The first installment in this series examined the reasoning behind being broken, what exactly being broken might mean, and some of the spiritual goals one might expect. In this installment, I will move from the theoretical to the practical. I’ll start with a bit on how I came to ordeal work then move on to what I think are some helpful guidelines I try to follow myself when someone needs to be broken.
NOTE: I want to stress that not all ordeal work involves breaking AND that not all breaking takes place within an ordeal. However, the two seem to overlap on a regular basis in a Venn diagram kind of way. Please do not misconstrue my intent here. I don’t believe in absolutes that involve words like ALWAYS, NEVER, and ONLY. I find the gods are not nearly as interested in putting things in neat boxes as we humans are.
I. Becoming an Agent
To begin, I’m going to call upon a crappy, pop culture reference. Bear with me.
In the movie xXx (2002), master thespian Vin Diesel plays Xander Cage, an extreme sports athlete who is content to simply enjoy the adrenaline rush and personal gain of his various stunts. Because of his unique skill set, however, Xander is soon snatched up by the government to be trained as an undercover agent. He’s given only a crash course in special ops before being thrown into serious situations where his life and the lives of others are on the line. One might ask, “How could the government have so much faith in this maverick asshole?” First, they’re desperately short on agents. Second, this guy’s actually been doing the work for years – he’s just always seen it as play.
This is roughly how I see my entrance into ordeal work. It’s not something I sought out or even wanted. In fact, I was pretty sure my spiritual path would focus on divination and meditation.
I was snatched up by Them because I already had the disposition and the training – and They’re desperately short on agents.
Being told by multiple diviners (and the gods Themselves) that I was not only on the ordeal path but would be doing ordeal work for others caused me to re-evaluate my involvement in BDSM. Despite my own mistakes and the imperfections of my human partners, I already knew BDSM to be more than just getting your rocks off. As a submissive, I had used it to open parts of myself to love, to grieving, to owning what it is I really desired. When my first great mentor slowly died from cancer, it was my Dom who gave me the space to release that pain and loss. I had locked my emotions so tightly that no one else could have pried me open and let that out. As I stripped down layers of myself, I paradoxically came to understand myself as a multifaceted, complex human rather than the masks I wore for the world.
When I later began training as a Domme, I helped others explore their own dark places. It took months for my longtime submissive partner, a successful businessman, to trust me enough to share what he really needed from me. He had been badly bullied as a teenager and needed to face those ingrained feelings of humiliation. He needed to confront what had happened to him and not only survive it but have someone see him in that position…and love him regardless. BDSM, because of the nature of the encounter, relies on a firm foundation of trust and exposes where that trust is lacking. One of my friends had fantasies of being tied up, but was scared that once she was, her partner would just walk out the door. She couldn’t trust that a person would want to stay with her, given a chance to leave.
Even though I did not view this as spiritual work at the time, regardless of the role I played, I became familiar with the therapeutic nature of kink (this does not necessarily mean that it should take the place of professional therapy. It is not, however, mutually exclusive from it. There is a growing list of Kink Aware Professionals, including a variety of mental health practitioners). I knew not only how to wield a toy but also how to craft a scene. I learned the intimate ways of negotiating a body as well as the emotional, mental, and psychological terrain of the recipient. Moreover, I knew what it felt like to be that recipient: where I fought, where I found insight, where I flew. I just wasn’t doing it for the gods. Yet.
Looking back, I understand (as many of us do) that those earlier experiences were training for the work to come. I also understand the huge difference between work and play, but I am proud of where I learned many of my skills.
II. When You Can’t Get There Alone
Now that we’re done with the All About Me, you might wonder why breaking sometimes requires another person to be involved at all. If the gods want me broken, surely They can just do it Themselves? This is a valid question.
In my view, the ordeal worker can fill at least four different roles in a scene. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor are these things exclusive of each other:
1. An extra pair of hands. This is the simplest – you simply can’t do to yourself what the gods require because of human mechanics.
2. A technician. The worker has a certain skill that you don’t, similar to a tattoo artist. Would it be amazingly personal if you did your own tattoo? Sure. Would it come out better if someone who had been trained in this art did it for you? You know it. Does that make the end product less meaningful? Hardly. Even tattoo artists go to other artists for work, just like I go to other ordeal workers.
3. A shaman/priest. The worker has a spiritual skill, can consecrate the work, or use their own relationship to certain deities to assist in the work.
4. A power cord. The worker helps to channel certain energies into the scene, whether it’s the energy of a certain deity, elemental energy, or healing energy.
The purpose of the ritual can vary: it could be cathartic, an offering, a rite of initiation, or a moment of intimacy between you and your gods (in the last case, it doesn’t matter if anyone else happens to be present. Trust me). During the breaking, the ordeal worker is no curing you, fixing you, or doing anything for you: they are opening you up and pulling things to the surface. You must tackle those things yourself.
For more on types of ordeals and where to start if you think you need one, see Kaldera’s Dark Moon Rising, Ellwood and Lupa’s Kink Magic, and my own page “So You Want an Ordeal,” tabbed on the right column of my website, fruitofpain.wordpress.com.
III. Cruelty and Abuse
In a recent conversation with a Norse practitioner, she admitted her difficulty with ordeal work. “It looks too much like cruelty,” she told me. I can understand this reaction, and the word “breaking” in particular can sound like abuse. It was interesting for me to consider this objection, especially since being wired for BDSM as long as I can remember had given me a much different perspective. However, I think there are a few different misconceptions at play here.
The first point to be raised is that breaking someone can look like cruelty because it may use the same props or tools. The best explanation I have found on this is, again, from Kink Magic:
“Any tool can be used for constructive or destructive purposes. Humans have long misused pain and punishment to further their own bad conditioning by turning them on other humans for purposes of destruction. Rather than being used to rehabilitate people and teach them the effects of their destructive actions, punishment and pain have been used in the abuse of power with rehabilitation as an excuse. Our purpose here is to explore the constructive rather than destructive uses.” (116)
An individual tool cannot be called cruel or abusive – the intent of the person wielding it can be. Ellwood and Lupa also raise another point in this paragraph, something very difficult for modern people to grasp: pain itself is neutral. It has no inherent negative or positive charge. Yes, it hurts, but it is also a tool to be used. For the authors of Kink Magic, they differentiate between the two types of pain by the words hurting vs. harming (107). While a process of breaking someone may be hurting them, it is not doing harm to them. To the contrary – it is helping them accomplish something. Some might see this as semantics, but it recognizes the constructive value of a painful experience, physical or emotional.
Finally, there is the issue of consent. All parties give their consent to ritual to be performed, and nothing proceeds without the sanction of the gods. Furthermore, I’ve found that, rather than pain or power hungry fiends, all the ordeal workers I know need to be actively persuaded to take up a job. We invest a lot in each working to make it as effective as possible. No one takes the responsibility of “breaking” someone lightly, which brings me to the health and safety aspects of this essay.
IV. Educate Yourself
If you’ve read my site already, you’ll know that in addition to years of training in the BDSM community, I am also Red Cross certified in Emergency First Aid and CPR/AED use. I believe educating yourself is one of the best ways to be more useful to the gods. By getting as good as I can at my job, I honor my deities and make my work more effective. This means seeking out teachers, having experiences, and practicing.
Let’s face it - unless you’re in a mainstream religious community, there aren’t a lot of other people like you around. If you’re lucky enough to know some who have the skill you want, they are probably beyond busy just carrying their own caseload. This is another point where the BDSM community comes in handy. Most major cities have a BDSM group, and most of those groups teach classes. Take advantage of them. If you can, go to play spaces. If someone is using a skill you’d like to learn, wait until they’re free and respectfully engage them in conversation about it. They might just offer to teach you, or know someone who will. Just because you’re not learning it in a spiritual context doesn’t mean you can’t use it that way. We need to be just as opportunistic as our gods. Even if you’re good at being self-taught, there is no replacement for a human teacher, especially for the more dangerous tools like single tails, needles, or fire play. For everyone’s sake – seek out a master. Your gods would have wanted it that way (and did it themselves).
In my personal opinion, I think you should never do to someone else what you haven’t had done to yourself. If you’ve never been caned, you have no idea what that feels like. Ditto for having anything penetrate your ass. Most skills take finesse, and you’ll have a lot more appreciation for that if you’ve been there. If you don’t have a skilled human partner or friend, many in the BDSM community are willing to do scenes on an NSA basis (no strings attached).
A skilled shaman once told me that one could not be considered needle proficient until doing over 100 needles. I didn’t consider myself a strap-on master until I’d used one regularly for at least six months (luckily I had a very willing, submissive guinea pig). You cannot pick up a toy, read something online, and expect to use it well. Practice glove safety on yourself. Practice on willing kinksters: the fact that they might be getting off on it does not “dirty” the fact that you’re using it for spiritual training – they should be getting something out of this too, right? I don’t think a lack of opportunity is any excuse. Maybe it’s just my friend set, but I’ve had more offers for guinea pigs than I’ve been able to take advance of! Likewise, if we’re friendly and you need to practice something, let me know. I’ll have to run it past the Old Man, but it’s worth asking.
V: Gathering Info
I’ll admit – I’m anal retentive. I like things organized, I like going into situations with my eyes open. The gods like to throw curveballs – we’ve all been there. There always seems to be some little (or big) surprise before a ritual happens. This is inevitable; however, there are some things you can do to minimize these moments. One of them is gathering as much relevant information as possible on the person to be broken.
Before I did my first ordeal, I put together a 14-page questionnaire called the Kink Ordeal Checklist. It is separated into the following sections, and all questions have the caveat of “as much as you’re comfortable sharing”:
• Basic Info (preferred name and pronoun, height, weight)
• Medical Conditions and History (current ailments, medications, allergies, phobias, and past injuries)
• Partner Status (does your partner know about this? can they provide your aftercare?)
• Spiritual Status (who’s human are you? what limits have they given you?)
• Kink / Sexual Status (can you orgasm? have you ever had a traumatic sexual experience?)
• Physical Mobility Checklist (which of these positions can you handle, and for how long?)
• Kink Checklist (which of these acts can you handle, where, and how do you feel about them?)
For some, this might seem like overkill. You might think that if there’s anything you need to know, the person will tell you. You might also think that if something comes up, the presence of the gods will protect you both.
In my opinion, both of these are false assumptions.
People forget to mention things, even major things like the fact that they have a heart condition (I’ve seen it happen). Sometimes they don’t think it’s relevant, other times they are too focused on aspects of the ritual to think clearly. They might not know what you’ll be doing or all the tools you’ll be using. If you are the one facilitating the ordeal, particularly one in which some kind of breaking is happening, it is your job to procure this information. To fail to do so is negligent and dangerous. If you show up to a ritual and realize the person you’re meant to penetrate in some way has a chemical intolerance to all commercial lube, you’re the one who’s fucked. If the gods can’t get what they want because you didn’t do your homework, that’s on your head. Being prepared means more than just showing up with the right tools.
I will admit that at times I cut and paste from the questionnaire, rather than distributing the whole thing. The document is adjustable depending on the act and how much information you already know about the person. If you do this sort of work and would like to take a look at my KOC (hehe), let me know and I’d be happy to send you a PDF (and take suggestions on improvements).