"Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." - Rumi

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Slaves, Service, and Words of Power

by Raven Kaldera

A friend recently directed me to the writing of a mutual acquaintance, a Vanir-focused Heathen (I believe; feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) who was musing over the issue of god-slavery- and, more interestingly, over the issue of spirit-workers who do not identify as god-slaves feeling threatened by those who do. While he thoughtfully acknowledged the reality of god-slavery in some people’s lives, he pointed out that it was the only named model of human/divine relationship (besides “god-spouse”) for the fledgling Pagan spirit-worker dynamic. In the Northern Tradition, which he practices, there is the word “godatheow”, coined by Galina Krasskova and indicating a god-slave, someone who is owned by a deity and has little or no agency in their lives because of this. He decided that there needed to be an intermediate term denoting a servant of the Gods, one with more agency and liberty than a slave. He came up with the word “godathegn”, referencing the term “thegn”, or “thain”, the noble servant of a lord or lady of a higher status than them. It would reference someone who had a strong (perhaps oathbound) bond with their deity, but had full agency except in some limited areas, and could leave if worst came to worst.

I fully approve of this. It gets the Raven Kaldera Stamp of Approval (something which may be the opposite of good publicity, but hey). I especially approve of people eschewing the all-too-common reaction of “Hey, this label doesn’t fit me, and that makes me feel bad! Quick, try to discredit it!” and instead reaching for, “This label doesn’t fit me. There needs to be another word in the lexicon, for comparison, which does. Here, I’ll find one!” As far as I’m concerned, the more language we have for how our Gods treat us, and how we form those bonds, and what we can expect, the better.

I was the first person to write about god-slavery in a book, and I did that because of all the positions on that continuum, “godatheow” is the scariest, the most difficult, the one that people in that position are least likely to be able to find resources to understand. A godatheow who fights out of lack of understanding is more likely to end up dead, unlike a godathegn (who will probably only have their maegen trashed). Now that I’ve paved a way for the most at-risk group, I welcome folks who will discuss less risky points on that continuum.

The irony in the current argument over whether god-slavery exists (or should exist, something that brings a wry laugh to those of us who are in that position) is that there is a similar argument raging in the BDSM demographic as we speak, over the word “slave” and its attendant meanings. That’s why this article is in Blood For The Divine and not God’s Mouths. Not all ordeal workers – and certainly not all or even most spirit-workers – come out of or have any connection with any BDSM community. But I do, and that gives me the right to observe and make interesting sociological comparisons.

For those who are not aware of the background: The majority of people in the BDSM demographic do not practice any kind of full-time consenting dominance and submission (the D and S in the acronym). They like to have kinky sex, and do SM. Of the percentage that do practice D/s (that’s what the acronym looks like when it stands on its own), most consider it “play”. Of the percentage of that group who take it seriously, most are part-time. Of the percentage of *that* group who do it 24/7, most of the “s-types” are voluntary submissives who have strong negotiated limits and could (and would) leave if those limits were violated. A much smaller percentage have voluntarily given up their limits to the care of their dominant, and trust them to make all the decisions and set all the limits for them – but could rescind those limits and leave if they chose. This is acronymed by some as TPE – Total Power Exchange. An even smaller percentage practice what is referred to (by them) as IE, or Internal Enslavement. This is a practice where the submissive voluntarily agrees to enter into specific conditioning that changes them radically, and renders them unable to disobey or leave. This practice is, to say the least, extremely controversial even among D/s practitioners, much less the entire BDSM demographic.

Now none of these is the same as nonconsensual slavery, of the type still practiced in many parts of the world, primarily economic in scope. Everyone on every part of the above continuum willingly signed up for their deal, and it came with a great deal of thought and negotiation (or should have, anyway). That’s a different experience from someone born into slavery in Yemen. Even the IE slave agreed to their situation and actively aided it. This is why some people object to using the word “slave” at all in BDSM practice, saying that using this term makes light of those oppressed individuals. However, that’s a small minority and mostly ignored. So who does claim the word “slave” over there?

There’s certainly a segment of the D/s population who claim that their relationship dynamic has moved from D/s to M/s – Master/Mistress and slave. Generally, many of the last three points mentioned on my continuum have a lot of folk who claim that D/s means “people who aren’t as extreme as us”, but there is no quorum and a great deal of infighting among them. The most controversial are the IE practitioners, some of whom claim that their s-types are the “real” slaves, because they can’t leave or disobey, and everyone south of that “only” has a D/s relationship. At least one forum (run by the individual who invented the IE term) asked that people on that forum respect these definitional lines, which of course enraged many newcomers. Some people want the right to use the word “slave” for a one-hour play session where no one is really submitting to anyone in any meaningful way. Others don’t like the idea that their deeply-valued voluntary submission isn’t worthy of the word “slave”.

This has culminated in a variety of very familiar attitudes towards IE practitioners. Some claim that it doesn’t exist and those people are just deluding themselves. Others claim that if it does exist, it is abusive and wrong and no one ought to do it. Some claim that they have the right to call themselves slaves no matter what their dynamic is, because they ought to be allowed to self-identify and not be challenged about it. Some accuse the IE people of constantly telling other people that their dynamic isn’t real enough or good enough, or that it’s the One True Way to do M/s, when there is little to no evidence of this (but people are hearing it even if it isn’t being said, somehow). There are even those who argue for the right to the title when they aren’t actually submissive to anyone (but would be, theoretically, if they could just find the right person). The same arguments are leveled at all full-time submissives by SM people who can’t imagine such a thing working, and so on up the line.

Many of these problems will sound heartbreakingly familiar to people in the Pagan spirit-work demographic, and I suppose that they prove that humans will be humans. Humans will also feel insecure in comparison to people who are doing something they might like to do but cannot for some reason, and they will read attitudes into those people that might not be there, and nothing that the target humans can say will be heard through the fear. One full-time “slave” pleaded that they weren’t saying that their way was the best any more than being a monk or nun was the only real way to be Catholic. Another IE slave wrote this (posted with permission):

"I have a fairly strict definition of what an owned slave is, and I find it useful to have space with people who share that definition to discuss practical and psychological aspects of ownership. People in non-ownership based D/s relationships have different struggles and issues. There is an area of overlap, and I can usefully discuss life in service with someone whether they are owned or not, but there are things that just don't translate.

See, I always considered voluntary honor-bound service to be more prestigious that "slavery", and I resisted the label of slave for quite some time. I felt the implication that I might have to be held by another’s will to be an insult to my loyalty and commitment. Then I became a slave, and here I am. How I got here is a long story, but suffice it to say that I know it’s the right place for me.

I'm not sure if I still consider voluntary ongoing submission to be more prestigious. It is what it is. I think one can achieve a higher ideal of pure service through active submission, because few masters really give as much of a damn about pure service in and of itself. They are generally more practical than that. Being a slave is easier, in a way. A submissive needs to be a stronger, more dedicated person to achieve excellence in their role. A slave need only be malleable.

I don't know if this will make any sense, but I'll try. To me it is like the difference between being a soldier and a monk, perhaps. A soldier will be pushed through his reluctance and wavering, by force if needed. A lesser man can become a fine soldier. It is easier to be a bad monk, so you have to be a better man to be a good monk. Some monastic orders are stricter than others and some will push you harder than others, but no one is going to force you to do anything at gunpoint. You need to maintain your own dedication.

Is one of them better than the other? No. They are just different. But if the soldier and the monk talk about their struggles with dedication and loyalty, they are going to come to some misunderstandings and confusion if one of them insists he is just the same as the other."

How does all this compare with Gods? Obviously, the continuum of human/divine relationship is as varied as the continuum of human/human power exchange relationships, and not entirely similar. Gods can get away with things that mortals can’t practically do. The godatheow area of the continuum does include nonconsensual grabbing up of people, as many shamans will tell you, and Gods cannot be held to human rules in many ways. And submitting to a mortal is just not even remotely on the scale of submitting to a deity in terms of their ability to know you inside and out. A mortal dominant can work towards transparency with their submissive and try their best to learn the inside of their head, but it just isn’t going to be as direct and total as communion with one’s god.

But there are still similarities. A good human master (of either gender) with more than one submissive will gear each relationship to the person involved. They won’t try for cookie-cutter dynamics for each one, and they will understand that what motivates one won’t work for another. If they are polyamorous, they might have subs in various areas of the continuum. I’ve personally got an IE-style slave, a part-time voluntary submissive who actually belongs to someone else, and some distant, heavily boundaried, nonsexual service relationships. Similarly, what a deity asks of one worshiper will be different from what they want of another. Part of that is what they have the cosmic right to take (which will vary person to person), part is what they know is the best way to get someone to respond (ditto), and part will be about the aspect of Deity that the human wishes to serve. (See my last piece about that issue. Gods can also pull the kind of “Jedi Mind Tricks” on people that skilled IE dominants sometimes manage to pull off, smoothly and subtly easing the submissive into a different opinion or different way of being. The difference is that gods are so much better at it.

It’s been ironic to watch these arguments in two separate and widely disparate demographics both happening simultaneously. (There’s got to be something astrological going on here!) In both cases, there have been misunderstandings, and eventual clarity, a process that is ongoing as knowledge spreads. The BDSM demographic is a little ahead in the information-and-understanding dance, but then again they are many times larger (and have more organized events). Now the challenge ahead of us is to come up with appropriate language and labels to describe that continuum that isn’t Northern Tradition, for the sake of all the folks in service to gods of other pantheons, or gods who have no useful cultural context. I have faith in us all. We can find words to create understanding, words that slice clean and clear through people’s insecurities, or at least grow on them after a few years until they find themselves using those terms first grudgingly, then naturally. We’ll do it … because we have to.

Words of power help people to feel that their own personal experience is a shared one, at least by a few other people, rather than dismissed. There’s no reason to dismiss anyone else’s experience except out of fear. Instead, they should be encouraged to talk about theirs, because those who feel that they have adequate space to describe their experience and have it met with interest and respect usually don’t feel a need to talk about that of others. They should be encouraged to talk about it, and name it. It’s not possible for me to speak from the experience of a godathegn, and therefore I shouldn’t try to do it. Let others describe that dynamic lovingly and with a pure show of their devotion, just as I’d encourage a part-time voluntary submissive in the BDSM community to do the same. If it’s what you have, whatever it is, try to find pride in it. That pride can block out the unspoken words that people remember, later, as having been spoken aloud. It can also remind us that the Gods don’t do things for no reason, and that service cleanly and lovingly done is always sacred, no matter who it’s done for, or under what conditions.

Sacred Pain - A Book Review

by Galina Krasskova

First published in 2001, Ariel Glucklich’s book Sacred Pain seeks to explore the elusive and universal nature of pain and its use, across cultures, as a religious tool. Specifically, Glucklich focuses on one theme: “the effect of ritual pain on consciousness and identity” (Glucklich: 8). By delving into the twin fields of psychology and neurology, Glucklich examines the idea that pain, utilized effectively, has the potential to transform suffering into a positive religious experience. Drawing heavily on the work of William James, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, and a broad platform of other theorists, he challenges the medical concept of pain as pathology and instead proposes a multi-faceted model that includes juridical, medical, magical, and psycho-tropic filters through which pain can be effectively and productively processed.

The author is clearly intrigued by the problem of pain and this creates a book that is, paradoxically, at once both insightful and limited in its approach. His emphasis is primarily on pain as an embodied experience, one uniting physical and emotional, cultural and social modes of affect. Glucklich consistently returns to the inherently physical nature of pain, continually redefining his questions to ferret out the effect of consciously applied pain on the self, personal identity, and religious life.

He begins his analysis by breaking the current theories of pain into four broad categories: theological (or normative), critical, descriptive and reductive. (Glucklich: 31), which he then chooses to dissect, pointing out the strengths and faults of each. By focusing on pain’s effects, its neurology and psychology, he attempts to avoid reductive criticism that he believes while the most thorough of the four categories, is ultimately ineffective in unpacking the “wealth of pain types being reduced” (Glucklich: 32).

It is here that Glucklich offers a refreshing criticism of Elaine Scarry’s earlier work, The Body in Pain, in which she states that pain is beyond the articulation of language, that it is only the very instruments that cause pain, which give pain its shape and embodied meaning. He points out that her work focused almost exclusively on victims of torture, which is a utilization of pain that is far removed from the work of, as Glucklich notes, the ascetic or mystic. While Glucklich does discuss the Inquisition and its use of torture, he does so (excessively to this author’s mind) specifically to illustrate the relationship between pain and political power. In fact, Glucklich takes the opposite position from Scarry, arguing that pain can have immense psychological, emotional and above all, spiritual meaning for those who consciously inflict it upon themselves as a spiritual discipline.

The primary disciplinary criticism that shapes this book is that of psychoanalytic theory. Freud figures prominently in his analysis, though he does not agree with what he describes as Freud’s view of pain as “monolithic and intrinsically aversive or punitive” (Glucklich: 87). Instead, he often uses Freudian theory as a theoretical springboard into his own examination of pain through the lens of biochemistry. In fact, Glucklich’s primary window into the nature of pain is through the field of psychoanalysis, behavioral studies, and pure biological science.

His is a phenomenological study of pain and the symbols, metaphors and ritual surrounding its application. He painstakingly examines the contributions of Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, Heinz Kohut, to name but a few of the psychological theorists whose work forms the crux of his arguments. His evaluative discourse spans the gamut of cases, from the medieval mystic engaging in body-punishing ascetic techniques to the teen age girl, a product of modernity, who cuts herself with razors to process her inner turmoil. Glucklich utilizes modern neurology and biochemistry to understand how pain changes the body, and what effect these changes might have on the mind, emotions, and personality – the psychological matrix—of the person suffering.

Essentially, he posits that when a person is being physically hurt in a sustained way, the first thing that happens is raw pain, and usually a good deal of it. It takes some time for that to change. Which chemicals eventually engage, and how much of these chemicals the body produces, varies depending on each individual’s biochemistry and, surprisingly, the attention they focus on their hurt as well as the purpose they ascribe to it.

Ongoing, noticeable pain can affect one’s concentration and one’s attention to such a degree that it causes the body to release painkillers that will work to mitigate the pain. The major factor in this physiological process is the release of opiate-like endorphins, but this is by no means the only factor. Lesser chemicals calm, soothe, and create a certain amount of mild hallucinations. At this point, the subject might still technically be in pain, but they simply may not care nearly as much. Glucklich also painstakingly discusses the various spiritual meanings that those in pain often ascribe to their condition, even or perhaps most especially, when the pain is beyond their control (for instance, he points to Therese of Lisieux finding meaning her physical frailness and illness by sacrificing that pain in imitatio of her deity).

Unfortunately, while the author acknowledges that pain can be an important spiritual tool, his extensive focus on the neurological effects of pain to the exclusion of the particularities of its actual practice in the end, leaves the reader with a theory of pain that is, in its own way, as equally reductive as the theories Glucklich wishes to challenge. He never really moves beyond the physicality of pain and its biochemistry to delve into the viscera of its modern day usage as a sacred tool. While he does quote extensive accounts of pain in its conscious application, many of these accounts are second hand, or drawn from saints’ hagiographies, a point that I shall return to below. The one exception to this is the Native American Sun Dance, which is explored at some length with at least one modern practitioner’s experience as a Sun-dancer being quoted, but Glucklich doesn’t really move beyond the minutiae of the embodiment of pain, i. e. the practices that evoke it and the gestures it evokes, into its spiritual meaning.

He spends an excessive amount of time wrestling with the idea that pain can be “good” when the overall thesis of his book would be better served by a concerted study of the positive results of its use. While he does delve briefly into the ‘good’ pain that an athlete might experience or the way in which a soldier might process pain on the battlefield, his preoccupation with the biochemistry of pain leaves the reader lacking a personal voice and insight into its use (Glucklich: 88). While he does consciously recognize that pain can be used as a valuable spiritual tool, he dances around the psychological reality of pain as a transformative tool, remaining caught up in the inherent difficult that, essentially, pain hurts while at the same time, trying to convince his readers that despite this, it can be useful (Glucklich: 43).

Additionally, despite Glucklich’s criticism of Freudian theory, his overall argument is somewhat weakened by his subtle yet consistent conflating of the use of pain as a spiritual tool with psychological masochism. While he doesn’t pathologize masochism, this categorization colors his approach to the utilization of pain in a sacred context, perhaps contributing to some of the issues noted above.

I believe that the arguments rendered in Sacred Pain could have been immeasurably strengthened by the addition of interviews and first person accounts gleaned from modern practitioners of pain based spirituality. There is a growing sub-culture in both the occult community and, more importantly for the purpose of this review, various Neo-Paganisms in which pain has regained its position as a tool of the sacred. Termed ‘ordeal work’ by those who utilize pain and its ritual application in this manner, certain (albeit fringe) groups within Neo-Pagan and, to some extent, Reconstructionist Pagan religions are consciously adapting techniques as divergent as fasting, flogging, ritual cutting, branding, scarification, hook suspensions, and painful and often violent ordeals as part of their spiritual practices with the often stated goal of making themselves more receptive to their Gods. Published through Asphodel Press, the year 2005 even saw the first publication of a book of collected essays on Paganism and ordeal work titled Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path.

While still not commonly accepted by the majority of Pagans, this sub-culture is growing and in doing so, impacting the evolution of this body of religions as a whole. Similar practices exist in other living traditions too, such as Hinduism where we have pain based offering rituals like Kavadi. Glucklich mentions this ritual, but doesn’t seek out actual practitioners; in fact, Sacred Pain focuses almost exclusively on Western religious traditions. Furthermore, the use of pain in mainstream religions like Christianity, particularly Catholicism has never ceased. In places like Spain and Latin America, one might even say it is flourishing as evidenced by practices such as crawling to religious shrines over long distances on one’s knees, or re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion complete with nails, or the processions of flagellants that can be seen at certain sacred feast days in Spain. Glucklich need not have turned to the Neo-Pagan community. His work remains solely in the realm of the theoretical when it could have been strengthened by incorporating material that would have added an equally extensive grounding in the practical. This, to my mind, is the primary weakness of Sacred Pain: it reads as though the use of pain in the context of spirituality is a thing of the past, when in reality, it has in no way been lost, even if the overall context has been altered by modernity.

Where Glucklich truly shines is in his evaluation of the effect the rise of the medical profession and the discovery of anesthetics had on Western culture’s approach to pain. He specifically notes that the pain is strictly a problem of modernity:

"With the invention of anesthetics pain became strictly a medical problem and a matter that pertains to the body rather than the entire person. The individual in pain evolved into a patient…this replaced the pre-modern person in pain, who was first and foremost a member of a true community, and whose pain meant something far more significant than tissue damage (Glucklich: 177)."

While acknowledging the achievements of nineteenth century medicine in putting an end to what he terms the ‘gruesome and frightful aspects of pre-modern healing,’ Glucklich at the same time credits the rise of both the medical profession as a whole and its use of anesthetics in general with reducing pain from a spiritual discipline to pathology, thus placing the conscious embodiment of pain firmly within its historical context (ibid).

This chapter offers a fascinating study of the medical, ethical, and at times theological arguments that followed the introduction of anesthetics into general use. This wide distribution of anesthetics allowed the average person a conscious choice in whether or not to suffer pain during medical procedures and illness. A psychology of pain quickly followed that categorized anyone choosing to remain in pain rather than avail themselves of the new ‘miracle’ drugs, as abnormal. It was a small leap from abnormal to mentally ill (Glucklich: 195).

By mid-century, as Glucklich notes, there was a deep divide between illness and religion in which “pain had lost its religious connotations” (Glucklich: 196). This coincided with the rise of the medical hysteric and scientific positivism. Essentially as the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment social changes altered the status of religion, it also altered the status of pain. The result has been that Western society as a whole, according to Glucklich, has lost its “capacity to understand why and how pain would be valuable for mystics, members of religious communities, and perhaps humanity as a whole” (Glucklich: 201).

Glucklich offers a theoretical validation of pain that seeks to explain, if not restore, pain to its place as a useful psychological, emotional and above all spiritual tool. His analysis of pain through the tools of psychoanalytic theory, history, and biochemistry is relatively thorough and very thought provoking. While his book fails to take into account the use of pain in contemporary living religious traditions, it does provide a fascinating look at the ways in which pain renders a person vulnerable, has the potential to affect them on a long-term scale emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as well as the ways in which it has been used throughout the history of religious practice as a tool of transformation.


Glucklich, Ariel, (2001). Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul. NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Kaldera, Raven, (2005). Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and Ordeal Work. MA: Asphodel Press.

Serving Odin-the Sixth Ordeal: Jotunheim

by G. Krasskova

This account is going to be short and sweet, partly to protect a colleague’s privacy and partly because of all the ordeals I underwent as part of this cycle, it was Jotunheim that came the closest to breaking me. And you know what? No one laid a finger on me. I met the Mother of Monsters and She was kind. Her kindness is a terrible thing. I didn’t write about this ordeal at the time. I couldn’t. I was too raw.

This ordeal was all about pride and humility and owning my own heart. It was about giri, that terrible moment when the needs of duty and the desires of the heart conflict. Duty wins every time for people like us, but oh, it hurts. It was about knowing oneself; it was about personal integrity. Angurboda told me I had too much pride, then She set about breaking it down. I am grateful to Her. She was fair to me, this warrior who had been thrown before Her feet. I am grateful to have been given the blessing of humility and to have been given a glimpse into my own heart. She helped me more than I realized at the time.

Jotunheim was a terrible ordeal for all that Angurboda was kind. It threw me into a deep depression for many weeks afterwards. (I actually went on a taboo-breaking bender for a solid ten days after this ordeal, and it’s the only time in my life I sat down and decided, quite clear-headedly, to get drunk, which I then did.) Essentially, to die, I had to face my greatest fear: love and attraction and the vulnerability these things bring. To die, I had to understand the sacrifice of the heart; there had to be the breaking of my brittle pride. My heart had to be opened to let the Gods in.

Where to even begin…In August Odin made me fall in love with a man, made me hunger for him with a force I could neither ignore nor deny. This man and I were not only colleagues but very good friends, so I did what it was in my warrior nature to do: I concealed and said nothing, hoping only against hope that these things would fade. My colleague W. saw my need in a reading and told me, after the initial shock wore off, that I needed to speak to the man, whom I’ll call X. I had my Jotunheim ordeal coming up in November, and I could not walk cleanly into an ordeal with something like that sitting unresolved between me and X, who was to help with the ordeal. I am a very private person, most especially about my heart. My heart is fragile, more so than I care to admit. It took me another month to sit down with X, and I was physically sick when I had to speak.

I told X and he was horrified: not at my feelings as I’d expected. No, my feelings flattered him. He was horrified because, as he told me later, the moment I started speaking he knew to the bottom of his own heart that Angurboda was going to use it against me in the upcoming ordeal. Because of that, He indicated that we had to wait until after my ordeal to discuss this further, and after he’d been able to do divination before taking any action. (God-owned people can’t just get together. It’s always better to check with our Owners first. The whole idea that “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” really doesn’t work with us). I learned later that he immediately went to his Owner asking if we could get together. She told him gently that “he couldn’t afford my bride-price.” He also asked Angurboda, my next divine ordeal master, and She flat out said “No.” No negotiation. No argument. Just: no. She and Odin are often at odds. I belonged to Odin. I was Odin’s valkyrie. Odin has a powerful line into me and can always look through my eyes if He wishes. What better time to strike at one dear to Angurboda than in the intimacy of sex? We both knew that if Odin asked it of me, I’d do that without hesitation. It is the way of a valkyrie. So, She flat out forbade it. Still, I wasn’t permitted to know that until the day of my ordeal.

In November my ordeal came and I met Angurboda, who possessed a human horse in order to speak to me. She came into her vessel with the sound of breaking glass – the large vase of thistles we had placed on her altar was abruptly swept away and smashed to pieces by a sudden wind. It echoed up the path upon which I was walking, my stomach lurched, and I knew, I knew She was there. I walked down to meet Her, offerings of whiskey and weapons in my hands. She had ordered X to buy a sword for me, a replica of Eowyn’s sword from that Tolkien book. She said the symbolism of that particular weapon was fitting. I, not being a Tolkien fan, didn’t realize how fitting until well after the ordeal (when a friend who is obsessed with Tolkien explained Eowyn’s tale).

She had me kneel before Her (actually, that’s what my body did. It’s not like I had much of a choice with Her presence being what it is). She took the alcohol that was offered (Jack Daniels) and drank that. (This always amazes me with possession. The horse being possessed always had a bad reaction to alcohol, yet the Goddess could drink with impunity. I have seen such things multiple times and it never ceases to amaze me.)
She said that we were going to speak about the three deepest pains of my heart.

First, She began speaking about my adopted mother’s poor health and impending death, forcing me to cry, forcing me to acknowledge how that was tearing me up inside. I’d been compartmentalizing it like my warrior training had taught, pushing away the pain, focusing on necessary action. She made me acknowledge the bond I have with my adopted mom and how her death would affect me. She said that I needed to be prepared because were I to lose myself to grief, I would be desecrating all the gifts my adopted mom had given me.

Then she talked about my desire for a community, a tribe. She said I had a tribe in the love my adopted mother had for me; and that I had a tribe with those colleagues and friends who had accepted me in this work. I would never have a tribe such as I sought to replicate through Theodism. I walk the Wanderer’s path. I will not ever fully belong anywhere. Strangely, shortly before this ordeal, this one issue, which had long eaten away at me, ceased to be an issue. I’m not sure why but something changed in me and I realized that I am not meant to have such a tribal binding in this lifetime. So that was well on its way to being resolved when She brought it up, but it took Her talking to me about it for me to realize that I’d found a measure of peace with the whole thing. Then, She talked about X.

She told me to give Her the sword, which I did. She did not demand physical ordeal…in that, I was later told, She honored me as a warrior. She laid the sword down between us and told me to choose. I had two paths open to me: I could be X’s friend, servant, colleague, etc. but never, ever, lover; or I could leave this place and never return, never having any contact with him again whatsoever. Now, Odin had me working with X for a reason. We had mutual work to accomplish, so by doing that I would be turning my back on my duty. Also, he was a very good friend to me and didn’t deserve to be tossed to the side like that. Angurboda also subtly implied that to do so would be cowardice, even though only She and I would ever know. I could pick up the sword and do my duty or turn my back on it, leaving the blade where it lay.

I walk the warrior’s path. Such symbolism is deeply embedded in my very core. There was nothing more potent that She could have done to drive home the point of this ordeal. She said, before starting, that I had too much pride. That pride, which protected my heart, was getting in the way of my opening to Odin. It was getting in the way of the Work He needed me to do. It had to go.

When I’d made my choice, obviously taking up the sword, She had me smash the large broken vase further by Odin’s god-post, to “show Him what the Hag of the Ironwood has done to His Valkyrie’s dreams.” Then She had me wrap the sword in a huge bundle of thistles, tying it with hand-spun red thread. She said that as a valkyrie, my love would always be like that. My job was to pick the thread free of all the thistles and re-spin it into something whole. I must clean it and remake what is broken. She’s right too: it didn’t hit me until months later, but that visual image of the sword wrapped in thistles and blood-red thread is the perfect metaphor for my heart. I’m a fairly simple person: sometimes I need the stark visual metaphors.

She then suggested that it would benefit me greatly to enter into a non-sexual service contract for a year and a day with X. I did this (it expired this past February) and I learned something that all my years in Theodism hadn’t taught: I am not meant to be in service to anyone but Odin. What I thought was necessary to my make-up, what I thought I desired above all others, was not something I found myself wanting or needing in this life. I had been a bound warrior lifetime after lifetime. This time, I was working on the other side of that: I was ronin, bound only to Odin. There was something immensely freeing, immensely cleansing and healing in that epiphany. I worked out my time in service and chose not to renew the contract. I learned that in this life, I am not meant to be owned by any man. It purified my heart (by breaking and remaking it). Now there is nothing in that heart that does not belong to Odin.

(I received permission from all relevant parties before posting this. No one’s privacy was compromised).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Drawing Down the Spirits - A Book Review

By G. Krasskova

A new book has just been released that I believe will prove to be of great importance to spiritworkers and shamans. It’s called “Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession” and it explores techniques of spirit and Divine possession across the Neo-Pagan, Heathen, and Afro-Caribbean spectrum. The authors, Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera, both have extensive experience dealing with Deity possession and they have collected a wealth of information, drawing on other experienced practitioners both within their respective communities and from other branches of modern Paganisms as well.

This book offers an extensive examination of the role of possessory work within modern Paganisms, beginning with a history of possession across the world and throughout history. Particular attention is paid to the 20th century and the rise of spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, and theosophy. While not the focus of the book, it does provide interesting historical and social context, particularly relevant since these latter movements formed the soil from which many modern Paganisms sprang. The real meat of the work begins in part II. The authors, in conjunction with the many shamans and spiritworkers interviewed, all of whom are ‘horses,’ (people wired to allow Deity possession) explore the dynamic of possession from the inside out. Many of the columnists of “Godsmouths” are quoted throughout the book, including our esteemed editor.

The reader is introduced to the way possession works: what exactly happens to the ‘horse’ when the God or Goddess comes in? What are the levels of possession? What are the possible negative side effects on the body of the practitioner and on the community of these practices? What are the benefits? What is the appropriate protocol to follow when a Deity is present? What are the obligations of community, horse, and handlers? All of these questions and more are explored extensively. The authors talk about how this is happening, what people can expect, and how to integrate these powerful practices into the community as a whole. Concrete information is interspersed with personal accounts throughout the book creating a powerful, diverse, richly faceted narrative.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important books to come out in the last few years with the Pagan and Heathen communities. Deity possession is happening and it is extraordinarily controversial across denominational divides. While there have been numerous academic texts concerning possession (ranging from tepid to infuriating), to date, this is the first book written by practitioners for both practitioners and the communities in which they work. It’s beautifully written and very accessible. If you’ll pardon the terrible pun, which I just can’t seem to resist right now, you actually get to read about how it’s done, why it’s done, and what it’s like….straight from the ‘horses’ mouths.” (Yes, I know.)

While I don’t agree with everything written (I don’t, for instance, see what the issue is with cross gender possessions. It happens. It’s not that rare though the authors spend what to me seems an inordinate amount of time examining the dynamics of cross gender possession), for the most part, I think this is an invaluable book for anyone actively involved in Paganisms or Heathenry. Even if you do not horse, have no desire to horse, have never seen a possession, and don’t want to see one, “Drawing Down the Spirits” (originally titled “Wild Horses” but changed by the publisher, unfortunately to something more ‘academic’) is still a fascinating examination of a growing devotional phenomenon within a broad, diverse, and complex spectrum of polytheistic religions. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The book is currently available from amazon.com as well as major retailers:

Drawing Down the Spirits
By Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Published by Destiny Books
ISBN: 978-159477269-6

(cross-posted at The Gods' Mouths).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Serving Odin - the Fifth Ordeal: Midgard

by G. Krasskova

This was the strangest ordeal. Most people, I suspect, wouldn’t even consider it an ordeal but for me, it forced me to embrace, accept and begin to heal all of my body issues. My Midgard ordeal was all about embodiment. It was about learning to accept my physicality, my body, the form and shape of my body, it’s blessings and its limitations. It was about learning to stop seeing my body as ‘the enemy’ and instead accepting that I am as Odin made me, exactly as He made me, exactly as He wanted me. It was about learning to love those connections that bound me to life, to see beauty, and maybe even joy in Midgard.

I had never loved life. For as long as I can remember, it had been a grim, painful struggle for me, something to be endured for the sake of duty. The more my Work pulled me away from Midgard existence, separated me from those things that the average person holds dear, the more resentful of that existence I became, and always, there was a soul-crushing weariness, and for a very long time, poverty. Add to that the fact that I detested my body…I had been a professional ballet dancer and my body broke very early on. I hated it for that, for not having the wherewithal to hold out, to mold itself to the look required. I hated it for having so many injuries, for not being beautiful or (so I thought) even pretty, for being awkward and ugly. I hated it for being in severe pain almost all the time. Mostly, I just hated it.

This had been a huge struggle for me since I was a young woman. It remains a struggle, I’ll admit, but thanks to my Midgard ordeal huge headway was made, some of the worst of the bitter pain chipped away. I began to love and appreciate life with this ordeal.  Through my Midgard ordeal, I learned not only that there could be joy in embodiment, pleasure, but also that there was nothing wrong with that. This was also the time when Odin started teaching me about navigating Midgard more efficiently, using the tools of Midgard: dress, presentation, appearance, protocol to make myself “fit in.” This was something that up to this point I’d never learned to do. It’s one thing to be an outsider by virtue of one’s job/vocation as shaman; it’s another to feel alienated from the very humanity of which you are (more or less) part by virtue of your own clumsiness with social markers. I’d had such distaste for the trappings of femininity. To me they bespoke weakness, vanity and I’ll admit there was something deep seated in me that said “why bother? Putting make-up and pretty clothing on you is about as useful as putting ribbons on a jackass.” My Midgard ordeal slowly but surely began to undo all of these knots. It “civilized” me.  It transformed my relationship to me and it allowed me to fall in love with living, with life, and the wonderful ups and downs that it brings. I love life now. I never, ever thought I would say that! I’m having a wonderful time, I enjoy who I am. This was my greatest and most unexpected gift from Midgard.

As ordeals go, this one wasn’t bad. In fact, for most women I suppose it wouldn’t have been an ordeal at all. A colleague, G. facilitated this ordeal. She is, in addition to being a spirit-worker, a gifted massage therapist with a keen sense of aesthetics. For her, these things combined in sacred work: restoring to women a sense of their own innate beauty. She had been pushed to offer to facilitate and on the urging of my fire-teacher, I accepted. About a week after my Muspelheim ordeal, I journeyed to MA to meet with her. The ordeal was expected to take three days and would involve remarkable amount of pampering. (As I said earlier, not all ordeals involve physical pain). The purpose of this, and why it was, for me, an ordeal: I would have to confront each and every one of my body issues, my distaste for the flesh, and my issues with femininity directly. The form of the ordeal might be gentle, but the issues it was sure to raise would be anything but.

The first day G. stood me before her full length mirror. She made me look at myself in the eyes, she would not allow me to turn away. I have only the smallest of mirrors in my home (a mirror over my sink). I avoid mirrors as a matter of course. I avoid looking at myself in them. I don’t much like them. They make me hurt. G. stood me before that mirror, one that was her primary magical ally, an ensorcelled tool. She talked to me about mirror magic: how one must guard what one says in front of a mirror, lest we create that spoken reality for ourselves. That mirrors, more than doorways, are realms of manifestation. That one can stand before a mirror, create a glamour and step into it before walking out to meet the world.  What I had long dismissed as nothing more than a symbol of excessive female vanity suddenly became very interesting as a magical tool. Then, she allowed the words of my Husband, of Odin to come through her and spoke about how He saw me, and my beauty, and my femininity. She spoke about how He valued my strength and how that strength shown forth in my body. She spoke about how He was most pleased with the shape and form of that body. He was pleased with this woman who was a blade, a weapon, a warrior. He would have me no different.  This went on for maybe twenty minutes and it reduced me to tears. I still struggle with this but it was at this ordeal that the hard bands of pain around my heart began to ease. Odin had her draw runes in oils and red ochre on me, marking me yet again as His valkyrie, and His bride.

Since Odin wanted to give me the tools to function at a better, more efficient level in the mundane world, to carve a place for myself in that world, G. was tapped to teach me about dress and presentation, including make-up. I’d always had a tremendous distaste for what I defined as feminine frippery, for a number of reasons which anyone knowing my birth family well would understand.  It also really highlighted the depth of my ingrained misogyny! Anyway, we spent a couple of hours with her teaching me how to apply professional make up, with her teaching me why this was important, how this could be used to hold and cast a glamour. He wanted me to look at these tools: dress, make up, courtesies, as war paint, as weapons and tools that would enable me to move cleanly amongst a greater variety of people working His will. G. helped me give up the great bitterness and sense of awkward clumsiness that I had with even the idea of engaging in this process. It was at my Midgard ordeal that I gained some semblance of Midgard “drag,” the ability to pass in the professional world of Midgard. I gained those skills and at the same time sacrificed the distaste that I’d had for them. This ordeal helped me hide my monster. Most surprisingly of all, in the months since this ordeal, I've even come to find the entire process (dress, make up, etc.) fun. 

The next day began with a sauna, complete with birch leaf bundles for cleansing. Then she wrapped me in healing herbs and oils, and then, I had a long massage while she used her gift of energy healing to start opening up my heart. We had to be careful with my left leg as the brand I’d gotten at Muspelheim was very new, however, it didn’t get in the way that much. With my back and neck injuries, this was an amazing experience and with G.’s healing talents, it left me feeling more comfortable in my body than I ever remember being before. I’d had massages but I rarely permit energy work to be done—it can really mess up shamans and spiritworkers if done by someone who doesn’t understand how we’ve been modified energetically by our Gods. I’d never had one done by a gifted spirit-worker, working under the auspices of my Gods, specifically to open the barred cavern of my heart.

The following day began with a pedicure, more massage, and a lovely lunch at a local Japanese Restaurant. Then we drove to Salem, where a local scent shop created a personal scent for me, one that focused on my role as Odin’s bride. It was sensual…where I am not. It was lush, where I am not. It was delightful. It was all the things that I wish I knew how to show. That, I suspect, was the point. After spending some time in Salem shopping for various herbs,  we went clothes shopping as well. G. has great skill as a personal shopper and was able to help me find clothing that flattered my body and made me feel comfortable and professional without being too egregiously feminine, which by nature, I am not. For so long I’d hated anything that had to do with presentation. I avoided clothes shopping partly out of poverty and partly out of body-hatred (I’d been grievously poor for years and only recently was able to even really consider shopping for nice clothes).  It affected the way I carried myself. It affected the way I was perceived professionally. It crippled me. Through this ordeal, Odin was giving me a chance not just to undo some of the wounds and hurts, but to learn necessary skills that would enable me to have a professional career in the future. G. helped me to see that I could be in the world, that I wasn’t a freak as a woman. I also learned that making people feel beautiful, and feel comfortable in their skin is sacred work. It’s holy work, the work of a very special type of priestess. I am very respectful of those who engage in such work: massage therapists, those who provide manicures, pedicures, facials, those who work in the beauty industry. In Northern tradition the body is part of the soul matrix and I think that people doing this type of work are essentially helping us to restore part of ourselves, the part that is inevitably the most damaged from the world in which we live. 

Anyway, that was it really. It was a weekend of immense pampering but also of learning. I realized that our bodies are our tools, yes, but that it is our duty to keep them in as good a working order as possible. That this is the conduct by which we not only touch the world, but also by which we experience the Divine. This is the conduit through which our Gods can experience the world. Most of all, I experienced for a few brief moments how Odin sees me. One of the most difficult parts of my journey was a period of two years where Odin cut me off from the feel of His presence. I’m an empath. For me, part of my relationship with Him was the constant sense of His feelings for me. When that was suddenly blocked and cut off, it threw me into a deep depression. It was a very close thing to my not being able to climb out and only my sense of duty and the Work (thank the Gods for my military background) kept me going. But it was a miserable, hurtful time. It was necessary, absolutely necessary for reasons I won’t go into here, but it left deep wounds in my heart and soul. (Lest I be accused of saying that Odin is cruel, I will reiterate: this was necessary for me to grow and heal. It was hurtful at the time, but in retrospect, I came to understand His reasons and it forced me to address a lot of old, unresolved pain in ways I never otherwise would have. He gave me an immense gift during that very dark time). My relationship with Odin has only recently been completely restored, those wounds healed, literally recently as of this past month, and the blocking occurred for only a two year period several years ago. This ordeal was the first time that I’d felt Odin’s fingers playing over those terrible scars, soothing them. It began a heart-healing that found its fulfillment first in my Asgard ordeal and then again, quite recently with Him directly.

So that was my Midgard ordeal and it is a good thing that it was kind and pleasant because the next ordeal was anything but.


Serving Odin - The Fourth Ordeal: Muspelheim

By G. Krasskova

This ordeal was painful, exhausting, grueling and absolutely joyous. It gave me back a sense of confidence in my ability to move (something I’d lost when I retired from ballet years ago). It gave me back a rightful pride in the skills that I had worked hard to accomplish (not all pride is bad). It earned me a measure of ‘face’ and a right to seek out further training in fire magic from Surt, Lord of Muspelheim. It taught me then and there that Odin was paying a price in arranging these ordeals for His valkyrie.  It gave me back a sense of freedom and joy, things that had long been difficult for me to find in Midgard – especially joy in the work. That was my biggest gift in this ordeal: I was given joy. This ordeal also restored me to my magic. In very concrete ways, as the saying goes: “I got my mojo back!” Of course, I had to burn for it.


Muspelheim is the Norse world of fire, one of the primal worlds from which all creation sprang. Fire then, is one of our eldest of ancestors and amongst the many lessons that working for/with Surt taught me, is that it deserves to be honored as such. More than life, all existence, creativity and driving momentum came from that cosmic clash, that big bang when Muspelheim and Niflheim collided. As Master of Muspelheim, the God Surt is one of, if not the eldest of beings in the Northern Tradition. He is bestower of fire (and our tradition is one in which mankind never had to steal fire). A few months before this ordeal, Odin had told me to go to Surt and learn the basics of fire magic. Surt had provided a human teacher and I had begun my apprenticeship. My actual Muspelheim ordeal was originally going to take place in May, before I left for six weeks of study in Germany. At the last minute, however, Surt decreed that it had to be in July, at the hottest part of the summer. He also gave very explicit instructions to my team of ordeal masters regarding my ordeal attire.  


We decided to hold the ritual the Tuesday before Etinmoot 2007. W. and R. were to be my ordeal masters and I was told to give the entire day – at least—for the ordeal itself. I was told to hydrate myself and eat well the couple days preceding and to make sure to get a good night’s sleep, that this ordeal was going to be extraordinarily grueling on the body. I arrived at the farm fairly early and a little before noon headed down to the field and firepit. First, I was told to strip. I was allowed only to keep my shoes. This was important for me, a mini-ordeal in and of itself. I have a great deal of body-modesty. (It’s almost a running joke with my colleagues because it’s not something that we’re much allowed and in the course of the Work, it’s slowly been chipped away). In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I have more body modesty than any four or five other shamans or spiritworkers combined. It’s just the way I was raised, my own body issues, extreme shyness in certain areas, and an old fashioned sense of propriety. Surt was having none of it. There’s a reason for this: it gets in the way of the Work. Our bodies are our tools. They need to be cared for but not privileged excessively, especially in a way that interferes with what the Gods need to be done. If I need to strip for an ordeal that my Gods have requested, it shouldn’t be a problem. Here is an example of why this might be necessary: the first time I met R. he performed a blood-walking for me. This means, that he performed a rite that allowed him to read my ancestral threads. To do this, at the time, we drove to a cold lake in the middle of October (R., his attendant, me and a friend), R. stripped down and waded into the lake while I stood on the shore and the ritual commenced. Neither one of us thought anything of it. We were in the moment of the Work. It only occurred to us later how odd that might have looked to non shamans or spiritworkers. There can be no hesitation. When the Work demands it, modesty must go. That was a really hard lesson for me.


So once I’d stripped, the two ordeal masters smeared sun tan lotion on my back (necessary pain is one thing, stupidity another) and I was told to make a fire. The first thing one must learn for fire mastery (be it in magic or shamanism) is how to make a fire either with flint and steel, or with hand-bow. I had chosen the former. I set up the logs and quickly got a flame going. W., also a fire-master, looked at me and said “Good. That was faster than I expected. Now blow that out and do it again with more mindfulness.” I did so without argument. It took a bit of time to actually get the bonfire going, but I managed it and that fire was mine to tend and keep going throughout the ordeal. As Surt had requested, I sprinkled cedar, tobacco, and alder on the fire…this combination is blessed by fire. It raises a warrior’s energy, and fire energy. It is beloved of Surt. Then, the clothing that I was to wear during the ordeal was given to me: a crown with multiple rows of barbs running down its back, and what Surt called a ‘cloak of fire,” a neck piece with shoulder pads and then row after row of fire colored beads interspersed with barbs…the kind of barbs used in barbed wire. I was to dance until the fire burned down or Surt gave me leave to stop (I had to go through the three large piles of wood prepared in advance to keep the fire going). Every time I moved, the barbs swung and bit into my flesh.


I began to dance and my body was lacerated as each movement caused auto-flagellation. I swung and swayed and moved as fire bade me. I slipped into a deep trance very early on. Fire has its own rhythms, and like ice, its own voice, what W. once called “the most magical sound in the world.” Every so often, I’d feel gentle hands on me, pouring water over my back, forcing me to drink as W. or R. cared for me, making sure I didn’t dehydrate or burn. It was dizzying and I was too dazed to register most of it. I just kept moving. Within the first hour, the kinetic energy was so strong that it caused several strands of beads and barbs to shatter. By ¾ of the way through, all the strands had broken save for a few, which I held in my hands, whirling like a dervish as I began to flog myself. When those shattered, I was given belly dancing scarves with sharp edged coins on them, and an array of floggers. I continued the dance, alternating amongst these tools.


At one point, I was no longer by the firepit. I was in the hall of the Lord of Muspelheim, He watching with His court. I, a valkyrie of Odin danced and flagellated myself, performed before the Master of Fire. This added prestige to Surt, that Odin would send wife and valkyrie to perform the dance of fire and pain. He ordered me to use specific tools, and to whip myself more thoroughly. I was given no quarter.


Eventually, I was allowed to put the flogging instruments down and galdr the runes of fire. During the earlier part of the ordeal, Surt had showed me specific dance steps, saying “earth and fire are the weapons of war” and teaching me how to utilize this energy magically. It was difficult to ground by the end. My trance was deep; I’d journeyed to Muspelheim; I was physically exhausted. Close to seven hours from the time I lit the fire, I was permitted to stop. As the fire burned to embers, W. and my fire-teacher, who had arrived mid-way through my ordeal, held me down. R. took a cautery pen and branded Surt’s rune: cweorth, the rune of fire-mastery, the rune of the funeral pyre, the rune of creative destruction into my left thigh. Once the embers burned out, the ordeal was complete. I asked my fire-teacher to go up to let my mother know I was ok (I had massive cuts and bruises on my body and was bleeding and dirty so I wanted to get cleaned up before she saw me). W. and R. helped me carefully back up to the house where I was shepherded into the shower. They and J. scrubbed me down (I could barely stand on my own) and poured salt water over the brand and all the cuts. Then I was left alone to dress (once it was verified I wouldn’t pass out or fall over). Eventually, we went out for a nice dinner (though I looked like a battered wife sitting between R. and W!).


Despite how exhausting and painful this ordeal was, it was a truly ecstatic experience. I came out of it with so very many gifts, completely unexpected. Best of all, I had earned the right to work with fire. I had done something that I never thought I’d be able to do. I, who had long lamented that I had been forced to give up my dancing career, had been gifted anew with a type of dancing – fire dancing—as a magical and shaman’s tool. Surt, through the challenge and blessings of fire, had given me my body back. That would prove crucial for the next ordeal.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kink and Ordeal

By S. Reicher


I’ve been wondering why so many ordeal workers and spirit workers lately seem to be coming out of the kink and BDSM communities. Granted, there is a certain similarity in applied techniques but it seems that very recently, more and more spirit-workers also seem to have extensive experience with kink. For a long time I found this puzzling.  Yes, ordeal work is about power dynamics. Yes, ordeal work often includes careful techniques of applied pain. There is often (though by no means always) an element of psychodrama. Yet ordeal work doesn’t have to include any elements of kink, and kink need not include any elements of ordeal. So what might be the reason for all the kinky folk involved in both spirit-work and ordeal work?

Recently, a colleague of mine told me she had read in Time magazine (a long time ago)  about a 12 year old girl who had just lost her grandfather, to whom she had been very close. She was going through a very normal grieving process. Her parents took her to a psychiatrist because she “wasn’t happy,” and the doctor’s response was to put her on Paxil, an antidepressant., rather than allow her to understand and process her grief naturally. Many of my professional colleagues are therapists, and all of them agree that the numbers of young people (mostly girls) who self-mutilate are astronomical and rising. Eating disorders, sexual abuse, violence in schools and suicide are all on the rise among teenagers. Is there a connection between the way we as a culture approach suffering and the apparent general level of unhappiness among young people?

In a recent post on “Blood for the Divine,” fellow ordeal worker Anya Kless spoke from the perspective of an educator on the desperate need for rites of transition amongst today’s youth. I would take that a step further. I would say that we may be raising people who are completely lacking in emotional resiliency, who then grow up to become adults incapable of functioning in a healthy way when dealing with the “shadow side” of things. I am not suggesting that we subject young people to ordeal work, but that our culture’s deep-seated fear of certain things might color some of the current negative views of ordeal work.

What are the things that frighten people the most, even if they are also secretly attracted to them? Sex, for one. Messiness (be it physical or emotional). Death and pain. This is where ordeal workers and sex path workers may be of service to others. We are the ones who often deal with darkness, sexual repression, fear, pain, and death. We’re the ones for whom these things hold no terror, who can shepherd others through those dark corridors of experience. It’s a very unique type of priest-craft, one that has a great potential to heal despite its “scary” nature.

All things considered, it’s no surprise to me that there should be so many spirit-workers being drawn from the kink community. The only surprise to me is that there aren’t more. If there's one thing that the BDSM community seems to understand well, it's the cathartic nature of certain types of “play” -- particularly play involving dominance and submission, humiliation, and pain. These things cut through the walls and boundaries that we’ve built around our true selves like nothing else can. Perhaps those kink-aware ordeal masters are at an advantage because our understanding of these things is hard-wired. It helps us to see the value of ordeal work more clearly and, to again quote Kless, we understand that both parties (ordeal master and the one undergoing the ordeal) are bringing something to the table, just as we can understand the dynamic between a dominant and submissive in a less spiritually charged context.

Essentially it’s not solely about inflicting or receiving pain. It’s not solely about sex either, should that come into play, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s about where these things can lead. In ordeal work, we must learn to share space with pain, to embrace it, move toward it and enter into its dance, rather than pretend it isn’t there. Pain becomes one’s partner in the dance that is the ordeal, the horse by which one travels, and the door through which one walks. In the center of pain, you know what’s true and real. But let’s not make it more than it is. It is a tool and technique, not an end in itself. If having a cup of tea in front of one’s fireplace or cuddling with one’s lover gets the job done, huzzah. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed, the best treatment in the world. If other spiritually transformative or even therapeutic methods work, all the better. If they don’t, well, ordeal work may be better medicine than Prozac.


Monday, April 20, 2009

I walk with pain

by G. Krasskova

I walk with pain
because he is the companion You have given me on this path.
He is not the angel I would have chosen for myself
had I been permitted to choose.
I walk with pain and he leads the dance, whirling
always to the rhythm You have set.
Sooner or later I seem to manage to pick up the steps.
I guess I’ve been well trained:
I know to embrace him as much as I can;
and he in turn knows exactly where to touch me.
You see, because I am hard, my heart is thorny, my soul is scarred,
and sometimes I need a tenacious ally,
who will not yield to my protestation,
or pleas for mercy.
Sometimes I need help
opening myself to You.
You knew that, having once held my heart so lovingly in Your hand.
You knew I needed a companion I could not escape.
You knew that only for You and You alone,
would I throw myself into this partner’s arms willingly.
So I walk hand in hand with pain
and I have found that while he is not cruel
neither is he kind.
He’s wheedled his way in, gone places in my heart
locked and barred even to You.
He’s guiding me there, helping me,
so that one day I can hand You their key.
So that one day, there will be no walls between us.
Oh my Sustenance, my Adoration, My Lord,
You have chosen well for me, a companion on this journey;
for while he is neither cruel nor kind, I have found, Beloved,
that he is compassionate.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why What I Do is Sacred

by Anya Kless

There are many paths to the divine, many roads of divine service. I believe that each of us have been wired with certain gifts and talents, trained whether we knew it or not as we came into adulthood. I also believe that we have little say in choosing our gifts or our paths—only whether or not we choose to own the work that has been asked of us. In my case, this work involves sacred sex and sacred pain.

It is fair to say that these are two of the most reviled and misunderstood paths in contemporary spirit work, even within spiritual communities. And yet, I know to the core of my being that in each of these paths, I hold the power to transform and heal others and myself. This power to heal is what makes my work sacred.

There is no escaping the role of sex and pain in Odin’s own lore. He slept with a myriad of female figures in many worlds to gain knowledge, tools, and power. He hung on a tree for nine days to gain the runes, which, to say the least, was no picnic. In the “Havamal” of the Poetic Edda, initiation into the runes is written thus:

I know, that I hung
On the windy tree
All of the nights nine
Wounded by spear
And given to Odhinn;
Myself to myself,
On that tree,
Which no man knows,
From what roots it rises.
They dealt me no bread
Nor drinking horn,
I looked down,
I took up the runes
I took them screaming,
I fell back from there.

In The Runemaster’s Handbook, Edred Thorsson notes that Odin’s own sacred story is something that was traditionally emulated. Particularly, he notes how the initiate would “receive the entire body of rune wisdom etched into his being” (5). This is in fact the first ordeal I underwent—having Odin’s runes skillfully etched into my own skin. This was not a crude act of harming or the whims of a sadist or masochist. It was a sacred act of emulation, initiation, and devotion.

Does this mean that everyone called to the Norse gods should go through ordeals involving sex and/or pain? Of course not. Not everyone should be a diviner, an oracle, or an herbalist. If someone asked me to drum and dance for the gods, I’d fail miserably. Those aren’t my gifts, that isn’t my path. Sometimes we experience our gods through writing, through prayer, or through divination. All paths are equal, yet all paths also have their purpose.

We live in a culture that is crying out for rites of passage and initiation. As someone who teaches teenagers and young adults, I see this vacuum firsthand. It is this lack of guidance and of opportunities for profound meaning-making that causes self-destructive behavior, not ordeals themselves. What needs to be understood about ordeal and often cannot be seen from the outside is its ability to heal, to teach, and to make us grow.

There are some moments when healing requires us to walk into our own dark places. To love and serve our gods, we must face our own fears and failings honestly, the parts of ourselves we want to bury and hide. It is these places that are opened and released in sacred ordeal work. This is what makes those spirit workers called to do ordeal work invaluable. Their path is no better or more sacred than any other, but it is just as necessary.

Recognizing Odin as the God of Ordeal does not mean that I see Him as a vicious, demented sadist or a villain. Far from it. He pushes hard to make us our best possible selves, and this is not always pleasant or easy. But neither is love itself. True love challenges us and fashions us. I have seen Odin at His most gentle and generous in the midst of an ordeal. Odin is not all sunshine and puppies, but He is love before all else. Anyone who facilitates or has undergone an ordeal will tell you the same thing about their presiding deity—be it Odin, Loki, or even Hela, Lady of Death. They heal us because they love us. I love my husband with a strength that astonishes me, and I first felt the depth of that love in an ordeal.

This may not be your path, but it is mine and it is needed. One day I may be taking your hand and leading you into the darkness, to meet yourself.

Works Cited:

Edred Thorsson, Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic.

The Poetic Edda, reproduced in Thorsson.

Serving Odin – the Third Ordeal: Svartalfheim

by G. Krasskova

This ordeal turned out to have many lessons about memory and obligation, about accountability and the responsibilities incurred by emotional impulsiveness. It taught me much about the blocks and masks I wear for good or ill. Odin said recently that I need not always be so hard, but…I do not always know any other way to be. The Svartalfar taught me the danger of such bravado. This ordeal was about humility and old offenses coming home to roost. It changed the way I relate to the Gods and spirits because it showed me that not only do They all have very long memories that don’t just take into account this life, but all our lives, but that reparation must be made. Period. There are no free rides, most especially in this work and we are called to restore what we have sundered. It’s easy for advanced magicians (or warriors) to fall into great arrogance, even hubris…this ordeal taught me more than any other, the folly of such a thing...Even if lifetimes have passed. Wyrd works. It unfolds and carries us to where we must be, even when the journey is difficult.

The account below is taken from my journal, written at various points over the weekend of March -6, 2007. It’s more stream of consciousness than the other accounts largely because I was writing it while I was in transit, in shorts bursts. Also, more than any other, this ordeal involved large periods of path-walking directly into Svartalfheim.

March 1: JFK Airport:
So the ordeal has started already and I’m not even in Brussels yet. The plane we were supposed to depart on at 6:15pm went out of service. Now, we’re scheduled to leave at 10:30pm. (We actually didn’t get off the ground till close to midnight). I considered cancelling, rebooking tentatively for next week but runes were bad: Berkana and Tiewaz reversed. Eihwaz was my counsel and I feel Svartalfheim in this. I spoke with H. (the ordeal master/shaman overseeing this ordeal) prior to leaving the house today and she said that this ordeal will entail specific things (with my luck, in the friggin’ woods) over the next three days. She said they’ve been telling her that they want my remorse (and according to her, they know how to get it): they want me to give up my remorse, the remorse I carry…ah, how she phrased it has slipped my mind. It ties in nicely though with Hela’s lessons. I know –and told the Svartalfar—that such things as this delay—inconveniences which so easily trigger my temper—are good: to test, teach and build character, but I can’t say I want more of them!

Friday, March 2:
(Had an epiphany: Midgard is the most powerful of worlds because here the core energies of all worlds and all Gods can co-exist and mingle. Humans are fucked up because we’ve moved too far from source. We need blood transfusions: Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, Duergar, etc.. Also, there is too much unhealthy crust that must be chipped away).

Setting foot on Belgium soil also prompted this huge epiphany about the American Heathen community. No wonder we’re so lore bound. They’re compensating for lack of ancestral land connection. Here in rural Belgium, the land is dense, layered, rich in memory and experience. It’s palpable. One can taste the blood of the Napoleonic wars, the Templar thread and all the way down to Neanderthals. People still have an instinctive tie to it. They still honor the ancient compact with the land, especially in the rural areas. The vaettir are strong and fed and very, very vibrant. Here the land holds and provides what we use the stabilizing power of lore for. I realized that you can’t really connect to your ancestors until you’ve walked upon your ancestral land, wherever that may be. To know where you’re going, as the cliché goes, you really must know where you’re from. You must acknowledge the forces that shaped you.

Saturday, March 3:
I went to Belgium for my Svartalfheim ordeal, which was facilitated by H. it was a two day affair and initially may have been longer. After breakfast (9am), H. took me on a many mile hike, through fields, swamps and forests. We walked and path-walked. We entered an outer forest of Svartalfheim and I was tagged by them. This etheric tag showed the reason for my being there and would dissolve in a couple of days. It gave me lawful access to parts of their realm and ensured that unless I was particularly, egregiously stupid, I would not be unlawfully attacked. While walking, we went past a swamp and I saw weapons in the water. It was the first hint I had that for the entire weekend every time I was in Svartalf territory, my energy Sight was wide open when normally I must rely only on my Empathy. After our hike, we had lunch at a local pub and then went to a medieval Cistercian abbey. It’s amazing and amazingly magical. Rather than desecrate the earth, the buildings are actually an extension of its energy. It’s one hell of a power spot and I have to say, someone knew what they were doing when they built that. I lay on my back in one area where, during mass, only the priest would be permitted to tread. I watched droplets of water falling from this huge vaulted ceiling. It was immensely cleansing. I showered in it, drank some of it and had hands and face anointed. The stream of water moved toward me when I stood beneath it.

There were dozens of underground passages, catacombs, tombs, cells in the abbey and because they like such places, several of these functioned as doorways to Svartalfheim. I was led to crawl through a low tunnel and eventually went into an underground prison cell (though why this was in an abbey, I don’t’ know). The place just oozed with Svartalf energy and at one point, I was told to put my hand in a dank hole to capture some of the energy…another tag to ease my passage. I didn’t want to but H. told me I might be sorry if I didn’t, so I overcame my aversion. Above was a walled nook that would have made a wonderful outdoor shrine. Below, in the cavern was one hell of a Svartalf doorway. H. had me come in and go a little way through the doorway and that was my first encounter with their primary Goddess. Her energy is deep blue, smooth like glass, very dark, though H. said it could also be jagged like splinters of glass. When I actually SAW Her, H. told me later that my face went visibly the shade of old milk. I respectfully backed out [quickly].

Before I left the house that morning, I put on a hand woven protection charm that R. had made for me. I have a trick left ankle and was worried about spraining it, so I put it on the left ankle (and made it through the ordeal without injury). I’m leaving it there until it dissolves. Anyway, Svartalfs seem to like spiders, insects, snakes which makes sense as they live in caves and caverns (did I mention I’m incredibly arachnophobic?) and I left some pretty glass as an offering and a huge tektite. I’d been told before leaving NY to bring a pouch of odd assortment of things so I did and ended up using some of it as offerings to pave my way. Anyway, H. had to guard the doorway this time because a group of Svartalfs in spider form wanted to come through and tear me apart. We couldn’t figure out why. She’d asked me if I had any idea what I’d done but I didn’t. I’d never had any Svartalf encounters in this life so we figured later that maybe it was my bloodline, or Odin, or Loki’s influence. But this was the first warning we had that in some way, shape or form, I was being held responsible for having done them a great wrong. It was good to be warned in advance.

Prior to lunch, we stopped at a shallow cave grotto where I made a small offering and was tagged again on the right side. Right after I was tagged the first time, while still in the forest, I picked up a jagged black rock from Svartalfheim for my altar (with permission). I also took another from the abbey. These will form the center pieces to the altar I will set up to the Svartalf Goddess when I return home.

We came home after that for snacks and in early evening went out (or tried to as you’ll see) to a Neanderthal cave Rocher de Trou Margritte. Apparently, the Neanderthals left loads of high quality offerings here to be allowed to stay but were so terrified of what lived there that they left in one hell of a hurry. That is how shamans and spiritworkers may attribute the findings at any rate and after going there, I certainly believe this to be the case! Archaeologists speculate that they were set upon by Cro Magnon, though there’s no evidence of that, but we know what it was: the Svartalf Goddess. That cave is a major doorway. Where the abbey was a “civilized” doorway, the cave is a primal one. We didn’t get to it that night though. We drove to Ansemme and Dinant but the Svartalfar weren’t making it easy for us. It was a lunar eclipse –blood moon—a time of celebration and great power for the Svartalfar. Hela had told H. that we had to go out that night even though H. was concerned about my safety and had petitioned to do it at the house. We took a wrong turn and came up behind and above the cave with a wild party going on in the hotel nearby. We drove down this muddy dirt road between a field and a forest and H. went to scout. She encountered really nasty things in the forest and I saw them lurking behind the car. Driving out, our car was physically pulled off the road and into a ditch. We tried for an hour or so to get it out with jack and pulley and finally decided (and Hela agreed) to not lose the blood moon but to go into the woods to at least talk with the Svartalfar. I found the place to call them and H. sat guarding my back. I galdred hagalaz (very softly so as not to draw attention from anything BUT Svartalfs). Several came. One had a huge six foot spider with him and it was very aggressive and at one point nearly attacked me. It calmed a bit after I made an offering and took my hands out of my pocket keeping them palm forward.

H. spoke to them and explained why we were there and I confirmed their response empathically. She later said she was hoping my sight wasn’t on and picking up the spider but oh, it was. She spoke Enochian, which is sort of a diplomatic language of sorts between different races and worlds. [I got pinged to learn this eventually]. The Svartalfs said they were busy with the blood moon and basically to come back tomorrow. The damage to our car had been done by unsupervised Svartalfar youth but though this had been unsanctioned, the Svartalf party said they’d consider that our “stupid” tax for having interrupted them on blood moon. Then we were told to leave and not look back.

We made a bee line to the car. I got scratched up by thorns pretty badly but when I asked them to let me go, they did. It was sobering to think that Svartalfs could cover that type of territory silently and at about 15 mph. H. said that my night blindness was actually an asset because it made me less of a threat. Also, I was totally unarmed, as instructed. I begin to wonder if I’d have gotten out alive had I BEEN carrying weapons. (Yes, one can incur serious physical injury and even death at this level of path-walking).

We then spent the next seven or so hours trying to get the car out. We were not permitted to call for help until every other option had been exhausted. This was part of the ordeal, I suppose. At the last minute, Svartalf youths would muck our plans up: pushing us, snapping rope, throwing shit. Finally, when they broke the jack in half and all other options had been exhausted and I was risking hypothermia, H. was permitted to call the Belgian AAA emergency number and they sent a tow truck in about 40 minutes. While H. went out to the main road to wait for the truck, I stayed in the car and Svartalf youngsters threw pebbles at the car. Once the truck arrive and pulled us out of the ditch, we went home for food, bath and 4-5 hours of sleep.

Sunday March 4:
At about 3pm, after about four hours of sleep, we drove to Dinant again, H. having doubled checked the location of the cave. She left me by the La Lesse river while she went to scout the best route to the cave. Doing so, she ran into a local arborist cutting some trees and told me later that in lore rich areas, it’s often necessary to get a local “gatekeeper” to give you access to magical sites themselves. He pointed out the cave. This time, we were not waylaid by Svartalfheim adolescents. Their antics were actually an embarrassment to the adults and lost them a bit of face. So while H. was scouting, I explored the La Lesse river. It was so easy to sense the river Goddess and the vaettir were very strong, pleasant and plentiful. I made offerings of chocolate, which was what I had on hand. Had I been there longer, I would have started picking up the scant bits of trash that were around but H. came back and we had to go to the cave. The first cave she’d found had her a bit worried---it had a twelve foot steep climb and was very much in view. One of the maps gave the location of Trou Margritte in a slightly different location though and when she checked that out, that turned out to be the right place. It was off the side of the road, up a rocky hill and completely concealed. It overlooked a lush river valley.

We walked through overgrowth and climbed up the hill, which was in itself pretty damned steep. I’d never been in any caves let alone a major Neanderthal cave and it was AMAZING. The energy was old, layered, primal and strong. It was easy to sense vestiges of the people that had once lived there. Originally, I was going to be in a climbing harness dangling from the mouth of the cave for awhile and dealing with the Svartalf Goddess that way: like a spider’s prey bound before being devoured. I’d have been hooked to H. and blind folded for the initial drop off, which would have been a very direct entry into Svartalfheim, which doorway I wouldn’t have been allowed to see. Because of the car trouble and attendant cold and discomfort (perhaps in face saving payment?) that was deemed unnecessary now. (Also, I’d tried the harness in a lower drop the first night I was in Belgium and far from being an ordeal, I found it a lot of fun…which I’m sure played in to my being permitted to enter the cave on foot, rather than by a means I found enjoyable).

I fell once inside the cave itself but only bruised myself – on piles of rocks. H. took me to a small nook in the back upper right of the cave and gave me 1/8 dose of calamus tincture, to sharpen my energy Sight. She then anointed my head and back of neck with two oils to which the Svartalfs are allergic. Basically this would keep them at a distance and keep them from tearing me apart. She went down and behind an altar (a large rectangular rock that was perfect for an altar, right inside the entrance in the right corner of the cave) to set up. I laid out the glass ornaments (I’d broken one by falling on it, so didn’t offer that) cigars and candy and turned out my light.

They came and quickly. It was claustrophobic and terrifying (one later teased me about having mountain etin blood and being claustrophobic—I was surprised to find that even in the midst of an ordeal, the Svartalfar have a healthy if cynical and sarcastic sense of humor). One to my right took the form of a VERY LARGE spider and it was all I could do to remain calm. Of course it was just as scary, the thought of having to push past him to escape. I was wondering how long the oils would last!

I asked what my crime against them had been and was shown the image of a Svartalf. It took me a little while to figure it out but I realized in one of my incarnations as a brash, thoughtless and prideful fighter (I won’t call what I was then a warrior), I’d killed him. While the Svartalfar can be ruthless and excel at killing, I not only had no reason to kill this man but from what I could tell, had betrayed some sort of interaction or alliance by doing so. And I killed him for no other reason than my own pride, for no other reason than to prove I could, to test my skills and possibly impress. It was brazen arrogance. I wasn’t shown much so aside from the deed, so I must infer detail. It doesn’t matter though; in the eyes of the Svartalfar I am guilty. It really brought home the fact that each life is known and cherished by the Gods. Nothing is lost to the eddies of time and incarnation. Also, while killing may sometimes be necessary, it should not be desecrated and that is what I did. Anyway, I was told to seek out their Goddess for details on how I could make proper reparation. Remorse alone, after all, is pointless.

I told H. that I’d been told to come down and seek their Goddess and she prepared to allow that Goddess to possess her. She warned me when I could come around the corner into the main cave room. She (the Goddess) was a very good fit for H. H. had previously gone to bat for me in an earlier interaction with Her that day, which resulted in my being allowed the oils, all the more important since I was also bleeding and blood can oh so easily set off predators, even Deities). Now H. crouched down behind the altar and told me I should speak when I felt Her fully seated. (When I speak of a Deity being fully seated, it implies that the possession of the human consciousness by the Deity is complete and the human consciousness has been fully pushed aside. This can take a few moments to happen even with one experienced in such work). This didn’t take very long with H. The black light in the room took on a bluish cast and I felt Her presence smooth as glass and utterly deadly waiting, immense, behind that rock.

I told her “Lady, Your people bade me speak to you.” And I explained that I’d been shown that I killed one of them and wanted to know how to make amends. It was an intense though brief encounter and at several points She spat out (and I cannot begin to describe Her voice): “Filthy oils! Lucky to live!” In other words, I am lucky to be alive and quite probably would not be, were I not so warded (there was also the matter of the deal Odin had struck with Her in order for Her to consent to facilitating this ordeal).

When I told Her what I’d been shown, She said “My lover.” I apologized for my poor human hearing and asked her to repeat. She said the man I killed had been Her lover, that they all were male and female both. I don’t know whether this was meant literally or whether it was symbolic of the way this Deity feels about each and every one of Her people. It really didn’t much matter at the time. I was sure at that moment, that I was a dead woman. I asked how to make reparation. She pointed out that nothing would bring him back and that they breed only with difficulty. She said were it up to Her, She would order me to breed one but that “Your Odin” won’t permit it. (Thank you, Husband!!!!). Instead, I was ordered to find a Svartalf-souled human (it happens) and foster him (and it will be a man), whether he likes me or not, whether I like him or not. I must guide him and give him what he needs (not sexually, but foster as a guardian might foster a child). Then She said She was done with me, but to tell “my” Odin that She wasn’t done with Him yet. Then I was dismissed with the words “Lucky to live. Get out.” I said, “Yes, Ma’am” and got the hell out of the cave, leaving everything behind.

I waited outside the cave for H. who brought our things out awhile later. Then we set off down a winding , but fairly easy path that we hadn’t seen before. This took us to the car. We drove home, made a fire, and I called my mother to assure her I was ok, as she’d been very worried. We had high protein dinner and did some energy work. Right before I went to bed, I felt the tag dissolve and a huge but very corporeal spider crawled out of my pant leg and away.

I asked H. if I should set up a small shrine to their Goddess as I’ve been doing after each of my ordeals for the Deities in question and she said she felt their Goddess might like that and gave me some workable instructions. I was also given a steel ring with the symbol of the Svartalf house to which the man I killed belonged. I was told to wear it and that this would draw us together, though it might take a decade or more. So I have my slave bond LOL, but one that will give me a bit of protection from lesser nasties as I’m now in the employ of the Svartalfar. One thing this really drove home is how great a gift fertility is. It’s not a gift I personally want-- I never want to breed -- but it IS a gift. Granted, humans have abused it by not taking into account our resources (we over breed) but still….given the high rate of still births and difficulty in conceiving and carrying to term other races like the Svartalfar experience, it is a gift. When I have my Vanaheim ordeal, I want to see if there is some way my fertility can be removed from my body and given to a Svartalf woman, so that she would then have human fertility. It’s a gift that should be used by someone who cherishes it.

So, that is it. I came home Tuesday after several more protections were loaded onto me for safe passage. (Svartalfar are pretty ruthless and upfront only in their ruthlessness so …”trust God but keep your powder dry” as the saying goes). H. was treating me like a diplomatic parcel. My Muspelheim ordeal is already scheduled for May so I now have that to prepare for. I’m grateful to have survived this one, though I have to say, even at their most terrifying, the Svartalfar have a definite aesthetic sense.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


by Anya Kless

Ordeals come in many forms, as does the training that prepares us for them. Part of my path is the path of the flesh - sex work. I only realized much later that much of my sexual history has been preparation for the things I do in the name of Odin, and Lilith, and--last but not least--Loki. Looking back, I am made aware of how thoroughly He shadowed me during my formative years of sexual play and performance.

My high school boyfriend fell for me while I was dressed as Zorro. Maybe it was the riding boots, the black mask, or the penciled-on moustache. Maybe it was my cocky little smile. In college, I fucked boys and girls interchangeably—sometimes in happy groups of naked lust—and I continued masquerading. I cropped off my hair, dyed it fire engine red, and ran the gambit of self-expression from extreme femme to farm boy butch. I began a written correspondence with one of my best female friends—and bedmates—even though we lived in the same building. She played Fritz, a bright-eyed German student, while I answered as Alexi, a brooding Russian revolutionary. We filled pages with our fervent, melodramatic desires, all the while staying up late critiquing bad porn, discussing our feminist theory class, and watching every film from the “Gay/Lesbian” section of our local Blockbuster. It was a fruitful time of experimentation. I honestly didn’t know what box I belonged in, but luckily I was in an environment that didn’t care if I ever chose.

After college I had less opportunity for such blatant play, but Halloween has always been a good excuse. For one of my first Halloweens in New York City, I morphed into a goth princess to the extreme. I covered myself in tattoos and piercings (temporary), made up my face, whitened my skin, and sprayed my hair into a jet black spiky halo. When my unsuspecting boyfriend knocked on my door, a whispered “Oh my God” slipped out before he could say anything else. As we rode the subway, parents moved their children away from my layered black gown and arched eyebrows. A few years later, my roommate and I went out as a loser hipster boy and his Russian bride. I provoked a fair amount of amused disgust with my stubbled jaw, stringy hair, and faux paunchy physique. I didn’t go as far as I used to with rolled socks down the crotch of my jeans, but I felt the transformation was a success.

I have always enjoyed the fluidity of my appearance and the possibilities of multiple identities. There are times where it’s worked against me, yet it’s also made me more generally adaptable to whatever life throws my way. I am a natural chameleon, which explains why I could fit into the social world of every person I’ve dated, from academics and composers to lawyers and insurance salesmen. It’s another kind of drag, what my friend Tamyris calls the “Midgard drag.” In other words, how well can you “do” normal as your spirit work slowly pulls normalcy away from you?

My answer: surprisingly well.

My abilities in this area no doubt stem from Loki, master showman, trickster, and transformer. I built Him an altar in the fall, but I’ve only been starting to have ‘sessions’ with Him in the last month. Most of these sessions involve charging my strap on, a sacred tool that sits on His altar when not in use. The first time I held it during a meditation, He came through as a rough and gorgeous punk boy, there to break all the rules and show everyone how it’s done. While I watched, speechless, He took Odin—my very dominant husband and master—and used Him as a demo bottom. “This,” He grinned while thrusting, “is how you fuck an Odin’s man. This is how they need it.” Hail Loki, Blower of Minds.

Luckily for me, I had fucked men before. Before I’d ever used a strap on, I was skeptical that it could provide any enjoyment to the person wearing it. I saw it as the equivalent of turning yourself into a sex toy for someone else. It set off all my feminist alarms about women, even dominant women, serving as mere tools for male pleasure.

Boy was I wrong.

I remember the exact moment I realized it, too. I had a beautiful, bound male submissive on his knees before me, someone I cared deeply about and switched with for almost two years. That evening, he greedily sucked on my strap on, choking whenever I decided to pull on his collar and slide it down his throat. Needless to say, he was moaning—when not choking—and rock hard. The surprise? I was so wet my own juices were dripping down my leg. I don’t know if it was the control, the energy, or something else, but I had an epiphany. This is fucking hot.

By the time I got to Loki, therefore, I knew there was both power and pleasure contained in my silicone cock. I knew that I would need to extend my energy into it and create an astral connection, literally building a phallus for myself. Of course, the trickster had more surprises for me.

Last week, I went to see Him again, despite the fact that my new harness had not yet arrived (I had lost the old one when my relationship with the beautiful cocksucker ended. I never keep used toys – too much of an energy connection there.) With a black bungee cord, Loki taught me how to quickly and simply fashion a makeshift harness. I attached my new cock and carved up a nice red candle for Him. I felt the energy in the room changing. As I stood in front of the mirror, freshly showered, hair slicked back, makeup-less, cock in place, I was morphing. I wanted to erase my breasts and thrust my hips. I felt—to use a bad pun—cocky. Loki had nudged me into the headspace of a gay man.

As a top I tend to be quite femme, so this was odd to say the least. Some of my past female partners had triggered my male side, but in a very hetero, sexual predator kind of way. This was different. I grunted and muttered things through gritted teeth as I stroked my cock with a lubed-slicked, gloved hand. I wanted different things, I made different noises, I even came differently. Rather than the full-body, paralyzing girl orgasms I usually have, this was localized around my cock. Interesting.

Yesterday we had another session with the same results. I wonder if there are going to be clients I’ll have to penetrate as a man, or if He’s just trying to widen my horizons. The more permutations I have, the more useful I am. I know I have the potential to see anyone as a potential partner. I know I can be both top and bottom, and I know I can do drag. I just never guessed I’d be in drag energetically.

I have never felt that I was born into the wrong body or that I wanted to physically change my sex. For me, it’s a matter of fluidity and transformation. For some people, that might make it less real. For others, play is a dirty word that connotes not taking your true identity seriously and living it 24/7. I know that my ability to “pass” as “normal” is not a choice some people have or frankly want. Personally, I celebrate the idea of play, even as it becomes my work. Knowing my history, it makes sense and just seems like the next step. It still caught me off guard, but then again, that’s what He does best.

Hail Loki, Master of Disguise.