” But our lot crawls between dry ribs/To keep our metaphysics warm . “
” o say of what is that it is not , or of what is not that it is , is false ; while to say of what is that it is , or of what is not that it is not , is true . ”
Anybody who received Corporal Punishment at school can remember the severe pain and humiliation of being caned on their buttocks. Now that Islamic floggings have been shown on television, there’s even less reason for anybody to imagine it as a source of sexual pleasure. Yet porn magazines still arouse masochistic fantasies about being chastised. What is the source of this instinctive appeal, and why should humans imagine Corporal Punishment being a satisfying experience? Affectionate spanking games have played a welcome part in my erotic life with several girlfriends. But what exactly is the connection with a devotional practice which can be rather painful?
Naturally I wouldn’t dream of encouraging anybody to whip themselves unless they feel it’s right for them.
I just want to say that if you feel drawn to this practice, you can try it all by yourself. Then you can work out what it means to you and nobody need ever know. You needn’t carry on after you’ve had enough of it, and you needn’t associate with anybody who might pressurise you into anything else which isn’t right for you.
First, you need to make a scourge with the correct proportions.
Start by sawing off a twenty-inch length of broom-handle, one-inch diameter. Keep the rounded end, and maybe round it still more for comfort, using coarse sandpaper wrapped round a wood block. The other end will have the lashes fixed on. Let’s assume you just tie them on with thick “hairy” Sisal string. Drill a hole across the grain about one inch from that end, and smooth its edges. Depending on how you tie the lashes, it’ll probably help to bevel that end of the handle on both sides using your coarse sandpaper block, either parallel to the hole or at right-angles. Sand the handle very smooth, progressing to very fine sandpaper.
The tricky part is fixing the lashes to the handle. I found a secure way of tying them, with the end of the handle bevelled parallel to the hole, and the string branching in four directions. You may figure out a better method. The problem with thick string is that it comes undone, so you need to secure knots using Super-Glue or Epoxy. After fixing the lashes and knotting the rest of them together, you can trim their length to forty inches. Then you need to prevent the tips of the lashes coming unravelled. Mask off an inch near the end of each lash and apply some Evo-Stik, enough to soak in and glue the strands together. Allow them to unravel slightly, so they won’t bite into you.
To understand how it works, you need to realise that spiritual trance is a form of Hypnosis, which means alot more than Psychotherapy and daft stage-acts.
Charles Darwin discovered Animal Hypnosis evolved as a Defence Mechanism against stress and emergency. This is why your senses become more acute, you feel idealistic, and you develop a resistance to pain. These effects enable you to respond effectively in a crisis. They let you ignore danger and injury when required, and maybe act in a heroic way. Thus, when David Livingstone was attacked by a lion, he found himself going into an Altered State in which he felt no pain or fear. More recently, a Flight Attendant described how she reacted during an air crash. Despite the fire and chaos, she felt as if she was isolated in a peaceful cocoon where she didn’t feel she was getting burnt and concentrated on rescuing passengers. And though it makes you vulnerable to Suggestion, Hypnosis is also a defence against Conditioning effects, as Pavlov discovered. His dogs tended to go into a “Hypnotic Sleep”, whereupon they reacted to anything else except the intended stimulus.
Darwin discovered that as a last resort, animals respond to predators by going into trance and pretending to be dead. In this Hypnoid State they cease to feel pain, which can allow them to make a surprise escape. Other animals respond this way to their own species, when submitting during a ritual confrontation. Such Appeasement Rituals generally involve a display of harmlessness. In rats, the defeated animal rolls over defenceless, and feels no pain when bitten by the victor. The submissive animal generally imitates a youngster or a female, so for apes, the female mating position acts as a submission signal for both sexes. Desmond Morris describes how this Rump Presentation Posture evolved into its Human equivalent as a Punishment Ritual. Hence the ineffectiveness of Corporal Punishment in schools, because some victims really didn’t feel it hurt. George Orwell described this from his own experience, in an autobiographical article, “Such Were The Joys”.
You may have heard of athletes who “go through the Pain Barrier”. This actually happens when the Hypnoid Effect takes hold. You encounter a sort of “Control Reversal”, like an aircraft going through the Sound Barrier, when your responses turn around completely. Karen Armstrong, a former Flagellant Nun, describes this in her autobiography, “Through The Narrow Gate”: “I no longer felt the pain. Just a dark reckless excitement…” It can feel like an orgasm, and if somebody else is whipping you, you may find yourself shouting: “Yes, yes…” You won’t get pleasure from pain, but you will find yourself wanting the whipping to get harder when you’d normally want it to stop as soon as possible. It won’t feel degrading to be whipped on your buttocks. Instead you’ll feel empowered by your ability to undergo the ordeal, and strangely glad. Being punished like a child may bring a feeling of innocence, or you may feel your consciousness has entered an Alternative Universe where the laws of Physics change.
It’s often supposed that religious flagellants are furtively enjoying their favourite perversion. But my own adventures in sexual perversion showed precisely the opposite. Take the following quote from a Lesbian Sadomasochist in a Channel 4 programme, “Sex Talk: The Wilder Shores”: “At first it starts off being sort of a bit ticklish, and then it goes into being just that bit uncomfortable and not very nice. When it gets harder it turns into the real pleasure, and that’s the sort of… you’re onto a different level then. You’re onto a sort of an emotionally, psychologically, mental high.” Another sexual flagellant was shown being whipped on his bare buttocks: “I’m in ecstasy sometimes. It’s like Heaven sometimes.” And in “Skin Two” Fetish Magazine, a Dominant Mistress claims her activities involve spirituality: “To worship the Mistress is the only reason the slave exists. To be disciplined by your Mistress is, to many, akin to a religious experience.” Not all her clients enjoyed being smacked, but those who did had a strange tendency to express themselves in spiritual terms. There’s even a Spanking Magazine, “The Governess”, which advocates Physical Discipline as a technique for spiritual advancement. Its Desiderata for Dominant Mistresses concludes: “You are not a Goddess, but the servant of a Power higher than yourself. Remember it always.”
Then I attended a Fetishist party full of people dressed in rubber. But instead of doing anything remotely sexual, they spent the time discussing the Meaning Of Existence. One was a Scientist, so I asked him to explain the appeal of black rubber. I hardly understood his reply, but basically he felt that dressing in a frogman suit enabled him to affirm his sense of Personal Identity and his place in the Universal Scheme Of Things. Some of the strangest Fetish activities have an explanation linked to the Hypnoid Effect. For instance, the bloke in the film Personal Services, enveloped in black rubber and strapped to a chair in a dark soundproof cubicle, was actually experimenting with Sensory Deprivation. Although these people are pursuing sexual feelings, the mechanism often seems to involve some form of Animal Hypnosis.
Nonetheless, I seem to belong to a representative group, which you might term “Spiritual Masochists”.
Maybe you saw another Channel 4 programme: “A Weekend At Miss Martindale’s”, showing a sort of 1950s Nostalgia Cult for young ladies seeking discipline. They’ve invented a “Dungeons & Dragons World” named Aristasia, inhabited by maidservants and schoolgirls who get chastised for infringing the strict rules. They value this Discipline because it creates an Alternative Society with a definite set of values, allowing them to express their sensitive aesthetic and idealistic feelings, and even get in touch with a Higher Power. The painful chastisement brings a purifying effect, relieving their psychological tensions and subduing their vices and personal defects.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow described Masochistic feelings when “Peakers” expressed submission as if to a Divine Power. See his “Toward A Psychology Of Being”: “The emotional reaction in the peak experience has a special flavour of wonder, of awe, of reverence, of humility and surrender before the experience as before something great… The experience may have a certain poignancy and piercing quality which may bring either tears or laughter or both, and which may be paradoxically akin to pain, although this is a desirable pain which is often described as “sweet”… Not only my subjects but many writers on the various peak experiences have made the parallel with the experience of dying, that is, an eager dying. A typical phrase might be: “This is too wonderful. I don’t know how I can bear it. I could die now and it would be all right.”
The main requirement for a successful ordeal is an appropriate state of mind.
In general, the feelings which prompt this need correlate with the mental states which enable you to go through with it. Thus there’s no question of the Peak Experience being some kind of hallucination or illusion. It enables you to triumph over pain and humiliation, and hence accomplish something which you couldn’t otherwise do. If you’re just very upset, that works, as George Orwell discovered. Another effective condition is “Brain Fag”, familiar to students: that frustrating mental state when your understanding fades away progressively the harder you try to concentrate.
How real is the “Higher Plane”1 and why does anybody feel they should be punished, even symbolically? There’s alot to support the Freudian theory that consensual Flagellation is an expression of your Superego, the ethical part of your mind concerned with other people’s interests, or ideas which are subject to Reality-Testing rather than your own preferences. In the Hypnoid State, your mind seems to re-shuffle itself so that pain and fear are relegated to the subliminal level, while you become aware of other thoughts and feelings which normally lie below the conscious threshold. An eminent Psychiatrist, William Sargant, advocated this explanation for Religious Conversion, when a Higher Power seems to arrive and help you solve problems such as addiction.
The strange feelings of the Trance State were familiar to early Mesmerists. In his classic “Practical Instruction In Animal Magnetism”, J.P.F. DeLeuze described how subjects in trance were surprisingly sensitive to the feelings of people around them. This was an essential feature of Hypnotic Rapport, as a potential subject could tell whether the Hypnotherapist was trustworthy. It’s clear that DeLeuze succeeded because he didn’t plant unrealistic ideas in their minds or attempt daft experiments like sticking pins into them to test their resistance to pain. Nor did he probe into their private lives, or even utilise Suggestion much. Another of DeLeuze’s secrets was that he became a bit “Magnetised” himself, so he was sensitive to their feelings too.
In fact Trance States are communicated spontaneously between people. The most familiar example is Falling In Love, when lovers find this powerful emotion building up mutually, by a “Feedback” process. There may be physical events, like collective fainting among schoolgirls, or Pentecostal sects when the Holy Ghost arrives. Plato described how a trance state propagated among the Maenads when possession by Dionysus occurred. Plato compared the effect to a magnetic force transmitted from one woman to the next, hence the term “Animal Magnetism”. Benjamin Franklin witnessed this with Mesmerism. It explains how Charismatic Leaders can manipulate people collectively. In fact cult groups automatically attract exploitive characters ready to meddle with young people’s emotions when they’re most vulnerable.
There’s another event when you feel as if you get contacted by an otherworldly Power, and that’s when an inventive idea occurs to you from nowhere. Of course monkeys get this too: see Wolfgang Kohler, “The Mentality Of Apes” for the famous story of the chimpanzee who put the two sticks together to reach the banana. It feels as if some Higher Intelligence has given you the idea, and in a way that’s true. When I looked back through the books I’d read, I discovered most of my ideas followed from someone else’s. They might have come indirectly and implicitly, or I might have linked them in an original way, but even then I’d succeeded by following the thought-processes of a previous thinker.
Around 1989 I went to a Pagan festival attended by Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Wiccan leaders. When they arrived, one young woman was overpowered by emotion and prostrated herself before them, much to Stewart Farrar’s embarrassment. “We’re just ordinary people,” he protested. Victorian Psychotherapists like Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet evoked this “Hypnotic Worship” from some patients. If you ever find yourself being exalted like this, you may appreciate why the wish to be punished makes a strange kind of sense. You’re in the same position as a schoolteacher who finds an under-age girl has a crush on him and can’t handle the situation. It’s awkward, because unless you’re a manipulative psychopath, you’re affected emotionally too.
This happened to me twice in a vague way, and it was very uncomfortable, even frightening to sense the power one could have over susceptible people. I felt I was exploiting somebody I cared about alot, as their vulnerable state was prompted by my own visionary outlook. On both occasions I retreated rapidly, but I reflected this might lead to them “falling in love on the rebound” with some bastard who really would exploit them. I felt as if I’d let them down through my negligence, and I should be punished for it. You won’t understand the intensity of this sensation unless you’ve been in a situation when somebody thought you had godlike attributes and you were emotionally sensitive yourself. I now suspect the solution is to explain these feelings to the would-be worshipper, if it ever happens again.
Obviously I’m assuming these weird bits of Human Biology and Psychology evolved because they were significant somehow, not just dysfunctional symptoms. People aren’t all the same, and in some cases I’ll be wrong. But I suggest we should reconsider our attitude to the strange things people get up to, and surmise that there’s likely to be a reason why Human Nature is organised the way it is.
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