Monday, November 22, 2010

Spirituality in the Dungeon

When 21-year-old Eddie came to us in 2001 he was greatly conflicted between his evangelical background and his homosexuality and it seemed right for Patrick and me to share our experiences with him. Since Patrick had completed Baptist seminary and I have both attended Catholic seminary and am an ordained Pentecostal minister we had much in common with him in that regard.

As part of the sharing process I began writing a short and never-completed biography, the result of which was a unique view into my past. As it happened, the real value in the bio was that I stepped back to look at myself. What did I discover?

My life, when viewed rather casually, may seem to some quite disjointed, filled as it is with a wide variety of jobs, a painful divorce, multiple short-lived relationships, and a poor economic record. My parents always wondered if I would "ever settle down." To his dying day (literally) my Dad despaired of my ever succeeding, though that is another topic and I won't go there today.

Of all the self-revelation that the bio afforded me, the strongest was the realization that the single-most common thread in my life was my personal search to "know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with him in the next." Time and again my actions strongly indicated a desire for a rich and holy spiritual life, no matter the cost or the meaning of such a search.

It continues even now, when the outward appearances of my lifestyle might indicate flesh, not spirit.

Last week's blog about change was a prelude to the themes I want to pursue today and in the coming weeks. In one sense there has been no change, in that my quest for the sacred continues. In another sense that quest is full of change, as I take new directions, have new ideas, try new things, and come to new and (I hope) deeper conclusions.

One of the more obvious changes in our house is the renovation and expansion of my dungeon. In doing that work, I had to move many boxes of "old stuff" and decide what I could toss and what ought to be kept. So it was that I pulled an old note book off a shelf and found two pages of entries about "The Regiment."

In 1991 and ‘92, I corresponded with Larry and Mike about the creation of a men's-only sex club focused on the worship of the Hindu god Shiva. It was to be a unique combination of military, monastic, and sexual themes. The notebook documents that "On November 6th, 1992, Larry performed the first Regiment Dedication making [me] a pledge. Mike was witness." The next day Larry initiated me into the Brotherhood.

Please fast forward to this year. From the end of my political campaign in early February until October I plunged into writing my first novel, a story that centers around "The Alliance," a clandestine cult of men and women who worship Dionysos in 20th-century America.

Dionysos, better known as the Roman god Bacchus, was one of the sons of Zeus and the Greek god of wine, orgies, ecstasy, and darkness. Shiva, coincidentally, is the equivalent of Dionysos in the Hindu pantheon. So, across nearly two decades, a thread is connected.

The writing itself was transformative for me as it forced me to more deeply research the archaeological records about this cult, which was banned by the Roman Senate in 186 B.C.E. I created fictional initiation rites, a hierarchy, and Dionysian celebrations. In short, this cult took up a life of its own in my writing. Even more importantly, it has taken up residence in my psyche. Such is the transformative process involved in a writer's work.

What does all this have to do with kink? A great deal, I believe. On one level, it seems to me that Dionysian initiations were in part sadomasochistic, as the famed mural in the House of the Mysteries in Pompeii illustrates a female initiate being flogged. (Please note that this interpretation is debated by some authorities.)

Additionally, though we don't often admit it, there is a strong spiritual content to what it is that we do, including a significant number of "players" who are pagan in belief and both Dionysian and Gnostic in their practice. For more information on the subject I will refer you to my book Philosophy in the Dungeon.

Look, too, to the increasing numbers of seminars about "BDSM Spirituality."

Just as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom reminds us that "Sex and Politics make strange bedfellows," so do Sex and Religion, at least in Western thought. Most don't realize that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are religions that effectively eliminated the fertility-based religions of the Mediterranean region.

The first draft of the novel may be done, but not the first draft of my life. Is there a Regiment or an Alliance in my future? How does this quest impact my teaching, relationships, and BDSM practice? Where is the line between a fictional work and life lived in 21-st century Chicago?

How does embracing these ideas transform the nature and quality of my life, affect my teaching and writing, or influence my decisions? Where does the thread lead and what will following it reveal?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are the sum and substance of living, if one lives what was called in seminary "The Examined Life." I invite you to come with me on this journey and add your comments below. After all, we're all on this planet together, and none of us really knows where those threads lead.

Have a great week. Jack


  1. It's good to see you back! I've missed your writing.

  2. Dear Jack,

    I'm glad to be able to add Leather Views to my weekly reading again, welcome back!

    Self-knowledge, or more accurately, the journey toward a more complete self-knowledge is a tricky thing. Knowing yourself better is a good thing, that can often have immediate bad consequences, especially when that self-knowledge involves sexuality or spirituality. Because of those potential bad consequences, it's so very easy for us to "stay in the closet" and hide that knowledge from ourselves.

    I've never liked the expression "sex and politics make strange bedfellows." This is not because I think that governments should have any say in how consenting adults of sound mind celebrate their sexuality. It's because personal politics are such an intimate part of what makes a person who they are, just as sexuality, and spirituality are. (Yes, even for us curmudgeony agnostics!)

    Intimate sexual relationships, especially kinky ones, require a great deal of trust, and in order for me to trust someone, I have to know them, politics, spirituality, and all. How can I do that if they don't know themselves?

    Thank you for some wonderful (and well-written as always!) food for thought, I look forward to your next entry!

  3. How very interesting and coincidental. I studied Shiva in college 20 years ago and just happened to recently run across and purchase a Shiva Lingam for the small altar in our home. It was wonderful to be given the opportunity to teach my Owner about Shiva, and through that sharing, re-learn things I used to know that are relevant to our life now.
    - trinket