Rituals

Posted: March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have been thinking a lot about the use of ritual in BDSM lately and a forum post sparked even more thoughts. When I think of rituals in BDSM a few things immediately spring to mind. The one that most easily comes to me is collarings, but when I think deeper, there are more rituals, but often those are older traditions that have fallen to the wayside or perhaps never were quite as front and center as we once though, like coverings and the giving of earned leather. The more I learn about old Leather traditions, the more I learn that there were few that were uniformly accepted and practiced.

Still, I think ritual has a unique importance to us, not just as kinky people, but as human beings.

I grew up Catholic. Looking back, one of the few things that I enjoyed and still carry with me is a love of ritual. I can remember the smell of incense and the ritual of lighting candles. There was something about the old rituals that made me feel connected to the past, to my ancestors who worshipped in Latin before me. That connection to the past made me feel grounded in an identity, even while I questioned that identity. Rituals marked the passing of time and helped mesh with the cycles of planting and harvest on the farm to give the year a cadence. Rituals helped give structure and focus in times of both joy and sorrow. In college, I traded the rituals of Catholicism for those of Air Force ROTC and a co-ed fraternity. The rituals were different, but their purposes similar. The ritual of young officers receiving their first salutes marked a rite of passage. The rituals of initiation into the fraternity marked an ordeal that cemented bonds of brotherhood. I was honored to later be asked to lead the initiation rituals for my fraternity because to me, it was one of the most important responsibilities I could be given.

To me, ritual carves out of our ordinary lives sacred space. We use symbols like candles and black sheets to transform an everyday space, like wedding decorations transform a communal hall. We use words that consecrate that space to a purpose and help focus our thoughts on something that is more profound than the everyday chaos. For a brief time, we set aside all the noise of modern life and focus on something that is deeper, something that runs like an undercurrent through everything else. In that way, we connect with each other and we formalize and strengthen bonds between people and their communities.

Rituals can be elaborate or simple, formal or informal. They can be a touchpoint during each day or a one-time event marking a major transition. They can be joyful, contemplative, or sorrowful. We can use them to celebrate and mourn or simply to pause. All of them, though, have the power to bring that deeper meaning more to the surface, if only for a moment or a day. They can be religious in nature, or profane. Rough sex or pissing on someone can be just as much a ritual as soft candlelight and a kiss. Anything can become ritual, if it is given meaning and separated off from our everyday lives.

Our modern lives have become increasingly fragmented and busy. We often sacrifice formality for comfort and, all too often, ritual is one of the casualties. I think, though, that we as humans crave ritual as a way to touch on the things that are important to us, mark important events, and bring meaning to the passage of time. We as kinky people are no different, even if our rituals take on different forms. Sometimes those forms have even more power to tap into the primitive within us, and to elevate the spiritual. I believe it is up to each of us to determine our own rituals, but I would love to see us share them with each other more often. Rituals may be between two people or a small group, but they often have the power to bring a sense of identity and community to a group of people who stand witness to them, affirming them, and sharing in them.

The best rituals aren’t always those which have the most tradition or history behind them, but that speak directly to those involved, like a wedding for geeks that involves storm trooper costumes versus the traditional tuxedos. When a ritual “fits” those involved, it becomes an outward expression of them…and beautiful or poignant to see. When it doesn’t fit them, it is more like a costume worn for the sake of others, to impress or conform.

And I don’t think many of us very much enjoy conformity for conformity’s sake.

I’d love to see a return to ritual and the creation of new ones, unique to those partaking in them and the communities they come from. I know I could use an escape now and then from the chaos of life.

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