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Dark Visions...

  Like photog Igor Amelkovitch's  take on the Jupiter/Io myth, SM is about deconstruction of self...

more on the astrology of S&M...

By John Townley

As a fledgling New York astrologer and editor of The Astrological Review in 1972, a year before my first book introducing the composite chart came out, my general inquisitiveness into the rising sexual lifestyle revolution led me to what was then one of the farthest corners of sexual expression, the hidden S&M scene. At the time, about the psychological opinions on the subject hadn’t progressed much past Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (a book my dad had given me), though as usual fiction (much of it only just unbanned in America) had more informative things to say about it, in the likes of The Story of O and The Image. Astrological literature had virtually nothing to say on the subject, so it seemed the perfect untouched place to go hunting data for what might be a ground-breaking study.

The question was, where to go to get the data? People who embrace sexual sadomasochism and are willing to give personal details including their exact time of birth don’t grow on trees, even now. Fortunately, the sexual liberation movement was in its birth throes and with it early support groups for gay and lesbian lifestyles, and one such group for SM enthusiasts had just formed, calling itself The Eulenspiegel Society. I lost no time in signing up, attending meetings, and soon was doing the paste-up for the first issue of their newsletter (now a magazine) Prometheus. This friendly band of brothers and sisters of all sexual orientations (SM was their unifying theme) turned out to be quite astrology-friendly, so I was able to collect about fifty sets of data with accompanying questionnaires about particular preferences, and the results were first published in The Astrological Review and later as the appendix in Planets In Love. [Click here to read the full report, with details by signs, houses, and more.] They provided an insightful profile of the SM-inclined personality, along with more journalistic efforts for Sexology Today. [Click here for the full, in-depth article "Loving SM" about the SM experience and culture itself.]

      Classical myths abound in SM themes, like Andromeda (l), Persephone (c) and Leda (r)

The study – which revealed a preponderance of Scorpio and Virgo, first and third houses, among other things (read it here first for all the intriguing details, then read on for updates below) – was enlightening, but in the real world, the proof of the pudding is how individuals actually behave, and how subsequent years of astrological practice would prove, disprove, or elaborate upon it. Ultimately, is SM just another trendy way to make sex more interesting by indulging in kink, or does it address something deeper inside, a hunger for something higher?

Something Higher?

The answer is sometimes one, sometimes the other. Since SM came out of the closet and rose to the heights of pop fashion with Madonna in the 1990s, for many it’s been just another form of sexual variety, no more meaningful than the latest garment from Victoria’s Secret. But for those who really relate to the heights and depths of sexual domination and submission it suggests, it’s an all-consuming need and can be a life-damaging or life-saving path to self-realization, depending on how well it’s handled. Least understood and yet most important: it requires establishing and maintaining a truly equal and stable friendship/partnership in daily life that safely allows both to dip into the extremely unequal and transformingly volatile sexual experience that is SM. As my original Loving SM article outlines in detail, it’s a lot more than a game.

Christian martyrdom is depicted in thinly-sexualized versions of transcendence through pain and death

So what is it then? The essence of SM is about destroying ego through pain, humiliation, or both until the individual loses self-identity (sometimes in a trance) and reaches a physically, psychologically, and spiritually altered state, with or without orgasm. In many respects it resembles altered states achieved by spiritual seekers across history through self-torture (like the flagellants), fasting, drugs, sensory deprivation or overload, and extreme physical exertion. Historically, the SM inclination suffuses our culture, from multiple classical mythologies to religious martyrdom and the Inquisition.  It resonates in our ever-conflicting themes of power struggle between the sexes and between what we like to think are our higher and lower, spiritual and animal, natures. And, the less we deal with it and repress it sexually, the more it is perverted into real-life cruelty and hurtfulness, even mayhem and murder.

SM has referential roots in manipulation of pain and sexuality in medieval roaming flagellants (l&c) and the Inquisition (r)

Often, individual SM feelings (like much of sexual orientation) hearken back to childhood, where seminal events or experiences help lock the individual into a path of deeply strong sexual feelings aroused by themes of dominance and/or submission. For most, it’s not an amusement, but an often arduous path they must follow to achieve what, exactly, they don’t completely know – only that they are incomplete without it. Depending on whether you’re straight or gay, and lean toward S (dominant) or M (submissive) feelings, it can be complicated, but there are some basic rules and goals to shoot for.

How And Why

How does, say, a straight couple where the man is an S/dominant and the woman an M/submissive (far and away the most common combination) go about exploring this path? The role of the S is to systematically and knowledgeably deconstruct the M’s defenses and even personality itself, using sensory deprivation and overload to confuse and overcome barriers and strip them away, leaving the M ever more naked and without defense, with ever less to call her own, define as herself.  As each blocking layer is sheared away, although she may fight it, it allows her inner sexual life force to rise another notch (which feels good), and further arouses. It applies physically as physical stimuli are applied and emotionally and mentally as she is forced to do, say, and admit to things she fears and even loathes, thus breaking the inner controls and barriers that also hold down the rising self. To quote one aficionado, it becomes “like a maddening koan, where there is no possible answer or resolution to an impossibly rising demand, nowhere to turn, yet no place to hide, where the only way out is to break through, and thus free, into a higher self-realization. Where you find the answer for yourself, but only because you are placed in a situation where you have no choice, no escape within your grasp. It is when even a deceptively light touch utterly destroys you because you are never truly prepared for it, and so it shatters you, and you surrender completely and fly…”

Themes of sacrifice, often sexual, range from the Bible (Isaac, l), to the Aztecs (c) and modern fantasy art (r)

This requires an S who knows his M well and can sense just which aspect to shear off when (and in what order), so as to remove them gracefully, like layers of clothing. And as he does so, through his close identification with her (literally, his own mirror cells being stimulated) he goes along for the ride. Like a skilled rider and horse, he directs her and she takes them both there. It is a spiritual journey to undo all the constrictive clothing of both body and personality we have loaded ourselves with, allowing the soul inside for a moment to fly free. Then, when all that psychological clothing is re-donned for daily life, it’s looser fitting, and you know who’s inside and what’s outside, are more in charge of your necessary daily illusions, and have gained greater real inner control by giving up false outer control.

Planetary Details

Over the years, my contact (both personal and professional) with SM people has pretty much confirmed the details of the original study and my early journalistic observations on the phenomenon, so I won’t go into them further here, since you can read them in their entirety. Individually, however, I have seen some straying from the basics. In general, contacts of personal planets with the outers and Saturn are usually present, quite often by conjunction, and Virgo and Scorpio really do rank high, along with Pisces and Ares. Occasionally, adventurous Sagittarius creeps in, but Capricorn and Aquarius are rare (despite Saturn and Uranus rulerships), as are Taurus and Cancer. And, people usually relate deeply (it gives them an immediate twinge) or not at all (may even find SM laughable).

Modern instruments of pain/pleasure match their planets: restraints for Saturn (l), whips and paddles for Uranus (r).

Planetary Play, Tools and Toys

Specific planets are involved according to their function in the personality. The inner, personal planets have the short cycles you have become familiar with by repetition and are about your layers of control – they are what have formed the layers which SM strives to cut away. The outers are bigger, longer ones that you don’t internalize and they are used to challenge and deconstruct the inners.  And, they actually separate out in the aspects of SM which they cover, including the tools and toys of the trade:

Saturn – by suppression, bondage and imprisonment, the ropes and chains, the cage, the isolation chamber, the confinement place.

Uranus – by sharp awakening surprise, the slapper, the whip, the crop, the cane, the prod, the neuro wheel, needles, electricity, and other instruments of pain and sudden sensory overload in general.

Neptune – by dissolution, confusion, disorientation, the swirling of fantasy that masks reality, alcohol and drugs, the blindfold, sensory deprivation.

Pluto – by raw force both physical and of the will, the unstoppable punishment until the object is broken. Humiliation is its specialty, the final destruction of the ego.

Interestingly, the ubiquitous blindfold serves the purposes of all four, increasing the effect of imprisonment, enabling surprise, causing disorientation, and shutting down the will.

Neptune's pleasures include the likes of fantasy immolation, Pluto's are more about forceful domination, and humiliation.

Although it isn’t always the case, you can tell what both partner’s preferred tools and methods may be by where their outer planets touch their inners, and each other’s.  Thus, an astrologically-savvy couple can know where these inner and outer systems are aligned within the nativity and play them against one another to deconstruct the M’s defenses, cut away entanglements, break resistance, and open the split husks of body and personality to let the soul and its inner fire up and out, guiding and enabling the process, until both take flight. Akin to more esoteric brands of astrology, it can be thought as clearing the obstacles out of the upward path so the kundalini can rise – well, sort of.

A Long And Winding Road

 However, those who do relate don’t get beyond the entertainment of first base unless they study it, talk about it, experiment freely (and don’t get stopped by disappointments), because the path is unique to each and one size does not at all fit all. And, despite SM being out of the closet these days and a favorite of Internet porn, it’s still not generally well-understood, so there are lots of pitfalls, false starts, and traps along the way that lead nowhere or even cause frustration, setbacks, and loneliness. Hopefully, the astrological viewpoint may be of some assistance on the journey.

But above all, it requires a knowledgeable, patient, skillful, and understanding partner to do it with, who can be hard to find and is rarely available in the meat markets of themed singles meeting organizations, live or online. Astrological matching can definitely help there as well, but that’s another article, for another time…

SM lib organization The Eulenspiegel Society took Prometheus, who suffered for sharing knowledge, for its icon.

For more information, help, and understanding company (without having to take your clothes off), The Eulenspiegel Society is still the place to go, after all these years, still largely true to its sex-lib political and psychological roots.

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