This seems to have been a custom among the Celtic tribes until the first few centuries of the modern era. The Doge of Venice "married" the sea by throwing in a ring to the passing waves from his richly-caparisoned gondola. The not-so-ancient Celts seem to have had a more direct approach ....
Conch shells, a blare of trumpets,
a flare of the band of pipes.
My poor old father is dead.
I am the new king.
I plan to get rid of
most of his old advisers.
In the meantime
I have to publicly fuck a horse.
There's no way out of it.
Tradition demands it.
I asked if I could choose a horse I liked
but was told to be patient,
that the priests would arrange it all.
Also, the poor bloody horse
has to show signs of satisfaction.
Here am I with my Latin and Greek,
a student of Heraclitus,
soaring along with Homer
but dependent on the sighs
of a large-arsed animal.
It gives a new meaning to riding.
My people are both fierce and loyal
and we face a bitter war:
strangers have come among us.
They look to me to lead them and I will
but I cannot be their king
until I fuck the horse.
I don't want to fuck a horse.
This is an ancient and stupid custom.
I don't want to shame myself
except with David, whom I love,
and that in private.
I shall have to marry
after the horse, of course,
one of the daughters of the O Cahans,
a sharp-nosed family of usurers
who count their money.
O God, here we go.
This day of dread has arrived.
The clansmen in bright colours and banners
are drunk already; wives and daughters
rush to set-aside tents.
I feel sick.
I am dressed in ancient robes
and dangling, tinkling, medallions.
They lead me out to a stage of new wood
in the centre of a grove of ancient oaks
and I beg my knees to carry me on.
A great cheer and the high-pitched Gaelic cry
thunders as I mount the steps.
I wave with all the enthusiasm
of a man condemned to the gallows
and wait, wait for the horse.
O God, here she comes,
a two-year-old mare from the looks of her,
as they whack and chivvy her up the ramp;
the poor thing looks as nervous as I feel
and I stroke her nose in sympathy.
Then there's the mumbling of the priests,
a suspicious breed in any association;
cold hard-eyed men with soft and flabby hands
who murmur in a code of memorized words,
who feed on fear and superstition.
One of these hooded halflings
looses the cords of my trousers
and I stand, ashamed, before my people.
He grins at me, the idiot, and I smack him hard
and a cheer comes up from the multitude.
O yes, we like violence.
Lugh of Light, Mananaan of the Sea,
come down, ye gods, and save me!
But the gods are silent. They are always silent.
I stand there, drooping, I cannot do this,
the innocent horse is also silent.
The whores of the town are sent up to me
to get me going, and a wave of laughter
ripples among the gathered throng;
mothers shade the eyes of their daughters
but laugh along with their husbands.
Do I want to be king?
I must be king: a terrible war, I know, is coming.
The whores do their business, I start to rise,
then mount the ladder behind the horse.
It has to be done.
It has to be done.
It doesn't take long,
I pretend it takes longer.
I raise my fist and scream,
Will you follow me to the death?
Yes, they roar, they will.
Yes, they roar, yes and yes and yes!
This is what I need.