'Gingering' references the torture practice of inserting ginger into the anus. It demonstrates a past where pseudo-phallic instruments were used to sodomise as a means to enforce patriarchal dominance. 

Figging is the practice of inserting a pared, or skinned, ginger root into a human anus. The insertions produces an acute burning sensation around the rectum. It has been historically used as a punishment and torture practice. In Ancient Greece, the practice would be used to discipline slaves and adulterers, restraining them whilst the sensation grew from uncomfortable to extreme.

If the detainee were to tighten the muscles of their anus, the sensation is said to increase in intensity. It was previously commonly used simultaneously as caning for this same reason. If the person being caned were to relieve the pain of the blow by tightening their buttocks, the burning sensation would worsen in their anus- it was a punishment of double effect. 

The sensation is said to take from two to five minutes to reach maximum intensity, with the sensation lasting as long as 30 minutes. After which, the ginger could be removed, reskinned and reinserted into the anus to extend the experience and the torture to recommence. 

Anus’ and testicles would commonly be depilated with hot ash before the anus was penetrated. 

Records from Shawn O’Bryhim’s ‘Catullus’ Mullets and Radishes’ (c. 15.18-19) suggest spiny fish such as mackerel or mulletfish could be used as an alternative to ginger. 

Although historically utilised as a method of punishment, the practice has been more recently adopted by the BDSM community. 

The practice is evidence of an environment where sodomy was used as a tool to enforce patriarchal rule, of mans brute will to inflict torture to control nature. The act is understood as one of public humiliation; evidenced that pseudo-phallic insertions into the anus were used to impose ‘feminine humiliation’ amongst men.


In the field of Equestrianism, a similar practice called gingering, or feaguing, describes the insertion of a skinned ginger into the anus or vulva of a horse to ‘encourage it to move in a lively fashion’, or ‘carry it’s tail high’. This is described as ‘gingering the tail’. It is used in horses where ‘high tail carriage’ and animation are particularly desired qualities. 

Most common during commerce and competition, gingering would make an old horse appear young and energetic. Similarly, it would be used to make a sick or weak animal appear healthy and spritely. 

The use of onion, pepper or tobacco is occasionally recorded to have been used as an alternative irritant. In Francis Gross’ ‘Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’, published 1796, another alternative is suggested for the practice: “and formerly, as it is said, a live eel”. He notes that the practice was so common-place that “a forfeit is incurred by any horse-dealer’s servant, who shall shrew a horse without first feaguing him.”. 

Poet Edward Ward in his 1700 “A song Upon Dancing” writes that dancers 

“skip with nimble force

As Eels i’th’ belly of a Horse

Which Jockies use each Market-Day

To make ‘em dance, as people say.”

The contemporary idiom “to ginger up a horse” derives from this same pastime. 

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