I’ve considered the idea that there is something specific to Christianity that fostered BDSM, which no other culture did in quite the same way. It sounds good, but it’s a little too glib and simplistic to be persuasive.
But then I found something in David Kunzle’s History of the Comic Strip, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 1973) that made me think there is something fundamentally kinky about Christianity after all.
This 20-panel narrative was published sometime between 1460 and 1480, in German. It depicts the relationship between Jesus (a bearded man with a halo) and the Christian soul (a young woman) in terms that are not only sensual, but sadomasochistic.
Jesus wakes the Soul out of bed (1), says she must forgo food (2) and other pursuits, symbolized by the distaff (3), and has her strip bare (4). The Soul complains about this: “I do not wish to be disturbed, it is too early yet.” “I suffer in dire necessity, you will starve me to death.” “Look at the way he wants to strip me bare.”
Jesus ramps things up in 5 and 6:
Jesus: “I shall castigate your flesh severely, to let the spirit thrive.”
Soul: “You are beating me so sorely, I cannot bear it any more.”
Jesus: “I will blind and cripple you, so as to tame you.”
Soul: “I am unable to walk, stand or grasp.”
However, in 7, Jesus proves he’s a good top by looking after the Soul while she sleeps before an altar:
Jesus: “Let no-one waken the girl, lest she be frightened.”
Soul: “I go to sleep before you in outwardness, and awaken to you in inwardness.”
Things take an unexpected turn when the Soul chases after Jesus (9) and finds where he is hiding (10). At first they are reconciled harmoniously (11), then things get kinky again, but with the positions reversed. In 12, the Soul ties a cord around Jesus’ waist.
Soul: “I have found my love, caught him and bound him.”
Jesus: “Her pain overpowers me, my love forces me (to submit).”
In 13, she shoots arrows into Jesus.
Jesus: “I shoot arrows at my love, so that I may enjoy him.”
Soul: “The pains of love have pierced my heart.”
That’s when Jesus apparently turns on the charm again. He offers her gold, which she refuses out of love (14), then plies her with music (15, 16).
Jesus: “Stop your weeping and praying, come and join the dance.”
Soul: “Love, if you thus entice me with drum and fiddle, all my sorrow is gone.”
In 17 and 18, their bond is close again, with Jesus as teacher/top.
Jesus: “I’ll teach you to lead a life that no-one can have without my teaching.”
Soul: “I cannot read a book unless you are my master.”
Jesus: “I shall whsipter a word to you that surpasses the Treasure of heaven.”
Soul: “I will tell no-on, love, what I have heard from you.”
Finally, we get to the heavy play, with Jesus putting the Soul up on a cross, described in ecstatic terms.
Jesus: “I now hang you up over all earthly things during your temporal existence.”
Soul: “What will become of me, I touch neither heaven nor earth.”
The narrative ends with Jesus putting a crown on the Soul’s head, who like a good and loyal sub, refuses material reward.
Jesus: “Since you delight me, love, I set a crown upon you.”
Soul: “I do not deserve a crown, I want to have just you.”
It doesn’t get much kinkier than that, folks.
This appears to be an example of a genre of broadsheet stories, as Kunzle’s book shows another, 4-panel story, dated about 1500.
In “Of the innermost soul, how God chastises her and makes her suited to Him”, Jesus wakes the Soul from slumber, but pulls her out of bed by her hair. Persistently, he stands out in the rain and knocks on her door. In the third panel, he lights her on fire with a candle. Finally, they are shown in bed together, face to face. “How they lie in bed together… and attain eternal rest.”
Again, the narrative follows Jesus waking a young woman out of bed, being resisted, being sadistic to her, and finally united erotically.
What’s really interesting is comparing this to the narrative of the frescoes in the Mysteries Room of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii (see previous post.) The young woman goes through a process of loss of status and physical ordeals, overseen by a supernatural figure or figures, and then reaches an apotheosis, in this case, becoming a bride.
You can also find parallels between modern kink classics like The Story of O and especially Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, which opens with a prince waking the protagonist out of a slumber and ends with the promise of a wedding.
This, in turn, harkens back to the original Sleeping Beauty story (1697), which includes cannibalism and other non-Disney-version elements.
I just love this stuff.