rituals of one sort or another within them. Any actions done with the express intent of refocusing a person, affirming a relationship or bond, penance, or many others, are rituals through their intent and their ending results. The power exchange itself, whenever it is used overtly, could be seen as a ritual in that such use often results in a stronger sense of dominance and submission in the people involved. Whether or not you are required to perform specific ritualistic actions, the BDSM lifestyle contains many rituals that are inherent within it. Stepping back and looking at the reasons behind certain actions and the results of those actions, can allow you to see the rituals that already exist in your relationship.

Looking at rituals on just the surface (the actions) makes them appear as silly or unnecessary to some people. Yet, if you delve deeper, into the reasons, emotions and intended results involved in many actions in BDSM relationships, you will see that rituals, though not for everyone, can be a very powerful force in BDSM relationships and that ever relationship has ritualistic behaviors in it, though they may not be thought of in those words.