Olivia Vargas

Suffering for the Sake of Soul: Archetypes of Soul-making in Japanese Erotic Bondage

So often images of bondage/discipline, sadomasochism, and submission/dominance (BDSM) are pathologized because they exist in a context of suffering that is difficult to bear. Historically, Jungians have tried to place these images in new, spiritual contexts in order to give them meaning. In his work Re-visioning Psychology (1979), James Hillman encourages us to “stick with the image.” When we sense the image in its “specific context, mood, and scene,” its significance emerges not as an explanation that is grasped by the egoic sense of control and tidiness, but rather as knowing that has integrated into your sense of being in and seeing of the world. In this paper, I explore the image and practice of Japanese erotic bondage, also known as shibari, with Hillman’s soul-making approach—keeping the image within its context.

Life is both ecstasy and suffering, but sometimes we have to lean into the suffering in order to get to the ecstasy. In order to do this, there must be an image worthy of holding both. The images and practice of shibari create a unique opening for the dynamics of ecstasy and suffering as experienced through body and psyche. With the help of the archetypal energies of Dionysus and Eros, I follow shabari images through their ritualistic and artistic movements that allow soul the space required to hold both ecstasy and suffering simultaneously; therefore, connecting deeply with the archetypal realm of emotions.


Olivia Vargas is a third-year student doctoral student in the Depth Psychology: Jungian and Archetypal Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. With a background in comparative world literature and kundalini yoga, she found depth psychology both approachable and vitally important. She is a poet, dancer, and yoga instructor, with a keen interest in the psyche-soma connection.


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