Purposes of Ordeals
excerpt from Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism
Spirit-workers in this tradition might use the Ordeal Path themselves for various purposes, including but not limited to:
1) Bringing the mind to a deep trance state where the soul can separate from it and do work. When noninjurious pain is applied to the body in the right manner, endorphins and other chemicals flood the brain and cause altered states of consciousness. Even for those who don't make endorphins well - perhaps because of chronic illness - adrenalin can also be used for similar purposes, although it creates a very different kind of state than the morphine-like endorphins. This kind of pain-use has been around for millennia; it's easier and safer than taking plants into your system, and it requires only your own body and a knowledge of what to do with its flesh and nerve endings. An example of this might be a seer or diviner using a pain ordeal to move through a block and force their mind out of the everyday chatter of life, in order to get better clarity on an important question.
2) Assisting in moving through shaman sickness. When one is literally spiritually dying in order to be reborn again, usually with a physical illness of some kind along with it, a pain ordeal that brings one temporarily closer to that moment of spiritual Death can hasten the period of shaman sickness. It won't make it go away entirely, and despite what some people say you can't do a series of ordeals instead of going through any shaman sickness in order to get to the same point. It is true that some would-be shamans have, in the past, subjected themselves to terrible ordeals that mimic the effects of shaman sickness in order to get the attention of the Spirits and be chosen by them, but once the Spirits have noticed them, it is assumed that they will trigger the actual shaman sickness, and these ordeals are just a preliminary. However, repeated ordeals (with the aid of the Gods and wights that one works with) during shaman sickness can move its course along more vividly, and get the suffering shaman out the other end quicker and perhaps with more of their health intact.
3) Removing psychic impurities and injuries; deep cleansing. As Galina Krasskova describes below in her experience of removing elfshot via a cutting, sometimes it takes an ordeal to get out particularly stubborn impurities. Our jobs are dangerous, and we often come in contact with astral substances that most people don't ever touch, especially when we are cleaning them out of the bodies of clients. If the "infection" spreads to the spirit-worker, it needs to be removed before it can get deeply rooted and interfere with their ability to function, and for serious problems that means drastic measures. There's also some kinds of ordeals can give the astral body a good shake back into the correct position, as it were, and flush out any number of built-up day-to-day toxins.
4) Aftercare; bringing the soul and consciousness back into the body. Spirit-workers who find trance easy and living in the body much more difficult may find it hard to come back from a dissociative state after journey-work. Pain, and especially random uneven pain - the exact opposite of the sort of pain used to create an altered state - is good for forcibly returning the consciousness to the body. When you're in that kind of pain, you have to be here, so some of us utilize that in order to keep ourselves present in our flesh after long draining travels. For this one, you really need the talents of an assistant who is trained in the particular sort of discomfort that brings you back to yourself...and ideally one who will salve up the damage afterwards.
5) Raising a fund of energy to work with. This is similar to some of the techniques used for the Path of the Flesh, in that one is using bodily sensations to raise more energy than can be done with the body in a quiescent mode. The difference between the two is that while the energy used with the Path of the Flesh is orgasm - and orgasm can only last so long - noninjurious or mildly injurious pain can be extended for a much longer period of time than orgasm, and be even more intense. The energy raised via ordeal has a particular flavor - it is raw, strong, hot, and a bit rough for gentle purposes, so plan accordingly. Often this is the Energy Of Last Resort, the thing that you do in psychic emergencies when a great battery of power is needed immediately.
6) Making an offering to a God or wight. Many deities enjoy or at least honor pain that is given to them as an offering, especially if they are the darker members of the Rokkr pantheon, or Odin whose roads often lead down this Path. Generally, any deity involved with death or destruction will appreciate it, and some will hardly give you the time of day without it. An extreme example of this is Fenris, who is fed by being summoned into the body of a bound horse who is then given pain infliction, and the Great Wolf feeds on it.
7) A hunt for power. This is when ordeals are used as a rite of finding strength and courage. Even spirit-workers sometimes get to feeling despairing, helpless, and incompetent, and may need to remember their own strength and power through enduring trials or facing their fears. The old saying goes, "Where there's fear, there's power," and most people have innumerable fears around pain. Once anyone has gone through it and survived, discovered borders of their own strength that they never knew that they could endure, there is more strength and power available to them.
Even if a spirit-worker is not drawn to the ordeal path for themselves, they may be called upon to do it for clients. A client might need an ordeal for any of the above reasons plus several others, such as: A rite of passage, to prove to themselves that they are adult, or to celebrate a turning point in their lives. Facing a fear or phobia. Mourning or grieving a loss or death, especially for those who have trouble releasing such emotions. Learning trust, in other humans or in the divine. Opening their boundaries to the Gods. Shutting off the inner voices and achieving a short period of blissful silence. Celebrating the body (this last seems like a non sequitur, but the feeling of "aliveness in the flesh" that follows an effective physical ordeal is a form of celebrating to some people).
When a client comes to you and asks you to facilitate an ordeal rite for them, remember that it isn't about you. Even if you are the scariest and most impressive thing in the ritual, you have to be selfless about it. The rite is designed for their needs, not yours. On the other hand, you have to be strong enough not to break down and decide that you can't handle this - the responsibility, the pain in their eyes, seeing yourself as an inflicter of suffering. An Ordeal Master must be utterly ruthless, compassionate, and have no ego involved in the process. Even if you enjoy it, it's a service job, like everything else that we do.
That means that we have to be very careful to design an ordeal around what would really work for that person, rather than what we might like to do or see done to them, or what our favorite technique is, or what we're really in the mood for. Divination is good for this sort of thing.