Exactly how the BDSM emblem is suposed to be
Exactly how the BDSM emblem is supposed to be

The BDSM Emblem is a design based on a Triskele. The Triskele is the basic shape of the Emblem, with three “arms” curving out from the center and merging with an encompassing circle. The Triskele is an ancient shape that has had many uses and many meanings in many cultures. Not all Triskeles are BDSM Emblems! It is the details of the design that make it the BDSM Emblem. Those details are the black inner color, the silver-golden lines or in other words the rims and spokes are of a color indicating metal and last but not least what usually appears as dots over the internet are holes of identical color with the rims and spokes.

The idea behind what you know as the BDSM Emblem was initially proposed and promoted in a precise manner. In brief, it was to be a symbol based on the Triskele with very specific details. It was to be those details which marked this one specific Triskele-based design as the BDSM Emblem. It is an approach to enable those who wanted to find others of like interests to identify themselves to each other in a silent way, without outing themselves to a potentially persecuting public. Therefore, the symbol was based on one that would otherwise go unnoticed.

What happened was that people started spreading the Emblem across the Web without the background information required for proper understanding. Some people if not many seem to consider any Triskele as a BDSM symbol which is wrong. The BDSM Emblem was created to allow BDSM individuals identify themselves to each other secretly. To aid in secrecy, the Emblem was created to look common enough and avoid to arouse too much interest. To aid in identification, it was created with very specific and meaningful details.

The BDSM emblem has no “obvious” symbolism because it was created to be enigmatic. To the vanilla (anyone out of the BDSM lifestyle) observer who would be put off by BDSM, it is merely an attractive piece of jewelry. Thus, we can wear it freely as a friendly salute, nod, and wink to other BDSMers we should happen to pass on the sidewalks and in the hallways of our daily lives.

To the insider, however, the Emblem is full of meaning.

The three divisions represent the various threesomes of BDSM. First of all, the three divisions of BDSM itself: B&D, D&S, and S&M. Secondly, the three-way creed of BDSM behavior: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Thirdly, the three divisions of our community: Tops, Bottoms, and Switches. I do not really believe in switches. This is something i will explain some other day and why i do not believe it but in general i would say that eventually the one side will prevail or at least it will be stronger driving the hunger to be satisfied more often. So at the bottom end, every individual is a Top or Bottom and there are variations of how strong both those feelings are inside that person.

It is this third symbolism that gives meaning to the holes in each unit. Since BDSM is at the very least a play style and at its greatest a love style, the holes represent the incompleteness of any individual within the BDSM context. However “together” and “whole” individuals may be, there remains a void within them that can only be filled by a complimentary other. BDSM cannot be done alone.

The resemblance to a three-way variation on the Yin-Yang symbol is not accidental. As the curved outline of Yin and Yang represent the hazy border between where one ends and the other begins, so do the curved borders here represent the indistinct divisions between B&D, D&S, and S&M (Bondage and Discipline, Domination and submission, Sadism and Masochism or sadomasochism).

The metal and metallic color of the medallion represents the chains or irons of BDSM servitude/ownership. The three inner fields are black, representing a celebration of the controlled dark side of BDSM sexuality. I do not see any darkness in the lifestyle but I accept the general anticipation of black as dark side in the meaning of how our lifestyle should be kept hidden.

The curved lines themselves can be seen as a stylized depiction of a lash as it swings, or even an arm in motion to deliver an erotic spanking. The all-embracing circle, of course, represents the overlying unity of it all and the oneness of a community that protects its own.

57 thoughts on “The BDSM emblem. An explanation not only for those who don’t know but also for many who might have forget the meaning of it.

  1. Excellent 🙂 Thank you for filling in the bits and pieces that were missing from my knowledge of its origin. Have you posted this on Fetlife? I’d love to post crumbs and share it with friends if so. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Most of my writings won’t be found on FET but in any case feel free to use as much as you like and share them with your friends there. I’m not so active or at least I don’t talk to many people there. I don’t see the point of all this nudity when it comes to socialise even if it’s just online.

  2. I’m new to all of this I guess my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to know more as I enjoy learning I found your blog on a whim, didn’t even know BDSM had an emblem. Can’t wait to read more.

  3. Hallo. I would like to join somone that is being turned on like me with bdsm.
    I’m not an expert in this world. But there is no daut that it’s were I like to be.

  4. Great find!

    I’m planning a floor rope scene to make a BDSM triskele out of people, but realized I didn’t even know the name of it or much of its history. I simply knew it as “that one BDSM symbol.”

    When I first got in the community where I live it was simply described as representative of the three primary roles, as mentioned in your blog. I only learned that by attending a patching ceremony where it was described, but based on the information here I realize now it’s the Okinawan martial arts symbol that they are using! I won’t tell that particular group, however, since some are tattooed with it and I don’t want to yuck up their yum. The other aspects, such as metal borders, were not explained.

    Maybe I’ll have to switch from rope to chain for my scene to make the borders correct?:)

    Also on the note of switches, disagree with you there, as it seems others have as well. But its always a fun discussion!

    I am a switch. I am in service to my Mistress, with a sub who serves me. I am not poly, nor a swinger. Alot of “switches” in the scene where I am either confuse the BDSM role with promiscuity, or are simply FOC (fresh outta closet) and don’t really know what they want yet, so experiment with both until one or the other sticks.

    True switches need both D and s aspects in their lives. I don’t think many people can explain switching that well, so I try to attempt a simple comparison:

    True D-types and true s-types are like glasses of liquid. They have their inner needs that must be met or the glass becomes empty. This is most like you describe in your blog, that a person can only grow either more full or more empty over time. You see inner desires in one glass, that you eventually fill with what you naturally desire. It’s a binary or zero-sum mentality, where there’s only so much space, and eventually only D or s can fill the majority of the glass. I have met many of those types. They simply are who they are.

    Think of a switch more as a set of scales. Both need to be filled to maintain balance. The more one is filled, the more the scale tips and the greater the need for the other side. This is how I experience it at least. I need the freedom of vulnerability and surrender. I also need the joy of being in control, of someone submitting to my will. They are very different experiences physically and emotionally, but if I get too much of one I can still feel empty, until the scale rights itself.

    The confusion arises because if you are a true D type, as you state you are, then its impossible to imagine more than one true state of being. In a way its a sort of purity that some people are just built for. Both my Mistress and my sub are like this. Us switches can’t imagine a life without both roles. Its not better or worse, its just a world in different colors. Alot of people enter the scene in one role, then over time evolve through experience, or finally getting to a place of comfort where they can express their needs. I usually see this as women who enter as s-types because they aren’t comfortable taking charge at first, and men who enter as D-types, because they have a hard time surrendering to someone else. I think in general this is why people think of switches as s or D types in transition. True switches are rare, but they do exist!

    Anyways, just my two cents on that!

    1. I appreciate your description of being a switch and how it rings true for you. I was quite taken a back when I read they don’t believe in switches, but I understand it can be difficult for people to grasp or believe something exists if it doesn’t exist for them. Still a bit closed minded, so I am glad you shared your experience as I am embracing the switch in me more and more as well 🙂

    2. FINALLY someone who gets what it is like to be a true switch!! TY TY TY! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your analogy of the scales – it perfectly describes how i feel!

  5. I thank you for the explanation of the bdsm emblem, as I’ve been curious about it for awhile now. I’m young, and still learning, but aren’t we all? About the whole switch thing. I identify as one, but I feel as though my definition may be varied from a traditional definition. I identify as a switch, because I’m submissive with men, but I’m dominant with women. This is a 24/7 feeling mind you. Regardless of being in a scene, this is how I am. During a scene however, if I’m feeling particularly submissive, I can be submissive with a female. There has very rarely been an urge for me to dominate a man, but it’s happened once or twice. Whether or not this makes me a true switch, who knows. All I know is my preference, and my nature. Just thought I’d throw this out there. Thanks again for the explanation!

    1. Just remember everyone that all the terms and symbolism in the modern BDSM subculture were appropriated only since the 1990’s. terminology is rapidly evolving to describe acts and descriptions used in many cultures and through history, in order to identify with it in the modern sub cultural context. all the acts and psyche dynamics have existed in centuries, but it’s the modern western subculture that has given it this identity for itself. Do not be limited to only finding your ‘kink’ self through just this subculture.
      I would emphasise that the symbology was not created, but appropriated from other cultures. This is not a bad thing, it happens everywhere whether its modern bro paganism and its use of the pentagram, the rainbow by queer community or even the use of the cross by Christianity. But it does help to know the history, as people often get tattoos or jewels of triskelion/triskele that has nothing to do with BDSM.

  6. Good description re the symbol. I enjoyed it very much and your blog has me seeking deeper meanings and variations of this very symbol in this context. After all, symbols stand for or suggest an idea a visual image, belief, action, or material entity, and are then used to convey words, ideas and beliefs.

    I want to write a little on some of the thoughts re switches displayed here. With all respect to switches, I feel at our core, the true essence of who we are. In my humble opinion is, we are either a true Dom or sub. The journey in discovering this is a personal one, but at night when the lights are out and we close our eyes, and it is just you. You just know.

    At the end of my life’s journey, I would rather live one year as my true self, in place of 40 years as some one else. I would rather spend one day in true love than 70 years in a relationship that was near perfect, but just not all that I sought or had to hide.

    That’s not to say, spending a day in some one else shoes isn’t nice, fun or uncomfortable. But this does not change me & core of who I am. I could equally argue this could apply to switches; this is the core of who they are. But I think I would have to limit my beliefs to agree on that. But I will respect their beliefs, and recognize that they are just as true to them, as my beliefs are to me.

    For me, Dom, sub, switch, if you’re happy and you’re finding happiness, do more of it! Be you and be true.

    In part, that’s what the symbol is telling me.

  7. As a bisexual person who has a preference for the opposite gender, I can assure you that I am still 100% bisexual. Likewise, as a switch I can also say that I am 100% a switch even though I favour being submissive. The two variants are not mutually exclusive; one does not cancel the other out. I could have only relationships where I am the sub for the next ten years, that doesn’t mean I am any less a switch.

  8. I enjoyed the story behind the triskele. Nonetheless, I disagree with your opinion about Switches… and compromise.

    Even if the drive to be submissive only comes to me 25% of the time, I am still a Switch! I could not live my life completely Dominant or submissive. I am both. I enjoy both. I do NOT feel discomfort or try to find a way to convince them they have to do things my way. I find my submission gratifying, uplifting, freeing. I relish my time in service, just as I hope those that serve me relish my Dominance.

    I do tend to be more Dominant, more often, however that does not change the fact that I am also occasionally submissive.

    By choosing to be Dominant and submissive at different times, I am in no way compromising my will or ideals. I am enjoying all life has to offer in any way I care to enjoy it.

    Your theory seems very close-minded and based solely on your own personality. You are not me and I am not you.

    1. Hello Ash

      I never claimed my opinion it is what MUST BE for everyone, quite the opposite. As I said this is how I see things but BDSM has no “manual” of how it should be. It is different from individual to individual. Indeed my point of view is based on my personality and my own beliefs. I don’t see it as close-minded as I never said it is bad to be a switch I only don’t believe in it. But again, what ever I say on this blog I never said it is how others should practise and see the lifestyle. You may or you may not agree with me after all.

  9. Actually, just to add a bit to the conversation (into which I am coming very late, I know), there is something else which might interest you. In the Society for Creative Anachronisms (which is the oldest of the medieval re-creation groups in this country, coming up on 50 years), the Kingdom of Trimaris (which is peninsular Florida) has as the Triskele (or triskellion) as it’s symbol. This was symbolic of its location between three seas (the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean) and its motto “From Sea to Sea to Sea). It was intended to symbolize the waves of the three seas . . .This dates back to the late 70s – early 80s, long before the triskele was adopted by the scene.

    I was, also long ago, the Principle Herald for the Kingdom, the Triskele Herald. My involvement in the scene as a dom was really rather scandalous at the time, so it was with no small amount of chuckling that I watched the scene adopt the triskele as its own. Now, it’s a bit amusing to watch some Trimarians trying to explain that no, we’re really NOT the BDSM kingdom, and that our garb is NOT some Gorean thing.

    Oh, and the symbol for the Federal Dept. of Transportation also uses a triskele as its symbol, by the way as does the Isle of man, and Sicily . . .

    1. Very interesting information. Never heard of it before and is really funny that some people might use the phrase “Kingdom of BDSM”. Thank you for your contribution

  10. Sorry, but in your entire article you fail to mention the actual origin of the symbol- Pauline reage’s classic BDSM novel ‘Histoire d’O’ (The Story of ‘O’), a the ‘coat of arms’ of the chateau of Roissy, where O is initiated…beggars belief you don’t know that- the rest appears to be American piffle.

  11. I am a switch too – and don’t need anyone’s validation or opinion to make it so or not.
    Quantum physics and string theory have advanced over Newtonian Physics. It is an evolution of thoughts and beliefs. And beliefs are not tangible as neither is reality.
    Sorry if I offended you. 🙂

    1. No I am not offended at all.
      Indeed you don’t need anyone to tell you who you are and more you do not need me to tell you who you are. This is a post with my own personal opinion regarding the switch status. As I say, some may really be a switch but I find quite natural the one side to overpower the other one.
      As about physics, I would suggest you read the string theory and how after all what we see and anticipate is not what is it but only what our senses are able to project in our brain. Therefore, a tree might not be how we see it, might not even be a tree at all. Funny enough how we confirmed with modern physics Heraclitus who believed everything is energy. A quote for anyone interested is the following
      “All things come out of the One and the One out of all things. … I see nothing but Becoming. Be not deceived! It is the fault of your limited outlook and not the fault of the essence of things if you believe that you see firm land anywhere in the ocean of Becoming and Passing. You need names for things, just as if they had a rigid permanence, but the very river in which you bathe a second time is no longer the same one which you entered before.” (Heraclitus, 500 B.C.)
      🙂

  12. i simply stumbled across this and am very impressed by how much i learned from it. i loved how detailed it was. i have been wondering about this emblem (along with the lifestyle) for a while. thank you for answering my questions with your blog. 🙂

  13. Hello, masterp35.

    Allow me to introduce myself; I am a switch… 24/7. I am married and I have a sub (two different individuals); I am submissive to my partner (when I choose to submit at all)… and dominant to my sub. Like the yin/yang symbol which you mentioned, I do not feel complete as merely one or the other; I need to have that balance of opposites… and therefore both energies in my life to achieve that balance. I do not engage in BDSM all day long… just as I don’t have sex all day long (pity, that) … but I am a BDSM practitioner 24/7… because my BDSM is not a role or play style nor a lifestyle; it is simply a part of who I am. I am fully capable of switching between dominant and submissive roles… within the same session… taking one role one minute and the other the next… and even at the same time… submissive to the one and dominant to the other simultaneously… with no confusion or strain… because this is how I am wired… to be a switch… just as some folks are wired to be bisexual; it is indeed possible to be a switch naturally.

    Surely I’m not the only one in existence… therefore logic dictates there must be others of my kind you have yet to meet; your statement there are no true switches seems posited on the assumption that unless there is absolute equality between the roles of dominant and submissive that no one can be a switch… but I would counter that in very few instances in life are things absolutely equal. Using your model of the scale, one can be 49% submissive and 51% dominant… with outside influences pushing those percentages in either direction… so that on average, one can and frequently does achieve a median 50% balance in each; think of it this way – just because I may have access to only one gender from which to choose partners doesn’t make me attracted to that gender alone. It just means I haven’t had the opportunity yet to choose partners from other genders; once my life circumstances change… and I do have those opportunities, my choice of my partner’s gender may change… or may not… but I am still the same person as before… still wired as I always was.

    In short, I believe you’re confusing a state of being with a course of action.

    1. Hello Forest and thank you for your comment. That is actually one of my favorite subjects to discuss since I know my opinion is really different from many if not radical. I do agree with you, that many are like you. What I do not understand is how can you say I submit to my submissive. If you submit to your submissive then what makes that person your sub and not something else? Just to make clear, I do not judge you or anyone whatsoever.
      My model is not based so much in mathematics (though it may be expressed in numbers nonetheless) but in psychology. According to my poor knowledge but also my own personal experience, it is inevitable that at some point one of the two sides will start to grow more. Will start to be more demanding and more commanding. There is no way a specific time limit to be defined by anyone but it is always a matter of time. My opinion is simple. As the one side will grow stronger, the person will start more and more to dedicate its life to that one therefore it will be the one to determine who he or she is more. Also the need to serve that side will grow to such level that the person if it was presented with a dilemma to choose one over the other for the rest of its life the choice would be a lot easier that could possibly imagine.
      That is the reason I say not many are real switch out there. Only a few live that balance as you successfully described and will stay exactly in that state for ever.
      Another belief of mine is that we are who we are and life circumstances are not really capable of changing that. The only thing they influence is if we are capable to express our nature and to what extend. I am a Dom, natural born Dominating personality that I need to lead, to be responsible for others and be the decision maker however circumstances do not allow me to express it always or do not allow me to express it to the extend I need to. A good example is the working environment or even a vanilla relationship. What ever it is though, it will never change the FACT that I am a Dominating person that even when I need to follow (submit) to the will of others either I feel discomfort or I try to find the way to convince they have to do things in the way I believe it is appropriate.
      So yes, the social environment may force us to express ourselves in a different way of who we are but will never ever change who we are deep in our heart. And if some people out there are really influenced so much by their circumstances then it will be the first time I will advise and ask from people to change that and try to follow my example. Not an easy thing to do, and I have to admit some times backfired on me but again, when I go to bed, my soul is happy that I followed my heart and my conscious in peace with the thought I did what I feel is right to be done.
      As of your example about choosing the gender you have access to I, and that is totally personal and again not judging anyone at all, would have never choose to be with on who is not my real choice. Better be alone than do what you described. And I will go a step forward from that if you want. I am straight and my only choice are women. I am alone and single for quite some time now, and that is by choice not because I didn’t have the opportunity. Why? Simply because I never had the chance for some time now to be with the type of woman I want to be. Some people say we need to compromise in life and understand we can’t have everything the way we like it. I DO NOT!! If we compromise at some point we will find out we live the life of someone who is not who we are. We will find we lie to those near us and our self. I better be a alone than compromise my will. And I am talking in any kind of relationship, personal and professional. I know it sounds strange but this is what I do, it is a rule I follow in my life and it is one of the things I am Proud of.
      As I tend to say, i am an observer and what I found out is that people are not living what they wish and desire to live. In a very simplistic way, the person x compromised to end up living the life the person y desired to have. And the same moment the y is living the life x dreamed of. Why is that? Because society is trying hard to convince us we need to compromise. No guys, what we want we can get it. Depending how high the goal is and from where we start to reach it, probably will take hard work, effort, patience and determination. We can make it if have these and if we fail, at least when we grow old and look back to our life, we will smile knowing that we did try, that we did what we thought is the best to be done, that we did our best to follow our heart and our desires. We have one life and is really sad to live it, living something that is not what we wish to have.

  14. I just came across this blog researching in to the Triskele. It’s a well put together article and very informative. I wouldn’t agree with all of the information on how the design was chosen or certain aspects of the design, but then again it is more about personal interpretation. Thank you again for writing it!

    1. Hello domino

      thank you for your comment and please feel free to give us your own understanding. I would be happy to see how people interpret the emblem and this blog is mostly for that exact reason, a place when everyone can speak freely their mind without fear of facing a judgmental “welcome”. As long as we keep it within SSC and Respectful, every comment, even negative ones will be approved and discussed.

  15. Thank you for your explanation of this symbol. I particularly liked your comment regarding not seeing the dark side of BDSM, as I have found only joy and light since entering the lifestyle about a year ago. I can only wish I had found enlightenment much earlier in my life.

    1. Thank you for your comment and contributing on my blog. Everything happen for a reason in our life and regarding enlightenment or the “light” in our life, how would we be able to appreciate it without first be introduced to the other side? No regrets and all that happen is our life we should embrace it and receive it as an experience that help us build our future on a better bases.

  16. I love this post. Very well written and clear, possibly the best breakdown I’ve ever read of the triskele. I find it interesting that you say you don’t believe in switches, though, as there are some who are wired only to top or bottom and won’t steer to the opposite role. Right? Those who are wired to enjoy both aspects definitely do have varied levels of relation to either role, so why can’t there be a classification for them? I’m merely curious.

    1. It is my strong belief that eventually one side will dominate over the other under one condition. They practice BDSM constantly and not occasionally. As human we develop (in any subject at all) the more we practice something in a constant and persistent way. Same goes for BDSM, eventually the one side will be proven to be stronger than the other.Also, keep in mind for me, BDSM is a lifestyle to be followed in every aspect of our life, not only in a sexual way.

    2. I agree with that wholly. It’s just that my understanding of a switch has always been that the individual has a strong attachment to being either dominant or submissive but at times, they crave the opposite and are deemed switches because of this. I feel like you’re saying that we’re wired to be one way and no other way. Though I’m not arguing your views at all! BDSM just has so many nuances, and there are so many kinks and people who practice them that I can’t see it without there being some participants who identify themselves in between as a switch.

      I apologize that I don’t know you very well and hope I’m not being offensive. I enjoy what I’ve seen of your blog and have a lot of respect for the lifestyle. I think that if more people viewed BDSM as a lifestyle, it would be understood a little better. I tend to be attracted to the emotional bonds and psychological experiences of BDSM and have been reading about it for a year now. And the idea of a switch is important to me because I write about a character who’s one. Gah.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    3. I enjoy a good argument and I have not God Syndrom ;). I never said that I make no mistakes, actually I do believe that the most important in a Master is the capacity to admit its own mistakes which eventually will help him improve. On the sexual side, I do believe that some people might be the what so called switch, as I also believe that only few are out there with only one side inside them. In a so called 24/7 though, my opinion is that eventually people will chose to stay in one of the two sides just because it feels better and more comfortable. That doesn’t mean that sexually might chose to get to a different role, but that will be only for as long as the scene lasts. I take no offence and I want to thank you for your contribution on the blog, after all, that is why it was created. To discuss freely and openly what we love, the BDSM lifestyle 🙂

    4. Whew! I’m glad you clarified because I couldn’t believe in a world that existed with no switches! Haha! Yes I do agree. And when I spoke of switches, I was doing so with scenes in mind and not so much 24/7. I do believe that in 24/7 situations there has to be focus in dynamics.

      I’m glad you’re not offended, I like an argument and enjoy speaking about the lifestyle with others. Also, it’s commendable that you acknowledge mistakes because everyone makes them. Thank you again for speaking with me.

  17. Thank you, Sir. I have been wondering what each part of our emblem stood for, and now I know! My Daddy will be very pleased that I found this!! 😀

  18. It would be a good idea to acknowledge…
    “The BDSM Emblem is copyright 1995 by Quagmyr@aol.com
    who maintains the copyright in order to protect the symbol. It is
    freely available for all educational and non-commercial use
    within the BDSM community without charge. The explanatory
    text is copyright 1995, 1997 by Quagmyr@aol.com and used
    here by permission.”

    1. Thanks for adding that! Great explanation of the elements of the symbol, but knowing that it’s actually copyrighted it also crucial and credit should always be given where due.

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