Tools & Techniques

excerpt from Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism

While there is no one way to "induce" a possession - it seems that the best and fullest possessions come when the spirit in question informs one ahead of time, whether a moment or days ahead, that they are coming and then just pops in - there are techniques that can help, especially when there is a public devotional possession scheduled for a particular ceremony. First, the horse should do a good deal of devotional work and develop some kind of relationship with the god or wight in question. If the horse can't carry on a meaningful conversation with them, it's unlikely that they will have enough connection to be ridden by them, and even if the wight does manage it (because many of them are bigger and more powerful than us and can push their way in, if you have the right wiring) it's better to have it be an act of devotion than violation.

Second, we've found that what we call "haunted costumes", or ceremonial clothing that belongs only to that deity, and is donned only to horse them, helps a good deal. It can be as simple as a piece of jewelry or as elaborate as a full-scale costume. Anyone who has seen the initiatory rites of Korean shamans will be impressed by the ceremonies utilizing dozens of ceremonial costumes, donned one after the other by the spirit-worker, to see which spirits enter into them and become their helpers. After a while - sometimes even after the first time - the costume gets enough magic on it to be used as a gateway for that deity to enter, which helps all but the most recalcitrant, headblind, or blocked-up horses. It should go without saying, of course, that the ceremonial costume should not be used for any other purpose, including non-possessory ceremonial use by unwitting volunteers.

Most deities like to have some sort of attendant present to get them more food, drink, or anything else that they might want brought to them. We also find it useful, at least when it comes to full group rituals, to have at least one personal attendant for each embodied Deity, whom we refer to as a "page", and also a "steward" who handles people who want to approach the Gods, making sure that they understand the proper behavior and don't approach all at once. Then we have at least one drummer, at least one staff person (in charge of general physical objects and organization), the actual Priest/ess whose job it is to read invocations and run the rest of the ritual, and of course the prep/recovery team, who are sometimes also the pages.

Something that groups who have started to publicly horse European deities are discovering, sometimes to their dismay, is that our Gods occasionally want sex as an offering. This is in contrast to the Afro-Caribbean deities, who have been covered under a blanket of Catholicism for so long that they no longer have any kind of sex with the congregation, but our deities are still used to the ancient rites, and sometimes expect it. Before this raises hackles, I should say straight out that nearly all deities will refrain from approaching anyone in that way who isn't already interested and open to the idea. In fact, they seem to have an eye for figuring out who would be into that, and homing in on them. If there is no one present who wouldn't object, then the subject won't come up. (The sole exception to this is Loki, and other Trickster Gods; see the notes about how to handle Loki in the next chapter.) But if there are people present who are into the idea, perhaps you might want to set them up as pages, and have a private space ready in case that is wanted. This is especially important for fertility deities like Frey and Freya. I can say from experience that although the Gods are not thrilled with safe sex and fluid boundaries, they will put up with it if those boundaries are set beforehand.

As to helping the actual psychic mechanics of the horsing, being in a state of quiet, meditative Openness, however one wishes to achieve that (perhaps using one of the other seven paths) is a good way to start. Cleansing the body/vessel is important as well. For group ritual horsing, our group has a "prep team" that treats the horse as a votive object - cleansing them, dressing them, singing to them, preparing them for the spirit to enter. It also encourages an objectified feeling which helps with egotism - it reinforces to the horse that it's not about them. Afterwards, the prep team becomes the aftercare team, making sure that the horse has water, food if they want it, a warm blanket, the chance to get out of and away from ritual garb, and however much space that they need to recover from the event.

As the Afro-Caribbean folk discovered long ago, having someone drumming during the rite helps a great deal. In their case (as discussed in the Path of Rhythm section), there are special (secret and oathbound) drumbeats for each Orisha or Loa which help to call them and keep them present. I've been told that there are such drumbeats for every deity, but that the ones of the northern-tradition Gods are lost. I've recovered one of them, and I intend to discover more. However, even just a simple steady drumbeat can help the God to stay present and the horse to stay relaxed and in trance.

Some Neo-Pagan groups are starting to work with various levels of spirit-possession, but there is a disturbing trend of the occasional training group insisting that anyone can horse regardless of innate wiring (and in some cases, that anyone can horse any deity with no ill effects). In order to make this happen, some are utilizing the process of the group psychically "condensing" the individual's soul and stuffing it into a corner of their being, and then reaching through them and pulling the deity through into their body. We find this trick to be rather concerning for a variety of reasons, assuming that it even works for full possession and not merely aspecting. First, it is our experience that horsing can be a psychically strenuous activity. The individual's psychic "sphincter", for lack of a better word, is stretched wide open. Just as with physical sphincters, they best way to receive something large is to be in a state of relaxed, accepting openness. Someone else forcing the issue may or may not get the horse open enough, but even if it works, it may cause lasting damage, which can manifest as mental illness. We would rather go with the idea that if the horse can't seem to open up enough, they either don't have enough of the inborn psychic wiring for it (which is no one's fault) or they aren't ready for some internal reason of their own, which must be dealt with in its own time and way. Horsing is shock enough to the soul; having a bunch of people shoving it around is more trauma to the soul complex than is good for anyone.

We have also found that no one can be ridden by just any spirit. There has to be an element of "like calls to like", or at least some sort of compatibility. Sometimes that compatibility is subtle and not something that the horse can know until they try and succeed or fail. As the northern-tradition equivalent of a "black shaman" (that's in the Siberian sense, not the western black = evil nonsense), who is owned by Lady Death, I never thought that I would be able to horse Frey, the Golden One of the Vanir...but he has a standing date to take me around Lammas, and it works well...even leaving a residue of light and health in my dark insides. On the other hand, Baphomet fits well as a ride, as he is also third-gendered and is associated with the rotting-down part of the cycle, as is my Lady Hela. The old primal Hunter also rides me on the yearly basis, and my predator nature works well as a fit. But when a bride of Anubis asked for someone to horse her husband for a ceremony, I asked to see if I would be an acceptable fit and the cosmic answer came back No, even though he is associated with Death.

Sometimes the problem isn't mental fit but physical fit. Before I transitioned to a more male physiology, I had horsed Lilith. She is a fairly masculine and hairy goddess, but she is still female of center, and when I crossed the middle line she would no longer use my body. Some deities will horse bodies of a different gender, or very different physique or state of (dis)ability, than their own with no problem. Others are extremely picky - all the Love Goddesses, for instance, and many of the more "macho" and physically-oriented war gods. No horse should take it personally if they aren't a good fit for a particular God or wight. (For that matter, since most people aren't wired to horse at all, they shouldn't take that personally either. I'll never be a pro basketball player or a genius mathematician. So what?) The Gods have their own preferences, and we just have to go with them. Some modern Pagans do hold that any trained horse ought to be able to carry any deity, but we haven't found that to be true, or at least not in this particular tradition. And, frankly, if you are horsing any deity with no ill effects - or little in the way of serious aftereffects at all - we seriously doubt that you are doing full possession. It's not something that is ever done easily or lightly. On the other hand, even if it's only Aspecting, that's a good thing in and of itself...and much easier on one's astral body.

This is probably the point where the discussion of gender comes in. When dealing with spirit-workers as a demographic, it is wise to expect that a not insignificant percentage of them will be third-gendered in some way - perhaps fully transsexual, perhaps merely very feminine men or very masculine women, perhaps anywhere on that wide and varied spectrum in between. The reasons why that happens all over the world are covered in the chapter on Ergi, but suffice it to say that if you are somewhere in between, it is both easier and harder to horse deities of either gender. Mostly easier, especially if you are flexible enough in your astral gender and your comfort with different gender presentations, because many Gods ask that the horse be only masculine or feminine to a certain extent (and that extent will vary from deity to deity), and do not require a factory-equipped male or female body. Occasionally it will be harder, because the minority of deities who absolutely require a factory-equipped male or female body will not take a third-gendered horse. Then again, men and women are barred from horsing at least half of that latter category anyway, so on balance it is definitely a gain.

As someone who has been both male and female, and still lives somewhere in the middle, I am more able to comfortably horse Gods of various genders, assuming that they are appropriate to the inside of my head and to my patron Goddess. Generally, they require that I be astrally shifted to their gender first, before they enter; for example, even though my body is currently "male of center", Hela can ride me with no problem if I shapeshift astrally to a female form first. If you are a single-gendered spirit-worker and you want to horse Gods and Goddesses of the opposite gender, you might want to work with a third-gender spirit-worker on the technique of astral shifting, and then shifting back afterwards so as not to walk around with vague uncomfortable feelings. If necessary, a deity of the opposite sex can come in anyway, but they may temporarily reshape things in ways that don't clear up for some time after the ride, unless you're aware and able to put them back. Considering that an unconscious wrong-fitted astral gender can affect one's sexual functioning, it's a technique worth learning.

Another reason that someone might not be able to horse a certain deity, or a type or pantheon of deities, is because their energy clashes with that of the spirit-worker's patron deity. Within the northern-tradition pantheons, this could be an issue of two deities who are enemies, or just don't get along. A Lokisman wouldn't likely be able to horse Heimdall, for instance, nor a Farbautisman horse Odin. The splits are not drawn directly across pantheon lines - I can horse a Vanir or two, and I know some Aesir-owned spirit-workers who can horse Jotnar - but in general, if one has a patron deity to watch one's back (which we recommend), that deity will have a list of who can and cannot use you, drawn up for their own reasons, and you will be expected to go along with it. That's a matter of courtesy and respect.

And as with all things spirit-related, plan for what will happen if it doesn't work, or they don't show up. We strongly discourage horses from going out and pretending that they are possessed, even if they think that the congregation won't know. Some of them will, and anyway it's disrespectful to the wight in question, and might even make them angry with you. Better to have an alternate ritual planned, or perhaps the horse can go out and tell the congregation that they are speaking as a symbol of Deity X, and what is said to them will be heard by Deity X. (Which can reasonably be said to be true, considering that it's likely that Deity X will hear them if they were to address a wooden statue of same; it's the horse becoming a votive object rather than a container.) Honesty is more important than pleasing the masses, especially when it's an issue that can come back to bite you in the ass.