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Self-flagellation is the act of hitting oneself with a whip as part of a religious ritual.
The Flagellation refers in a Christian context to the Flagellation of Christ, an episode in the Passion of Christ prior to Jesus' crucifixion. The practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes was utilized by some Christians throughout most of Christian history, especially in Catholic monasteries and convents. In addition, Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran Church, regularly practiced self-flagellation as a means of mortification of the flesh. Likewise, the Congregationalist writer Sarah Osborn also practiced self-flagellation in order "to remind her of her continued sin, depravity, and vileness in the eyes of God". It became "quite common" for members of the Tractarian movement within the Anglican Communion to practice self-flagellation using a discipline.
In the 13th century, a group of Roman Catholics, known as the Flagellants, took this practice to its extreme ends. The Flagellants were later condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as a cult in the 14th century because the established church had no other control over the practice than excommunication.
Shia communities worldwide march in massive parades every year on the Day of Ashura to commemorate the Battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, while hitting themselves on the chest. Though it is uncommon, some Shia communities hit themselves on the back with chains and sharp objects such as knives. This happens in many countries around the world including India, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, United States and Australia. In Iran use of knives and sharp blades for flagellation is strictly forbidden but chains are used.
- Wall, James T. The Boundless Frontier: America from Christopher Columbus to Abraham Lincoln. University Press of America. p. 103.
Though he did not go to the ends that had Luther— including even self-flagellation— the methods of ritualistic observance, self-denial, and good works did not satisfy.
- Rubin, Julius H. (1994). Religious Melancholy and Protestant Experience in America. Oxford University Press. p. 115. ISBN 9780195083019.
In the many letters to her correspondents, Fish, Anthony, Hopkins, and Noyes, Osborn examined the state of her soul, sought spiritual guidance in the midst of her perplexities, and created a written forum for her continued self-examination. She cultivated an intense and abiding spirit of evangelical humiliation--self-flagellation and self-torture to remind her of her continued sin, depravity, and vileness in the eyes of God.
- Yates, Nigel (1999). Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830-1910. Oxford University Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780198269892.
Self-flagellation with a small scourge, known as a discipline, became quite common in Tractarian circles and was practised by Gladstone among others.
- "Video of self-flagellation with knives and chains at mosque in Atlanta, Georgia, USA". 2014.