Formal Ritual Structure for Public God-Possession
The Pagan Kingdom of Asphodel is a church of devout polytheists. Our policy is that the Gods are wonderful, awe-inspiring, dangerous, and necessary. We believe that it is important to bring divine energy directly down among people who would not otherwise be exposed to it. We believe that being able to see and touch the Gods, in whatever way we can, is a Good Thing. We believe that ritual god-possession, a phenomenon found throughout the world and in almost every ancient culture to some extent, is a tool that can be used - carefully and with great thoughtfulness - to bring this divine energy to a Pagan laity.
When Asphodel formed, one of the central members had experienced god-possession as part of their sacred duties for some time, but it had generally been while alone, or spontaneously in small groups. However, our group somehow seemed to become a magnet for unusual pagan practices (and a haven for the "chronically god-bothered", as someone once put it), and we soon gained other folk who also horsed deities. At some point, They began showing up at public rituals. As our rituals are not closed to strangers - we are a church with a congregation, not an initiatory mystery group - we ended up with the problem of deities appearing to and interacting with hordes of clueless newbies, some of whom were not even Pagan but had been dragged along by their SOs to "see what this is all about".
There was a twofold dilemma here. First, members of the congregation who did not understand the situation could be upset, disturbed, or just bewildered by someone who suddenly walked into the crowd, perhaps dressed oddly, and began saying strange things to people. It wasn't just that they were behaving oddly, either; some deities would call people by names they hadn't been called by since high school, or say things that only that person knew, or just generally bring up strange feelings simply by being present. While this might be seen as "proof of deity" by some, it was upsetting and disturbing to those who didn't understand what was going on. Additionally, people had no model of how to act in the presence of God/dess.
On the other hand, the deities in question communicated very specific things to us. First, these were European deities who had not been able to appear this way to the people in hundreds or even thousands of years. They wanted this outlet again, very strongly. They felt that it was good and important to be able to appear to the masses in forms that could speak and communicate, for the sake of those who could not hear them any other way. However, They did not want to be disrespected. They had particular things that They wanted to wear, eat, and hold, and They wanted to be treated in specific ways. For some deities, we had barely any information as to what those parameters might be. For others, we had information about practices that we could not practically give them - large burnt offerings, for example, or human sacrifices.
In the Afro-Caribbean faiths - Voudou, Santeria, Candomble, Umbanda, Palo Mayombe - god-possession is a regular part of their worship. Unlike European paganism, these faiths have continued in an unbroken line for thousands of years. The loas/orishas/spirits have had a long, slow time to adapt to changing formats and structures, such as the overlay of Catholic saints, the offerings of canned food, and so on. Our Gods haven't had this period. They tend to expect what They would have been offered thousands of years ago, and it takes some careful and respectful negotiating to explain the new circumstances.
This means that we pray, a lot, and ask Them to please accept our limits. We assure them that within these limits, we will do everything we can to please Them. So far this system has worked well, although there is always the chance that a deity will visit and completely ignore our limits once ensconced. We've not actually tried this system with trickster deities yet, although we will likely have to do so in the future.
The first limit is that They have to warn us that They are coming, and allow us to schedule Them in. This gives us time to research what that deity likes and have it ready, so we make it clear to Them that spontaneity is not in their best interests. (This planning period also gives the horse time to work with Them and get used to Their energy.) We ask Them what They might like that we might have forgotten or not known about, which sometimes leads to shopping trips with the horse being "shadowed" by the deity, a situation which has Their presence riding in the back of the horse's head but not in any sort of control of the body.
Generally, we will make up programs for the ritual, containing not only the time when
each thing happens, but also some basic information about what we'll be doing, who is coming,
what that god is like, how They should be treated, and how one is expected to behave. We've
found that with the exception of those people with uncontrollable authority issues, most folk
would rather know what is expected of them than be confused and make mistakes in a new and
strange public situation. We are careful in how we word the program, as there may be people
present who do not believe in the reality of the Gods, or in the possibility of god-possession, and
we would rather that they do not feel pressured enough by our assumptions of their belief to feel
the need to act out during our ritual. One example of careful wording might be:
"Some subjects of Asphodel have requested a ritual in honor of the (origin, type and
name of deity) on Saturday night. During this ritual, one of our folk will be connecting with the
essential energy of this god(dess). While s/he is channeling (deity), s/he may choose to interact
with participants and bystanders, as we of Asphodel believe strongly in participatory ritual.
Please be courteous of this tradition; consider it a blessing of good fortune to be singled out. If
you are not comfortable with the interaction, please move away politely. If you wish to approach the deity,
ask the staff and they will arrange it. The rest of the ritual staff will be glad to help you in any
way that we can."
Setting up for the ritual includes creating a special space for the deity to be in. This usually consists of some kind of appropriately decorated throne, draped in the god/dess's colors, with a table on each side. One table is decorated as an elaborate altar, with space in front for people to leave offerings. The other table bears whatever food or drink is to be offered to the deity through the horse, and anything else that They might want to use, handle, mess with, pick up or put down. Some deities use their throne-space as a place to accept audiences, and when They wander in the crowd They want to be unbothered; others seem to prefer that their throne-space is a sanctuary undefiled by any save a servant or two, from which They can look out over the festivities, and when They want to speak to people they will come down. We generally ask Them beforehand which is which, and we usually get that information intuitively while setting up the space and the altar.
Another policy is that when the deity gets up and moves around, the entire staff moves with Them, unobtrusively fielding people and creating a space around Them. The space is permeable - if the deity wishes it, people can approach them - but we make sure that they are never crowded or inundated, unless They make it known to us that this is what They want, and then we make sure the throne-space is kept clear for Them.
When the public ritual actually happens, we have a staff with several positions, each
trained to cover more than one of them. This staff provides a buffer between the onlookers and
the deity, and also makes sure that everyone gets what they want and has a good time, Gods and
humans alike. While a small, intimate, well-educated group might not need such an elaborate
setup, we've discovered by trial and error what is necessary for a large Pagan gathering where not
everyone will understand what's going on.
1. The Horse
Horsing - being the person who is possessed by the deity or spirit - is the one position that can't really be swapped around. People are either chosen by the Gods to be horses, or they aren't. It's one of the things about god-possession that really disturbs Pagan groups who like to believe that anyone can do any spiritual job. Horsing can be seen as being an elitist thing, and since one can't sue the Gods for elitism, the wrath of the unchosen often rains down on the humans in question. While there are some groups who will train people to be horses, it is our observation that "natural" horses - the ones who are chosen by the Gods themselves, and often cannot turn the job down - are better at fully channeling the deity. Like any spirit-worker job, horses don't seem to be chosen by the Gods on the basis of intelligence, sanity, morals, ethics, devotion, or even initial belief. Our current theory is that they might be chosen on the basis of inborn "brain wiring", but as with all things, the ways of the Gods are mysterious and probably not likely to be ever fully understood by mere mortals with meat-brains.
Another of the main complaints against god-possession by some members in the Pagan community is that it could be faked by unscrupulous Pagan leaders and used to gain earthly influence over their fellow Pagans. We are aware of the legitimacy of this worry, and although there is no way to guarantee anything to someone who doesn't know us, we strive to answer that worry with the "one god, one horse" policy. This means that we generally only horse one god per ritual (we've made exceptions, such as gods who are a paired couple, or who ask strongly to appear at the same ritual) and only one person is allowed to horse each deity, as opposed to Afro-Caribbean faiths where a single god might take over the "heads" of several people present, including unwitting bystanders. Those faiths generally have a context and structure that allows for this; we don't. One of the limits that we ask of the deity who wants to manifest is that They stick to the chosen horse and not go wandering into other bodies. If They are not satisfied with this limit, we generally have to respectfully decline.
Anyone who is allowed to horse Gods in Asphodel must be someone that we trust. Ideally it should be someone that our core group has seen horse deities before, and is sure of. We have also been known to help people in other groups who have been told that they must horse a deity, but they don't know how to go about it. We find that our system aids a possible horse in opening up fully and receiving the God/dess, although we generally pray to that deity first to find out if the calling of this stranger is real, or if they're imagining it. If none of us get a verification, through prayer or divination, that this is a real need, then it doesn't happen.
The first thought of most people when they read about god-possession is - assuming that they believe in the existence of deities - "How do you know if they're faking?" In order to be trusted, Asphodel horses have had to exhibit god-possession with the following criteria:
1) The psychically sensitive folks, who can see the energy involved, all agree that what was supposed to be going on was actually going on. The deity manifested, and they could all feel it, and for those who had the Sight, see it as well.
2) The deity did not act in a manner glaringly out of character, as we know it.
3) The deity did not advocate for the horse. This is a quality that is also used as a litmus-test in Afro-Caribbean faiths. Riding gods will generally never speak of or refer to the horse; they act as if the body is their own, at least for the time being, and they do not tell others how they should treat or deal with the horse. The relationship between horse and deity exists, but is between them alone. When Odin says, "You ought to listen more to John," referring to the horse that he rides, or "John is a good guy for horsing me," it's likely not really Odin.
Even with these criteria in place, we realize that not all folks are going to believe that this might not be faked, and we accept that. These rituals are not for everyone, just like any other religious practice. However, even if you disagree with the precept, it is best to be courteous when you attend the ritual anyway, and to acknowledge that we are sincere about our beliefs.
The horse's job during the weeks leading up to the ritual is as follows: Pray to the deity who you will be horsing, and ask what They want. As with the ritual presenters in general, if the horse can't make any kind of contact with that god/dess, then they might not be suitable and another horse should be chosen. Make a connection with that deity; ask if there are certain ways that you should be treating your body in order to make it a better physical vessel. Some gods might want purification rituals, others dietary restrictions, still others various taboos.
These restrictions can actually help the horse in preparing for the ride. They create a slow ongoing sense of preparing a ritual space for the deity to come in, and they also work to jolt the horse back into their body when they are broken or discarded after the ride. For example, one horse abstained from meat and sex for a week prior to the ride as a purification; after it was over, the prep team handed him beef jerky as a way to remove the god's foothold and reclaim his own body. If there are particular things that the deity wants, or that the horse needs to go under or come back, the prep team should be apprised of these.
On the day of the ritual, the horse's job is to do whatever they can to maintain an open headspace. This may involve meditation or utiseta or prayer or chanting. An experienced horse will know what to do in order to get ready for a ride; some horses (and some deities) require very little preparation, while others may take hours. The horse should be given plenty of time and not rushed; you can't rush the Gods and spirits.
Not every horse can take every deity. In fact, most horses can only fully horse a small number of deities; it seems to be a matter of "fit". A deity will usually let a horse know whether They would be comfortable entering, either by a direct "No," or echoing silence whenever the horse tries to contact Them. Some deities prefer horses of a particular physical gender or anatomy or personality type; others don't care. Some have strict preferences in a horse; others seem more adaptable. Some will come into a horse that isn't quite Their type, but the ride may be shallower and shorter. Some will ride a horse that isn't Their type and the horse may have difficult and lasting aftereffects, although usually if the ride would actually harm the horse the deity just won't show up. (That's also one of the limits we set in our praying.)
Sometimes, no matter what the horse does, the God just doesn't enter fully. In this case,
we stress that there is no blame involved. Sometimes things just don't go perfectly. Generally, we
go ahead with the ritual anyway, but with the change that the horse announces publicly that s/he
is representing the deity, but is not the deity. We have no wish to dupe the audience, especially
since the ones who are more aware of such things will be able to tell anyway; a deity's aura is
unmistakably not that of a human's. We figure that even if the deity has changed Their mind, or
something else is interfering, anything said to the horse will still be heard by Them, and They
will still appreciate the acts of worship and reverence.
2. The Prep Team
Every horse does better with a prep team. While in the end it's a dance between the horse and the god/dess, there are certain experiences that make the entry easier, especially for a nervous horse. One helpful thing is dealing with costuming and makeup. We generally have the horse stand still and be passively dressed in the finery created for that God/dess; this reinforces the knowledge that their body will be offered up as a temporary sacrifice for that deity. To watch yourself being dressed and transformed (which can include not only clothing but hairdressing and makeup) into a vessel for a greater power, not for any pride in your own appearance, can push the horse into the right receptive headspace.
As an example, for a female horse who was horsing a love goddess, the prep team gave her a ritual bath in perfumed water. They anointed her body with scented oil, dressed her, had her sit quietly and meditate while her hair was arranged, and touched her gently and respectfully in specific ways. For a male horse who was opening to an Egyptian god, we braided his hair into many small braids, and attached beads of specific colors to each one, singing and chanting quietly while it was done. Afterwards, dedicated kohl from Egypt was applied as makeup, while reciting a whispered invocation. Decorating the horse should be done with the same attitude as one would prepare an altar for the deity; you are aware that the deity is not present, but you are preparing the sacred space that will be filled with Them, and this must be kept in mind.
You should also keep in mind the needs of the horse, however. The horse should be comfortable with the prep team, and trust them. They should have discussed the preparation with the horse before the ritual, and be clear on what the horse needs to open themselves properly. If they are nervous, the prep team should act calmly and confidently, reminding the horse that this is a sacred duty, and that they wouldn't have been chosen if the deity didn't find them worthy. Beyond the actual dressing (which is for the god/dess, not the horse), some horses like to be touched in a particular way to calm or reassure them; others find any extraneous touch a distraction to their internal process of opening to the deity. The prep team needs to stay with the horse through the whole process, and not abandon them; if the ritual must be delayed because the horse is having difficulty, this is relayed by a prep team member to the HP and the horse is never bothered with issues of time pressure.
Sacred costumes - special clothing that is worn only when horsing a deity - can take on the vibrations of that god/dess, to the point that some pieces should not be handled by any horse who could theoretically horse that god/dess, or it might start happening inadvertently. This can be an extremely useful thing for the horse, but the prep team needs to be careful. Theirs is the job of making sure that every piece is ready and in good working order well before the ritual, and no horse who has horsed that deity before should touch it unless they have already spoken to that deity and cleared that they will not be the vessel tonight.
The prep team positions can be held by folks who also hold down other positions, since it is strictly a before-and-after role. In fact, we've found that it's useful to have at least one drummer on hand for the preparing period, and if the page is right there when the god/dess enters, they can be on hand from the get-go. However, if the deity is meant to enter in the middle of the ritual, the HP and the shills will be focusing on the people and may not be able to be part of the prep team.
After the ride is over, the prep team swings into action again, surrounding the horse at a respectful distance and keeping everyone else away. Horses often feel disoriented and claustrophobic after coming out of a ride; their soul has been squeezed down into a tiny space to make room for something much larger, and even the crowding of someone leaning worriedly into their personal space can make them want to scream and run. The team should stand at a short distance, out of their aura (which may be a bit overexpanded to compensate) with everything that they might need at hand and in view. Unless they ask for it, do not touch the horse. This is very important. Some horses have been known to bolt and run when touched during the confused, irrational after-stage.
Experienced horses who are dealing with deities they've horsed before will usually come
out of the blurry phase quickly. In some cases, people can be nonverbal for a while, or confused;
having a loose ring of people quietly holding food, water, and blankets in view can help, as they
only need to gesture to get something. Most horses feel dehydrated and want water fairly
immediately. Do not give them alcohol or other substances; a cigarette may be all right if the
horse smokes, the deity doesn't or wouldn't, and the horse is using it to get back into themselves.
They may want to get to the bathroom; the presence of a deity can put off bodily urges for a long
time. They may want to get the sacred costume off of them as fast as they can undress, and the
team should be ready to take it off their hands. They may want to wash their faces and hands, or
get in the shower to "wash the god off of them"; in one case a horse asked to be taken to the lake
and dunked in the water. The prep team waits until the horse is entirely back with them and
doesn't need any more help.
3. The Page
We used to refer to pages as "handmaidens", or even as "handmaiden-gender-not-specified", but people felt that was too tongue-in-cheek and we settled on "page". The page is a servant to be on hand for the deity once they appear; they bring them food and drink, fetch things, take things away when the deity is done with them, and so forth. This job was instituted because we discovered that many deities would gesture to someone and inform them that they were to attend Them, or some similar command, and those people were suddenly seized with the urge to do nothing but stand or kneel at attendance, with their entire focus entirely filled with the god/dess before them. Now we automatically provide them with a page, to stave off spontaneous recruitment.
A good page should be courteous and comfortable with unobtrusive service, and be willing to have their entire will seized by the deity, which is what usually happens. Pages often report that they feel glued to the deity's side and totally focused on Them, as if nothing else in the universe matters at that moment. It's basking in the shadow of the god/dess, but at the same time it is a position of total subservience, and one which may be somewhat ego-destroying for some people. (For the record, we've never had an instance of a deity mistreating their page. Some practically ignore them, some are commanding and keep them running on small errands, but none have ever been harmed.) If the deity gets up and moves, the page follows Them, making sure to stay always at hand but never underfoot.
If we can find out what sort of servants a god had in ancient times, we will try to select a
page on that basis. A goddess like Aphrodite will want female - and femme - attendants; a god
like Mars will want guards who can stand at attention. A deity who is known to occasionally
request sexual attentions (see the issue of deities and sex below) should not be sent a page of the
gender that god/dess is known to choose as a sexual partner unless they are comfortable with
that, because there is a chance that it might arise.
4. The Steward
The steward holds the boundary between the deity's area and the audience. They generally position themselves several feet away, and anyone who wants an audience with the deity approaches them first. We've generally found that the deity lets the steward know who They want to approach them by making eye contact; if the deity is looking in the direction of the individual who has approached the steward, that usually means that they should be sent through for an audience. If the deity is utterly ignoring them and looking elsewhere, that's usually a sign that they should be politely told to try again later. Sending them through anyway is likely to get them ignored while kneeling at the deity's feet, or brusquely ordered away, which is hard on the worshippers.
The steward needs to be firm and have good boundaries. They need to be able to field the occasional pushy bully or rude drunk or anyone who looks like they want to be deliberately disrespectful and ruin the ritual for others. (Yes, there will always be those people.) This requires the ability to say No very clearly and firmly, and take no nonsense. If the deity rises and moves, the steward moves with Them, circling Them at the same distance, and interposing themselves between the deity's space and anyone who might be a problem. If there is a large crowd and a deity likely to wander a good bit, there might need to be more than one steward.
On the other hand, the steward ought not to get into a overly self-important headspace, thinking that they are Protecting The Deity From All Who Would Malign Them. Deities need no protection. The people that the steward is protecting are the ones that they turn away, as some gods will punish those who are jerks in their presence. The steward should stay humble enough to realize that they are only the doorway to the deity's presence, and not the one who gets any say in it. They need to be constantly aware of what the deity is doing, and watching for signals.
The steward is also the boundary between the deity's space and the staff. If, for example,
the deity requests something that is not present, but that could be fetched (from inside the house
or out of someone's pockets), the page should not get up and run around trying to find it. Pages
should never be out of the deity's sight and easy call. Instead, the page goes to the steward and
tells them, and the steward calls over a staff person and sends them for the item, thus not
disturbing the deity's sacred space with disharmonious details.
5. The High Priest/ess
The HP (or in some cases, we've referred to them as the emcee) is the one who actually runs the ritual. They get the crowd prepared for the appearance of the deity; they read the invocations; they do all the public speaking to explain what's going on; they wind the crowd down after the deity has left and finish things up. They are the one that the crowd will look to when they're not looking at the deity, in order to understand what's going on and what to do.
A good HP should be able to speak fluently and articulately, command the attention of a large crowd of people, and do any prepared invocations without too much dependence on printed papers. They should be flexible enough to bend the ritual if the deity suddenly decides to make changes, and they should know how to signal the drummers, make quick eye contact with the steward to know that everything is all right, and roll with the punches. Sometimes god-possession rituals go absolutely according to plan, and sometimes they don't. A well-trained HP will be able to adapt to changing circumstances gracefully, and bring the entire crowd with them.
They also need to be able to project the right kind of reverential attitude, in a way that it will spread to the rest of the crowd. That might be reverent-enthusiastic, or reverent-solemn, or reverent-intense, depending on the nature of the deity. The HP must also walk a fine line between commanding enough attention to direct the audience, and not pulling attention away from the deity in a way that could be interpreted as arrogance or pride.
If the deity wants someone to do specific religious acts for the public, it will probably end
up being the HP. This could include kneeling, singing, making offerings, sacrificing something
of their own, or in the cases of sacrificed gods, being the one who wields the knife. Like the
position of page, this position should not be held by anyone who cannot offer genuine reverential
respect for that god/dess. Mere general respect is not enough; they must honestly have a place for
that deity in their soul.
Shills are a great thing, and we suggest that you have at least one of them in the audience at all times. Being a shill is a good position for group members who want to take part wholeheartedly in the ritual, without having their experience interrupted by staffwork, but who still want to help. The shill is briefed beforehand by the HP as to what the ritual will be, and may be given cues to memorize. When the HP calls out an invocation line that requires a response, they are the first to make the response. When the HP tells the crowd to move to a particular area, they are the one who jumps up and leads. When the HP says that people may approach the deity, they are the first one up. If they have nothing in particular to ask of that deity, they should welcome them, preferably with enthusiasm.
The main quality of a shill is that they should be anything but shy. Their job is to model
appropriate behavior to the audience, and they need to do it boldly and confidently. The better
briefed they are by the HP, the better they will be able to do their job.
As anyone in the Afro-Caribbean traditions can tell you, god-possession always works better with drumming. In those faiths, the drummers are all trained in the specific rhythm used to call each god into the horses. There is some evidence in research that at least some ancient European cultures had such divine rhythms as well, but unfortunately not a single one has survived. While I am fairly confident that future spirit-drummers will rediscover them through interactions with those Gods, right now we have to do the best we can with what we have.
Being a horse is not an easy thing; sometimes the horse is unable to remain submerged and begins to rise, which can interfere with the deity's manifestation. A drumbeat that goes on throughout the entire ritual is an excellent tool for keeping them in trance. Even a single person with a frame drum and a slow, plain beat is remarkably helpful. Of course, if you have skilled drummers who are also spirit-workers, they can do more. They can pray and drum to the deity beforehand, and ask Them to give the proper rhythm to bring them into manifestation. They can help the prep team by drumming the god into the horse. During the ritual, they can energetically direct their drumming towards the deity, in order to feed them.
If there are going to be drummers, they should not be required to do anything except
concentrate on the drumming. Ideally there should be at least two, if not more, so that each
drummer can manage to eat, drink, or at least relieve themselves without worrying about ruining
the atmosphere. They should be given a space to park themselves and their drums, and not have
to get up except for bathroom purposes; this means that the staff should bring them food and
drink, and keep checking in periodically to make sure that they are taken care of.
8. The Staff
The staff is in charge of physical objects, or "phys-obs" in MIT slang. If there are props, they find them and have them ready to hand. They set up the ritual area and the altar; they make sure that food and drink are available to the God/dess, the drummers, and all the people (if you are feeding everyone); they serve food and pass around or collect group items; they hand out programs and tell people where to hang their coats and where to gather. They pull out the corkscrew, the HP's wand, and the extra copy of the script as the person in question is looking around worriedly. Remember that a staff is a thing that you lean on in order to get somewhere; that's their job. The more staff people that you have, the less each has to cope with, and the more present and active they are able to be for the actual ritual.
The other job of the staff is to reassure the audience. They do this by having a calm and
unsurprised demeanor, doing what has to be done, and never freaking out. We often like to have
one or two staff members who have the additional job of talking to people afterwards who have
questions. Sometimes these questions are purely curiosity about the ritual phenomenon; others
are personal questions coming from someone who may have been deeply moved for good or ill
by the ritual, and needs to be talked down from a difficult space. It's good if these particular staff
members are knowledgeable in what's going on, have helped with several such rituals, and are
good at counseling people.
God/desses, Weddings, and Sex
One of the ways in which god-possession by ancient European deities is vastly different from the Afro-Caribbean faiths is that a few of the European deities want sexual offerings along with their food and drink and gifts. In ancient times, sexual offerings were given to deities along with food and drink, and considered much the same in terms of importance. One might remember the Dionysian revels, or Ing/Frey riding through the villages with women throwing themselves at him, because to do it with him would bring wealth and fertility.
Obviously, this will vary from deity to deity - offering them to Athena would be an insult; she'd rather have fancy embroidered cloaks - but we have found that a certain percentage of deities really appreciate the offering, and a very small number will actively seek it out. This can create problems if the issue is not anticipated and dealt with smoothly. While some deities do seem to have the ability to charm a random stranger into sexual activity with them - sometimes totally uncharacteristically - there can be repercussions with the person's real life the next morning. (In fact, this problem comes up in quite a few myths.)
However, we have found this fact to be nearly entirely true: Gods don't sexually approach people who are not interested in Them. (The single exception seems to be the rare trickster god who likes to make people uncomfortable, and they're a special problem.) Generally a deity will pick out the one person in the audience who is entirely ready to swoon at their feet, even if none of us mortals saw that. One would assume that if there was no one in the audience who was willing, They wouldn't bother.
Of course, some deities understand safe sex and some don't. This seems to be a problem
mostly on the basis of how connected to the modern world they are; some are quite aware of the
situation, others don't understand it, and yet others understand but don't care. When it comes to
divinities who want sexual offerings, what we've found to be the best solution is to have a ninth
"ritual role" - that of someone who considers themselves to be a sacred prostitute or the like, and
who is willing to interpose themselves between the god/dess and the audience and offer
themselves sexually, and is trained in how to deal with safe-sex issues when faced with a god
riding in a human body, as well as the astral/spiritual shaking-up that we've found is often a
repercussion of sex with a god/dess.
The phenomenon of god-spouses is found in many cultures, including those of the Afro-Caribbean deities. As Pagan polytheism grows and the Gods get a stronger connection to this world, more and more people are being claimed as god-spouses - the mortal husband, wife, or concubine of a deity. While an in-depth study of this phenomenon would be too tangential to go into thoroughly, suffice it to say that most deities generally want a ritual, often a public one, in order to officially marry their human spouses, and many are not satisfied unless they are allowed to consummate the wedding as well. This means that horsing a deity for their wedding can - though not always, depending on the deity and the horse - end with physical intimacy.
Being a horse for a god-spouse wedding is a difficult thing. The horse knows that their body will be used not just as a sacrifice to the masses, but as an irreplaceable part of one single person's very special day. Any intimacy that will go on will not be shared or experienced by them, and they must strive to create professional boundaries between themselves and the god-spouse. In general, we've found that it's healthier for both parties to keep a good separation, unless they are already lovers. Transference issues can crop up that can interfere, and the horse needs to be humble and impersonal about the whole process.
One of the things about such a ritual that often differentiates it from other such rituals is
that for once, there is guaranteed to be someone present who is possibly closer to the deity than
the horse is. This means that it is the responsibility of the god-spouse to mediate between the
two, getting the horse's list of needs and clearing it with their divine spouse. The god-spouse
must be aware that while the horse is donating the body to the effort, they are no actual part of it,
and the spouse's feelings for the god must not spill over onto the horse. The general advice of
god-spouses who have gone through this is to simultaneously keep the lines of communication
with the horse open, while mostly concentrating on putting together the details of the ceremony
rather than worrying about the horsing issues. If the horse is doing their job, they won't be there
anyway. When it comes to the wedding, Gods who are marrying their spouses tend to put the
horse entirely in the trunk.
In actuality, the issue of sex with Gods rarely comes up. I bring it up here only because on the rare occasions that it does happen, many modern Pagans are taken aback. Remember that the Gods have a different outlook on the world than we do, and forcing Them to act like mortals is an exercise in futility. On the other hand, They will adapt to our rules over time, as the Afri-Caribbean loas and orishas have, as long as They are given sufficient space to be themselves and spread their energy. This is a period of rediscovery and reintegration, and there are bound to be a few missteps. That's why structure and boundaries are good, as long as we remember that we cannot control the power of the Gods. That's why They're Gods. It's also important to keep in mind the reason why They are coming back in force in this very present way: the world needs Them, desperately. We need Them, too, more than we could ever imagine.