Prayer. For some modern heathens that word is one of deep connection, reverence, praise and peaceful sanctuary, for others the word is one which offers a shudder of revulsion, of uncomfortableness and of old-held understandings and memories of mandatory requirements. Some who have previously walked an Abramic path, find verbal prayer to be too close to previous practice, and want to reject it wholeheartedly.
Prayer is an endless dialogue, thread connections between us and our gods, between us and the land, between us and the people who came before. Through prayer we can connect and have meaningful experiences and exchanges. Through prayer we can deepen our spritual and faith practice. Prayer is often first thought of as verbal, words that you say out loud, or in your own head, focussing them towards where you want them to go.
Prayer for me is a comfort, many faiths have dialogue with the divine in whatever form, as something which is done with reverence and brings a moment of peace. But: what happens when you’re a cleric of unsubtle Gods? Prayer and praying can be a whole new experience. For me, it’s not, as it would have been in Roman cosmology, a business transaction ‘if you do this for me, I can do this for you‘ or a cosmic ‘give me’ in the form of ‘you’re awesome, you’re the best, give me the thing‘. It’s closer to a conversation with a friend, someone with whom I share my news, my thoughts, I hold deep respect for, I listen to, I laugh with, I am honest with.
Prayer for me is something that I use in my practice, but it’s not always words. It might be that I spend time doing something creative – writing theological reflection, painting, drawing – time spent in offering to the gods. I have sung to the spirits of the land in prayer, wild danced clapping, calling out and hair flying loose, soak wet through in a storm on a hillside in prayer to the land, I have baked offerings for ritual with my kindred, taking time to pray as I baked, mindful of the ritual of baking, mindful of the food we would share together, Mantras to Frey and Freya as I used flour from grain, connecting to the land, used dairy butter and milk, thought of Fehu the first rune, thought of wealth and the wealth found in friendships, the verses from the Havamal about how to best be with good friends. Prayed to the gods, praising their many gifts as the offerings cooked, and I cleaned through the kitchen, thankful for the tools and items that I can use to bake with, thankful for the wealth of my home, prayers to those who have gone before to honour and thank them, to feel my connection and the weight of my own life, to be mindful of all the technology that I have in my home that allows me to set an oven temperature, to bake without an open fire, without having to gather and store fuel first. Hot clean water from a tap without having to fetch and heat it myself, I can make a hot drink in minutes whilst I wait, and spend time repeating mantras to the gods I hope to honour in ceremony later that day. I take time to gather items together for ritual, decide on libation, which I have been able to buy with money I have earned from my work. I pray in informal style, a chattering conversation of anticipation and excitement. Informal conversation and prayer with the the gods is a beautiful honest thing, but there’s also something about prayer which is crafted and formal. prayer which is written out by hand, or time taken to prepare exactly what I want to say, and how I want to say it. Sometimes prayers written by others resonate, sometimes I take time to craft my own so I can be sure of the precise inflections.
Soon it’s time, as we travel to the ritual site, offerings packed safe along with other tools and items for the ceremony, I see the land as I travel through it, notice the shape of the trees, greet the grass, the brambles, the hedgerows. Greet the gravel at the roadside, the pieces of quartzite formed in the Quaternary Period, smell the seasons change. The earth feels pliant beneath my boots, the soil a coarse loam mix, I send prayers to it with every footfall.
My kindred is gathered up ahead, I see each and remember the connections I hold, the offerings and libations we will share in sacred time, with the land, the gods and honouring those who have gone before. My prayers have lasted through my preparation time, now it is time to stand silent, time for formal prayers of praise, time for well-crafted words to send spinning into the sky to the ears of the gods I have been talking to through the day in my actions and thoughts.
Let us pray.