- 1: the subjection and denial of bodily passions and appetites by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort
- 2: necrosis, gangrene
- 3a : a sense of humiliation and shame caused by something that wounds one's pride or self-respect
- b : the cause of such humiliation or shame
Mortification of the flesh is the institutional expiatory act of a person or group's penance for atonement of sins and path to sanctity. The term is primarily used in religious and spiritual contexts. The practice is often found in many cultures, most notably the Roman Catholic Church and their penitential saints. Common forms of mortification includes flagellation, in imitation of Jesus Christ's suffering and death by crucifixion. Other forms are fasting, carrying heavy loads and immersion in water which are found in some Asian cultures.
In its simplest form, mortification of the flesh can mean merely denying oneself certain pleasures, such as abstaining from alcoholic beverages, internet, porn, or any area of life that takes the place of god (so, basically anything you do other than sit in contemplation and worship of God/Jesus - your job, your family, your interests, your amusements, etc.). For example, "I might sit on the internet all day everyday, and therefore be committing adultery against Jesus because my affections are with that rather than god himself. Therefore we must focus on Jesus and put him first in our life as Christians." It can also be practiced by choosing a simple or even impoverished lifestyle; this is often one reason many monks of various religions take vows of poverty.
Traditional forms of physical mortification are the cilice and hair-shirts. In some of its more severe forms, it can mean causing self-inflicted pain and physical harm, such as beating, whipping, or piercing.
Various forms of self-denial or voluntary suffering (commonly referred to as Asceticism) are practiced in various ways by members of many religions, including Sufism, and Shi'a Islam which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in the 7th century battle of Kerbala. Buddhism, Catholicism, and Hinduism. Various indigenous peoples and primitivists also incorporate voluntary pain, suffering, and self-denial as part of their spiritual traditions as vehicles to the divine and/or rites of passage or healing.
It has been speculated that extreme practices of mortification of the flesh may be used to obtain altered states of consciousness to achieve spiritual experiences or visions. In modern times, members of the Church of Body Modification believe that by manipulating and modifying their bodies (by painful processes) they can strengthen the bond between their bodies and spirits, and become more spiritually aware. This somewhat secular group uses rites of passage from many traditions to seek their aims, including Hindu, Buddhist, shamanic, methods of seeking altered states of consciousness.