Don't Break The Spirit: Slave Training in an Animistic Pagan World

Disclaimer: In this article, it is taken as obvious that the "slave" in question has agreed to this relationship of their own free will, and that it makes them happy and fulfilled to be owned. This is not about kidnapping and coercion, it's about D/s, OK? I figured everyone ought to know that, but my wife suggested that I put in this disclaimer for those people who just don't get it.

I've read a lot of articles on how full-time slaves ought to be trained, and they all make me vaguely uncomfortable. While it's true that every slave is different, and every master has different needs, I had problems with the overly-detailed procedures designed to rob a slave -- someone who you, hopefully anyway, chose because you liked them as a person -- and take away everything that they are, clearing them like a blank slate to be written across. Somehow this seemed wrong to me, and not just ethically wrong but full of wasted effort, like burning down a house rather than renovating it.

After a while, I realized what the root problem was. These trainers were working out of the mechanistic worldview that has bedeviled our culture for the past two centuries. In this worldview, of which B.F. Skinner's theories were one extreme example, everything is a machine. Every part of the universe, including the human psyche, is a collection of bits and parts that can be disassembled and reassembled if one only has the Chilton's manual and the right tools. Nothing has a soul, because there are no such things. We are all just machines to be "fixed" and "rebuilt", and when it comes to slave training, it's machining on a grand scale.

This kind of mechanistic worldview is also evident in military basic training and certain forms of cult brainwashing. It's the idea that a human being is a computer to be programmed, and all you need are the right codes.....but first you have to reduce them to a brainless, soulless thing. It's rather like the way that they are trying to design robots in the MIT robotics lab (a fascinating place, to be sure). First you build a dumb robot, then a slightly smarter one, and then a still smarter one. Each one has more lines of code, more rules to program in. In order to program a human being this way, you first have to reduce them to a dumb robot and start from there.

Except that I'm not convinced that this is best way to go about building a robot, much less changing the behavior of a human being. I recently watched a show on robotics and saw a rogue tech who was working on the concept of neural networks rather than programming every function; he'd made some simple insectoid bots who didn't do much except crawl about, but they were able to learn simple things on their own and adjust their own behavior accordingly. He played with them and called them by name, and was affectionate with them, because their "life-mimicking" behavior inspired his human nature to do so. To me, he was in the process of giving them souls.

Then it clicked for me. To me, the sort of paganism that I practice is strongly bound up with animism -- the idea that inanimate objects can have souls, can have a spirit and a character of their own. In the mechanistic worldview, everything is a little less than fully alive. In my worldview -- compared to the "ordinary" one -- everything has, as my boy Joshua has pointed out, "an extra level of being alive". Certainly I don't feel spirit in everything I touch -- some things are just inert -- but I do sense it in a lot more things than the average person will ever admit. It's most obvious in objects from the natural world, such as water, or fire, or rocks. Rocks definitely have spirit, although it's long and slow and for them to speak a single sentence takes a century, so it's hard for us to communicate with them. But big rocks have a strong spirit, and mountains (the biggest rocks of all) even more so.

The land beneath my feet, of course, most definitely has a spirit. I talk frequently to my land-wight, and I've made some rather heavy deals with it -- it runs the wards on my land in return for attention and certain services. But it's a little different with man-made things. Most machined things don't have much of a spirit. Items lovingly made by hand are more likely to, because the maker dropped energy and soul into them. But the most soul-full things of all are valued, loved, much-used tools. My guitar has a spirit, one that is mellow and cooperative and very feminine -- I named her Madrigal, and she loves me. I can tell every time I play her. My knives have spirits. My car has a spirit. My big old-fashioned Victorian wood cookstove, Esmeralda, already had a spirit when we bought her and moved her into the kitchen.

My wife summed it up in talking about her .22 rifle. It was basically "empty" when she brought it home, but she pointed out that it developed a spirit over a period of time through regular use, respect, a feeling of being valued, and most of all, special rituals for its care that one did over and over again. In the case of her rifle, it was cleaning it, carefully trigger-locking it and putting it away, and having the proper signs and sigils (the FID and the registration paperwork) ready to hand.

This way of working with valued tools is what I think a pagan master ought to base "slave training" on. After all, as a pagan animist I expect my most valuable and useful property to have spirit. Why would I want less from my human property, which would arguably be the most valuable treasure of all? Instead of trying to reduce them to a drone and then programming them from the ground up, wouldn't it be more appropriate to use the kind of techniques that an animist uses to create spirit in and bond with their precious tools?

This was driven home by a comparison I made mentally with a line from the Oath of Service that I wrote, where the master refers to the servant as being an "extension of his hands". This was echoed in one of the "slave training" articles, but in a very different way. For the author of this article, to be an extension of the master's hands was to be a mindless robot who would obey strict orders very literally, and never try to anticipate anything or use critical thinking skills. I was taken aback, as I saw the line in my Oath very differently. To use a modern example, if I had a couple of extra hands hanging off me, and I cut them loose to go places and do things that I couldn't, I wouldn't be thinking of them as programmed robotic hands. I'd be thinking of them as becoming rather like Thing, the disembodied-hand servant of the Addams Family, who definitely has a mind and a spirit (and a gender) of his own. He is utterly devoted to the Addamses, and especially Gomez, but he can do all sorts of intelligent things in order to make life better for them. He has character. He has Soul.

I was reminded of my (now decomissioned) 1972 Dodge van, named Lurch for his personality -- large, strong, and devoted in a grouchy way. A car once cut us off in dangerous traffic, and we would have had a fatal collision except that the steering wheel wrenched itself out of my wife's hands, and the van made a neat and perfect switch to the next lane between two other cars. We were both stunned. We also took Lurch straight to the mechanic's and gave him an oil change in gratitude. That's the kind of servant I want to have around -- human or nonhuman.

So if the paradigm of slave training for the mechanistic world is programming a computer, then what's the paradigm for the animistic world? Why, magic, of course. It would be a matter of using the same magical techniques on your slave that you would use to bond with a valuable tool and make it into a devoted and soul-full servant. To do this, there are several points to remember.

The first point is that you can't choose the kind of spirit that is going to come into your tool. You don't place the soul into it so much as call the soul into it, and maintain that soul with bits of your own energy. Object spirits come in many different forms. Madrigal is sweet and a little wistful; Esmeralda is cheerful and warm and a little stuffy and old-fashioned. I had a knife with a spirit so nasty that people were constantly cutting themselves on it. Could I change its nature? No. I had to put a binding spell on it, and feed it a little of my own blood regularly. (It eventually disappeared...probably off to newer hunting grounds.) You have to work with the character of the individual tool's spirit, and this goes for human slaves especially. Changing the person's basic nature is not only wrong but an exercise in futility. All you can succeed in doing is implanting behavior so alien to their natures that the dissonance will cause them to slowly suffocate.

Sometimes it may be important to implant a little alien behavior or energy -- one example of where this might be useful in the non-D/s world is a Reiki attunement, where the Reiki master "scoops out" a bit of your energy and replaces it with something to aid you in doing Reiki. However, this is something to be used very sparingly, and it must never be extensive enough that it blocks the slave's own personality from coming out.

The second point is that the training must be a 50/50 partnership all the way. This is not something that the dominant inflicts upon the helpless submissive. The two parties must be in collusion with regard to the goals of the training. I am made profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that a dominant can do Jedi mind tricks on a submissive and not tell them about it. Aside from the fact that it's really sleazy ethics, the dominant may miss valuable feedback from the slave that would make the exercise more effective, or on the other extreme, keep it from being mentally harmful.

I try to keep all my Jedi mind tricks open and aboveboard. If there's a behavior that I want changed or implanted, first I tell my slave about it. Then I give reasons for my desires, and I try to make them good ones, as this is not something that should be done on a whim. Then I explain how we are going to go about changing this part of him, and why I think that this method will work effectively. This is especially important with a slave who is past the point of consent; i.e. has consensually given up the ability to consent. If I have taken that away from him, then I at least owe him the clear knowledge of what is being done to him.

Then it's up to the slave to actively collude with me on the project. This might mean that we would brainstorm the most effective context and tools together, or that he would work with me on getting into a slightly (or not so slightly) altered state where he would be more open to suggestion. It might also mean that she might voice objections based on our agreed-upon ethical code, or that she might point out information I had missed. Even a dominant with excellent judgment can screw up based on insufficient information. If you work a spell with incorrect information about the situation, it often simply doesn't work, or it might manifest in a way that you didn't expect and don't particularly like. This is no different.

The tools that we use are the same ones that are used in magic energy work with objects. They include, but are not limited to:

1) Words Of Power. In spellwork, we might speak a particular word or phrase that embodies the idea we want to put across to the nonverbal part of our brain, which is the part that handles all magic work, connects with the Universe, and most drastically affects behavior. If a word, it is usually a connotatively "loaded" word; if a phrase, it is short, pithy, succinct, and perhaps rhythmic or poetic. It is spoken in a tone of voice that conveys power and certainty. I use the same "command voice" to utter a spell that I use to tell my slave that from now on, he will do X, and that's the way it's going to be. I think as carefully about my phrasing in these delicate proceedings as I do when doing a magic working where I ask the Universe to send me something. Words count drastically in these situations. There shouldn't be too many of them, and they should all be loaded with visual and "feeling" content, and be memorable.....because your slave is going to commit them to heart, at least subconsciously.

2) Touch. This is the medium by which we usually pass energy into our tools, especially ritual tools. In some traditions, one marks the ritual tools with one's own bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, saliva, urine, or sexual fluids. As you smear them on, you impress the intent into the tool through the fluid medium, which holds a great deal of your energy. For some spells, you write your intent in letters, or perhaps use runes, or symbols. Adapting this for the body of a submissive is obvious, especially if you remember that skin is absorbent.

Just touching the tool, not once but repeatedly (and in the same ritualized manner) over a long period of time is probably the most common method of invoking soul into it. We often have the urge to stroke and touch our ensouled property; it's a way of maintaining it's energy and bond with us. A blind former lover pointed out to me that when people say, "Let me see that," they hold out their hand to take it, because you can't fully see something with only your eyes. You can "see" many things with your sense of touch that may elude your eyes.

Regular touch is good for building intimacy anyway, but for purposes of magically inducing changes of behavior, body contact and gentle stroking is extremely useful. It's what you'd do to an object that you were "charging", and you can "charge" the submissive in the same way, releasing a little of your own will into them as a way to "set" a command. When I thought hard about the sort of touch that I use, especially during those verbal commands that are meant to change significant behavior, I realized that I tended to touch my slave in two different places depending on the command. For commands that required a great deal of trust, I would lay my hand over his heart chakra; on some level I wanted him to "take this to heart". For commands that were to slip under the conscious mind and become mental conditioning, I'd put my hand on the back of his neck and head, where the brain stem is. (It's important to tell your slave that you're attempting to send a command in under her conscious "radar"; if your bond is good enough, it will go in regardless of her skeptical "Yeah, sure," and she'll find herself following it anyway, to her surprise. If you neglect to let her know what you're doing, she will have no clear basis for her sudden change of behavior, and it may be upsetting to her. Making her doubt her sanity is not a useful outcome.)

3) Rituals. This could be seen as the sort of thing that comes under the name of "protocol", except that it feels a little different when it's structured as ritual. The non-spiritual meaning of "ritual" is something that is done deliberately the same way every time. This certainly resembles "traditional D/s protocol", if you will; rules are agreed upon that boundary many aspects of the slave's life (and that vary widely from mistress to master to mistress, I might point out), and the slave repeats them day in and day out. There's a lot about BDSM play that is similar in tone to a pagan ritual, in that it is theatrical and uses lots of props. The difference between "traditional" D/s ritual and the adaptation of pagan ritual to train a slave is that a skilled witch/magician/energy worker will be a lot more cognizant of what they are raising, and where to put it.

If the couple practices painplay, this can be used to raise energy which can then be funneled into the slave, along with a command. Another approach might be for the submissive to strive to see the everyday work of their path as a sacred ritual in and of itself, much like a Shinto priest carefully and elegantly rakes spirals into his garden, or like a tea ceremony, or a sacred dance. A slave's path, when done in a mindful and not a mindless manner, can give a great deal of psychological and spiritual satisfaction in proper and graceful service. Unfortunately, training by the book of the mechanistic worldview tends to create mindlessness instead of mindfulness. A soul-oriented approach would seek primarily for parts of the service path that are nourishing to the spirit, and would use these as the basis of the training. It's a great deal more than simply making the slave want it. It's showing them how to learn to need it as part of their spiritual path.

I'd like to say that, for the record, although this may work most intensely when the individuals involved are in love with each other (those love drugs add a level of passion and vehemence to the energy), it can work quite well where "being in love" is not present. It does, however, require at least mutual respect, liking, and affection. If you didn't like a tool, or didn't think much of it, you wouldn't use it very often, and you'd get a better one as quickly as you could. When you did use it, you wouldn't be filling it with anything very nice. If a master doesn't at least have warm feelings for their slave, then for gods' sake send them somewhere they'll be more appreciated.

There's one other point to make that is uniquely pagan in worldview. Each spirit that gets called into a man-made object is a tiny reflection, a snapshot, a splinter, an avatar of a much greater spirit. For example, my guitar's spirit is a tiny reflection of the much greater Spirit Of Music. The spirit in my wife's .22 is an avatar of a much greater Warrior's Weapon Spirit. In invoking these spirits into the items, we make them sacred in some sense. Through them, we can contact the greater spirit that they are linked to. When someone takes on the archetype of the Owned Slave, they allow into themselves a piece of the greater spirit that is All That Is Sacrificed That We May Live. This Spirit has many faces and names -- the Sacred King, John Barleycorn, Iphigenia, Persephone, the Sacrificed Maiden, the Prey Animal, the Bull God and Goat God, Lugh, Baldur, the Corn Dollie, the Wicker Man, and so forth. It appears in every ancient culture, because our ancestors deeply revered the life that gave itself for our survival.

To become an owned slave is to become an object, to some extent, but a cult object, a sacred thing, a living altar piece. Through them we touch the life of that particular divine force, the one that is present in every sheaf of wheat at the moment it is cut down, and every steer at them moment that it is butchered, and every deer at the moment that it gives itself to the wolf pack. Their presence invokes into us dominants the archetypal spirit of the Gods who accept the sacrifice, who are usually the implacable deities of Death. Through them, we become divine.

However, we are also human. The proper response of a human being to John Barleycorn the Sacrificed God is gratitude. We as tops need to balance those two spirits within us, and remember when to be the Gods of Death and when to just be quietly, humanly grateful for our good fortune in having this tender soul to serve us. Conversely, the slave is also a human being, and the proper response of a human being to the Gods of Death is a respectful distance, whereas John Barleycorn hurtles willingly and with abandon into the dark embrace of the Death Goddess, with all the self-destructive urges of a bridegroom fly going to the bed of his spider bride. The submissive's task is to balance the urge to immolate themselves and their individuality upon the altar of our desire, and to keep enough of them respectfully distant from the cutting edge of our darkness that they will still retain the ability to do that active colluding. To do this is to base D/s protocol on the protocols of pagan worship, and as such it keeps a mutual respect in place between partners.

This kind of work is long and slow and takes a lot of patience. It's not good for people who want instant gratification. You're slowly shaping what's already there, not tearing down and starting from nothing. It's less radical treatment, but it gets the same results without the same levels of confusion and trauma, and most of all, it's more permanent. The kinds of changes made in mechanistic world-view slave training force the individual's spirit down into a box, where it sits until it is released. It may never be released, but it's still there, waiting, and getting more and more cramped. Eventually, if the slave is let loose, it will reassert itself.

Using magical and animistic ritual means that you are changing the spirit itself. What's done is done, and it's much harder to undo. This can be good or bad, depending on the situation. However, by tying slave training into a spiritual path, if something goes wrong and the slave is abandoned by his/her owner or is forced to leave, they can always fall back on the Gods, at least temporarily, for comfort, consolation, and the promise of a more appropriate venue in which to follow their path.