Horsing the Gods of the Northern Tradition
The Gods and wights of the Northern Tradition have their own distinct natures, but if one had to sum up the lot of them, one could say that they are stoic, independent, warlike, earthy, bloody, pushy, practical, and passionate. While they can be terrible if they are offended, they stand less on dignity and ceremony and more on what you are willing to do for them. Unless they have decided to take an interest in you, or claim you as a god-slave, they see no reason to bother with you for no return on their part.
Some spirit-workers who work with the deities of many other pantheons as well have compared them and mentioned that northern-tradition Gods are the most likely to make strong contact before the ritual itself in order to give information on what they want, which is helpful. It was also pointed out that with the exception of Loki, who doesn't stand on ceremony, our Gods like to receive their offerings before they are asked for any aid or advice.
There are, of course, differences between them. Given that we have three separate pantheons - Aesir, Vanir, and Rokkr - with all their larger and smaller powers, we have to understand their different flavors.
The Rokkr are the oldest, and the most Neolithic in their nature. I didn't fully understand what that meant until I spoke to some Pagan spirit-workers who belonged to Neolithic Celtic deities. The Gods of hunter-gatherer Eurasia tend to be more elemental, more animal, more bloody, more shamanic, and more numerous. They are given much more space in this series for that reason: most of these techniques go back further than the Indo-European conquest, and the coming of the other pantheons. When you are a northern-tradition spirit-worker and you move into the ancient shamanism practices, sooner or later you will run into the Rokkr, even if you are only sent to them for training by your patrons. Some of them are very difficult to horse, or are frightening when they do come.
The Vanir came with agriculture and the first coming of the ox-cart peoples. Their rites are about fertility, which is sex and death. They feed the soil with blood, and this is part of their wisdom. While they may seem tamer compared to the Rokkr, don't be fooled. They demand just as much in the way of sacrifice; they may be "lighter", but they also interface with the dark.
The Aesir came in with the conquering horse-peoples, and settled down to become the forces of civilization. While they are the most popular pantheon with the modern Nordic religions, they rarely come into the practice of northern-tradition shamanism...except for Odin, who is the very archetype of the shaman-king. Still, he learned his stuff from the older powers, while giving it his own flavor - and in the case of some things, like the Runes, bringing new magic into the cosmos. However, since more northern-tradition folk have the Aesir as patrons than any other pantheon, they may be the ones that a spirit-worker will horse most often, both for public ceremony and for people coming to talk to their deities. If you drum for the Aesir, use frame drums; the Vanir and the Rokkr will also appreciate clay doumbek-type drums as well.
Given those differences, here is a list of some of the Gods that we have horsed, and what
They have liked and disliked during Their tenures in the modern human body. As with all things,
these preferences will vary depending on what They have actually come to do, so try to do some
devotional work and get a feel for Their purpose in coming before the horsing begins. No, not all
of them are listed here, because we've not had experience with welcoming every one...yet. Give it
time; this practice is only just beginning in our religion. This information is given largely so
those whose groups decide to take up the practice of horsing (assuming that you have human
horses) will not end up offending the deities that they invite. Good intentions are sometimes not
enough; knowledge, common sense, and courtesy are needed as well.
First, don't invite Odin without having some good quality alcohol on hand - mead or a nice wine. That's just courtesy. (One comment was "Odin likes wine so dry that none of the rest of us will drink it!") He also loves aquavit; some say that it's his favorite. In general he will drink a lot and not be drunk, so keep the mead, wine and aquavit coming. An attendant might gently remind him to take the alcohol with him, for the sake of the horse's stomach. He likes tobacco, but prefers it in a pipe, so finding him a nice pipe and some good-smelling loose tobacco would be useful. He likes red meat, especially beef, and spearlike vegetables such as leeks, asparagus, and garlic (the latter literally means "spear-leek"). His preferred colors for clothing are blue, grey, and black - a cloak is best - and the wide-brimmed floppy hat and the eyepatch are necessary.
Odin likes to talk, to counsel, and to solve disputes. Don't mention Baldur, or Loki's chaining, or that whole political debacle - it's a sensitive subject and he's not likely to want to discuss it with you. He has a terrifying side, which can inspire utter cowering fear or complete berserk, but he won't do that side at a gathering. That's saved for initiations of his chosen ones, usually somewhere in the woods where a painful ordeal is imminent, and then you might see Odin Yggr, the Dead Man.
Make him a throne where he can sit, with furs on it if possible. He is ergi enough that he is completely comfortable horsing either men or women (thanks to all that work done in Vanaheim when Freya taught him seidhr). Odin's attendants can also be either male or female, and should ideally be people sworn to him - there are enough Odin's men and women around that this shouldn't be too much of a problem. If any of his mortal wives are around, they will be the obvious choice, although he may want to make off with them for an hour or so. He has also had the habit, in the past, of turning his attendants into wolves or ravens, two apiece. This tends to happen when he is given attendants who are skilled at astral shapeshifting and/or have a strong affinity to one of those creatures. He also likes to have other members of his family present, if possible; negotiate it out first if you only have room or staff for one horsing.
One thing that Odin has done while horsing is to threaten people with his spear (yes, it's
politic to have a spear nearby for him, even if you're worried about him doing such a thing) by
placing it against their hearts. It's a flinch test that he generally only does to warrior-types, or
those who think they're really tough. So far he has not actually injured anyone, although I
wouldn't push it. The right thing to do is to stand strong, neither flinching nor being arrogant and
leaning into it.
When inviting Frigga, make sure that the place is clean and neat first - and we do mean
really clean. Make an effort to keep the area spotless. She prefers white, ivory, and pale blue - the
colors of sky and cloud - and long flowing robes, ideally with a girdle on which hangs a bunch of
keys. She is said to enjoy plum wine, or other light fruit wines, or a good white Riesling. Serve
bread and pastry; it should be like a good tea party. As with Odin, it is best not to discuss Baldur
or other sensitive politics with her. She prefers a female horse, preferably at least somewhat
mature, and female attendants, neatly dressed and presented. If they can handspin - and if there is
wool and traditional spindles about for them to sit at her feet and spin - that's a bonus. She will
bless the spinning, and it can be used for serious magic.
As there are many handmaidens, and little is known about horsing most of them, only time and trial will give us all the research. However, of the few that we know of who have graced gatherings or consultations with the presence, some preferences are known. In general, they all tend to like sweet wines and fussy German pastry, so make sure that there is plenty of strudel.
Fulla wears green and wants jewelry, and perhaps precious or semiprecious stones to play with, and bless. If you can crochet her a golden snood, so much the better. She requires a female horse, preferably a young woman still able to access the Maiden archetype. Give her an unmarried female attendant with a playful sense of humor. Ideally she should come to a group made solely of women, as she is all about women's mysteries.
Eir is very centered, soft-spoken, and detached; she will generally ground and center the horse on the way out, and leave them feeling in better shape than a ride from most other Gods. She prefers utilitarian clothing, and no rings on her hands or arms, as she will likely be doing some sort of healing on people. Give her a selection of good-tasting medicinal herbal teas, which she will drink some of and pass on the rest to specific people, blessed. Give her healers of any gender as her attendants; the same goes for her horse. Ideally, anyone who horses Eir should be a vessel that is used to passing on psychic energy healing.
Var likes to wear dark colors and have a staff handy, and likes clear vodka. It is very
important not to misspeak around her; watch your words carefully and weight everything you
say. Hlin also likes a staff, and she may teach women to use it. Vor wants a dark veil over her
head, and some sort of divinatory things about her, which she won't use because she doesn't need
them, but she may bless them. Don't call Gna unless you have a horse ready - of the biological
sort, that is - because she likes to talk from horseback, and really the only reason to call her is to
beg her to take a message to some Aesir deity.
"Thor Is A Guy," one spirit-worker pointed out, "and that's the first thing to remember."
He doesn't mind modern clothing as long as it's a red plaid flannel shirt and jeans, or something
along those lines - practical, woodsy, working-class, very masculine. He prefers his horse to be
male-bodied and have a substantial beard. Ideally, he'd prefer someone not terribly small, with
some muscle to them. The horse should wear a Mjollnir around his neck, as actual war-hammers
are hard to find. He likes cheery colors, especially red and blue, and plenty of beer. He'll even
drink the cheap stuff if there's lots of it - and if there are people to drink it with, which is the most
important thing. Attendants must first and foremost be drinking and partying buddies, so pick
people with the proper capacity.
The best food for Thor is a goat roast, but he has one peculiarity - don't break the long bones in the goat meat. You can separate them at the joint and serve a leg to him, but the bones should be left intact. He'll eat other sorts of meat as well, but the same applies - make sure it wasn't from an animal with broken bones, which may mean arranging to do it yourself.
Although Thor is happy to Party Down with loud music and lots of food and drink - he doesn't mind not having everyone pay attention to him as long as he has a circle of cheery drinking buddies - he is one of the least likely to hit on women, as he is mostly very monogamous with his beloved Sif. He might dance with them, but it generally won't go all the way to the bedroom, unless the woman in question is one of his mortal wives.
Tyr wears dark red and dark grey and carries a sword slung on his right side, so that he can draw it with his left hand. He prefers a masculine-to-male horse. If the horse has long hair, it should be pulled back in a braid and not left to hang loose. Tyr is grim and stern, and tends to only show up for a short time, to speak to someone and then leave. He won't stay for merriment; he's not a party guy. He will want armed attendants, who should flank him but give him space. During the ride, the horse will be unable to move or feel their right hand - it's a kindness to provide a cloak beforehand that is slung over the right arm, but leaves the left one free - and sometimes this numbness will last a few hours after Tyr has left, so the horse will be aware that they may be missing an astral hand for a while.
Heimdall is almost never called into a horse, because bringing him down here means
taking him away from his post. If he comes at all, it is for a short time, and he can be given beer
with rams on it. He has been known to come down for the coming-of-age rituals of young men,
or to answer their questions, as he seems to be a guardian of adolescent boys. He will want a
male horse, and male attendants.
Freya's colors are usually green and gold, occasionally red if she is coming in her love goddess aspect (although she likes green and gold for that too) and occasionally white with armor and sword for her warrior aspect. She enjoys lovely gowns, prefers having both a cloak and a fan (for comfort), and as one spirit-worker put it, "as much jewelry as the horse can stand to wear".
Freya likes candies, especially candied fruits, honey, butterscotch, caramel, Lambec and
other fruit beers, and sweet wine or brandies. If you make her a cake, mark it with a Gyfu-rune;
put Fehu on bread for her. She likes pork, as do all the Vanir. She prefers a female or at least
female-identified horse, but will also work with a very feminine men who will do drag. Her
attendants can be of either gender so long as they are willing to make themselves attractive, gaze
adoringly, and accept any flirting that she may do. Both she and her brother Frey seem to be fond
of gay or bisexual men when they choose male attendants. Freya is very flirtatious, and like her
brother she may choose someone willing and eager, and go off with them to a bedroom. If she
comes in her warrior aspect, she will be cooler and not do those behaviors, although she will still
want the attractive attendants around.
Nerthus and Njord
Nerthus and Njord have arrived both together and separately. Nerthus likes a female
horse, and she prefers "beer that drinks like a meal" - thick rich stout. She is always veiled,
because anyone besides a Vanir priest/ess who sees her face must be killed. Make her attendants
female. Njord prefers a masculine horse and is especially fond of rum, and salmon baked in a salt
dome. He likes blues and whites, sea colors. One Njordsman that I met who horses his patron
wears a particular classic ivory cable-knit sweater and a blue fisherman's cap as his Njord gear. If
he can be invoked near the seaside, that's even better. His attendants can be any gender, but they
should be useful and practical, and if they know something about ships or are interested in
sailing, that's even more of a bonus.
Frey is fairly easy-going, but he likes to have food there, although he may not eat much of it. Make it homemade food, especially with bread, and ingredients as natural and organic as possible. If you can do it, locally grown or homegrown food is best. If you serve him meat, make sure that it is organic meat, preferably humanely raised and killed at a local farm. He isn't vegetarian by any means, but he seems offended by much of modern agribusiness, especially poorly farmed animals, but also poorly farmed plants as well. As the Ing/John Barleycorn figure of the Vanir, the proper care of one's crops is important to him. Don't give him food that has been chemically poisoned, if you can help it. Serve him beer - not corporate beer, but homebrew or a local craft brew. (He will drink a goodly amount of beer, not get drunk, and take it all with him when he goes, leaving the horse no worse for wear.) Cherries are sacred to him, if you can get them in season, and any bread or grain dish will do as well. If you make homemade bread, mark it with an Ing-rune.
If you make clothing for him, Frey prefers linen (it's a plant fiber) or cotton, in shades of yellow, gold, and green. He liked having a crown of wheat/barley, or leaves. No one should approach him bearing weapons, even a belt knife, so the steward should make sure that people who come up to him are unarmed. Frey will usually sit in one place, glowing and smiling, and will motion to people and call them over, or take them as they come. Pages can be of either sex, so long as they are cheerful and happy to be there. Frey will horse men or women, so long as the latter are masculine, willing to shapeshift to male astrally before he arrives, and willing to wear an enormous ritual phallus under their tunic. If you make him one (and men can do this as well; there is no natural male phallus that is big enough for him anyway) you can carve it out of wood, or - more comfortably - make it out of leather and stuff it with wool or cotton or linen.
As one of the most sexual deities in the Norse pantheon, Frey does like to have sex, and isn't picky about what gender it is. Anatomy is irrelevant; all that matters is willing enthusiasm. He will never hit on anyone who isn't willing and enthusiastic; he has no wish to make people feel uncomfortable in that way. If his wife Gerda is present (we have occasionally horsed both of them together) he has eyes only for her, and while he may smile or make a comment at someone, if he has sex it will only be with her. They have a tendency to act a bit like newlyweds together, feeding each other honey off of their fingers and such. Remember that they are always in love and are invoked for weddings, and this continual-newlywed behavior makes sense. If they are coming together, you might want to set up a bower for the two of them to retire to, if both horses are all right with that and have been prepared for it. They are both good at respecting physical boundaries and can handle safe sex (unlike some Gods who need some coaching). Even if Gerda doesn't come, you might want to set up a bower, as Frey might choose someone else. (For the record, Gerda is never jealous of this. It's part of his job, and something she loves about him. She, on the other hand, is entirely monogamous with him.)
If he is present with his sister Freya, which is another common pairing, do not be unnerved by the fact that they are extremely affectionate with each other. Yes, they do have a sexual relationship, although it is a ritual thing, done for fertility purposes to make the crops grow rather than his romantic relationship with Gerda or his share-the-wealth sexual attitude toward those who get blessed for an hour with his grand phallus. But people looking on may need to be warned.
There is one trick that Frey has been known to do to people who are in despair, and this is
to gently blow on their forehead or chest, which he calls "blowing light into you". According to
those who have been "blown" by Frey, this puts a little spark of light into you which can be
called upon when all is dark and dismal around you, and which never fully goes out. If you
concentrate on it, you can blow it up to a feeling of being a radiant light, no matter where you
are. He will not do this for everyone; he's more likely to do it for people who are supposed to be
light-bringers (as opposed to those who work with dark energies) and are temporarily depressed
and unable to do their job.
Gerda, Frey's etin-bride, is much quieter than her husband the Golden One. She doesn't like crowds much. Unless her husband is present, she won't come to a large gathering of people, and then she comes only to be with him. She will prefer to stay next to him, and they will generally eat off of the same plate. She is modest, preferring long gowns that cover from neck to wrists to floor, usually in dark brownish earth tones or greys or dusky purples, and likes having a veil that she can pull around her face if it is sunny. She speaks quietly and is serious and introverted. She likes having fresh-cut herbs on a table next to her, rather than flowers. She will eat anything that Frey eats, but is fond of root vegetables. Like all etins, she prefers the harder stuff when it comes to alcohol - someone once gave her Grey Goose vodka and that was enjoyed much.
The times when Gerda will show up on her own are when she is addressing a single person or a small group of people who need her aid or information. She has been called to do cleansing-rituals for women who have had abortions or miscarried, as she is their patron. If this is the situation, have the woman in question bathe first in salt water, probably with several herbs that Gerda will dictate. Have a tea of the same herbs ready for her to administer to the woman, with more salt water. Pages assigned to her should be female, and stay quietly in the background until needed.
While Gerda seems quiet and introverted, if you anger her, she will lash out verbally at
you and flay you with her tongue. She is a giantess; remember that and be respectful. Don't touch
her; if she chooses to touch you, allow it. (She will generally only touch women, and then only if
they are in distress.) She is not interested in horsing anyone who is not female-bodied.
Heid, when riding a human body, comes across as a little old witchy woman, the sort who
lives in the gingerbread house out in the forest. She prefers black and gold for her colors, and
likes very peaty whisky - one comment was, "If it tastes like it ought to be labeled Old Bog
Water, she'll like it." Heid usually only comes for a circle of seidworkers, in order to give them
advice or training. She can horse men and women, but they should be older, middle age at the
least. Her attendants should be seidworkers.
Skadi rarely takes a mortal body, but if she does, dress the horse in furs, preferably white
ones, and make sure that a bow and arrows are around. Serve her game meat, and ice wine or
vodka from the freezer. Do not touch her, be very polite, but don't grovel. She prefers people
to stand strong while still be respectful and courteous. She wants a female-bodied horse; her
attendants can be either gender so long as they are prepared to go haring off through the snows
with her. She prefers to come during the winter, especially if you live in a cold area.
Hel or Hela, the Death Goddess, has a different sort of aura than most deities. While they glow and shine, she's more like a black hole, sucking in all the light. Live plants put next to her will wilt, and she actually seems to like feeding off of them, if they are willing to be sacrificed. If you want to give her such a gift, find a houseplant that's willing to die for her - there are many who would do this in her honor, surprisingly. She likes to be served tea - regular or herbal - or dark coffee. She will take alcohol, but seems to prefer something that's been brewed. Food is rarely important to her. She likes dried flowers, especially dried roses.
Lady Death likes to wear long, simple robes of black or shades or grey, and a black mantle around her, and usually a sheer black veil over her head. Some horses like to paint half their faces with a skull-mask in her honor. One of the things that she likes is to wear a ring on every joint of every finger of the left hand, in order to mimic the feel of hard bones. She may give her left hand to people to kiss. She never holds out her right hand to the living, only to those who have passed on, or are at the moment of dying a physical death.
Hela will horse women or third gender people or perhaps even occasionally men, but the latter two must agree to shapeshift astrally to female before she will come. She requires no pages at all, being very self-sufficient, but if you do give her attendants, she will probably have them crying by the end of the ride, so warn them in advance. Hela walks with a limp, slowly, is quiet, and extremely still. When she is speaking, her hands may move and gesture, but the rest of the time she is still as a statue when sitting (which she prefers to do) or standing. She especially liked my large black wicker fanback Morticia-type chair; she prefers to be enthroned. She speaks in a hoarse voice that someone characterized as "whiskey-and-cigarettes", says little, but it's very direct and to the point. If she grips someone's hand or arm in order to say something important to them, her touch has been known to burn flesh.
One of the things that Hela often comes to do is to help with ordeal rituals. She can work
with modern medical items - sutures, alcohol pads, needles, scalpels - and understands sterile
procedure, probably better than most NT deities. Have everything she needs there for her in
advance if she's going to do any kind of work - she will be clear about what she wants, even if
she wakes you from a sound sleep at 3 a.m. in order to dictate a list. She likes things laid out
neatly for her, so she won't have to hunt around for tools. She will never suddenly decide to be
sexual with someone; the kind of sex that she likes to have is ordeal-oriented (meaning that she'll
be causing them pain) and it is always arranged ahead of time if it's going to happen at all. Hela
doesn't like surprises and is never capricious.
Loki the Trickster is a hard ride to handle. First of all, he may do things to the horse that the horse doesn't expect or like. (This is where it is important to have a horse with a patron deity to set limits and look out for their best interests.) Second, he may not stick to the agreed-upon rules regarding the event. Third, he tends to want to stir things up - for example, none of the other Gods would hit sexually on anyone who wasn't already open to the idea, but Loki might go hit on a straight guy while in a male body just to stir things up. People present at a Loki horsing should all be well aware of the situation and ready to roll with the punches, or things can go very wrong.
Loki will horse men, women, and third gender people happily, although he prefers to have sex in a body with a working natural phallus. He will eat fast food, junk food, candy, booze (especially spicy food and booze with cinnamon or red pepper in it) and likes to have a table full of weird toys that he can play with, the weirder the better. He has been known to bless whisky and tell people to add it to their bath water or pour it over themselves in the tub, which is at least kinder than the Afro-Caribbean trickster spirits who will spit rum on people.
Any page assigned to Loki has to have a wacky sense of humor, not be easily upset or offended, and willing to give him their full attention and be a sort of "chew toy", as one spirit-worker referred to the job. Make sure that they know that it's not their job to prevent him from doing ill-advised things, except as a matter of self-protection. Getting in Loki's way is the dangerous job of the priest/ess, who should be another spirit-worker with a good enough relationship with Loki to be able to make noise, or perhaps one of Hela's who can call in his daughter to ride herd on him (something that actually works sometimes).
In general, though, it's not about confrontation as much as redirection and distraction. Loki has a short attention span and this can be exploited, although don't think he doesn't know what you're doing. Nobody ever gets one over on Flame-Hair. If he goes along with it, it's because he feels generous or thinks that it's worth it to him, perhaps for the new toy, or the entertainment value of watching people jump to distract him with new toys.
Estara T'Shirai comments that: "Loki is not a great respecter of formal ritual, and if He is present during parts of that process, He will make His own...um...improvements. (He's fantastic
at off-the-cuff doggerel, actually.) If you've actually invited Him there - this goes for all of Them,
really, but Him in particular - then everyone had better be prepared to make Him the center of
attention, and not foolishly avert their focus elsewhere for as long as He's present."
The Hag of the Iron Wood prefers to horse someone female-bodied, but not just anyone. She likes women who are tall, strong, and physically fit, or who are older and have authority regardless of their bodies. What she doesn't like is someone young and/or weak and delicate. She is very much a giantess, and moves confidently and takes large strides. She does not like clothing that is confining to her movements; if you put her in a ceremonial robe, make sure that it is easy to move in and doesn't drag on the floor. She actually tends to prefer tunics and pants, ideally made of leather, and likes things with animal skins on them. She is a warrior as well as a sorceress, so make sure that she has a sword or at least a belt knife. She'll eat with a large knife, too. If you can find them, flint knives are best for all the Rokkr, as they are more Neolithic.
Angrboda likes to be served meat, and she's not picky as to what sort, although game is the absolute best. She likes hard liquor and homebrew, even moonshine. She is forthright and loud and claps people on the shoulder and such. She has no patience for whiners, although she will be kind to the strange and deformed.
Although it is rare, Angrboda may pick out a man who is interested in her and take him
off to have a roll in the bushes. She is interested in stamina, stamina, stamina, and prefers to be
on top, so be warned. If she chooses a woman (even rarer) it will be not for recreation but to
teach her something about Jotun women's sex magic. Her pages can be any gender so long as
they are strong and armed; she especially likes people with animal-spirit natures or alliances.
Sigyn may come in one of two ways - as the child bride, or as the adult woman who has been through Loki's imprisonment. For the first type of horsing, dress the (female) horse in flowing dresses of lavender and pink, and lay out dolls and toys and cake. (One Sigyn's woman swears that she likes macaroni and cheese.) For the latter face of Sigyn, dress her in browns and give her bread and butter, and fresh milk if you have it.