Sacred Touch

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Monkey

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I read an article this morning on MSN ( http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100234082&page=2 )
about a little girl who was raised almost completely without touch. They're calling her a "feral child".

Children like Dani often have symptoms that can look like autism: rocking their body, avoiding eye contact, and experiencing great difficulties when learning to speak.

[...]

Other symptoms that are similar to those seen in autism—like language problems, poor social skills and difficulty understanding the thoughts and feelings of others—result from lack of exposure to the early experiences on which behaviors like empathy are based.

But Dani is lucky.

But if babies don't receive consistent, physical affection from the same people repeatedly, they don't learn to love and trust. In fact, without individualized care, about one-third of babies raised in orphanages will die.

Human beings need touch. It's part of our hardwiring. It starts when we're infants, and without it, we suffer and can fail to learn how to love, to empathize, to relate...we can even die.

I know from watching children, including my own, that this intense need for touch doesn't go away once a child is out of infancy. And my teenage son is now craving a whole new kind of touch...one that he can't find at home. It's part of his biological imperative; it's part of the continuation of the species; it's part of what causes a child to leave their birth family and go create another.

I'm an adult, and I crave touch, too. Different kinds of touch from different kinds of people...but touch, all the same. If I was kept behind glass and couldn't hold my children or caress my husband or hold my mother's hand, I'm not sure I'd keep my sanity. I'm fairly sure I'd lose it.

So is touch sacred?
 

Monkey

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My answer is that I believe many forms of touch to be sacred.

The first time a mother holds her baby.

Nursing.

Kissing your child's forhead as you tuck them in at night.

Putting your arm around a crying loved one to comfort them.

Sex can be sacred touch, when done with the right intent.

But touch can also be profane. Fighting can be seen as touch, for instance.

All these forms of touch have an element of religion to them, for me. I find it interesting the way that physical need and religion intertwine on this issue.
 

AMCrenshaw

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What about infantile genital stroking?

Anyway, I think that touching a child to calm him or her is a way of showing that the parent cares, that the parent is there. It eases the child's fears and anxieties. An article discusses how ""Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently." It would seem obvious to tend to a child by comforting its needs and wants (rather than the parents' alone), but America was at one point known for a rugged individualist mythos. Ultimately, I don't consider "touch" sacred, but I do consider it ethical and pretty well necessary for socialization to occur.


AMC
 
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Dawnstorm

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Hm, I'm having trouble with the word "sacred", but I do see that touch is highly ritualised: (1) who can touch (2) whom (3) in what situations (4) where on the body (5) in what ways. I've read somewhere that in a de-touched society professional touchers perform an important role that's not always acknowledged. Massage specialists, doctors, hair dresses, dancing instructors, even martial arts or self-defense classes (the odd phenomenon that mock violence is safe).

Interesting topic.
 

James81

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Well, based on the dictionary definitions:

sa⋅cred   /ˈseɪkrɪd/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [sey-krid] Show IPA
–adjective

1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.
2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.
3. pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to secular or profane ): sacred music; sacred books.
4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: a morning hour sacred to study.
5. regarded with reverence: the sacred memory of a dead hero.
6. secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right: sacred oaths; sacred rights.
7. properly immune from violence, interference, etc., as a person or office.

I'm going to have to say that touch isn't "sacred."

Necessary, yes. But not sacred.
 

Monkey

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Infantile Genital Stroking wouldn't qualify as sacred to me...but then I'm not sure of the mindset behind it and it's so alien to me that my "autotaboo" keeps me from really considering both sides.

I know that I'm not rational about this because I touch my two-year-old's genitals daily. She's not potty trained, and I'm very careful to clean her well when I give her a diaper change. Yes, I'm touching her with a cloth, but still. I did the same with both my boys at one time or another. I recognize that you can touch an infant's--and sometimes even a toddler's--genitals in a non-sexual or even comforting way (my daughter finds it very comforting to be cleaned--the poo freaks her out), and I don't have the whole story on IGS. So there's a disconnect. I will say that infants seem to experience entirely non-evasive contact with the genitals quite differently than older children. But I will also say that the idea of IGS bothers me enough that I really have no desire to think about it further, and the things the article said that the children were told when they got older sound downright damaging, to me.

4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: a morning hour sacred to study.
5. regarded with reverence: the sacred memory of a dead hero.
6. secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right: sacred oaths; sacred rights.
7. properly immune from violence, interference, etc., as a person or office.

I could see any of these relating to touch. Not ALL touch--like I said in post #2, touch can also be profane, IMO. But number 6 especially...how many of us talk to our children about how there are some places that they are NEVER required to let anyone touch if they are uncomfortable with it? No one has the right to touch someone else in a sexual manner without thier permission; that's "secured against violation". But I was really refering to something more along the lines of number 5. When I held my newborn son, when I first nursed my daughter, when I first held my husband close...I did all these things with reverence, with love, with a sense that something spiritual was taking place.

If you are into tantric sex, or the union of male and female is central to your religion (as it is to mine), then I can see how numbers 1-3 apply, too.

So to my view, touch can fit every definition you posted of sacred.

Or it can mean almost nothing. But we need it for our very survival, and for the continuation of our species. We do have strong rituals surrounding various parts of it, strong taboos, and for some of us, touch can feel very spiritual. So yes, I would say that touch is sacred. And not to be misused.

But I was really interested in what people of different religions would think. Some are more focused on touch than others, some are heavier on the taboos, and I realize that the general population probably doesn't think about touch as a sacred thing on a daily basis. And yet, most of us engage in it everyday, and in some ways our society is quite preoccupied with it.
 
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Higgins

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My answer is that I believe many forms of touch to be sacred.

The first time a mother holds her baby.

Nursing.

Kissing your child's forhead as you tuck them in at night.

Putting your arm around a crying loved one to comfort them.

Sex can be sacred touch, when done with the right intent.

But touch can also be profane. Fighting can be seen as touch, for instance.

All these forms of touch have an element of religion to them, for me. I find it interesting the way that physical need and religion intertwine on this issue.

I think touch illuminates aspects of the sacred. You note that it can also be profane. That duality of touch is what (paradoxically) marks it as at least being on the very edge of sacralization.
For example, if we don't take religion as a cultural construct that is as absolute as say upholding state power with violence, but as something contingent on some set of human behaviors and responses, then touch is exactly the sort of "gesture" that contains very real power that one would expect religions to have as part of their structures.
Of course as touch enters the sacred it becomes polarized and dangerous and hard to deal with since it is so easily overcharged with intensity. So for example in Navajo ceremonies where a person becomes a Holy Person, they are touched in various ways by the singer: for example in being painted or in having sacred objects applied to them. Thus touch becomes indirect because it is perhaps a bit to intense and real for the sacred.
 
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