Copyright V.Bramshaw 2009.
In today’s society, the scourge (whip, or flail) has acquired an unfortunate reputation as a symbol of sex, domination and corruption. Its partnership with modern Craft can sometimes appear confusing, and many critics have claimed that it is an unnecessary tool introduced by Gerald Gardner, along with the rule of working scyclad, to ‘spice up’ his rituals. Consequently, opinions are divided within the Craft community regarding the use of the scourge; however, when used correctly, scourging does allow the consciousness to be altered and energy to be risen, by causing changes within the body.
Some of the oldest evidence of the scourge is depicted in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians. In Egypt and other mystery religions, the scourge was a sign of fertility rather than as a flagellation tool, because it was used in agriculture for thrashing wheat in order to separate the corn from the chaff. Consequently, the scourge was often depicted in the hands of fertility Gods such as Osiris as well as the hands of Kings, to demonstrate their power and wealth during their reign. The scourge or flail was also associated with the power of the Gods. During the ‘Mysteries of Dionysus’ (God of Wine) in ancient Greece, the scourge was used together with the partaking of alcohol to change the consciousness and encourage trance-like chants and dance. The use of the scourge was used to represent the dedication of the temple initiate, and this continues symbolically in modern Craft initiations today to test the commitment of the person and confirm their willingness to ‘suffer to learn’.
As time passed, the meaning behind the scourge as a symbol of power and fertility began to change, and it started to become more associated with sexual virility, depicted with such deities as the Egyptian Phallic God, Min. It is important to remember that the fertility of the fields and the fertility of the people was seen as synonymous; an important balance between nature and mankind.
The agricultural flail did not look the same as the scourge we know today. Rather than a handle with rope or leather thongs, the farming flail was made of a wooden club chained to a handle which swung freely to thrash the corn. Later in history, people began to recognise that this was also a very effective and very deadly weapon.
The combination of fertility, power, abundance and eventually punishment was probably what led to the scourge becoming associated with dominance, but it was only with the coming of monotheistic religion that it became well known for its role in actual chastisement as part of religious discipline.
In Initiatory Craft and Wicca, the scourge represents the authority of the Priestess and the Goddess, together with the willingness of the trainees and initiates to learn. It is used symbolically only, and is never used to inflict actual harm.
You can read more about The Scourge and associated practices in my new book, Craft of the Wise.