Spiritual Transformation Through BDSM – Sensuous Sadie (editor)

Spiritual Transformation Through BDSM: Stories and Submissions from Fellow Travelers
Sensuous Sadie (editor)
Ephemera Bound Publishing, 2007
612 pages

This is a book that has desperately needed to be written. While there are a handful of texts on BDSM and spirituality (including Christianity, neopaganism, and other faiths and philosophies), this one brings together thoughts from well over two dozen people in the Scene for whom BDSM is a spiritual act. Generally well-known for their writings, the contributors have offered up their own essays, as well as been subjects of interviews by Sensuous Sadie herself.

Here is a treasure trove of thoughts and perspectives on spirituality and BDSM, from Christianity to neopaganism, Buddhism to animism, Hinduism to “no label, thanks”. Dominants, submissives and switches all weigh in with their thoughts; people from all walks of life, sexuality and experience levels make their voices heard. And the variety of ways in which they make their kink more spiritually meaningful is incredible–I never got bored reading the wide range of experiences these people had!

The editor has done a remarkable job of balancing out the content, as well as choosing a superb array of contributors. I really liked the combinations of interviews and essays, and I thought that both the topics the essays covered and the interview questions really got to the heart of the matter. This book really gave me a ton of brain food (okay, well, over a pound anyway–it’s a big book!)

What really struck me was how incredibly thoughtful the essays were. Unfortunately, all too often people outside the Scene (and even some within it) see BDSM and kinks as only tools for sexual gratification; those who are not kinky may assume that we’re all “perverts”, “deviants”, “sickos”, and otherwise unlovable, unwanted outcasts from society who are just out to get our next sexual fix. While there are certainly those for whom (healthy) kink is solely in the realm of Malkuth, there are also those of us for whom it is a transcendent experience. The contributors to this anthology do a remarkable job of offering up a variety of viewpoints to show the more spiritual/reflective side of BDSM, to show how it can make us better people–and even bring us closer to God (or whatever name you use to refer to the Divine). This is a truly valuable book, and it’s one that I wish I could show to anyone who assumes that BDSM is just about the slap and tickle for everyone. Sure, we may value the slap and tickle for what it is, but that’s not all that’s there.

Honestly, I really have only one minor complaint, and that’s the copy editing/proofreading. This book could have used one more pair of eyes looking it over, because I found a noticeable number of typos and misspellings in there, as well as consistent errors such as swapping its/it’s. Being an editor myself, I do tend to be more sensitive to these things, so it may not make as much of a difference to other readers; however, I found it a bit distracting.

Still, that’s a small thing in the face of 600 pages of pure excellence. I really, strongly recommend this book not only to those in the BDSM community, but also members of various religions who may be perplexed about how we “perverts” can find something so seemingly “messed up” to be such an incredible experience. Be forewarned, if you plan to read this in public, that there are a number of erotic (though not fully pornographic) photos scattered throughout for aesthetics–a brown paper book cover won’t cover those. But they’re lovely pictures, and I think they add to the text, as they’re artfully and tastefully beautiful.

Overall, a really nice book, and it comes quite recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Teachings of Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda – January BBBR

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
Carlos Castaneda
University of California Press, 1998
215 pages

While I’ve read de Mille’s Castaneda’s Journey, I’m not going to attempt to prove whether don Juan Matus actually existed, or whether he was a creation of Carlos Castaneda himself. Instead, I’m going to focus on the quality of this, his first book.

First, I really have to question whether this really is a “Yaqui way of knowledge”. There’s no connection between the Yaqui culture and what don Juan talks about. According to, among other places, the official Pascua Yaqui website, there’s no mention of any of the hallucinogenic plants that Castaneda speaks of, though perhaps more importantly Castaneda never brings up things that are culturally important to the Yaqui, such as the deer dancer or flowers, nor their language. While shamanism isn’t always the same as the main religion of a culture, there are still cultural elements in it. This in and of itself makes me suspicious as to the cultural validity of the material, never mind the functional validity.

Functionally this book is a disaster. I’ve been told you have to “read between the lines” to really get what don Juan was saying. However, all I read is a lot of obfuscation of lore and mysticism. We’re given a few tips and tricks for how to deal with the spirits of some hallucinogenic plants, with no reasons as to why these practices are important. Occasionally there’s something basic and functional, such as the lesson of “finding one’s place”, but this should not be used as a practical text. Castaneda’s analysis is so-so; again, lack of connection between don Juan’s teachings and the actual Yaqui culture is a major flaw.

I would have respected this book a lot more if it had been presented from the beginning as either a novel, or a book “based on a true” story without claiming to be an anthropological breakthrough. As for the claim that it’s a huge breakthrough in popular entheogen lore–popular doesn’t always mean accurate or good quality. There were numerous researchers of various hallucinogens prior to Castaneda; for example, in the 1950s R. Gordon Wasson along with Valentina Povlovna, his wife, went through a series of experiments in Mexico with psilocybin mushrooms. Wasson later cowrote this article in Life magazine about his experiences. Real names were used, people who were traceable were cited, and photos of the rituals were taken–much more respectable than Castaneda’s attempts at mystifying the reader.

I’m pretty underwhelmed. The only saving grace was that it was an entertaining read, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Castaneda was describing trips he’s actually been on. Reportedly the later books have less entheogen use and more teachings, so I may check them out at a later date. Still, I recommend this only as a way to familiarize yourself with Castaneda’s work and for entertainment only–in other words, don’t try this at home, kids!

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Elements of Shamanism – Nevill Drury

The Elements of Shamanism
Nevill Drury
Element, 1995
118 pages

If you want the do-all and end-all of shamanic practice, this book won’t do it for you. However, if you want a good, if a little dated, overview, this is your book. Drury first wrote this text in 1989, before most non-academic texts on shamanism were published, and offers a brief but wide-ranging overview of the topic. I have the older edition, which is significantly different than the new edition. In comparing some pages from the two, the new edition has some information rearranged, and appears to have some new additions. However, this one is still a valid text, so I’ll primarily focus on it.

The first four chapters are essentially information that could be found in Eliade and other academic sources, though without the academic language and jargon. A bit of Michael Harner’s core shamanism is thrown in for balance as well. The research is solid, though introductory. Chapter five, which is dedicated to plants used in various shamanic traditions, gets a lot more interesting, as Drury goes over everything from peyote to psilocybe mushrooms. It’s a controversial subject, and Drury covers it in a mature, even-handed manner.

In chapter six, Drury talks about several shamanic figures in more recent times–Black Elk, Luisah Teish, Brooke Medicine Eagle, and Sun Bear. Of these, only Black Elk was an active member of an indigenous community. Teish is better-known in Afro-Caribbean religious contexts, where she is well-respected; her section in this chapter focuses some on being possessed by the Orisha. Brooke Medicine Eagle and Sun Bear, despite being largely disliked among some Native Americans, are shown as practitioners of tribal practices, albiet with some additions.

Chapter seven seems to be missing in the new edition (chapter eight in this edition becomes chapter seven in the new edition). I had to rely primarily on online previews of the new edition, which had only some of the pages, but I couldn’t find anything from the old chapter seven, and no mention of it in the table of contents. I’m guessing that it was too controversial, as it skewered both Carlos Castaneda and Lynn Andrews as hucksters. While Drury does defend them to a point, he does explain in great detail their respective backgrounds and the holes in their stories, such as the fact that neither don Juan Matus nor Andrews’ two guides even remotely resembled the people of the tribes they supposedly came from.

Chapter eight wraps up the book nicely, focusing a lot on Michael Harner’s core shamanism, and the need for shamanic practices in modern postindustrial society. The book ends with some resources (probably outdated, but you could look them up online with any search engine). There’s also a good collection of endnotes to show Drury’s research.

Overall, this is a decent basic book to give to someone who has never encountered shamanism, and wants a really brief overview. It’s most definitely not your only resource, but for what it was intended as, it’s good.

Four pawprints out of five.

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