Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Book Review: Radical Ecstasy

A book by Greenery Press, Radical Ecstasy concerns sex magic. To be precise it looks at BDSM and
spirituality and how the two interconnect, drawing parallels between BDSM, Tantra and the sort of Shamanic ritual practiced by Fakir Musafa.

As always with Greenery Press, whom I confess I'm very fond of, the book is written in an approachable style, with the authors, Dossie Easton and Janet W Hardy, drawing on their own experiences and providing anecdotes to embellish their points. I like this approach, it makes me feel as if I have two mentors rather than being preached at by someone sat in an ivory tower, even if its not going to be for everyone. It shows me how human the authors are and that they have their own troubles and so on, rather than painting an unbelievable, but very pretty image of their lives as perfect. Tales of relationships ending, of the troubled pasts the characters recount may not leaving their troubles at the door, but does tell you that they are real people, and I feel in this sort of work, dealing as it does with self discovery, that's important.

The meat of the book is dedicated to helping people find ecstasy, not in the drugs sense, but in the manner of letting go of your body and 'flying'. Here we find something interesting about the authors. One, Dossie, is a pagan and practitioner of magic, the other, Janet, is very much more left brained and skeptical, looking for evidence - they're like the Mulder and Scully of kink in many ways. These different perspectives allow them to dive into the spiritual side without getting too 'woo woo' about it all. Despite this there are mentions of chakras, kundalini energy and so on, so if you're seriously allergic to such things, this may not be the book for you.

The book is structured into various chapters, as you might expect, and delves into beliefs, ethics, and where we find love, and indeed what love actually is. This last is interesting, as it discusses what society tells us love is (raising a family, a joint account and so on) and how it clashes with the emotional/hormonal truth of it; the feeling of connection, openness, and  affection with another person. They dive into others subjects from morality play, to how to find your intuition and other matters. All in all, its very grounded and sensible, they don't promise to make you a wizard, or to teach you things that will make all your problems disappear. The frankness of their discussion helps with this, showing that you won't be a yogi by the end of the book but will have a stronger sense of your own spirituality.  There are anecdotes throughout, some of them very personal, there's a real sense of the authors putting themselves on show, often in ways that must have been painful to recount. It is hard not to see the effect that writing the book had on them, especially since they openly discuss it.  They talk about the fears they discovered within themselves, how one feared that everything she wrote was bunk and the other that if she did a workshop that did not go well would become upset. Over the two years it took to write the book, they became closer and shared much of the same headspace, everything became devoted to the book, to the extent that in the closing chapter, Janet admits that she hadn't played without the book in mind during that time. Transformative as the experience obviously was, it also just as obviously took its toll.

Roleplaying (not in the D&D sense) takes up part of the book with a discussion of the various roles you can undertake and how they may work in psycho sexual terms. This delves into areas that many people might find uncomfortable, including animal roleplay and age play. These, obviously, don't connect to anything more significant than playing about with an idea and shouldn't be construed as a tendency to do anything that's not legal and consensual. The appeal seems to lie as much in being able to shuck the responsibilities of the modern adult and to dive into a world of innocence. They also discuss more adult roles, Mistress and slave, sex slaves and so on, taking each in turn to explore them, whilst at the same time making it clear that these are roles, not something you do 24/7 - this isn't a book to prepare the reader for the idea of a formal lifestyle arrangement, and where they do mention it, it is the context of a long term, almost high ritual, role rather than anything else.

One of the later chapters delves into the idea of psychodrama, shadow play - literally dancing with the darker parts of your psyche, possibly brushing up against old wounds that lurk beneath the surface. This might be something from our own lives, a shame, humiliation or trauma we have carried with us, or it might be cultural, something we take for granted as 'normal' but which is troubling, like sexist attitudes or the ideas that go to make up our perceptions of what each sex and gender is about. This reads as if it something for the more advanced practitioner, not something to be undertaken lightly. I feel I am only a novice in BDSM and I would want to gain more experience before attempting it, partly because I would want to be more sure of myself and would also want to know I could trust the person I was playing with absolutely before placing that amount of faith and responsibility in their hands.

I found it rewarding to read and felt that it was very illuminating. It was nice, in part, to read something that explored another side to kink, a deeper side than just whips and chains and rock n roll. As I feel I have neglected my spiritual side I will be using some of what this book imparted in an attempt to find my own path to ecstasy,