Flagellants - Then and Now"...we had at least twice come upon a procession of flagellants......They walked in procession two by two, through the streets of the city, only their pudenda covered, as they had gone beyond any sense of shame. Each carried a leather lash in his hand and hit himself on the shoulders till blood came; and they were shedding abundant tears as if they saw with their own eyes the Passion of the Saviour..."
~Umberto Eco, "The Name of the Rose"
The historical past is often used to justify and to “prove” positively that allegedly organized and fantastical BDSM heritages and inferences are as ancient as stated. Some assertions are utilized (tangentially) to verify claims of ancient lineage, historical culpability and to lend credence to such nonsensical claims.
One of the often cited issues from history that is brought up in this ‘proof’ is the history of the Christian church and most especially, that of the flagellants.
The flagellants were loose congregations of religious zealots and several actual religiously-sanctioned movements (most prevalent in the 13th century during the 'black death' - but with a history extending back to ancient Greece) that sought the ‘grace of God’ through acts of corporal contrition. The movements swept Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Temporal and religious authority eventually outlawed the movements because some sects became more and more powerful through the mass influx of adherents and the increasing size of the throngs walking through the countryside and cities. They had become a political movement that threatened the very church that had spawned them.
The differentiation between the two groups (that of the ancient flagellants and modern masochists) is as stark as possible from a motivational standpoint; and, although similar in resulting physiological symptoms of the action, emotionally they are as diverse as any two groups might be.
The act of whipping oneself in a religious fervor was performed in centuries past to (they believed) purge themselves of mortal infirmities (everything from physical illness to moral issues), to expurgate sin and as a means of achieving God’s blessings through the sacrifice of pain. It was also used to gain entrance to heaven through the (necessary) sacrifice of temporal comfort in the hopes that the pain which was 'requisite and accumulated' by mortal man in this life would be sufficient to overcome the sins gained in this life and through the “original sin”.
To state that these penitents were motivated and or are of a lineage similar to those of us in modern leather is rather ridiculous; but, we need to look at the “why” and "why not” of the issue to conclusively show that can not be.
It was considered to be contrary to their purpose and practice to feel any pleasure, as the flagallent was doing this in fealty to God and in order that one might NOT take pleasure.
The “beatings” were performed (upon oneself or upon another) in order that the receiver might accumulate and surpass all the suffering that was due to that person while here on earth, to purge oneself of sinful thought, sin (itself), illness and/or to overcome the transgressions of others (to assist them in attaining the ‘grace’ being sought).
Suffering was thought to be what life (and some portion of death) was all about. Through suffering the Christian found his salvation, because it was a necessary ingredient to purge the soul of desires and wants contrary to the edicts of God. Sin was believed to be accumulated over a lifetime and included the “original sin's" personal toll as well.
It was thought that if one could suffer enough to overcome this sum total of sin and carnal desire here on earth, then upon death one might achieve the paradise desired and promised; vice (requisitely) the time that might be required in purgatory making up the balance necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.
If a flagellant would feel pleasure at the beating, then it would countermand the purpose and would necessitate stronger measures in order to overcome this “additional sin”.
So, the elation that would (of course) come from the
physical reaction (the endorphins) to the thrashing was considered a very
very bad thing that could not be tolerated by the penitent. When this contrary
feeling of pleasure came upon one, he would stop, enter prayer to purge
themselves of any enjoyment (and evil) that might have gained a ‘stay’
in the course of this natural occurrence, and start again (perhaps even
more severely than before).
This has been alleged to be the cause of some of the visions and revelations which ‘visited’ these penitents during their proceedings; after all, as you build endorphins due to a physical interaction, they do not easily disperse, and with each stop and start, with each renewal (with increased vigor?) they build in a crescendo of ever increasing cycles until a psychosis (or the paradigm of an epiphany) might be the befall the holy man.
Of course, why this epiphany is visited upon them is a key to whether this is a miraculous visitation or simple physiological reaction to imparted stimulus; but then, this is not the subject at hand.
The differentiation between this old time masochist and our modern version is (of necessity) the motivations involved and the prejudiced reception of the resulting feelings.
Whereas we (those of us of a masochistic bent in today’s society) seek the pleasure associated with a corporal interaction, they (the masochist of old) desired nothing more than the pain.
Whereas we enjoin ourselves to the experience, they shunned it (and, yet invited it) as a painful reminder of their requisite burden on this earthly 'plane of existence'.
Where we seek the endorphin rush and the associated euphoria, they wanted to be separated from it as much as possible but felt they could not forgo the pain, as it was their duty and something to be endured in order to attain the grace of God’s blessings and the majesty of heaven.
We are sensual hedonists; they were numinous spiritualists.
They sought the “hereafter”, where we (in our actions) seek the here and now.
The ‘transcendental’ nature of what they were seeking was not a transcention of their mental state and psychological state as we might, rather the formal meaning of the word passing from this life to the next (‘death’ in some cultures) and alleviating and passing from this “mortal coil”.
Anyhow, I have definitively beaten this to a relatively irreligious
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