Mark and Ruth Ramsden are co authors of Kink and Magickal Sex and creators of The Dark Tantra Tarot.
They are also established writers and artists in their own, individual capacity.
Mark is an acclaimed writer, musician and composer.
Ruth Ramsden is an artist and illustrator with an active interest in Paganism and the occult
The fact that they are in a long term, committed, and loving relationship which incorporates ritualised blood work intrigues me. I feel that it adds an element to ‘The Bloody Sacrifice’ which was previously missing.
I have looked at blood work and the way it creates changes in the relationship with self, gods, spirits, and the audience. In this interview, I will look how it affects intimacy between two people in a long term, committed relationship.
Tell me a little about how and why you work with blood?
Ruth: Blood work is an exchange, like any other exchange within a relationship, whether it’s spiritual, intellectual, emotional or sexual. Very directly, it’s part of the heart; something that connects back to a very basic time when blood was part of a profound commitment to a faith. Symbolically, it’s very powerful. Every animal is allotted by nature the same number of heart beats, regulated throughout a life time by its metabolism; physically sharing this constant with someone you love is an idea that I find satisfies me on many levels.
Mark: I started writing in blood as a strange teenager, probably in response to reading Pan Horror stories or maybe a voice in my head told me to do it! It seemed a step beyond the normal teen stuff and it’s difficult to explain why it seemed right. You’re bound to take that seriously, though. Not waste too many words…
The fact that you both have you been using blood in various contexts for so long is intriguing. Do you think working with blood is addictive?
Ruth: I don’t think it’s addictive but I think it can be compulsive in certain situations. Situations where nothing else will do. There’s an element of anointing about blood that can apply to many magick practices and certainly with sex. Making love during a period, that’s VERY powerful, especially as I’m often epically sensual at this time.
In painting, blood is like a secret weapon that consecrates certain objects and expressions or the way I feel about them. For example, I’m looking at a painting right now that I made of a sheep’s skull some years ago. I know that a part of me has marked this animal’s passing in more ways than are immediately obvious.
Would you say that the way you work/play with blood is ritualised?
Ruth: I would say that there are certain times that are more propitious for blood work/play than others. It depends if this involves menstrual blood or cutting. The two are very different. The former has more to do with goddess worship and is very much more lunar (particularly as my cycle is synchronised with the full moon). I think it’s also significant that I feel at my most desirable and – um – horny at this time. On the horns of the altar, perhaps. The latter depends on urges that I would have difficulty explaining. It’s like an itch you have to scratch or an orgasm you just can’t hold on to anymore! For the rituals involved, we are about to embark on more direct symbolism with a tattoo gun. Both of us have tattoos and although mine are directly and consistently decorative, I have always been inked at especially significant times in my life, for particular reasons. I think anyone who takes tattoos seriously recognises that they’re often rite of passage statements rather than fashion accessories.
Mark: I can’t really add any more to what Ruth has said, although my tattoos are more directly related to magick – my tarot card is The Magician and I have Horus in this guise on my shoulder and the sword and the lily from the magazine Dark Lily as well as runes and other symbols. It’s going to be really special when Ruth finally starts tattooing, not that I’m looking forward to the pain.
Do you feel that there is a cross-over of the use of blood within sexual practices, art and spirituality?
Ruth: There is definitely a crossover. In spirituality and art there are very basic and profound reasons why bloodwork is especially potent. In the past, I have used blood as well as the ashes from burned objects in paintings and for me this links the feelings I have towards polytheism and the ancients directly to my work. It is basic as well as aesthetic. Just as skulls have a special significance to nature and animals, they also have a direct link in both the aesthetic and spiritual to the kind of darkness and surrealism I enjoy exploring and the obvious connections with death. Blood is definitely part of this strange mixture.
In sexuality, particularly fetishism, blood play is very vital, in every sense of the word. It can involve blades, needles and in the case of some performers and modern primitives, flesh hooks. The physical act of cutting and scarification releases endorphins that can carry you to a profound physical space. The amount of trust needed between couples to enjoy this type of edge play is obvious and always brings people closer together.
Mark: Sex is the strongest desire, the undercurrent to everything we do. Blood is some of the fuel, at the most basic level it’s what drives us. Maybe that’s why I’m drinking Virgin Mary’s these days, even without alcohol you have to have a vampiric cocktail. As Ruth says, there is a great deal of crossover between blood work and fetishism with edge players who enjoy needles and so on, although it’s not something I’ve ever done in a club – it’s much too personal and a lot of club scenes are casual sex with strangers – not that there’s anything wrong with that!
From the perspective of observers, and as people who have been ‘on the scene’ for years, does prolonged blood work change people, even when used in a casual manner? Did the advent of blood borne diseases have a huge impact on people that work with it and what effect did those changes have?
Ruth: I think it very much depends on the individual. Those people who like taboo fetishes such as playing with blood, needles, knives, cutting etc don’t seem to be a particular ‘type’ and I can’t honestly say that I’ve noticed prolonged bloodwork change people. On the fetish scene it seems to be an ‘acute’ experience rather than a ‘chronic’ one, if you get my meaning. It can be profound, wonderful, disturbing, and ecstatic but it’s very much ‘in the moment’. It certainly feeds an appetite and I think even used in a casual manner, it has the power to astonish.
The fetish community, because many of its practices can be risky, has always been very safety conscious. I wasn’t on the scene in the 80s when HIV and AIDS took off, but in my experience, anyone playing with sharps, uses sterile equipment, gloves and alcohol. Certainly in clubs, safe practice is usually followed anyway. The fetish scene is used to dealing with bodily fluids!
Many years ago, I drew up a questionnaire focused on the menstrual cycle and how different phases of it had different potentialities of power. I was in correspondence with a man who was transgender and he maintained that he had a cycle (although not a bleed) that tied in with his wife’s. Mark,I know that you have a female alter ego and wondered if you had any thoughts on this?
Mark: “A sober alcoholic with a taste for hallucinogenic, he lives in London with his partner, their son and a discarnate entity called Lola.” From the blurb to Occult black comedy murder mystery The Dark Magus and the Sacred Whore (Serpent’s Tail 1999)
I was being flippant when I wrote that blurb, and the book it accompanied, but Lola could have been the muse, or the twenty year fetish debauch in which I was then immersed.
After a cross-dressing makeover session from a woman who provided this service professionally I took a trip right round the transgender spectrum, as an admirer and also as ‘Marissa’, the feminised form of my party persona, always, shock horror, topping from the bottom, more interested in cutting edge hedonism than fem dom dressage or dressing like my Mum, who couldn’t have got into the 22 inch leather waist cincher I was wearing at the height of the E plan diet. As for the ‘Dorisses’ – the more seemly mature members of the trans community, and people who might want to carry tampons to get into female head space…it’s just not for me but good luck to them.
I overdid the walk on the femme side as I overdo everything but it finally led to me getting to be a hairier than ever male, (complete with handlebar moustache wax!) as this is what my final partner prefers, rather than a needy, attention seeking tranny as many sex motivated men are.
Which is a long way of saying my female worship was/is different from carrying tampons during an imaginary period. (My Goddess will just have to make do with cunnilingus during menses….)
While you’ve been travelling, mid January 2013, there’s been a most unedifying catfight in the Observer and on Twitter with some of the thinnest skinned, most pointlessly aggressive people on the planet. Those who immediately assume an Ali G victim perspective, ‘Is it because I is Trans?’ in response to every imagined slight. I haven’t studied gender theory at Uni, thank Xt, but I’ve helped someone through transition, who turned into the most gorgeous, sexy fulfilled woman, and I’ve had various brief relationships with Trans women and felt comfortable among the legions of sex-crazed cross dressers, t-girls, pre NO op beauties etc in countless sexual and social interactions over a decade or so. Admittedly I was more interested in euphoric transcendence than trying to fit in with straight society in the workplace or on the streets, which seems to be the focus of the new Trans warriors and their allies. Unfortunately they are now trying to tell people who have been women since birth how to use language. Hearing these tedious Diktats from bedroom bloggers is just a tad irritating.
Anyway, Marissa the party monster and her three day clubbing splurges have been put to bed. Fortunately I’m so much better at being a man, although the inner bitch remains accessible at all times, – dressed up as being ‘waspish’ or ‘acerbic’. Perhaps I’m a third sex Puck, shaven headed and proud, rather than muting the majesty with a bad wig. (Richard O Brien, Rocky Horror creator, owns this look.) The last time I took her out for a spin, in latex and leather kilt in bohemian St Leonards, Hastings, there was still uproar from the general public so my gender experiments can still freak people out – with no need to pack tampons in my sporran…
Has blood work changed you individually and/or as a couple?
Ruth: I find the act of making a mark on someone else’s body incredibly moving. It is a tenderness that picks at my soul. In my time, I’ve taken quite a few euphoric and dissociative drugs and the physical and emotional effect of this kind of blood connection is actually much more profound. Mark has my initial carved into his chest which we raised permanently with charcoal. I can see it every time he’s stripped to the waist (which is often!) and it’s a reminder of how stunned I was by his wonderful gift to me. And for me, this is what blood is, between two people, a gift.
Mark: It’s the strongest magic. Especially between couples. I’m hoping the tattoo gun I bought for Ruth is going to bind us even closer together. And that my endorphins kick in a little faster than the last scarification. That was a scalpel cutting an R over my heart.
I wrote these blood Haiku for my new novel:
Mingled blood sunset
Spurting over twilight sky;
Final pungent gasp.
My knife finds your heart.
Your eyes wider than ever
See only my smile.