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Joyful Labia Suspension Church of Pain Helene Fjell foto

Photo: Helene Fjell

What’s Pain Got to Do With It?

Smertekirken - Church of Pain views pain as a multifaceted aspect of a person’s spiritual and physical experience. Understanding pain, the roles that it plays in our lives, and its potential for use as a spiritual tool is fundamental to our belief.

As a functional mechanism, alerting us to dangers both external and internal, pain is a sensation that should not be ignored. Its purpose in the purely physical sense is primal, hardwired, and essential. Our very survival hinges on our ability to recognize and respond to pain. With the rarest of exceptions, pain is also something that all humans share.

From a social standpoint, pain is something that every human has in common. We believe that the social role of pain has existed since the dawn of our species and that it likely has roots in pre-human communities as well. While one social aspect of pain is working together to avoid it, we believe that another is enduring pain together to build and maintain bonds of community.

The communal experience of pain, as a group ritual or a rite of passage, creates a shared experience that can act as a touchstone for group—or personal—identity. When that experience leaves an indelible mark shared by the participants, it becomes a symbol not only of the experience but also of the community. This can be readily observed in industrial and pre-industrial cultures.

Due to its shared and relatable nature, pain is often viewed as a sacrifice—be it pain endured in athletic pursuits, in the service of others, in practices such as body modification and body suspension, etc. Pain is a sacrifice that we can provide completely from within ourselves and, as such, is a uniquely valuable and personal offering.

The spiritual aspect of pain stems from the understanding of pain as a sacrifice. We believe that it can be much more than a simple offering. Pain can be a portal. The concept of a spirit journey or crossing over to another plane has existed since pre-historic times and endures in many cultures up to this day.

We believe that using pain as a catalyst in shamanic journeys, spirit quests, astral travel, and communion with a higher power is based in an intrinsic and intuitive understanding that Nature exists in a state of plurality—of which most humans only experience a tiny sliver. The sensation of pain can push our consciousness out of the framework in which we have trained ourselves to exist, opening our minds to dimensions beyond our normally limited perception, and give us a glimpse—however fleeting—of the divine that we can take back with us.

The Church of Pain recognizes that pain is just one of the tools that can be used to achieve this type of transcendental experience, but prefers pain for its fundamental immediacy, purity, and honesty.

Pain Rituals

—and How We Facilitate Them

While many different types of pain rituals are practiced around the world, Smertekirken - Church of Pain concentrates primarily on rituals involving hooks that are temporarily placed through the skin. Hook rituals where a person attempts to leave the ground and hang freely from the hooks are called “suspension” rituals, “body suspension”, or “flesh hook suspension”. One can also connect their hooks with rope to an object or another person and use their own body to apply pressure to the hooks. We refer to that type of hook ritual as “pulling”.

Even though Church of Pain is a religious community, we will never demand that you follow a specific style of ritual. Our church does not have a long tradition of specific elements to include—like fasting in advance, eating crackers and drinking wine, or wearing special garments. Since we believe we are all connected by a universal force we call Nature, and that everything that is, has been, and will be is included in Nature, it is what’s important and sacred to you that matters in your ritual. If you want to add elements of cleansing with sacred smoke, holy water, sacrificing of tobacco or other plants or liquids, including runes or prayers to a representation of the divine that speaks to you—you are encouraged to do so. If your intention is to just have fun on hooks, that is as valid as anything else.

Smertekirken Pain Ritual Tandem Seated Suspension Katarsis Foto

Photo: Katarsis Foto

Body Suspension

As mentioned above, body suspension is when a person hangs freely in the air from hooks pierced through the skin. Our current setup allows for all kinds of suspensions ranging from simple postures using one or two hooks to positions using many hooks with more intricate rigging. In essence, if you have an idea for a posture that you would like to hang in, we can most likely figure out a way to make it work, although we do reserve the right to not facilitate suspensions that we believe to be unsafe.

A hook suspension can be done alone, or with others. Usually, two people choose to hang together in a “tandem suspension”, but more than two people can suspend together as well.

We usually suggest that a person who wants to do a suspension ritual with us begins their ritual by cutting down a small tree to use in their ritual. A portion of the tree is cut off and used as the anchor point for the ropes connected to the person’s hooks (often referred to as a “suspension rig”). By doing this, the person performing the ritual chooses the exact point when the ritual begins—and begins the ritual by sacrificing a living thing. We like beginning rituals in this way because it helps a person focus on their intention for the ritual, take responsibility for starting the ritual, and possibly gives them a chance to reflect on their connection to—and part in—Nature’s ever revolving cycle of life and death.

All trees sacrificed in this way are gathered up and burned together in our Winter Solstice Group Pull (at the end of the year here in Norway).

Smertekirken Pain Ritual Hook Pulling from Chest Flesh Hooks Line Møller linemfoto

Photo: Line Møller

Hook Pulling

We also offer hook pulling rituals. It can be just one person pulling against a stationary point, a tree, or other natural (or not) objects. Pulling can also be done as a group ritual between two or more people where the hooks are connected by rope to each other or to a central point or object. This ritual can be adapted fully to your needs and desires, there are many options for hook placement, and we have many different places around the property where we can perform it. It is also possible to pull an object from one place or another, if you are interested in pursuing something of that nature.

Ritual Space

Our main ritual space is our picturesque tripod—a three-legged stand—made from three 12 meter (39 ft.) long fir poles. The trees were cut, dried, barked, and erected by Alan and June here at Vestrønningen. The tripod is placed close to one of our fields and provides a secluded, yet open feeling of hanging in the middle of nature. It can be used for nearly any kind of suspension or pulling all year round. In addition to our tripod, we have a range of tree-to-tree options around our farm that can be considered. We do not currently have any inside ritual space.

Private Setting or Event?

To book your ritual with Smertekirken you must first decide on whether you want to do it in private, possibly surrounded by your friends or family, or if you want to come to one of our bigger events where you will meet like-minded people. You may also contact us if you would like for us to travel to you to facilitate your pain ritual. We have separate pages for Private Ritual, Equinox/Solstice Group Pulls, and our Summer Solstice Gathering where you can read more and book your ritual, but we strongly encourage you to keep reading this page, even if you have done many pain rituals before.

Post in Journal: Ceremonies

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Photos: Katarsis Foto

Facilitation

Our style of facilitation is somewhat different from the style that many people practice. Some facilitators invite themselves into the physical space of a person’s ritual without asking, or they tend to form and lead the ritual in a certain way. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, our style of facilitation is to hold the space around the ritual, but we only enter that space if our participation is requested or, of course, if there is a safety aspect that needs to be checked or addressed.

We do have decades of experience helping people get off the ground on hooks and, usually, people do leave the ground during their ritual. Still, we feel that personal agency is at the core of the rituals we facilitate. There is tremendous potential for learning and growth in rituals where a person does not fully leave the ground and we believe that interfering in a person’s process simply to coach them into the air might interrupt a powerful experience that they are having.

From our point of view, there is no “wrong” outcome in our rituals. We are absolutely ready to enter the ritual space—to hold a hand, to provide encouragement, to breathe together, and to help a participant hang freely in the air from their hooks—but we feel that it is important that we are invited. Being able to summon the strength to ask for assistance might be an important lesson for the person suspending. Then again, “going it alone” and pushing through without help might be central to the experience. The bottom line is that we do not presume to know what is best for someone and taking our egos out of someone else's ritual seems right to us.

In our role as facilitators, our ritual is opening and holding a safe ritual space for the person—or people—doing their ritual and doing the best that we can to facilitate the ritual in accordance with their desires. That being the case, the more we know about what you want out of your ritual, the better prepared we will be to facilitate it. We recommend making a list of anything that you want to talk about with us and do it before the ritual begins. If something is important to communicate, it is best to talk about it before beginning the ritual.

What About the Weather?

To get the full experience of doing a pain ritual at Smertekirken, you will need to accept the element of nature. We have facilitated many rituals, both suspending from and pulling on hooks, during the colder months of the year, and feel that the weather can add power to the experience. While suspending outside in not perfect weather can seem intimidating to some, we believe that being pushed around by the wind, feeling the sun come and go as it filters through the clouds, and even experiencing a bit of precipitation can really enhance a person’s experience of Nature!

You are invited to do your ritual here all year round, but we ask that you bring appropriate clothing for the season. We will, of course, make sure that you are safe and not at risk of getting hypothermia during the coldest time of the year; but we see no reason not to hang or pull in the winter season. Since we are in the beautiful Norwegian countryside, it is always a good idea (even during the summer) to have an additional sweater, some thick socks, and a layer or two to keep you cozy if there is a chill in the air or the clothes you suspend in get wet.

If we get a freak snowstorm, heavy rain, or thunder and lightning on the day that you are scheduled to suspend, we will be happy to reschedule your ritual.

You can see an occasionally accurate weather forecast on yr.no for Vestrønningen, Farm, Stange, Innlandet, elevation 358 m.

Person hanging from flesh hooks in back smiling in the rain

Photo: Katarsis Foto

Health Issues

Your health and safety are of utmost importance, and we need to know if you have any underlying health concerns. There are very few health issues that prevent a person from taking part in a suspension or pulling ritual but, if you have a serious health condition, you must inform us. Depending on the condition, we may ask you to consult with your doctor beforehand.

We also need to know if you have a blood-borne illness (such as HIV, Hepatitis, etc.), are taking blood-thinning medication, or have any muscular/skeletal issues that we should be aware of.

We do not suspend people during pregnancy because we do not feel that we are qualified to assess the risks involved. Still, we would be happy to discuss how to go about it if your doctor gives you permission!

Work for Pain

If you wish to do a pain ritual at Smertekirken but money is tight, please reach out to us and ask for options. We have many different projects on our farm all year round and can make a deal where you help us for part of or the whole fee. Examples of work could be splitting wood, weeding the garden, clearing brush, cutting grass, etc. If you cannot help us with practical matters, we might still be able to help you—it all starts with you contacting us via one of our channels and asking for help.

Smertekirken Pain Ritual on hooks in a superman position with roch hanging from hooks in stomack Katarsis Foto

Photo: Katarsis Foto

Creating Your Pain Ritual

There are about as many opinions on how one should prepare oneself for a pain ritual as there are people who participate in them. One suspension is never the same as another but before you do your first one, there is no exact reference on what to expect, how it will feel, and what you will experience physically and mentally when you’re hanging there by your skin. Some consider pulling to be somewhat gentler than suspension, but we feel that pulling can be an incredible, challenging, and rewarding experience that one should approach with the same seriousness as a suspension. We believe that there is no single "right way" to prepare yourself, but we can suggest some things that might work for you based on what we have seen up through the years.

Style and Hook Placement

  • If this is your first suspension and you do not know how you want to suspend, we will gladly help you find a style that suits your intention. Usually, people start with two hooks in their upper back because it gives you a lot of freedom of movement and the skin on the upper back is typically strong and easy to work with. You can stand upright and get the feel of the hooks at your own pace; maybe walk a bit back and forth or lift your legs when you are ready. The position also allows you to easily sit down if needed, and the piercing and rigging does not take a lot of time, which leaves most of your energy for getting into, and being in, the air. If you want to do something else, you are more than welcome to do so. We do, however, recommend you wait with the overly complicated stuff until you have a little experience.

  • You should be able to comfortably assume the posture that you wish to hang in without hooks or supports. This is especially important for postures such as scorpion and the splits.

  • If you wish to do a hook pulling ritual, and need inspiration for hook placement, we can recommend one or two hooks in the chest. This placement works well all year round, and especially during the winter season when you want to limit skin exposure. It gives you freedom to sit and meditate, and to stand upright and lean back to feel the pull of the hooks. It’s a very good placement for a meditative group pull or a couples pull. Other placements can be stomach, throat, back, around the elbows, forehead, mons pubis, gluteus maximus (butt cheeks), or whichever area of your skin you want to connect with or will be practical to pull on for any length of time.

  • If you have a specific posture, desired hook placement, idea for physical, aural, or visual elements that you would like to incorporate in your ritual, please tell us. We will not judge you. We do reserve our right to not pierce you in the exact place you want if we feel it will not be safe.

  • If you want to do an inverted suspension, you must wear a harness.

Practical

  • Wear something that is comfortable for you. If you want to wear nothing that is perfectly fine as well. We need access to the area around where your hooks will go, keep that in mind for your outfit and choose something appropriate (e.g., with an open back, a pair of shorts, underwear, leggings or wool underwear that we can cut holes in, etc.).

  • Bring something that will keep you warm, sometimes people get a bit chilled if their body has been working hard to accept the pain.

  • If the weather is very hot, consider bringing a cold drink, icy treat, or freezer element to cool you down. If the sun is scorching, we will break out the parasol to help keep you comfortable.

  • If your hair is long, consider bringing a hair-tie for it or braiding it so that it will be easy to get out of the way of your hooks.

  • Bring an extra shirt/outfit for after the suspension/pull in case you get blood on the one you use, or it gets wet because of rain or snow.

  • If you are doing a hook pull, you might want to bring something to sit on like an animal pelt or a thick blanket. We do have some items you can borrow, and we can cut some fir branches for you as a bottom layer.

  • Bring your own music if you like (we have a Bluetooth speaker). We do, however, recommend the sounds of nature.

  • Bring a water bottle and your favorite snacks. It’s optimal to keep your blood sugar levels up before you suspend/pull.

Mental

  • Keep an open mind and let that open mindedness extend to the prospect that your experience will not be what you imagined. Try not to imagine that it will be one way or another but rather expect nothing and everything. Let the experience happen, allow yourself to be in the moment without trying to guide it.

  • Remember that there is no such thing as an unsuccessful ritual. Even rituals where a participant withdraws immediately after the ritual space is established can be opportunities for insight and growth. Rather than focus on "success" or "failure" try to think about what you can learn.

  • Do not sabotage your own success. Do not stay up partying all night and expect your experience to be the same as if you had properly rested before the ritual.

  • Be ready for it to hurt, but there is no need to be afraid—it’s supposed to hurt. A big part of getting into the air is letting go of the fear of the pain and accepting that you are in control of your feelings.

  • Be sure that you are doing the ritual for yourself.

  • Breathe (and keep breathing).

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Photo: Katarsis Foto

Aftercare

Unless your bandages are soaked with blood, we recommend that you keep them on when you go to bed and remove them the next day when you take a shower. Keep in mind that you might leak a bit on the sheets and mattress, wear a shirt or sleep on a towel to prevent this. Wash your wounds gently with mild soap and pat them gently dry with a clean towel. If the wounds are still open and oozing, put clean bandages on. If they are small and already closing, you can either put clean clothes on after they have had a little time to dry properly or put on band-aids to maintain a barrier to keep foreign matter out of the wounds. Maintaining a barrier with bandages or band-aids is especially recommended if you are travelling after your ritual. There is no need to treat them with anything, just let them be, keep them clean, and let them heal on their own.

Please do not touch, scratch or pick at your wounds while they are healing. Let the scabs develop and fall off by themselves, otherwise you may end up with scar tissue that will make your skin harder and harder to pierce over time, and potentially weaker and more prone to tearing during future suspensions. Picking at your wounds can also lead to infections. We recommend that you not go swimming, especially in fresh-water lakes or other bodies of water with little circulation, until your wounds are healed. If you do get a bad infection, please go see your doctor.

During a suspension, it is common for some air to enter under the skin through the entry and exit wounds of the hooks, especially if you hang for a long time and/or swing around a lot. This is not dangerous and nothing to be alarmed about. We massage most of the air out during aftercare, and the rest gets reabsorbed by the body in the course of a few days. In the meantime, the skin around where you had the hooks may feel a bit puffy, tender and "crackly" (often referred to as "Rice Crispies" because of the "crackle and pop" sounds the tiny air bubbles can make). More rarely, some blood may congeal under the skin where the hooks were and cause swelling and tenderness in that area—this will also be gradually cleaned up and healed by the body. You may also experience some soreness in the areas that you were pierced during the first few days after your ritual.

A flesh hook ritual can be an intense experience on many different levels and affects different people in different ways. If you have any concerns or questions about aftercare in the days following your ritual, or you feel the need to talk to someone non-judgmental and experienced with suspension about your feelings, thoughts, and reactions—joyful or sad—please do not hesitate to contact us. We will do our best to answer your questions, share potentially useful perspectives, and point you at forums in which you can discuss, explore, and process your experience.

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