Using a collection of tiny tree branches (not necessarily from the Birch Tree) to administer corporal punishment, to inflict pain.
Used in BDSM for the application of punishment, or for the general infliction of pain, it is a collection of several thin branches (leafless), that are usually from the Hickory Tree or Birch Tree, that are then struck across the more fleshy parts of the subjects body.
When soaked in water, the branch will absorb the water, adding to the weight, thus supposedly being capable of inflicting a greater amount of pain.
Mainly developed as a form of Judicial Punishment for young offenders or for minor offences. Adopted in the Royal Navy in place of the Cat of Nine Tails for younger members, due to its less odious reputation. Most specifically in the case of Midshipmen, who were from the upper classes, and more used to this form of discipline from the private schools they attended. As such, it was also more acceptable than the more common 'flogging'.
Used until the mid 1900's in many UK / British Empire schools as a standard form of discipline for students. The Isle of Wight used this form of punishment till about 1974, and some countries still have it on their books though the age in which one can be 'birched' has risen to above 16.
Many variations were used throughout, and various devices were used in administering the punishment. Depending on the age of the Juvenile, and the severity of the punishment, the offender could be simply laid across a persons lap, to have the 'birching' administered.
In some instances, devices were used to facilitate the positioning of the offender. One such device, known as the 'flogging table' was a device where the offender had their hands placed through two holes, the legs would be tied, and a restraint placed around the waist.
This allowed them upper body freedom, and in most cases, when the rods were applied, the offender would thrash around trying to escape, though unable to.
It was believed to further enhance the 'punishment aspect' of the birching.
Unlike 'caning' this practice was always administered to the bare buttocks, adding to the humiliation factor, further re-enforcing the discipline aspect, or so it was believed.
In some schools, the offender would be held by another classmate, under the arms, while the rods were applied. Again part of the ritual involved the humiliation aspect of being punished, on a bare bottom, with other's witnessing the event.
As a form of 'judicial punishment' or 'discipline' this practice is mainly associated outside North America, where the strap or paddle is/was more commonly used for the same purpose.
History (Legend): It is thought that the Anne Joseph Theroigne de Mericourt actually went mad, due to her public birching during the French Revolution.
Depending on the number of rods used, a birching can be made to reflect different degrees of pain infliction. Soaking the rods in water can further increase the amount of pain inflicted.
Care needs to be taken, so as to not cause the skin to break.
Usually the 'submissive' will be awarded a number of blows, based on the infraction they incur in the BDSM Role Playing scenario. It will also determine the number, length, weight, of the 'rods' used in the application. The amount of force applied is also determined by the strength of the 'dominant' who is administrating the 'birching'.
In some instances, a great deal is made of not just the application or blows, but in positioning the 'submissive' to receive their 'punishment'. Mainly, this act is administered to the bare buttocks, though it has been noted to be applied to the back of legs, arms, and shoulders, but is not recommended due to the risk of serious injury.
Noteworthy: As use as punishment for Juveniles, the practice is generally no longer used, though in some countries, it is used for minor infractions by Adults, usually for adults already incarcerated in penal institutes.
While currently banned as a form of punishment, there is a growing movement to re-introduce a form of it in today's schools, to deal with an increasing unruliness among students.
Birch branches with leaves, are often used soaked in water, within Saunas, to help stimulate the flow of blood, but are done without force. Most commonly used/developed in countries like Scandinavia, Estonia, Latvia, and Russia. As the implement is kept in water, and the leaves are kept intact, it is considered soft, and does not inflict any form of actual pain.