On Prayer

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been seeing a growing noise on Facebook and other social media platforms that is staunchly anti-prayer. Generally, this occurs most strongly after some horror or disaster wherein people will post “my prayers are with you.” Immediately the social justice crowd pushes back, questioning both the relevance and efficacy of this sentiment. Let’s be honest; most people post such platitudes because they are moved, they care, but are (or feel) otherwise helpless to impact the situation. It is an expression of care, goodwill, and perhaps even solidarity. Take that for what it’s worth; I personally, don’t see anything wrong with it. I see a great wrong with dismissing prayer, however, and of course, those dismissals never stop with the aforementioned social situations but ever and always leech into our communities, which already struggle with understanding, prioritizing, or practicing devotion well (It’s not, after all, as though we are surrounded in our everyday lives and communities with good devotional models. I think we all struggle with this at times one way or another).

To dismiss prayer as a powerful and effective practice is to cripple our devotional lives and our relationship with our Gods. Over the years, I’ve seen many Pagans and even Polytheists dismiss prayer as something Christian. Well, it’s not. The earliest recorded prayers date from Sumer, written to the God Nanna and the Goddess Inanna. We have surviving prayers from Greece, Rome, Egypt, to name but a few polytheistic cultures. Polytheists prayed. It’s one of the fundamentals of practical religion.

Why are we so eager to render ourselves mute before our Gods?

To hold someone in prayer does not mean that one does nothing else. If there is more that one is able to do on a practical level, then it goes without saying that one should do that. I’m reminded of the Benedictine motto: ora et labora (pray and work). It’s not an either/or situation.

Furthermore, having a consistent prayer practice to the Gods and ancestors is one of the best ways to maintain devotional clarity, to keep the lines of communication open, to strengthen those devotional relationships, and to grow in faith, devotion, and grace. Cultivating hostility or contempt toward what is in fact one of the most powerful tools we have in maintaining our spiritual worlds is short sighted and frankly stupid. To pray is to open a line of ongoing communication with our Gods. It is to approach Them as petitioners, it is to give thanks, it is to express our love and adoration and a thousand other things. It provides Them with an opportunity to act in our lives and in our world. It provides us with an opportunity to accept, again and again, Their grace.

What we are instead tasked with is learning how to pray effectively. While set, formulaic prayers can be enormously powerful, it’s not enough to just say any words. Proper prayer is a matter of preparing our minds and hearts. Our hearts need to be receptive to our Gods. Our minds need to be committed and focused on this process. It’s one of the key devotional disciplines that no one seems to talk about anymore.

Ironically, as we pray, we learn how to pray and to do so more effectively. It is not in the capacity of any human being to compel the Gods. But we can reach out to Them, we can ask, and most of all we can trust that we have been heard. Prayer is powerful in part because it allows us to stand in perfect, active alignment with our Holy Powers. The more we do that consciously, the more we are changed and perhaps even elevated by the process.

Because it allows us to stand consciously in that alignment, it is a potent protection against all that is inimical to our Gods and Their ways. It reminds us, purifies us, re-aligns us again and again into our devotion. Every time we pray, we recommit ourselves to our traditions and our Gods and to living in ways that cultivate piety.

Remove purification, sacrifice, devotion, and prayer and what do you have? Certainly, not a religion.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on November 21, 2017, in devotional work, Lived Polytheism, prayers, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. What does the word “bidhja” in Old Norse mean, in that case ? And what does the contemporary english word “bid” mean ? or the contemporary swedish “be, bedja” ? Ombud as in ombudsman, for example, is one who carries out the bid or bidding of another, and a King or Lord can bid – but never ever “pray”. Gods and Godesses are never prayed to. Gods and Godesses demand gifts in return, “Gåva kräver att gengåva gives” to paraphrase the Havamal. Thus, there is no prayer. Only gift for gift, service and energy devoted – and – if we are lucky – something given back to us, although we might see this as “nature, being kind”, or the universe, being generous, “luck” or “favor of the Gods” – Wishes perhaps, good intentions, yes and certainly – but Prayer… ? No, never ever !


  2. First of all, that word is used specifically in the Edda in the context of working runes, not prayer. And English has these words too and also the word for prayer. What you describe is one of the most shallow, unhealthy, and empty spiritualities that I have read. I feel sorry for your Gods.

    I think we have a sad tendency in modern Heathenry to edit out any example of prayer, devotion, etc. in our surviving lore because it makes us uncomfortable. We also are dealing with a body of texts that aren’t religious. They were never intended to be used in the way that we do. They are medieval texts written by a Christian poet and politician and others. They may reflect the oral traditions but are not a full transmission of them. To assume that every interaction with the Gods was purely mercenary is to say that our ancestors were as bankrupt ethically, morally, and spiritually as we, poisoned by modernity are. I think that’s one hell of an unfortunate assumption to make.

    Furthermore, the do ut des equation that you describe is absolutely part of ritual and sacrificial practice but it does not negate personal devotion and prayer.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. to deny prayer is to deny the history of polytheism. Why would Heathenry be exceptional to that when every other, every single other indo european tradition has prayer?

    Liked by 5 people

  4. On a more practical note…what do you do to get into appropriate headspace to pray? I pray, less often than I ought, but have often struggled to get into the right headspace to do so well. Anyone’s thoughts on a method of getting into that state would be appreciated.

    Liked by 3 people

    • i don’t think i pray well, Wynndark. But to get into the headspace (which is really transitioning into a lightly altered state), i’ll ground and center myself, turn off or put aside any other distractions, usually i’ll clean my shrine or at least light candles, refresh any offerings and then sit and focus on my breathing and finally start to turn my mind to the God or Goddess in question and when I feel my heart unfold and open, I’ll begin.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I find it helps to at least have some transition and the grounding adn centering quiets the mind and helps with focus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have recently converted from catholicism and find your books and your prayers very moving. Recently I discovered that I smile when I pray, sometimes I smile and cry at the same time. Time passes really quickly when I pray. One hour is like ten minutes… This definitely did not happen to me ever when I was a catholic… Praying back then was like talking to a dead phone… And now the phone seems to be connecting me… It is so so different.
    Thank you for the practical advices, everything is helpful to me now that I am getting started…
    I want to serve the Gods right…I worry if I am doing things right…
    I also wrote a couple of little prayers myself, inspired by some of your writings, just for personal use, to pray alone in my bedroom. I hope that is all right with you.
    Is that possible that some Gods might “prefer” certain prayers over others? They seem to specially “like” being hailed. I am sorry if I am being inconvenient in the way I describe this, it’s hard for me, I have little experience and english is not my native tongue.
    Thank you

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Vanesa, I’m glad that you’ve found my work helpful. One of the things I think Catholicism does very well is instilling a sense of the importance of prayer in its people. that’s not something to give up and it sounds like you are very well begun at rooting yourself in your newfound polytheism. Please feel free to ask questions here or email me krasskova at gmail.com. I’ll answer if i can.

      I think writing one’s own prayer can be a powerful devotional act, and a way to connect strongly to a Deity. 🙂 I have a whole prayer book that I’ve created for myself of prayers i’ve written, prayers i’ve gotten from others, some traditional ones, and then images of the Gods that I like or have created. It’s a bit large to carry with me, but I use it regularly and add to it and it’s been a treasure to refer to when I feel the need, which is often.

      I do think the gods have Their preferences and surely that will extend to prayer too. I would keep doing what you’re doing and trust those instincts with respect to your prayers. IT’s never wrong to hail the Gods!

      be well,

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you very very much!! I will pray for you tonight.


  8. Well said! Prayer is the mainstay of my life, and extends in its way as telepathic communication to all of the Creation and the Nature Spirits who live and work with me. I applaud you as a champion for speaking to rectify those devotions that humanity has thrown away with the “social justice crowd,” as if in seeking a satsifying material experience they have thrown away the values of the Spirit. The same attitude interferes with proper honoring of the dead! On Samhain, two Christian acquaintances said to me that they don’t celebrate Halloween because the pagans used to eat babies. They don’t celebrate All Souls Day either. In losing spiritual values, people lose such comprehension of the Gods as they might once have had through their own inner knowing…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Working on my long-term breviary, I read that prayer also connects people to their communities as well. When everyone prays the same prayer or prays to the same Gods, they form a community. They are united across the divide. This always is powerful as well, to know that when I pray to the Lars or Janus, that I am united with the other Roman Polytheists, which strengthens them and me.

    People who say prayer is ineffective in my experience come from the Christian mind-set of social justice or social gospel. Action is more effective than prayer. However, the people who have expressed this in my presence recently all are people who believe that they are powerless and that others need to act. However, if you tell them that, they tell you how powerful magicians they are, and that they are overthrowing the patriarchy or the capitalist system with their magic. I think of them as heroic victims. They don’t seem to act but react. It is a paradox to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This post has triggered some memories in me:
    It reminds me just of the time when I was a little girl and my grandmother (R.I.P), who was catholic told me to pray to god every night. I personaly did not even understand what I was meant to do, so I had to figure it out on my own and just because my grandmother told this again and again to me I did it.

    What I wanted to say with this is:
    Now that I am on the polytheistic path of spirituality I figure out that even christians who are highly devoted people can not tell or teach some one how to pray or how to do a prayer. They do it because they always have been told to do it and they automaticaly do it without thiking about it. I guess what we need in our modernday times are people who teach us how to do it and what is the reason behind doing that.

    I personaly come from a backround where my parents are both nonbelievers. My dad is more one of the “religion is nonsens” category. In discussions about religion when my parents categoricaly deny religion and the existence of divinities I am more on the side of the “but maybe there is something divine category.

    I have always been between the chairs of theism and atheism but I can say one thing at least I try to find my own way with wandering of into the completly different area of being a
    polytheist. And I try it honestly even if the thing with believing is sometimes a difficult matter.
    Bringing a logical thinking mind together with the belief in gods is not always easy but I try. I can say that I came to polytheism in order to learn to know what it realy means to be a religious person and I guess you can learn that very well here from time to time and you can sometimes better explain the principles of being religious than some christians or atheists I have met in my life.

    I personlay never denied the importance of prayer. I even wondered myself about the existence of people who claim to be religious but are not praying. My thought about this was: Praying? Is that not what all religious people do? I mean for me it always seemed natural that people who believe are also praying.

    And the thing that they always did it since the dawn of man is also something I can definitively agree with even as someone who studies egyptology and greeco-roman archeology.

    If anyone has suggestions to me to solve my porblems I have talked about here in this comment. Feel free to leave an answer. Reading the whole book of Devotional Polytheism is definitively on my reading list for this december where I also have time to contemplate more deeply on that what Galina says there. I have read some snippets of it before and they made me eager to read the rest of it in this month.

    I hope that I was not so disrespectful here in the realm of a lot of exprienced polytheists. I have just begun to start my journey on this path in a more deeply way so mistakes in my choice of words can happen. ( I just added this part because I try to be respectfull here.)


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