Why we're here

We are taking a stand against horse slaughter returning to the US and are striving to stop the transportation of horses to other countries for slaughter. Some of us are working in those other countries as well.

We are taking this stance as Pagans and Heathens, at a time when it seems some have decided that eating slaughtered horse meat in ritual is somehow cool, edgy and "ancestral." Therefore we want to show that that minority does not represent all of the Pagan and Heathen communities. Many of us worship Horse Deities, many of us are horse people who may see our horses as sacred charges who we care for to honor these Deities. Not by killing but by striving to give them good lives.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lost in translation

I sit in an air conditioned box, in front of a computer while its probably 104F out side. I just got in from the car, another air conditioned box, after returning from the store yet another air conditioned box with food and drink in, yeah you guessed it, boxes.

The reason I make this strange statement on a horse blog is because I think, "we" as modern Pagans/Heathens really can't understand what our ancestors were thinking or doing, I think it may be "lost in translation". Their life was much different. I have the luxury of sitting a climate controlled room eating food I didn't have to kill, process and cook. I just grabbed it off the shelf and threw it in a microwave. (Not good food for me, mind you, but that's a different post.)

Your mileage may vary, but in my experience there is this weird phenomenon, Pagans/Heathens come from the city while some of the most devout Christians I have ever encountered come from the country. It almost feels as if we Pagans are trying so hard to connect with something that our fellow Christian country dwellers (ironic, no?) are already in contact with but just don't see the same way we do.

I feel like those of us who have been around horses, have had a glimpse of what our ancestors would have understood about horses. However unless we want to go live with the Amish, I don't think most citified Pagans/Heathens are really going to truly understand what was going on with our ancestors and the horses, and why they would be so important. Even now, I have a horse, but I don't rider her to work. I drive my car out to her, rider her and then I get in my car and drive to work. I'm not dependent on her to get me places or to plow a field or to pack a hunted kill or to carry me into battle.

This whole "Horses were traditionally very important and holy animals and part of that was eating them," smacks of eclecticism to me. Just yanking that one piece of lore out and forgetting the rest. With no understanding of the relationship between horse and human being gained but just eating them. THAT relationship is the one you want to get to know if you want to get closer to your horsey ancestors.

There is a great deal of specifically Norse lore around eating horses, sometimes because there was nothing else, but most often times horses seem to have been included as the main course. The Icelanders kept herds of horses to eat. It seems strange to me while they are doing all this horse eating they also ate cattle, pigs, chickens etc why is eating horses so damn important to Pagans, when eating beef or lamb was probably just as prevalent to our ancestors? Specifically, the Icelanders ate fermented rotting shark meat, but it seems to me no one is running to try and re-create that tradition in the United States and Canada. (They still eat this in Iceland at certain festivals)

Just why is it that eating HORSE is so important while maybe the shark thing isn't? Well, it seems that there was a King Hákon who was a Christian king over Pagan/Heathen subjects. Presumably in an attempt at being diplomatic he attended a "Pagan" festival/feast where the main course was, you guessed it, horse. The King refused to eat the meat as it was believed that only Pagans consumed horse meat (Christian propaganda at the time, I'm sure). The Pagans asked him to eat the meat and he wouldn't then the asked him to eat the gravy served with the meat and he wouldn't do that, and they asked him to eat the fat and he wouldn't do that. Finally as the compromise they got him to hold his mouth over the cooking pot and let some of the steam rising off the horse meat go into his mouth. This was regarded as a pretty crumby compromise by both parties.

I believe the following year they all gathered again and King Hákon was goaded into eating some horse liver, but he had it wrapped in cloth so he wasn't actually biting the flesh. I wonder, probably like the Norse Pagans at the time, if he ate any of the horse meat at all.

Eating the horse flesh seems to be so taboo to the Christians of the time, one has to wonder if it wasn't because they weren't really putting a spin on it, using it to vilify the heathens at the time. It seems that Odin and Freyr may have been at the head of a horse cult and the consumption of horse meat is heavily associated with their worship. Thus being a symbol of Heathen Faith.

At the same time that Pagans/Heathens are eating horses they also had horses they use for divination. These horses were never knew work and were kept for the specific purpose of divination. They weren't slaughtered for divinatory purposes either. The future was divined by the way the moved or what they looked at, similar to flights of birds. I don't see anyone trying to resurrect THAT practice.

However there is a similar taboo concept with beef as well. Apparently King Óláfr was having a feast and there was a hooded stranger that was telling the king that a pagan King Ogvaldr had enjoyed drinking the milk of a certain cow. King Óláfr at some point lifted the strangers hood and found this man to be Odin who had apparently brought some beef to the feast. Part of the beef had been cooked! Whether the meat was spoiled because it was from the long dead cow OR if it was spoiled because a Pagan god brought it to a Christian feast one cannot say. As the tale goes the king then throws all the meat out so that they would not consume any of the questionable meat.

When I was a teen there was a young kid, who was part of the family who basically ran the town, who bragged to a friend of mine about being so tough he rode a horse to death during a round up. To me this kid was a moron, he killed a useful animal either through bravado or an inability to determine there was something wrong with the horse. My opinion on this desire of eating horse meat to reconnect with the ancestors comes down to is Pagan/Heathen bravado or pissing contest to see who is more hard core! Who is the REAL Heathen? The guy who eats horse meat?

Now the addendum... I'm against inhumane slaughter of any animal, not just horses. I do NOT think you are more of a badass Heathen if you eat horses. You are a badass Heathen if you are your deeds.


Contributing sources
Riding To The Afterlife:
{M.A. In Medieval and Renaissance Studies}

The Prose Edda (Penguin Classics: 1970)

Agricola and Germania by Tacitus, James Rives and Harold Mattingly (Penguin Classics: 2010)

Viking Age Iceland by Jesse Byock (Penguin Classics:2001)


  1. Great post Skull Arix! I am not a Heathen, so I can't comment specifically on that topic, however, you do raise some interesting points. I fail to see what is so traditional about eating the flesh of an animal shipped thousands of miles in a crammed truck, abused and then slaughtered in a heartless way, inhumane way. Traditional for our modern society that can somehow to rationalize industrialized farming and animal abuse on an unimaginable scale, but not traditional for cultures who were connected to these animals to the point of them being seen as "of the Gods".

  2. I agree, with you about not seeing how sacred it is to eat an animal that was abused and then slaughtered in a heartless way. I also fail to see how meat from this poor animal would be an acceptable offering to a god either!

  3. Excellent post, well researched and insightful. I so agree that they are missing all the steps which would make this a sacrifice....the first being the very definition of "sacredness." It is all bravado, or as another friend has put it claiming to be "cool by being cruel." And the language that is used by several of them when we voice our opinion shows that..that we're "fluffy bunnies" (HA!) or influenced by Christianity. I guess fluffy bunnies are able to with stand -40 degree weather which I have been out in caring for sick horses...."badass" suburbanite Pagans probably couldn't last five minutes in. If you're not caring for the horse in a sacred manner no amount of eating her is going to make it a sacrifice.

  4. He he, makes me think about the page I had started for Fed/Fionn, where I listed the temp for riding that day each update? Yeah that was a minute ago, but really how many times have we as horse owners gone out in bad weather or early morning hours because a horse was sick or hurt? THAT IS the sacrifice!

    When it was, we are going to ramen so the horses are cared for, THAT's the sacrifice!

    Then these "dudes" want to come along and slaughter that animal in the most inhumane way possible! So they can eat what their ancestors did because in the lore it tells them that Heathens ate horses and the Christians didn't like it?! Heathens also kept horses and rode horses, most of the gods had a horse they rode... Let's skip all the riding and get to the eating?!! Can't seem to wrap my brain around this!

    1. Exactly! The sacrifice horse owners make is in the caring and providing for their horses. I joke with people that my horses are my kids, but when you think about it, that's the closest way I can state it to a non-horse person where they can understand. You do whatever you have to do. You are there, no matter how much it hurts, because no one else will be. It's your responsibility and honor to care for these sacred animals.

      Eating a horse is like cannibalism.

  5. Well written and well researched! I noticed that (one) of my Heathen friends had posted a picture on Facebook of a horse showing filet cuts. Made me sick.

    What started this "trend"? It isn't something I've encountered in the pagan circles I frequent (thankfully). But then again, most of them tend to be face to face where people can see the appalled look on my face if they even mention eating horse meat.

    Any way. Do you have any suggested reading for tracking down the tradition of eating horses within other cultures? For example, the historical or archaeological background to why the taboo exists in the UK but not in France? (I found this article in Behavior Behind Bones (Proceedings of the 9th ICAZ Conference, Durham 2002): 10. The economic and non-economic animal: Roman depositions and offerings by Roel C. G. M. Lauwerier, pp. 66-72. The author evaluates a large deposit of horse bones at Roman temple sites (from both sides of the border) in the Netherlands. This is an inadequate summary: from the bulk of the bones at oen of the sites, there was a large sacrifice of horses and ritual meal. This was unusual at the time. Other horse bones did not show signs of butchering for human consumption (in one case, a horse appears to have died of natural causes and then was butchered for the meat to be fed to the dogs).

  6. I don't have a good resource... as far as I have been able to trace this back was to the Christians declaring that only Heathen's eat horses. Perhaps it goes back to Mary riding the donkey?