The idea and practice of spirit possession is one that is growing in the modern magickal and pagan communities. Despite the long and deep roots in a variety of traditions all across the world the practice more or less died out in Western traditions, but in the last decade or so it’s an idea and experience that is becoming more popular. In this book Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera start to fill in the gaps for the Western traditions and open up the conversation of possession.
First off, this is not a how-to book. If you’re looking to learn how to be possessed you can stop reading this review now because this isn’t the book you want. Filan and Kaldera suggest that people can’t learn to be possessed generally, it’s something that’s “wired” into you, and while I’m not sure I agree they still make very solid points about the role of the horse. (Horse is a term from the African diaspora religions for someone being possessed or ridden by the spirits, and is borrowed in this book.)
While not a how-to guide, the book is very thorough for what it does cover: the history of possession, traditions around the world, theories behind it and the spirits called into the horse. There are two elements to the text that really hit me as crucial reading for those getting into possession, but not from a tradition with an understanding or living history of the practice. The first is about the care of the horse, both in terms of the woogity and the mundane. They discuss how possession should be treated in safe, sane, and consensual manner, how to work with the spirits to set up boundaries. It might seem great to be able to be ridden by a patron deity, but despite ideas that such figures only work for your best interest, sometimes a spirit may go for a ride when it’s not wanted or even problematic. Kaldera and Filan give ideas for negotiating with the spirits, and ways to invite and close off possessions.
On the mundane side they cover the depth of what needs to be considered before, during, and after a possession. For instance most people inexperienced with possession might think it just happens, the horse stops, opens, and the god steps in, but the period of transition between self and possession can be a bit rough on the body, the horse might lose control of their limbs, so it’s addressed how to make sure they’re safe in that process. Also an emphasis on aftercare is covered, because having another spirit controlling your actions for a while isn’t necessarily the most comfortable or easy experience. The horse may need to be lulled back to the themselves, given food and drink, or a quiet place alone to settle down, and all of these ideas and more are laid out for the reader.
The second element I felt was crucial for readers is the discussion of the role of the horse in the community. Filan and Kaldera show how the horse is a social role, it’s not about the horse being someone big and important, but about what they can do for their religious community. Between the care and the context, I think the modern practitioner and group can get a sense of how to work with possession.
The book is written in a way that shifts back and forth from theory to experience, it’s filled with a variety of stories from Kaldera and Filan’s past that illustrate their points, without having so many that the text seems to be more about discussing cool experiences to prove how awesome the authors think they are.
As said right away, if you want a how-to guide on possession, this isn’t it, but if you’re curious about the phenomena or part of a group working with it, this text will help explain and explore what it means to work with the spirits in this way.