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.