Spirituality and kink are two words that, although I'm used to describing as part of my life together, are viewed as very separate. I scarcely know many religions or spiritualties that open the doors widely, and accepting, out to the kink community.
Although some religions and spiritualties are making great strides to become openly accepting of the GLBTQ community, kink is sometimes, if not the majority of the time, lost in the struggle as the discussion looms over whether kink is a sexual orientation. Even in the more liberal churches, such as Unitarian Universalism -- where Leather and Grace, a kink-based UU group focusing on bringing the topic to a head and helping members find acceptance, has started the discussion -- it is still a struggle to be kinky and spiritual all in one.
When I heard that Vermont Alternative Sexuality Education (commonly known as VASE), a sister organization of New England Leather Alliance (commonly known as NELA), was opening their doors to author and Pagan shaman Raven Kaldera and his slave Joshua Tenpenny, I jumped at the opportunity to attend some workshops to hear more about what they bring to the table on the topics of D/s and spirituality. For anyone who has a different sexual orientation or gender orientation from the mainstream, spirituality is a subject of stress and anxiety. Despite the growing changes in perception around accepting individuals and gaining a bigger understanding about orientation, even the most liberal churches, religions and spiritualties struggle for even tolerance of BDSM.
Kaldera is a lifestyle educator, mentor and author of 33 books who lives in western Massachusetts with his wife of nineteen years, his slave Joshua of twelve years (who also presents on sex and spirituality both solo and together with Raven) and various other friends, lovers and housemates. After having a run-in with illness and a near-death experience, he became a shaman, and he has taught about religion and spirituality for the past twenty years.
I have struggled for a year now with my thoughts on spirituality, kink and poly, all combined. Kaldera is no stranger to these views and has been working through liberal spirituality to find acceptance. Brought up by liberal Christian parents, he has struggled for a good part of his spiritual life to find acceptance. Aware of his own spiritual path at a young age, he never delved into mainstream religion, which can be seen through discussions about his private spirituality, and during his presentations on spirituality and kink. Kaldera's connection to Neo-Paganism started in his teenage years when he entered a Pagan sect while still in high school. At the time, even in liberal communities, certain sexualities were still considered wrong.
As for the question if there is space at the table for both Spirituality and kink, Kaldera suggests that exploration is always a key point when diving in, as well as remembering to practice clean ethics. Involving spirituality with sexuality requires keeping in mind that this practice will deeply affect your relationships. Kaldera feels that it can make a couple grow as a pair, both through becoming a cleaner window of spiritual judgment (from the Dominant perspective) and through personal growth beyond the ego (from the submissive perspective).
Since he began exploring alternative religion, Kaldera's spirituality has slowly evolved. Since becoming active as a Pagan, he has seen changes in his religious community, slowly but surely accepting BDSM and poly, which has changed his role from disciple to shaman, mentor, and teacher. It is not uncommon for individuals, especially those who are somewhere in the middle on the gender spectrum or other sexual orientations, to travel hundreds of miles to see him.
At the end of the interview, I had one question left -- a difficult one that results from being criticized for holding back spiritual community while toiling over the thought of "Isn't it my choice?": When is -- if there is -- a right time to come out to my congregation? Kaldera's opinion: every person needs to make that decision for themselves. Everyone needs to decide for themselves how out they will be, while remembering that reputations are flimsy and possibly not worth it in the face of helping others.