A History of the Birch
My own knowledge of the birch is sketchy, and I am sure there are web sites that have a thorough research for anyone sufficiently interested. With many thanks to Kazetnik, here follows a potted history of The Birch Rod:
The birch, a bundle of twigs cut from a tree, normally the birch tree. Dried out and with twigs and leaves removed, it has been long used as a means of corporal punishment and for stimulating the skin in or after a sauna. As an instrument of chastisement its first recorded use is in 1440: "He bete hur wyth a yerde of byrke". In the UK it was an available legal punishment until 1948, and is still retained as such by the Isle of Man, where the last judicial birching occurred in 1975, the same year as the European Court of Human Rights declared it a "cruel and unusual punishment". The last floggings of convicts for offences against prison discipline took place as recently as the 1960s. The 1948 Criminal Justice Act abolished birching for all crimes other than certain prison offences, where those 21 and over got 18 strokes of the cat-o'-nine-tails or birch, and those under 21 got 12 strokes.
The application of the birch to children in British schools has an equally long history. It appears in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (1603) and in 1536 the Biblical scholar John Tindale quips that "we say of a wanton child he must be annoynted with byrchin salve". Perhaps the most celebrated institution in which the birch was routinely used was Eton, where each part of the school had its own flogging block, a wooden step on which the victim knelt with his trousers down to receive his punishment on the naked buttocks. In that position he was attended by two 'holders down' whose duty it was to lift up his shirt tails and hold him in place throughout the birching. The punishments were for any number of minor offences and carried out in public. The birches used consisted of a three feet long handle and two feet of a thick bunch of birch twigs. School fees included half-a-guinea to cover the cost of birches, whether or not the boy were actually birched at all.
As for 18th and 19th century schoolgirls, they too were subjected to the birch at their high-class schools and at home by their governesses. In addition, many classified adverts appeared offering the services of experienced chastisers for parents who were too soft-hearted to birch their own female offspring. In 1869 a vociferous debate broke out in the press between those who regarded birching young females on their naked buttocks as indecent, and those who invoked the old adage of "spare the rod and spoil the child". But as recently as 1937 a schoolgirl in Dublin received fourteen strokes of the birch on the bare from a schoolmistress for possessing "indecent" books.
Many nineteenth-century accounts of schoolboy and sexual birchings (and often the two blur into one another) dwell with lascivious enjoyment upon flaying the skin off the buttocks of the victim and the rivers of blood that run down. (See in particular The Whippingham Papers, probably by the renowned British poet A C Swinburne.) This has basis in reality, as, for example, in the description of a birching in Nell in Bridewell, where the flogging continues until two birches have been broken on the girl's naked buttocks and the blood runs freely. Some "humorous" works exist in which the birchee (usually female) is flogged to death, while the birch is also depicted as the pinnacle of an induction into the delights of sadomasochism. (See The Yellow Room elsewhere on this site). It also seems to have been the implement of choice for those visiting brothels which specialised in offering stern chastisements to aristocratic and middle-class gentlemen, an impression strengthened by the inclusion of a birch rod above the bed in Hogarth's 18th-century engraving of the prostitute.
And the relative merits of the birch and the cane? "The vicarious cane is considered by birchers of experience to be an unsatisfactory substitute for the birch rod itself." (The Daily Chronicle, 1908)
A Personal Experiment
Acquiring the Materials
The obvious tactic was to take myself to the local woods, identify a Birch tree, and proceed to hack off the required quantity of suitable twigs. Snag one being that my tree identifying days are long past; snag two that other nature lovers may take offence at my vandalism; and snag three that the twigs need to be stripped and hung to dry for some considerable time.
There I stuck for some time, until a chance trip to the local garden-centre-cum-gift-shop. I suddenly realised that dried bunches of birch twigs stuck in a vase were trendy! And there they were - long (about 6 feet), straight, already stripped of leaves, dried, and neatly bundled. For 12 pounds (less than 20 US dollars), I acquired enough raw material to make at least 2 birches.
My immediate action was to cut off the topmost couple of feet of the thin ends, planning to divide them into two bunches ready for assembly. I bound the bunches using twine along the first foot to form a handle, leaving around 18 inches free to form the business end. The result was quite thick, perhaps a little too thick, but suitable for a first trial.
I then turned my attention to the surplus thick ends. Once unbound, this bundle turned out to contain many more thin tapering twigs, that could also be put to good use as birches. So I finally finished up with four quite thick birches. There remains a significant quantity of 3 foot long thicker twigs, ranging from 4 - 8 millimetres in diameter. These will be put to good use as experimental switches, either used individually or tied into small bundles of 3 or 5.
Strictly speaking, a birch should be soaked in brine for several hours before use. But we were keen to test one, and so we proceeded with a 'dry run'.
Experimental air strokes gave a feel for the implement, and produced quite an impressive "swish" as the free ends whipped through the air. Enough to make "Subikins'" eyes open wide anyway ~veg~.
Having read the stories of women being 'birched until their backs bled, and pieces of bark having to be individually removed from the cuts", I was very circumspect about applying an implement with such a fearsome reputation to bare flesh. However, experimental strokes across my hand produced nothing more than a mild sting, and so I felt confident enough to move on.
Subikins was stripped, and laid out face down over a pile of pillows (we wouldn't want her to feel uncomfortable, would we?). I enhanced her situation by binding her wrists tightly behind her back. The first tentative strokes produced no great outcry from herself, and I found that the air resistance to each stroke enabled me to swing the birch quite freely without having to be unduly concerned about causing significant damage.
After 3 or 4 strokes I paused for a close and careful inspection of the upturned rump (an onerous task, but someone has to do it, right?) Both cheeks were already exhibiting numerous thin red lines running across both buttocks. These red striations covered from the top of each buttock, right down over both crowns, and including the junctions of buttock and thigh. As I stroked my palm lightly over her bottom, there was no evidence of welting at all, and no additional yelping from Subikins either - quite the reverse in fact. I asked her for a colour code (our standard measure of stingousity) - GREEN, code for "this is easy - I can take/want much more".
"Right then, my girl, let's see how you feel about a thorough birching then!"
This first trial was always tempered with caution, and I was forced to make numerous close and detailed inspections of the target area. But I will leave it to herself to describe how it feels to be birched, in the erotic sense anyway.......
..... When his Domliness turned up at my door with what looked like half of a tree, yes, the eyes opened wide even then, accompanied by helpless laughter. Now what was I in for! We'd speculated on a number of occasions about birches, their acquisition and use, but this was an unexpected bouquet. Sometime later, after he had put his DIY skills to good use, there I am, face down, naked, rump in the air, wrists bound behind my back and waiting for the experiment to begin. That familiar and delightful sense of vulnerability mingled with a tingle in the flesh anticipating the sting.
The first strokes are mere tickles, strangely warming, the glow spreading in waves quite different from the scalding and biting sting of a cane or strap. I like this. More. I want more. I'm sure I'm wriggling my bottom at him by now. As always when it is pure sensual pleasure and not the challenge it can often be in some scenes. And anyway, he's slowly and lingeringly caressing me, renewing the warmth, enhancing the sensitivity. But he's being careful and I offer 'Green' to reassure and invite him to continue.
The next set of strokes come stronger and quicker. Heat builds into a diffuse sting. This is (a)rousing stimulation. I've lost all sense of being bound and all my thoughts are focussed on the delicious tingling rolling through me. Somewhere dimly in my brain are memories of reading about fearful, bloody birchings and the delighted idea that it was all nonsense. This is nothing to do with 'pain' as she is normally understood. Sensation. More and harder, please.
He checks again for damage, for him going too far. By now the signs of my pleasure are all too visible, not to mention tangible, for him to doubt that this is working for me. (He tells me later that my derriere is crisscrossed with thin red lines, that it looks thoroughly punished, but all I feel is delicious warmth.) And then the final volley is delivered.
Rapid, firm swishes in the air translate into wicked biting sting like a light cane spread broad, accumulating with each stroke that lands. The low ones that catch the tops of my thighs make me gasp. And the occasional wayward twig pays a fleeting visit to more tender flesh, eliciting a wild squeak and a jerk, and a deeper dive into submission. Now I'm tasting the real thrill of being birched. It's enough of a challenge to require me to submit (and once again I'm aware of being bound) but nothing other than pleasure of the kind I relish most of all.
Perhaps next time we'll go on longer and he'll deliver the strokes with something closer to the full sweep of an arm. But we're experimenting here and there's no hurry. Seems like that half tree is going to provide a lot of scope for new fun and games!
And With Practice?
The birch has found a place amongst the cane, strap, paddle, slipper and palm. Where a naughty schoolgirl may feel a cane or tawse, then a sound birching seems most appropriate for the lazy maid.
The original bunches of birch twigs have been first halved, and then quartered. It seems that the thicker the bundle, the less the sting. A thick bundle provides significant air resistance, and a broad spread of impact, while the thickness provides a cushioning springiness. The thinner bundles, on the other hand, are lighter, whippier, and more responsive to wield. We now have a selection of thicknesses of birch, each used depending on our relative needs and desires.
A Word of Caution
Do not attempt to birch your loved one without the aid of a working vacuum! Those little pieces of bark and snapped twig tips get everywhere. The surrounding area looks like a mini Autumn (fall), she will have little pieces wedged in all manner of intimate places, and if you make the mistake of using your bed as a whipping block you should expect to sleep amongst forestry remains.
Is it worth the effort? Yes. Oh yes, if only for variety. But the sensations provided by a birch rod are unlike any other, and many a person reluctant to experience the more severe instruments is likely to thoroughly enjoy a good birching.