Going Deep - Part 5
Topspace, Bottomspace, And Sado-Erotic Ecstasy

by Chris M

In the highest levels of SM the participants are doing something very close to what occurs in the experience of worship. In SM we create a sacred space, an inner cathedral, a world within the world but also somewhere outside it. In mythic reality, the mundane world of bills, laundry, and parenthood is suspended and replaced with a world of archetypal roles, rituals and otherworldly experience. By day, I am a responsible, decent, left brain professional type. I'm a social liberal, fiscal conservative, feminist, voracious reader. I paint, love literature, and go for annual hikes in the Sierra Nevada with friends I've known since childhood. But in the primal darkness of the dungeon I become another being entirely. There I am a dark force of nature, with carnivorous appetites, a cruel sense of humor and a connoisseur's love for desperation, fear and helpless arousal. The other me, the daylight me, is there too, but only sort of, as a watchdog making sure I don't go too far. It took years to accept that they are both the real me.

What do we call this place? This experience? Again words fail us. But it is not the reality experienced in our everyday lives. I don't want to call it "fantasy" because that implies falsehood, and make believe. I don't like "play space" because "play" seems frivolous and childish. Topspace and bottomspace are adequate tries, but those terms are typically limited to the endorphin and adrenaline high some scenes provide us, leaving out the worlds we create through roleplay and ritual. While no phraseology nails it dead on, "mythic reality" is the phrase I'll use to describe where the best SM takes us. It is a taste of an ecstatic higher plane, a mythic realm that emerges through ritual, role-play and archetypal nature of SM activity. It is a created reality, mythology that is acted out. And "mythic reality" also acknowledges that the primal experience of the scene is about as real as reality gets to the people who have been there.

In the invented world of Mythic reality, we step beyond the confines of law, everyday morality, and our workplace personalities into a world created to express inner feelings that may be inappropriate, incomprehensible, even harmful if actualized in material reality. In the shadowland of the scene, we make our own rules. The strong willed, type-A professional may become a compliant harem slave. The plain, boring CPA driving a Civic with twenty extra pounds of chub can become a beautiful heartless God or Goddess. Human beings may be owned, disciplined bought and sold by other human beings. Tops can be bullying tyrannical, unfair, contemptuous and their actions towards their partner may or may not recognize consent, morality, or law. The world you create may be as extreme or as offbeat as you wish to make it, so long as you can sustain the spell of believability. You can be anywhere, anytime, anyone you have the talent to conjure forth. If want to wail the tar out of someone in a dimly lit prison cell you can make it happen. If you want to be a horny Vulcan, with pointy ears and a Vulcan pain stick, hooray for you.


Here is an important point that often gets lost or muddied in the interminable word squabbles SM folk are famous for. No matter how vivid the mythic reality we create or how far it transports us, it is staged in the reality we live in 24 hours a day. In material reality, morality, ethics, and the law of the land continue to hold sway. In the mythic dimension your slave may be a personal possession, bonded to you, and unable to leave. In everyday reality she had better be free to come and go. Kinfolk and the law may have some very definite feelings about slavery, rape, and unlawful imprisonment. The consent of the participants must remain a central concern. If a cop breaks down your door because of screaming at three AM, and you have failed to seduce the consent of your partner, you will find out just how real material reality is.

Another reason to keep both mythic and material realities in focus is because the mythic realm can be far more extreme than the temporal world The inner desires People have fairly unfathomable inner desires, things that would be very unwise to actualize literally. It may be your fantasy to be chained to a stone alter and having your heart carved out by a priest wearing a goat mask. Men often fantasize about out forced castration. And rape ranks high as a fantasy for scene women. But for those daydreaming about afternoons of languid torture in the world's most erotic Turkish prison I do NOT recommend a one-way ticket to Istanbul with a suitcase full of heroin. Edgy scenes like these are far better simulated, than actualized in their full extremity. It makes no sense to risk life and limb for a scene that could be just as hot, probably hotter, if you invested passion, invention and planning. A good scene should take you where you need to go without risking intensive care, jail or the morgue. Besides the scene you lust for in heart is surely closer to the eroticized consensual nonconsensuality we create in the dungeon than the broken bones, smashed teeth and psychological crippling rape or other extremities would induce if pursued literally.

Both material and mythic realities coexist in parallel, and both must be mastered by the person devoted to SM as a higher art form. Even if the mutual desire is for harsh nonconsensual treatment you are a fool to ignore material concerns. No matter how extreme the mythic reality, the top must focus on eliminating unnecessary risk like the master chef cutting excess fat from a tender steak. Nothing is gained by leaving unnecessary risk in a scene. One reason net geeks have such hard time transitioning to real life play is that in cyberspace, material reality seldom intrudes in fantasy play, giving them scant experience with the kinds of situations real world SM people constantly address. There is no need for first aid kits, CPR classes, or dungeon monitors in the world of cyber play. Fainting spells, power blow outs, hyperventilation, sudden incontinence, eyebolts exploding from wall sockets, equipment going mutinous, and kids bounding unexpected through the front door never happen in online play. Half of what makes a good top good is how he or she deals with the real world hazards no matter how far your SM takes you. Even as we cast the spell creating mythic reality we must always account for the real world looming just outside the magic ring of the scene


How do we go about building the inner cathedral? What are the steps to make an SM work?

Mythic reality is created through action: physical action with spiritual intent

Through ritual, focus, and deliberate reverence for the activity you are sharing with your partner. Both participants, top and bottom, share in the creation of these states, though they play different roles You could describe the top role as that of a shaman, high priest or priestess. The bottom is sacrifice, acolyte or initiate. For the duration of the scene your partner become the center of the universe.

If you have been doing SM for a while, your probably doing some of this already. By putting on black, donning your makeup, and pumps, or whatever sacred vestments you don for SM, you are entering the magic circle of the scene. The trancy music that serves as soundtrack to so many dungeon parties cocoons us in otherworldly sounds, while masking pedestrian background noises and noisy (or nosy!) neighbors. Dim light cloaks our cluttered basements and bedrooms in mysterious darkness, transforming them into dungeons. Candles work well too both for their light bringing and their destructive power. Knives are good, as talismans of power, for their beauty and lethality, and their inherent power to take life. Ritualized behavior in scene also assists in setting the mood. Silence, wordless concentration, works wonders, but if you're a talker that can work too. Collaring ceremonies, the command to disrobe, the binding of limbs, or use of scene names and titles like "Sir," "Mistress" and "Slave", all help us transition from the workaday world into the dream arena of the ceremony. I generally begin a scene by running my fingers through my partner's hair, clutching a fistful and gently tugging back the head to expose the neck. Its a wordless signal but that I am now taking command. I keep talking to a minimum, to highlight the unfamiliarity and "otherness" of the experience. When I do speak, I lower my pitch, hush my voice and move in closer to build intimacy.

For me, this mixture of tenderness and savagery, veneration and abandon, lie near the core of the sado-erotic experience. The prehistoric temple caves at Glascaux have a painting of a masked shaman, apparently communicating with a Bison slain in the hunt. It is believed that the shaman, lying beside the dying beast, is begging its appeasement so the animal knows it wasn't killed out of hatred or malice but out of need for its life-giving flesh. This ritual is practiced today by tribal societies as part of the hunt ritual; saying grace before diner may be a last modern vestige of this once holy rite. The significance of the kill, which took place against a backdrop of hunger, and tremendous peril, can probably not even be imagined in today's insulated world of fast foods and supermarkets where individually packaged steaks lay waiting for purchase. The Stone Age rite of persecution and consumption, performed in gratitude and reverence, is one of the oldest and most profound human experiences. It is repeated in the ritual of the scapegoat who is both punished and honored for purging us of our aggressions, insecurities, and fears. It appears thousands of years later in the Gospel narratives, when Christ offers his flesh and blood for consumption to save the world, and is hunted, captured, persecuted, speared, sacrificed and ultimately glorified. I believe this prehistoric worship of the sacrificial offering, and the ritual of mortification that gives life, is precisely what happens in the highest levels of SM play. The bottom sacrifices, the top consumes that sacrifice, not in arrogance, but in awe.


Because the feelings actors encounter are often unknowable in advance, improvisation is a critical.

At its best SM is more than a pure physicality. Emotions, the mind, and personality all play roles in the creation of the scene's mythic reality. And these other elements are invoked through roleplay and ritual.

We play thousands of roles as we progress through life: infant, adolescent, sibling, friend, lover, spouse, parent, worker, boss, grandparent, widow or widower. We pick up new roles as life goes on, leaving others behind as we progress through life. Eventually we are told to "grow up" and chided that we are too old to indulge in childish games. But we never fully abandon them. We feel childlike excitement when we unwrap a gift, participate in games, or attend costume balls. Is this why childhood joys seem so vivid? Perhaps this is why so many describe their SM as "play." With its freedom, physicality, and celebration of pleasure, skill and companionship, SM does bear some resemblance to the play of children or even more tellingly, animals. While animals at play mimics the life or death struggle of combat and the hunt, SM ritualizes the mythologies of cruelty and pain providing us with a forum for wrestling with our inner fears allows to confront , explore and comprehend them.

In a sense, SM is a kind of theater, an acting out of shared fantasy and desire. costumes, roleplay, and the language of "scenes", and "players" and "play". But at its best it is no theatrical falsehood. SM is about playing a role that has always been inside you but is denied expression in the world of daylight Role-play is a big part of SM whether it is explicit-as in infantilism, cross-dressing, equestrian training scenes or implicit, but hinted at by the plethora of assumed names and titles scene folk bestow on themselves. I'll never forget my first exposure to an infantilism scene. At least ten people, half of them in adult scale baby clothes, remained in "baby-head" for hours, jabbering in high childlike voices, sucking pacifiers, throwing tantrums, calling each other by "brat" names. That same week I stumbled onto a more vanilla analogy at the National Gallery, where a video loop showed Alexander Calder performing his amazing puppet circus. It held forty of us - ages six to sixty - utterly spellbound: laughing, gasping, slack jawed in unison. It connected instantly with the little kid in each of us. Even the unadorned, over the knee spanking takes place in a implied framework of role-play. And whether its kids dressing up like monsters and adult superheroes on Halloween or a frazzled secretary who becomes, in the dungeon, a ruthless, unreasonable, fantasy bitch, it is thrilling to enter into the personality of something else, and to have something else enter into you. One way of looking at SM is as ritualized breathing of life into personal mythic fantasy personas using sets, props, costumes, actors, direction, and the manipulation of powerful symbols. For some, particular symbols, be it leather boots, the whip, a slave collar, the stiletto heel, the dagger, a woman's breasts- can become imbued with so much power that the scene constitutes pure, unadulterated worship of the fetish object. Fetish does mean both sacred object, a sexual fixation.

Many spiritual traditions involve the embodiment of alternate personalities: possession, voodoo, pre scientific cultures, "spirits" enter their bodies of the ritual participants, dance, speak, bring news from other worlds. The practices of Charismatic Christianity share some amusing similarities to Voodoo, Santeria and tribal religious practices: rousing oratory, dance and pounding liturgical music, inducing trance states, falling to the ground with wriggling limbs, speaking in tongues, handling snakes… All sorts of behavior that would be inappropriate in the workplace.

Carl Jung called these other identities "persona", and theorized that we each have scores of persona within us including some whose gender differs from our own (Does this explains the "butch" archetype in dykes, and the cross dressing tendency in straight men. In practice and in his studies of world mythology, Jung further noticed that some persona seemed to recur in many individuals from culture to culture, and epoch to epoch. He called these roles "archetypes" and theorized that they arose from the common human experience. And like restless dogs, these personalities yearn to express themselves through action.

SM has its own archetypes, general fantasy roles that appear common to a great many people: Dominant masters, helpless slaves, wicked nurses, helpless patient, inquisitors, heretics, cruel mommies, red bottomed boys... Consider the Gentleman/housemaid archetype: the buttoned down lord, the disgraced servant in her frilly little skirt, her futile diligence and inevitable failure of the white glove test, the strict measures required to restore order… Let's try another: Daddy/boy. Two words, but a universe of possibility: the tough but loving parent, the errant but redeemable child, the crime of whacking off or sneaking a peak at dads skin mag, the razor strop, the woodshed, the belt pulling through dads pant loops (or moms!). The bared bottom, the red hot welts… you get the message.

Scads of similar mythic encounters ooze through the collective unconscious of the SM world. Here are but a few:

Inquisitor/heretic Interrogator/captive Drill Sargent/recruit Daddy/boy Kidnapper/hostage Rapist/victim Patient/ Enema-Nurse hayseed/city slicker Milkman/bored housewife Schoolmaster/studen tHeadmaster/schoolbo yBully/schoolgirl Hooker/John Hustler/Trick Boss/secretary Monarch/subject Girl next door/Rover Drill Sargent/recruit Trucker/hitcher Sultan/harem girl Prison lifer/first dayconvict Confessor/penitent virgin/playboy earthling/horny alien Alter boy/priest mermaid/giant squid dance instructor/student Biker/easy slut Groupie/KISS bass player porn model/photographer pirate/captured stowaway Pony/Trainer Pizza delivery boy/dungeon owner Dirty Cop/Handcuffed shoplifter Peeping Tom/showering coed

I remember from my newbie days at Black Rose how artificial and silly some of these roles looked. As an SM rookie, I didn't understand that the "acting" that goes on in SM -at its best anyway- has nothing to do with imitation or appearance. It is instead, an immediate and direct expression of distinct inner persona: entities that are vividly real but are typically denied expression, in the rather straight laced world we live in out there. SM when viewed through this lens can be seen as the art of giving voice to these inner personalities.

SM, like method acting, is acting where it is no longer really an act, but a direct expression of an inner reality, possibly a far more authentic reality than the persona we present to the world in the workaday week. As we sometimes say, this is not about changing yourself into something your not, but into what you really are. SM is acting that isn't really an act. It's a part, sure enough, but it's also a part of you.

SM with its multiplicity of available roles also recognizes and celebrates that there is more than one real you just look at some of the roles you play in and out of the scene: parent, friend employee, grand inquisitor, US citizen, And they all want to get out and stretch their legs once in a while.