The Many Paths of Earthly Bondage

The Many Paths of Earthly Bondage:
Bondage as a Tool towards Spiritual Release
by Lee Harrington

I began my path towards bondage as an energetic tool at the age of six.  In a household that I longed to run from, my baby Basque feet itchy and ready for the road, I wrapped my body in layers of electrical cording and big fuzzy blankets and created a cocoon.  Inside my shell I was safe.  Inside my shell I was protected.  I created a psychic wall against the world by using my bonds as a tool to focus that protective energy – and that wall was never penetrated.

In religious writings bondage is often referred to in the darkest of light – the bondage of the soul, the bonds that tie us to earth instead of leading us to Nirvana, bondage of earthly form.  But bondage as an act, not as a state of being, has been antithetical to the vision of bondage of the spirit in my own journey.  Bondage of the body as a tool for release.  Bondage of the body as a tool for strength.  Bondage of the body as a tool for divination, connection, vitality, vision quests, meditation, and so much more.

 

Bondage as Connection

2 People BoundI only have two arms to hold you.  Let my ropes be an extension of my form, let me wrap my love around you and leave you held in my arms longer and stronger than my old limbs ever could.  As I hold this length of hemp line in my hand, let me lock eyes with you as it passes from my will to yours, and brings us into a shared space, a sacred space, outside of our other worries.  Let us dwell in each others presence.

Let this line create a barrier between the outside world and our intent.  Let us bond between the lines, let us read between the lines of our intent, let us find the truths bried in each others eyes.  Are not our eyes the window to the soul?  If so, let those windows open wide as I wrap my loving about you, wrap my will about you, and bring out your secrets before me.  Open those windows wide and expose those secrets to me between the parting lips that form the sweetest moans.

Struggle against my ropes, and know that I will give you safe harbor in these troubled times.  In these times of pain and desperation, I offer up this as a safe space for you to be the true you that you cannot show to the outside world.  Cry and show me your tears.  Laugh and open up the songs of your heart.  Let these chains that hold down your body give you a chance to hold nothing away from me.  Open up your soul and let me peer in.  In this do I contract to you, in this space before the Gods, that I shall give thee safety while you struggle before me, that in giving up your freedom of the body I give you in return the freedom to fly.

 

Bondage as Divine Connection

Three lengths of rope coiled before me – natural and un-dyed for the Maiden, bloody red and meaty for the Mother, black and sooty for the Crone.  There are three skeins for three phases, three skeins for three turns, three skeins to begin my ritual that evening.

I wrap the natural cord around my torso, binding up my heart in a reminder of times of youth, the possibilities of childhood.  As the scent of grass fills the air I am taken outside, beyond my concrete jungle, through each line that passes about my form.  I can feel the warmth of spring light on my skin flickering between the candle flames, and I know I am safe.

As I pick up the rich crimson and unfold the skein between my fingertips, I remember the possibilities of creation.  I can feel my heartbeat and blood in my veins and am reminded of my creative potential – but my creative potential has been bogging me down so the line needs another home – my ankles.  I sit cross-legged on the floor and wrap the line three times around, breathing in with each wrap and feel the tension on my chest already present.  I am grounding down.  I am letting go of the outside world.  I am opening up for the divine.  I am opening up for Her.  I am opening up for Him.  I pull the line from my ankles up to my chest harness and pull down, forcing myself to bow before their will as I let out my air and begin the journey with refreshed lungs.

Black and sooty in my hands, I can feel Her weight as I hold it in my hands.  Bowed before Them I am open and exposed, but I am still dwelling too much on the now.  I am counting time, and time has no place for those who forged the world with their fingertips.  I double the line and begin to wrap it around my face.  Beginning on my brow I work my way down with each wrap, turning towards the sun then returning at the next path widdershins.  I weave a path from my mind towards my heart, obscuring my eyes, my mouth, and filling my nose with the scent of the earth.

Bowed and prostrate I am Theirs.  I fold my hands before me, tucked beneath the lines of red, and begin my chants.  Inside I open up my heart and expose all, my body no longer a concern.  It’s not going anywhere.

Five minutes pass and my reluctant soul, that part of me trained into the instant gratification of Camp Fire Girl Cookies and Instant Messengers, Emails and Downloadable music, begins to fidget.  I want a revelation now!  I want to have it all laid before me on a golden platter.  I want the answers spelled out as easy as 42 pronounced on high… and as I think these thoughts my body squirms and I feel the ropes around me.  I am reminded that we are in a space between spaces.  Gods do not work on our time schedule.  This is not just about me.

I let go.  I meditate.  Time passes and my body fades away.  My human limitations creep up on me in the form of a back cramp and I unwind the black, take back the shadow of darkness just enough to free my hands, loosen my crimson bonds, lay flat on the ground breathing in another full lung of air.  Blindfolded I retie my red, loop back into the black, and trace on.  I wait.

I wait.

I see.

 

Nihilomancy: Bondage as Divination and Vision Quest

I have used bondage as a form of divination for many years.  My favorite form of divination is what I consider Nihilomancy, literally “divination from nothingness,” divination by sensory deprivation.  Sensory Deprivation is a wide category of activities, ranging from simple forms like blindfolds and earphones to complicated mummifications, enclosed tank systems, and more.  By blocking out the world, the opportunity for bringing up wisdom from the depth of the soul through evocations is enabled.  For others, blocking out outer stimuli can lead to an opening awareness towards the world beyond our own body and the astral journey ahead.  Still others use sensory deprivation as a way to force the personal spirit down and allow their body to be ridden by a variety of god forms or other universal truths.

When using Nihilomancy as a form of divination, I enter my altered state with a specific question in mind.  Which path do I take?  Where do I go from here?  Which choice is meant to be mine?  I then lay out my devices as part of my invocation – I call upon thee, wisdom in darkness, truths of the soul, those who know the answers, hear my cry.  I invoke their will while laying out the tools for my journey – a spandex or leather hood, a blindfold, heavy sound reducing earphones, scented oils or incense to take away outer scents of the world, shackles, rope or cling film to take away my body movements.  I hold that question in my heart with each tool applied, then walk into the darkness.

Sensory Deprivation and bondage can also be used as ritual tools in astral journeys.  Purge the body ahead of time of fluids that could interfere with the journey, eat or fast as your journey dictates, and lay out the tools of your journey.  Placing sigils or sacred items inside one’s bondage, such as inside of a mummification or straight jacket, reminds us of our journey towards wisdom and the gates of death.  We place reminders on our body of the journey we seek, and with each layer and tool we take one step closer towards that path.

I strongly recommend for in depth astral journeys, especially using tools such as mummification, to find a team of one to three understanding practitioners to help you in your journey.  The reason for this is fourfold.

  • The ritual of preparation using a group of individuals can often add to the determination of your own spirit to journey forth.
  • Having spotters or guides are useful to watch out for your body when you are gone – sometimes the spirit may not be aware that the body is in danger or that the body has been out of use for four hours and needs to see to body functions.
  • Your party may think of things you did not – water, drop cloths in case of body function issues, making sure your in-laws don’t walk in.
  • Most importantly, guides can help you find your way back to your body after long journeys, wake your body slowly, and help you find the gate back into your body from astral realms.

I have also seen suspension bondage used as an important tool in astral journeys.  The Hanged Man.  Odin hung from the tree of life.  Innana left to hang over Erishkigal’s Throne.  Chest hangings to replicate the sensations of the O-Kee-Pa.

There is something magical about suspension bondage.  Being removed from the earth that we are so bound to in our day-to-day life. Being held aloft by the skill of the person hanging us, the trust involved in being taken there.  It can also be a very intoxicating tool for astral journeys and vision quests. Our bodies literally removed from the earth,
thrusting us into the unknown.  All forms of suspension bondage require dedication and time to learn the techniques that can remove our bodies from the earth without harm, and
allow the sprit to quest.

 

Bondage as Meditation and Yoga

Person with face boundRopes and straps have been a tool in enforcing Yogasana poses for a very long time.  Attaching a rope to a wall to increase the back bend in Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) is is very useful. Using short straps between the hands to stretch out one’s shoulders to achieve Cow Face Pose (Gokukhasana) is fairly common.  Taking the use of ropes and straps to the next level, using them to bind the body into a specific pose, is not an extreme jump.  Modern practitioners of Yoga seem to forget that Yoga was not designed just as a tool for maintaining body form and flexibility – it is also about flexibility and form of the spirit through connection with our own soul and that of the Divine.

Common poses that I have seen used in conjunction with rope bondage include Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal), Balasana (Child’s Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose – beware back issues), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose – only in conjunction with overhead points), Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Savasana (Corpse Pose – especially done when tied out to 4 points on a bed), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose – beware back issues), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Virasana (Hero Pose), and Vrksasana (Tree Pose – only in conjunction with overhead points).

Does that mean that only if you do formal yoga poses can you meditate in conjunction with rope bondage?  Not at all.  Do what feels right.  Work solo or in tandem with other practitioners.  It is just another tool for purging the mind of thought so as to make way for revelation.

 

Bondage as Strength or Ordeal

Stickman is an old and dear friend of mine from Seattle, and I tell this tale for him.  He has been a magical aide on more than a few journeys, and this is a tale of his journey at my side.

A traditional Kata (or style/technique) in Japanese Rope Bondage (also known as Shibari Do – the way of rope, or Kinbaku – to tie) is known as Aosagi, or Heron Pose.  With a snug chest harness tied around the upper torso and arms, the torso is tied up to an overhead point as a safety line.  A second set of lines is wrapped around one leg, usually at the middle thigh, and pulled upward, forcing the bound individual up onto one foot.  This Kata is a reminder of the grace and style of the heron, who stands proud and is ever vigilant in her gaze and posture against those who would enter her domain.

For many individuals, this pose is exactly that – a graceful pose built to display the human form, expose the genitals for play, leave the person proud and beautiful while objectifying their vulnerability.  For five to fifteen minutes, it is possible to stand, balanced on tiptoe, maintaining this grace and vulnerability… but my tale is not of that Aosagi.

Mine is of Heron as the vigilant hunter.  She who stands poised at the rivers edge and when the time is right strikes down upon the unsuspecting creatures beneath her with a serrated bill.  She who is proud and strong in her cruelty.  She was who visited me that night and reminded me just how human I was, and how much I can endure and still stand strong.

In the Aosagi pose, the first complaint from the bound individual is usually that the leg that is on the ground is starting to cramp up.  There are two choices for that individual – fall forward and allow your chest harness to take all of your body weight, knocking the breath out of you and potentially bruising your ribs, or push up onto your bound thigh and suspend your entire body weight off of your compressed leg.  It is possible to balance between the three, distributing the weight of your form evenly – but most humans do not have that level of balance to keep the weight distributed when a muscle cramps up.

My leg cramped up somewhere fifteen to twenty minutes after he bound me into that pose.

I felt the fire starting down in my toes and at the base of my knee, creeping from each end of my calf to meet in the middle.  I bit back a groan as the cramp built up from numbness into pain, and finally my singular right leg gave up and kicked backwards against my will.  My body went limp for a moment and came fully aware again a quarter of a second later as my full body weight landed on the front of my ribcage and I let out a howl of pain audible three rooms down from where we had begun our dance.  Stickman watched on, but I was oblivious, trying desperately to right my body once more, to fill my lungs again instead of gasping empty under the pressure.

I threw my head back, long hair that had been pulled up flinging out of its confines and flying wild as I used the strength in my neck to pull me upright again and balance on my free right leg.  I gasped for air but felt the cramp coming again, and tried to preempt it by leaning to my left and balance all of my weight on my left thigh.  This lasted for some time, but I realized I was loosing circulation in my left foot from all the pressure and with the realization came a pause in my awareness until yet again I found myself landing on my own chest howling in pain.

My guide stepped in at some point and asked if it was time to end the ordeal.  He knew as well as I did that this was no longer about beauty, grace or sexuality.  This was about being stronger than our bodies.  This was about being stronger than the world.  This was Phoenix needing to be burned to cinders to be born anew.  Between the tears I shook my head, long auburn strands clinging to my wet cheeks as he stepped back and let my dance with Heron continue.

I have no awareness of time beyond this.  I have been told that I danced with Heron for an hour and a half.  All I know is that somewhere near the end of my dance, gasping for breath but unable to give in, I gave in, and Stickman lowered me to the ground still bound up in his hemp.  I wore Heron’s bruises as a badge of honor, and for months afterwards, and to this day, am reminded that we are so much stronger than these bones of ours would have us believe.

 

Make Bondage Your Own

Bondage can be anything you want it to be.  It is a tool, just as an athame, a scourge, chants and incense are all tools.  I use bondage for meditation, ordeals, vision quests, divination, sexual play, a direct way to open myself up to the divine, a tool to connect with friends and lovers, an artistic tool for weaving art around someone, and so much more.  Not all tools are right for everyone, but bondage is a wide category of activities, and a powerful tool for sacred work if used by an enthusiastic practitioner.

Perfecting rope bondage, or any other form of bondage, is a lifelong journey, just as perfecting musical training, writing, crafting, or any other skill.  Does that mean you have to be an expert to enjoy bondage as a tool for your own enlightenment or personal exploration?  Of course not.  Start simple – a strap to stretch out your limbs in a yoga pose or a blindfold and sound-blocking earphones on your next inner quest.

Bondage of the body, not of the soul.  Make bondage your own, and let your spirit take flight.

 

*****

Dark Moon Rising Cover
This essay originally appeared in “Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path,” edited by Raven Kaldera and published by Ashodel Press. This fantastic collection features essays, rituals, and great inspiration for those on their own kink and spiritual journeys. All photography in the book was also done by Lee (formerly Bridgett) Harrington

 

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Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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