Friday, January 6, 2012

Altered States

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #434, January 6, 2012)

Sometimes your humble columnist is startled to see concepts, ideas and practices associated with the modern-day leather/BDSM/fetish community appear in other communities, places and times. Throughout history, humans have yearned for altered states of consciousness. And they have arrived at similar ways to reach those altered states.

Example: Many descriptions of ancient “mystery” initiation ceremonies, whether in Egypt, Greece, Rome, the middle east or among the Celts and Druids, contain many similar details. The ceremonies supposedly took places in dark chambers, often underground. The initiate often had to undergo some kind of suffering but was able to transmute it into spiritual knowledge and enlightenment. One account of these ceremonies on the Web likened them to a crucifixion—except the initiate was lightly bound to a table “shaped like the Roman numeral X.” Sounds to me like a dungeon with a St. Andrew's cross.

According to The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner, aboriginal native people and tribes throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia arrived independently at practices and concepts for healing that had many similarities. In their earth- and nature-based worldview, illness was seen as a loss of a person’s spirit, soul or power. With the help of hypnotic drumming (and sometimes plant-based hallucinogens) the shaman was able to enter an altered state of consciousness, journey to the spirit world and, often aided by “power animals,” retrieve their patient’s lost or stolen power, thus making the patient a whole being again.

Many people today say they find BDSM experiences have helped them “reclaim their personal power” after incidents of serious illness or domestic or sexual abuse. The repetitive sound of a flogger hitting a person’s back can induce the same kind of consciousness shift as a shaman’s drum. And it would appear that many in our community resonate with either puppies or ponies as their personal power animals.

The fact that our community’s archetypes have so many similarities to the archetypes of so many other communities in other places and times points to a conclusion: perhaps, based on history and human experience, kinky people are more “normal” than some non-kinky types might care to admit.