Ecstasy

Following up on yesterday’s posting “The archangel Michael” (focusing on the nature of angels and archangels, especially those represented in art as wingèd men), on to angelic music in the Sacred Harp hymnbook: on

angels, wings of love, robes of light, flying away, being carried away, ecstasy. With trumpets.

As before, I’ll start with the Christian context — of art yesterday, of music today — and move to sexual, in particular gay, interpretations of these works, finding in them homoerotic elements that were surely never intended. This move is straightforwardly sacrilegious, and therefore offensive to many, so I’m warning you now that after a respectful discussion of themes in hymn texts, I’ll turn to descriptions and depictions of flagrant mansex, but I’ll flag this shift, so you can bow out if you wish.

The connection is the ambiguity of the word ecstasy, an ambiguity that is rooted in a significant similarity between religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy: being transported or carried away, in mind and body, by an experience.

Natick 497: wings of love. From my 9/23/10 posting “Shapenote singing: some basics” (where you can find some presentation of shapenote singing in the Sacred Harp tradition, with examples from the 1991 Denson revision of the Sacred Harp), this ecstatic hymn to the power of Jesus to cleanse sinners (the tune is recent, but the text is mid-19th century), with the chorus:

Sweet Redeemer from above, / Born on wings, on wings of love.

(The spelling born, rather than borne, for the PSP of the verb bear is long attested.)

The image is of being carried away on the wings of Jesus’s love, as on the wings of an angel or a powerful bird.

Arnold 285t: eagle wings of love. The song:

(#1)

The relevant lines:

And on the eagle wings of love / To joy celestial rise

Carried away on those eagle wings to heaven and eternal life, free from our bodies and the pain of this world.

(The tune is apparently named after a prolific composer of shapenote music.)

The Morning Trumpet 85: flying to Jesus on wings of love (with trumpets). The song:

(#2)

The relevant passage:

5 Through grace I feel determined
To conquer, though I die,
And shall hear the trumpet sound in the morning.

And then away to Jesus
On wings of love I’ll fly:
And shall hear the trumpet sound in the morning.

This time the speaker flies, rather than is carried, on wings of love — away to Jesus (as in the well-known spiritual “I’ll Fly Away”), to hear the trumpet sounds of the Last Judgment.

Chambers 120: arrayed in robes of light. Like the (arch)angels, God is bathed in light:

(#3)

The text:

The Lord Jehovah reigns,
And royal state maintain:
His head with awful glories crowned.

Arrayed in robes of light,
Begirt with sov’reign might,
And rays of majesty around.

A powerfully bright, ringing fuguing tune, with only one verse in this book (though the text is by the incredibly prolific Isaac Watts, and there are almost surely more verses available).

I am much moved by both Natick and Chambers. When I lead these songs, I tend to slip into an altered state, of passionate derangement, some might say ecstasy.

Ecstasy 106: fly away and be at rest. This one has it both ways: the speaker is carried away and flies away:

(#4)

The relevant text:

3 Gird on the gospel armor
Of faith and hope and love,
And when the combat’s ended,
He’ll carry you above.

O had I wings, I would fly away and be at rest,
And I’d praise God in his bright abode.

The crucial point is that the speaker transcends his earthly being.

The noun ecstasy and ecstasy as a state of consciousness. Start with NOAD2, which lists what it takes to be the most common current sense first:

noun ecstasy: 1 an overwhelming feeling of great happiness or joyful excitement: there was a look of ecstasy on his face | they went into ecstasies over the view. 2 an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence. ORIGIN late Middle English (sense 2): from Old French extasie, via late Latin from Greek ekstasis ‘standing outside oneself,’ based on ek– ‘out’ + histanai ‘to place.’

Sense 2 is the older one; sense 1 is a generalization and weakening of the ‘transcendence’ sense. But NOAD2 lacks the metaphorical extension of the noun from the religious to the sexual domain — notably associated with tantric sexual practices in the western world (which became a thing in the 20th century), but independent of neotantra when used to refer to the intense sense of transcending ordinary consciousness and being transported to a frenzy of pleasure while engaged in sexual practices.

[Brief digression on neotantra, which is only marginally relevant here. From Wikipedia:

Neotantra, navatantra … or tantric sex, is the modern, western variation of tantra often associated with new religious movements. This includes both New Age and modern Western interpretations of traditional Hindu and Buddhist tantra. Some of its proponents refer to ancient and traditional texts and principles, and many others use tantra as a catch-all phrase for “sacred sexuality”, and may incorporate unorthodox practices. In addition, not all of the elements of Indian tantric practices are used in neotantra, in particular the reliance on a guru. As the interest in Tantra has grown in the West, its perception deviates remarkably from the Tantric traditions. It was seen as a “cult of ecstasy”, combining sexuality and spirituality to correct Western repressive attitudes towards sex. Hence for many modern readers Tantra is now synonymous with “spiritual sex” or “sacred sexuality,” a belief that sex should be recognized as a sacred act capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane.

(The article seriously needs editing.)]

This is the point where I veer into sexual ecstasy in mansex — a topic not for kids or the sexually modest.

From my 8/23/13 posting “Given over to desire”:

In writing about facial expressions during gay sex (especially, during man-on-man intercourse), I’ve remarked on an ecstatic expression often shown by one partner (usually, the bottom) or both of them. From a posting on “Captioned croppings”, this example of mutual ecstasy (mouths open, eyes narrowed or fully shut):

(#5)

The expressions are an outward manifestation of an inner state of mind (and body), an intense giving over of one’s self to, or losing one’s conscious self in, the sexual experience — an ecstasy or rapture

Most people find it easy to appreciate the ecstatic experience of the insertive partner in mansex, since it involves giving over his body and consciousness to the experience of orgasm. But the ecstatic experience of the receptive partner might seem inexplicable to many — yet I have described a number of times on this blog men I characterized as ubercocksuckers (given over to the rapture of sucking cock) and uberbottoms (given over to the rapture of getting fucked). In both cases, experiencing pleasure beyond pleasure.

Like religious ecstasy, these experiences of sexual ecstasy are both subjective and overwhelming, and don’t lend themselves to explanation. I can explain to another man the physical and emotional satisfactions of sucking cock and getting fucked — both are routine pleasures for a great may gay men — without expecting  that he would share in these satisfactions (he’s been trained to find the acts threatening, demeaning, and distasteful, after all). But I can’t explain what it’s like to be transported out of yourself in a sexual act.

And now, the Sacred Harp setting of Natick (from an earlier posting, referred to above), so that Facebook won’t supply the edge-of-XXX #5 as the image for this posting:

(#6)

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