Masochism in Religion, A Review of Santa Rosa

Blog / Books

September 6, 2018 — by Ros Aruna

Last updated on September 06, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Santa Rosa is the latest poetry book of Dorothea Rosa Herliany before she published her novel Isinga: Roman Papua. Rosa a writer got recognition in both works. She became the first person to win Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa in both categories prose and poetry in 2015.

Others than those two books, Rosa published a collection of poetry Nyanyian Gaduh (1987), Matahari yang Mengalir (1990), Kepompong Sunyi (1993), Nikah Ilalang (1995), Mimpi Gugur Daun Zaitun (1999), and Kill the Radio (Sebuah Radio, Kumatikan; bilingual edition, 2001). There are also two shorts stories anthology books Blencong (1995) and Karikartur dan Sepotong Cinta (1996).

Just like Kill the Radio, Santa Rosa is also bilingual, in Indonesian and English. In the 26 Indonesian and English poems, Rosa as a poet created distance by raising the character of Santa Rosa. There are two Rosa in this book, the poet and the saint. Santa is a women saint in the Catholic tradition.


Santa Rosa

Regarding who Santa Rosa is, Harry Aveling as the translator and editor gave a note at the end of the book about the character. Santa Rosa de Lima (1586-1671) was the first woman from the American continent to obtain a holy title, a saint by canonical confirmation from Catholic Church. According to Harry, this Peruvian-born woman lived with an extreme act of piety from childhood until she died at the age of 31.

Santa Rosa since the age of six cut hair; fasting regularly: wearing clothes of animal hair; piercing herself with sharp spikes; smear the body with acid to damage her beauty; flogging herself at certain times throughout the day and night; sleeping on a bed of broken tiles and sharp glass. At the age of five, she vows not to be married and holds that promise for the rest of her life. The lifestyle of celibacy, fasting, abstinence, meditation, and torturing herself that Santa Rosa lived was a practice that was quite common at that time. That was the way to imitate Jesus’ suffering and the form of “sacrifice” to atone for human sin.

There are two poems with Santa Rosa in the title.


Santa Rosa 1

for the husband of my past, i write no history.
the old book in the library of my heart
record a few sad stories of defeat.
a group of soldiers lined up like children.
returning home to snail-shell on coral reefs.
abandoning vague scraps of hope, among
broken sharks’ teeth.

for my lovers, i search for an anxious body
abandoned in a room filled with man
eager to set the world on fire. they offer
stacks o second-hand goods. wonderful
air conditioning machine. i enjoy the warmth
it is brief, silent. my thrist is endless.
disappointment makes me mad. i have stayed too long.

i want to climb up into the Himalayas and stay there.
watch my breath grow cold. Then explode
and destroy the world.

but i am tired of dreaming.
this house is narrow and covered with dirty.
if hope should ever arrive,
it would be a useless lump of time.

Ninomaru Shogun Palace, 2001


This poem is pessimistic, cursing the past husband with the story of a sad defeat. Although it still displays the form of a search on the lover’s body in the second verse but closes with disappointment makes me mad. i have stayed too long.


Santa Rosa 2

i am writing a  poem about love
the sun hides behind mist from th lake
a fairy walks along the curve of the rainbow
through the torn curtains of an old house
towards  you.

i counted the dusty of my years.
boredom grows old quickly.

pirates and man serching for treasure
attach your boat.
the disance sun hangs on a rope.
there are no  maps.
we make jellyfish eggs, and watch them burst open
hatching camel. the sea turns into a desert.
corals reefs bocome graes for kings
inside tall pyramids.
watching our anchient  journey,
full of misery and complaint.

my gigilo
suck my nipples in your restlessness
stab my vagina with  your careful plansof death.
i will weave you a necklace of pythons
and stingingscorpions. i will watch time freeze
and be happy. The deer screams
under the  leopard’s hunggry berath.
to exchust my the burning
of my tiny wound

Stabme again and again.

Haburg, 2002


There is still pessimism in this second poem: witnessing our frail and miserable old journey. And in this poem the element of masochism is very strong in the last two lines.


Masochism & Religion

In her time, Santa Rosa’s (the saint) practice was not understood more than an act of piety. After her death, her body and life became the subject of research until it was decided she had experienced many occult events. Even Rosa is believed to be the bride of Jesus at the end of her life.

Along with the development of psychology, the practice of Santa Rosa can be categorized as masochism. Definition of masochism in is 1) the derivation of sexual gratification from being subjected to physical pain or humiliation by oneself or another person — compare sadism, sadomasochism; and 2) pleasure in being abused or dominated: a taste for suffering. As a psychological term, in, masochism related to sexual act disorder which refers to recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors that are distressing or disabling and have the potential to cause harm to oneself or others.

Masochism aims for sexual satisfaction. It is rather difficult to associate such behavior with something of a religious nature. However, the practice of masochism was often chosen as a way of purification in those days. Jesus, who died as a result of being tortured, inspired many of his followers to do the same.

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Sigmund Freud understood masochism as a form of sadism against the self—and a graver aberration than simple sadism. Freud remarked that the tendency to inflict and receive pain during intercourse is ‘the most common and important of all perversions’. He paid scant attention to sadomasochism in women, either because sadism was thought to occur mainly in men, or because masochism was thought to be the normal and natural inclination of women. Sadism and masochism are seen as the basis for the theory of two instincts. Both show the combined workings of sexual instincts and destructive instincts.

Destructive in the choices made by Santa Rosa is self-denial, destroying herself as a form of the last offering to atone for human sin. In the following poem, it seems clear that the chosen masochism is the path to eternity.


Mary’s Wedding

There is enough of my body left for hundred pilgrims.
wild animals ran against all the point of the compass.
insect buzz and vanish into her navel.
plants die and are burned. there is no redemption.

jesus crucified me on Golgotha long ago
and buried my heart in the land of canaan.
my desire turned to ash in sodom and gomorrah.
my love was trampled by thousands of travelers
across the gobi desert.

holy mary, hold this boiling body.
lick it, bite it. I am a hungry wanderer.
traverse it until it is destroyed. let me smear
my body with wine and blood for my true sins.
then, let me kiss your virgin cunt.
One swift sigh.

but, don’t let me grow old
don’t let me be extinguished!

holy mary, pure mother of god.
bury my body and my lack of awareness..
make my poetry steal. eternal.

Bonn, 2002


However, not all of Rosa’s (the poet) poetry, uses Catholic narratives. There are also other narratives with the same pessimistic tone in the conversation about the meaning of holiness. For example in the following Shinta’s Elegy poem which departs from the Ramayana story of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.


Sita’s Elegy

i am Sita, the one who refused
to burn herself in the fire
as proof to Rama, her cowardly husband,
of her innocence.
Afterwards i washed my body with black blood
So that my passion would shine,
grow in a field of vile ascent.

i hunted Rawana,
and told him to fuck me
high in the open sky.
i let him fly there, so that the cowardly hands
of a defeated man could not reach me.

who said love is white? grey, perhaps,
or as black as my life.
hear my gentle moans
destroying everything holy and immortal.

i want to live, not in the fire —
that home for sinners,
but in useless, shameful silence.
so that my history will be separate
from the lives of week men, liars, Rama …

Prambanan, 2002


I first time read this poem a dozen years ago. Until now the words in “Shinta’s Elegy” kept ringing in my head. This poem is so strong because it provides an alternative understanding of the relationship between Shinta, Rama, and Rahwana. What if it turns out Rama is a coward and a liar? Is it wrong that Shinta who failed to burn herself, did not care about purity, and desired love in the most despicable climbing fields?

In this poem Shinta is empowered, her humanity had deep emotions and disappointments. In this poem, women can rediscover themselves, be re-humanized. We all can do that by leaving the high a pedestal and refuse to be sanctified.


* * *

Ros Aruna. Editor at IDWRITERS. She was born in Jakarta, but grows up and lives in the outskirts of the metropolitan city. Maybe because of that she writes poems about marginalized people. She also writes many issues about women. Perhaps because her name means ‘rose’ that is often associated with rape victims: “sebut saja mawar”. Now she voices her poetry through social media. Maybe she can be found on Instagram @rosaruna and can also be contacted via email at Maybe, just maybe.

Read the original in Indonesian, Masokhisme dalam Religi: Ulasan Buku Santa Rosa Karya Dorothea Rosa Herliany, previously published in her personal blog on April 18, 2018.





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