and Is Not the BDSMblem?
The BDSMblem 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
BDSMblems! It is the details of the design
that make it the BDSMblem. Not the basic shape. Look
at these examples and see Why
it Matters, below.
All three of these graphics are the Real Thing.
Their details meet all the critical criteria of the
BDSM Emblem design:
1) The rims and spokes are of a color indicating
metal, in this case gold, iron and silver.
2) The rims and spokes are of uniform width with the
arms rotating clockwise.
3) The inner fields are black.
4) The holes in the fields are truly holes and not
|This is not!
This is a basic Celtic Triskele. It is many hundreds
of years old and originally represented the Three
Faces (or phases) of the Goddess in pre-Christian
Celtic culture. Since the coming of Christianity to
the Celtic lands, it's come to symbolize the
Trinity. Modern Pagans continue to use it as a
symbol of balance among many of life's 3-fold
|This is not!
This symbol, with dots instead of holes, was the
coat of arms of an ancient Okinawan family and has
since become the emblem of a form of Okinawan
martial arts. Reverse the direction of rotation to
get the coat of arms of a rival family.
|This is not!
With a red rim, arms, and dots, this triskele is the
emblem of a school of Buddhist Drumming.
|This is not!
To the best of my knowledge, this exact symbol
belongs to nobody at the moment. But there are many
oddly colored variants like this out there on BDSM
sites, all making one or more of the design mistakes
here. The arms rotate the wrong way. The rim and
arms are not metal-colored. The inner fields are not
black. It's a Triskele, but it is not the BDSMblem.
|This is not!
Again, I am unaware of this variation symbolizing
anything in particular. Many Triskeles similar to it
appear on BDSM Web sites — often with the rim and
arms tubular and the dots appearing as little globes
(a version I'm not a good enough artst to recreate).
A nice design, but the details do not identify it as
the BDSM Emblem.
|This is not!
This is another form of Celtic Triskele. It often
appears without the circle, as well. Some believe
this is the design Pauline Reage had in mind when
she described the ring worn in The Story of O,
so it does have legitimate claim to BDSM
signifiance. It does not, however, belong uniquely
to the BDSM world. Besides its basic Celtic
significance, this Triskele has become a symbol for
Breton Nationalism, a movement for political
independence of the French region of Brittany, which
has a Celtic background and culture.
|This is not!
This Triskele is the logo of the United States
Department of Transportation.
|This is not!
This is a Taoist symbol, known as a Taegeuk. There
are many variations used by a wide array of
different Taoist groups. The colors, use of dots and
meanings vary. The name comes from the Chinese words
"Tae" (joyfullness) and "Geuk" (eternity). The term
"Taegeuk" is also used to describe forms in Tae Kwon
Do, but that apparently has little or nothing to do
with the design — at least as far as I can tell.
Similar Triskeles are used in various Buddhist
traditions as well.
|This is not!
Here we have an old Italian Triskele. It was the
symbol of Trinacria, which is now Sicily. It came
back into use in 1808 when Murat became King of
Naples. A similar Triskele appears on the coats of
arms of the Isle of Man and of Cossa, Italy.
This was the first variant to turn up online,
developed by a fellow in England whose name I've
forgotten (if you know, please remind me so I can
give him due credit). From a design details point of
view, it is almost entirely wrong. Only the barest
remnant of the original symbolism remains. On the
other hand, there is no denying that it looks really
cool, so who can help but like it? Part of me wishes
I'd thought of this approach myself, but if I had, I
wouldn't have used it. It is too cool, and
the BDSMblem needed to be of a design subtle enough
not to call attention to itself when worn as
jewelry. This would not do the job. I have seen this
particular shaping, with the blade-like arms
rotating counterclockwise to a minimal rim, cited
from a work on "Masonic and Occult Symbols," but
have seen no reference to colors or dots. And while
this shape is clearly old, my reference source was
one I consider extremely suspect in terms of
ascribing history and meaning. So, since this
depiction appears to be unique and not treading on
any other symbolic toes, I personaly recognize it as
a legitimate alternate symbol for BDSM web sites,
although not actually a BDSMblem.
|^sparrow's SSC Variant
This variation was created by ^sparrow of subNATION
to emphasize the Safe Sane Consensual aspect of the
Emblem's meaning. There's logic, then, in her
changing the inner fields from black to the colors
of standard safewords. And if that didn't make the
meaning obvious, the words "Safe," "Sane," and
"Consensual" certainly drive the point home. Again,
I consider this variation unsuitable for public
wear, which is what the BDSMblem was designed to be
for. It is too likely to expose the meaning of what
was meant to be a covert symbol. But for BDSM web
site use, this certainly has an educational purpose
and is a worthwhile contribution to BDSM symbolism.
|Gay Rainbow Variant
Joey Blue I think his name is. The guy who created
this variant, that is. I'm pretty sure that's right,
but the file with his name in it was lost and, well,
I have a memory like a whatchamacallit. So if you
can correct me, please do. The meaning is clear
enough — BDSM, but specifically Gay. I can see this
as filling a very real need, so I consider it a
|Why It Matters
|Before I deal with
generalities, let me share a specific in
the form of a letter I received. The
emphasis is mine.
The symbol you
are using has recently come to my
attention. I have
visited your web site and noticed your
concern for anyone who may already
be "using" the symbol or any potential
copywrite infringements. The reason
this has come to my attention is that a
few people in my area have
complained to me about being approached
for BDSM while wearing
a very close variant of this symbol, which
we as followers of a Druidic
path call a triskele.
To us it
symbolizes the balance that must be
maintained between any set
of elements (mind, body, spirit; etc.).
Please bear in mind that this is not in
any way an admonishment or demand that you
stop using it, just a notifi-
cation that you are most definately NOT
alone in your use of this symbol
and its public display. I personally know
of close to a thousand people
worldwide who follow similar religious
paths that may be offended by your
use in this manner. Again, this is not any
type of demand or rebuttal, simply
for your information. Regretfully, though,
there are those in my circles who
would like to take action, and are
presently seeking advise from the American
Civil Liberties Union for infringement
upon religious freedoms and expression.
They liken it to neo-nazi organizations
using the crucifix in their logos. I
personally doubt that any legal action
will be taken (I don't feel they have a
case), and I am trying to dissuade anyone
from taking any action of any form
as I feel it would go against one of our
basic creeds of " an it harm none, do
as thou will".
Thank you for your time
and understanding in this matter.
Here is my reply:
understand and share your concerns.
Without going into great detail here,
the idea behind what you know as the BDSM
Emblem was initially proposed
and and promoted in a precise manner. In
brief, it was to be a symbol based
on the Triskele — which has antecedents in
Eastern as well as Celtic symbolism — with
(and pardon me for shouting here) VERY
SPECIFIC DETAILS. It was to be those
details which marked this one specific
Triskele-based design as the BDSM Emblem.
We took this approach to enable those who
wanted to find others of like
interests to identify themselves to each
other in a silent way, without outting
themselves to a potentially persecuting
public. Therefore, the symbol was
based on one that would otherwise go
unnoticed. There were also other
historic/cultural reasons for choosing the
Triskele, but that's not of importance
What happened was that people started
spreading the Emblem across the
Web without the background information
required for proper understanding.
Some people took to considering ANY
Triskele as a BDSM symbol which is,
flatly, wrong. A great portion of my
effort with The Emblem Project has been
trying to educate the BDSM community
otherwise, but it's proving to be an
uphill battle, especially as some other
jewelry manufacturers within the com-
munity, most the the best of intent, have
been producing what they call BDSM
jewelry featuring a wide variety of
Not only is it causing the trouble you
mentioned, but people are paying money
for jewelry and tattoos, thinking they are
wearing a symbol that means one
thing but which in reality symbolizes
anything from the 3 faces of the Goddess
to a form of Okinawan martial arts to a
school of Buddhist drumming.
I wish I had an easy answer, but if you
and your community are willing to aid
in clearing up the misunderstanding, I'd
sure be grateful. When approached by
somebody with a BDSM interest, the please
let them know that what you wear
is absolutely NOT the BDSM Emblem and that
they can find the details which
make for the real thing at the Emblem
Project web site.
|So there it is:
precisely the sort of misunderstanding we
wanted so badly to avoid. Certain BDSMers
look like total offensive jerks simply
because they didn't understand the symbol
they were using. And we all look bad because
of them. Nevermind that business about a
lawsuit -- it isn't going to happen because
there's absolutely no case there. Just look
at the fact that some people were
considering such a course as an illustration
of how angry and upset they must have been.
I, for one, can't blame them. How would you
like it if you were approached by somebody
who thought that an innocent logo on your
t-shirt was the international symbol for
people who want to have sex with (fill in
the blank with whatever disgusts you most).
Here's the bottom line. The BDSMblem (which,
yes, I was spelling out as "the BDSM Emblem"
back when this page was originally made) was
created to allow BDSMers fearing persecution
to identify themselves to each other
secretly. The key words are "identify" and
"secretly." To aid in secrecy, the
Emblem was created to look common enough not
to arouse too much interest. To aid in identification,
it was created with very specific and
The details matter. The meaning is in the
details. That bears repeating. The meaning
is in the details! An American Flag with
black and red stripes and green 6-pointed
stars on a yellow field is not an American
Flag. Change the Italian flag's green to
blue, and you have the flag of France.
If you approach somebody wearing the
BDSMblem, you want to be sure that what you
are seeing truly is the BDSMblem and not a
declaration of religious faith, cultural
heritage or political affiliation. When
you're wearing a BDSMblem, you want to be
sure that other BDSMers can recognize it for
what it is. You don't want them to ignore it
thinking that you're wearing a martial arts
logo. The only way to be sure is to have the