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Flagellation is the act of whipping (Latin flagellum, "whip") the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches and the cat-o-nine-tails. Typically, whipping is performed on unwilling subjects as a punishment; however, flagellation can also be submitted to willingly, or performed on oneself, in religious or sadomasochistic contexts.


Association with religion


Various pre-Christian religions, like the cult of Isis in Egypt and the Dionysian cult of Greece, practiced their own forms of ritual flagellation. During the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia young men ran through the streets with thongs cut from the hide of goats which had just been sacrificed, and women who wished to conceive put themselves in their way to receive blows, apparently mostly on the hands. Greco-Roman mystery religions also sometimes involved ritual flagellation, as famously depicted in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, apparently showing initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries.


The Flagellation refers in a Christian context to the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in the Passion of Christ prior to the Jesus' crucifixion. The practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes was utilized by some Christians throughout most of Christian history, especially in Catholic monasteries and convents. In the 13th century, a radical group of christians, known as the Flagellants, took this practice to an extreme. The flagellants were later condemned by the Catholic Church in the 14th century. Self-flagellation remains common in the Philippines and Latin America. Some members of strict monastic orders, and some members of the lay organization Opus Dei, practice mild self-flagellation using an instrument called a "discipline", a cattail whip usually made of knotted cords, which is flung over the shoulders repeatedly during private prayer. Within the past few decades the practice has become rare within the Catholic Church, particularly as rigorism and heresies such as Jansenism which over-emphasized God's severe justice, are rejected. St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun of late 19th century France who has now been declared a Doctor of the Church, is an influential example of a Catholic Saint who questioned prevailing attitudes toward physical penance. Her view was that loving acceptance of the many sufferings of daily life was pleasing to God, and fostered loving relationships with other people, moreso than taking on oneself extraneous sufferings through instruments of penance.


Flagellation is a form of punishment used in certain cases under Islamic Sharia law. In Islam, lashes for punishment are to be performed with a book under one arm to minimise the swing, are not supposed to leave permanent scars, and when the number of lashes are high, are frequently done in batches to minimise risk of harm.

While self-harm is forbidden in Islam, certain sects of Shi'a Muslims found solely in villages in Iran and the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia perform self-flagellation when participating in the Zanjeer Zani ritual to mourn the death of Hussain during Muharram, on the Day of Ashura. Although officially done with a special leash, most Shi'as usually beat their chests with their hands, but the use of metal chains and spikes is common as well. The practice is common among Shiites in the Middle East and Asia, although is often frowned upon by Sunnis and other Muslims.

Ecstatics and Mystics

Because practices such as starvation, sleep denial and flagellation are known to induce altered states, flagellation may be used by religious ecstatics and mystics as part of ritualistic practices or ceremonies to achieve unusual states of mind.

Erotic use

Erotic spanking

In the sexual sub-culture of BDSM, "flagellation" involves beating the submissive partner and is a form of impact play. Such a flogging begins with soft blows, desensitizing the skin somewhat and triggering the body's endorphin response to pain, similar to "runner's high". The gradual increase in force heightens this response, often to a near-catatonic state in the bottom. Flogging for erotic thrill, typically with implements such as floggers, whips, paddles, or canes, has been called the "English vice". See also paraphilia.

The flogger used in this context consists of a handle with an number of attached thongs known as "falls". Falls are typically made of materials such as suede, leather, rubber, rope, or other or flexible materials. The length, number, and composition of the falls determines the sensation caused by the flogger. Floggers are usually characterized by the sensation they cause. "Thuddy" floggers typically impart a broadly felt deep muscle impact, while "stingy" floggers are felt as a sharp stinging sensation over the skin. The sensation of floggers can also vary with the techniques used by the dominant (or top).

Floggers are typically applied to areas of the body which are well muscled, or protected by body fat, such as the upper back or buttocks. Vulnerable areas such as the abdomen, kidneys, and face are to be avoided. Some areas, such as female breasts, can be lightly flogged safely if appropriate care and skill is used. Intense flogging can leave bruising but typically does not cut or permanently mark the skin.

See also

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