Happy this-time-of-year to you!

It’s Christmas Day in the mountains. I’ve mostly been ignoring it, though I bought presents for my loved ones, as a gentleman should.

This graph gives an accurate representation of my feelings with regard to “The Little Drummer Boy”

I’ve really appreciated that the supermarkets, and most shops I’ve been to, haven’t been piping bloody hymns and carols at me.

I hate “The Little Drummer Boy” with the fire and fury of 10,000,000 suns, and I can’t stay in the same room as “God rest ye, merry gentlemen.” So silence has been golden. 

But carollers came to the supermarket while was I doing the last food shopping and sang Christmas songs at me, and I really didn’t want them. I felt the urge to say something piss-offy, though I didn’t. They’re probably nice people.

Anyway, I don’t feel my usual relaxed self about Christmas this year, because too many lunar right Christians are behaving badly.

Catholic Archbishop Fisher expressing something short of love for gays, lesbians, secularists and raped children

So, for example, Sydney’s Catholic archbishop Fisher came out and did a spray – it was his Christmas message! – about wanting the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and force kids to go to church, and to continue to protect pedophile priests: if they say in confession that they’ve raped some kid, then the duty to report them won’t apply. He calls this fucked-up agenda “religious freedom.” 

So far-right Christians are making Xmas a cultural war zone, where what they’re fighting for is evil. It makes it harder to feel an unconflicted goodwill vibe. And there’s the whole pretence that there’s a war on Christmas, which is just an angry, arrogant exclusion of non-Christians. 

All that has got my back up. I usually say, “Merry Christmas” and don’t give a fuck, but some Christians are trying to turn it into the equivalent of a Trump slogan. So, without thinking it matters or affects anything, I’ve been saying “Happy solstice”, or “Good Yule.” Not angrily. Just don’t want to take part.

Anyway, the reason for the season is this planet’s orbit, and in the Northern Hemisphere it means, “Happy Hump Day; the weather gets better now until Spring.” And lots of cultures have turned it into a time of celebrating each other, being alive, being kind, feeling hope.

It’s the people who bang on about this time of year being ONLY about Christianity who don’t understand Christmas.

Solstice, as every good pagan knows, is a good time to get somewhere warm (I like to make my own warmth) and play and fuck like rabbits

All that said, this is as good a day as any to celebrate the spirit of hope, warmth in cold times, renewal, love and tolerance, I wish everybody a wonderful loving time.

Please keep warm – other people help. If you’re lonely reach out to someone, or else give yourself delicious food and a good book in the bath.

Look after each other, and remember to let other people look after you, too. Those are the best gifts.

Warmth and happiness to all!

Religion and bdsm

Christianity is a kinky little religion, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, so long as it restricts itself to consenting adults. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, as investigations into child sexual abuse in institutional settings continue to reveal.

But today I just want to write about the flagellant tradition in Christianity. In a way, you might even expect more kinky forms of sex to develop in a doctrine and culture that puts so much effort into suppressing sexuality. Whipping may be a minority taste in Christianity, but it is persistent.

It’s remarkably widespread. Christian religious orders with flagellant traditions include the Augustinian monks, Benedictines, Capuchins, Celestines, Cenobites, Cistercians, the Dominicans, the Hospitalites, Jesuits, Trappists, the Ursuline monks and others. In the 19th century they were joined by Opus Dei, whose members are still encouraged to “apply a rope whip to their own buttocks once a week.”

And the interest in flagellation is certainly about sex. Consider the story of St Teresa of Avila, who co-founded the Discalced Carmelite Order. She recounts in her autobiography how she regularly whipped herself, reaching blissful states that were clearly orgasms. That autobiography,The Life of Saint Teresa, sets out the wonderful feelings she had when she thought about submission and slavery, and her use of self-inflicted pain. Her whipping plan regime led to experiences like this:

“I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form … He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angel who seem to be all on fire [the Cherubim] …

“In his hands I saw a great golden spear and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them out with it and he left me utterly consumed by the great love of God.

“The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused me by this intense pain is so extreme that one could never wish it to cease … ”

Catherine of Cardona, also of the 16th century Carmelites, whipped and chained herself and dug hooks into her flesh, achieving what her hagiographers called “euphoric” sensations. Sometimes she halted these sessions because they felt too good.

Still another 16th century Carmelite, St Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, would have herself tied to a whipping post, hands tied above her head and her bottom bare, and demand that the other nuns whip her and then drip hot wax onto the welts.

Male saints with broadly similar tastes included St William, St Rudolph, St Dominic and others.

The modern counterparts of these saints, who enjoy posing semi-naked before a crowd, bound, whipped and stung with wax, might go to a bdsm club and pay $50 to the doorman, and then, once they’re inside, queue up to appear on the performance stage. The key difference is that their modern counterparts know what thery’re doing and why.

Still, I’ve read medieval specialists complain that it’s almost impossible to distinguish accounts of the pleasures of the medieval saints from the descriptions of the mortifications of the flesh and the divine ecstasies of O, in The Story of O.

The scourge of the Hapsburgs

scourgeHere’s the collection of the whips that Katherine Anna of Austria used on herself. She was a minor member of Austria’s royal family who lived in the 1600’s. Presumably she sat around someone’s palace doing needlework and whipping herself until she was married off to a minor prince somewhere. I haven’t been able to find out much about her: she didn’t trouble history, much.

Her collection of scourges, for whipping herself when she felt she was a bad girl, is kept in the Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury, in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

It’s not a very good photo, because the whips were behind glass in a darkened room, but I hope you can see enough to note that her whips were quite lovingly made. They have decorations, but they also have metal tips. Any of them would have hurt, and you’d have to be careful not to draw blood. I doubt if she was careful. 

This is, I guess, one of the benefits of religion: it licences extreme states of consciousness and sensuality, while providing spiritual rhetoric as a framework. Katherine Anna is likely to have been “protected” from knowledge about sexual feelings in women, and at the same time told that women are the most licentious of all creatures, who have to keep their sexual urges firmly curbed.

Being a good and faithful believer, she’d reach for the scourges when her thoughts   became troubled. Perhaps she thought about a servant in tight breeches, and the curve of his buttock and upper thigh. In any case, the scourge hurt for the first few lashes, as she swung it over her own shoulder to cut into her bare back. Then endorphins kicked in to cover the pain.

She can feel her mind ease, as the pain starts to recede and pleasurable feelings replace the pain. She is presumably staring up at a three-quarter likeness of a near-naked man, bound with nails to a post with a cross-bar. She looks into his wooden or marble eyes, and sometimes at the muscles of his belly and thighs. He seems to stare back at her, sharing her pain. She has partially bared her body for him, so that she can reach her bare back to apply the whip. She hardly dares wonder if he likes what he sees.

And then she feels a racking moment of great joy: her troubled thoughts, her pain, everything, recedes for a few seconds while her body shakes. Oddly, after that moment of sweet, spiritual reward, she feels no further sexual desire, for a while.

She puts the scourges away. She’ll need them again, soon enough.

Happily whipping Jesus

scourging of ChristThis is a marble relief of the scourging of Jesus, made in the 17th century. It’s a photo I took in the Vienna Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury, in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. 

What’s interesting about it is the erotic depiction of Jesus, lying on his back, with his hands tied, and a slightly floaty, dreamy expression on his face while the man on the right whips him. 

The spectator on the left is clearly enjoying the show. That seems to be an erection poking his robes up, and his hand hovers near his cock.

All four men in this image have happy expressions. The face of the man with the whip shows slightly ludicrous glee. I guess I’ve looked a bit like that too, when the flogging is proceeding well and the girl is in sub-space and all’s right with the world.

It’s interesting because it shows awareness of bdsm on the part of the anonymous artist. I’d have thought it was an anti-bdsm image, showing that men who respond sexually to causing pain are wicked, if it wasn’t that the face of the Jesus suggests that he’s in a blissful state himself.

There are medieval images of the scourging of Jesus that show that the men doing the whipping have erections, but those are less ambiguous in their condemnation of the minority sexual taste. In those images the guys with whips are depicted as barely human, almost demonic, while the Jesus figure is depicted with flecks of blood on his body and his face contorted in agony. In this one, they all seem to be happy participants, like the guys in the Spanner Case.

It’s also interesting, like some of the descriptions of religious flagellation in classical Greek and Latin texts, for showing the ways in which religion and bdsm can, er, bleed into each other. Both approve of extreme states of consciousness, and valorise willing subjection to physical pain, but religion provides a non-sexual framework that people can use to explain what they, or their saintly martyrs, are experiencing. Without talking about sexual pleasure.

Finally, it’s interesting that this image is far more “blasphemous” than anything like Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ, and yet it was accepted in its time as a sacred image. 

An note on Piss Christ

Piss_Christ_by_Serrano_Andres_(1987)I think Piss Christ is a beautiful image, which is different from it being a great work of art. A photo of Amanda Seyfried naked is likely to be beautiful too, but that doesn’t mean the photographer is a great artist.

However, it seems to me to be strongly pro-Christ in its message: that Christ, immersed in the human, is still radiant.

It isn’t blasphemous. As a non-believer with some active dislike for Christianity and Islam, in particular (also communism and fascism, for similar reasons), I like blasphemous art and wish there was more of it. And Piss Christ isn’t it.

But Christian art can be very moving as art even though the “message” doesn’t move me. I don’t let my dislike of Christianity as a worldview get in the way of admiring and responding to the St Matthew Passion, or the altarpieces of Tilman Riemanschneider.