Real Heathens Pray
I intended this piece to be an exploration of prayer but then I really thought about what I’ve experienced in Heathenry over the last three decades. I thought about how powerful and potent the traditions of our ancestors once were and the horror of having those tradition destroyed, swept away, or willingly tossed away like garbage. I thought about the future generations and what we’re leaving them, and most of all I thought about the debt we owe those ancestors who fought for their traditions and the Gods Who sustained them and the debt we owe to both. Then I got a little bit upset.
I believe that our community is at a crossroads. For fifty plus years we’ve been fighting the same ideological battles, going back and forth over the same ground, and making very little headway in restoring anything approximating a tradition. Why? Because like a plague riddled corpse, Heathenry is infected with way too many who eschew devotion, prayer, piety, and even the Gods Themselves; and if they kept to themselves it would be one thing but they don’t, they try to take leadership positions in our community, they hold themselves up as decent Heathens, they try to destroy whatever flickers of actual piety and religion might burn anywhere – because Gods forbid someone, somewhere might actually be honoring the Gods. It’s sickening. Our Gods deserve more.
This ongoing pushback against prayer is a typical example. Bring up prayer and inevitably someone is going to say, “our ancestors didn’t pray.” Well, first of all bullshit. We have plenty of examples of prayer in the surviving lore (not that I put any particular weight in a body of evidence written by Christians well after conversion and solely for literary or political ends). Even if we have the occasional example of a denial of prayer, why elevate those examples of Heathen ancestors filled with enough cowardice, impiety, degradation, and willingness to accept their own ideological slavery that they rushed headlong into conversion and then bragged about it by writing it down? Instead, why not elevate those who were devout and who held true to the Gods? Our community interprets out any piety, any devotion, any prayer, any mysticism found in the lore because they’re at heart the worst kind of Protestants. Devotion is too much for them. Scandinavian Heathens can’t get past having a culture, and American Heathens can’t get past their envy of one. In neither equation do the Gods play a part.
People in our communities who refuse prayer, devotion, veneration, sacrifice, and basic piety are parasites. They want the blessings and good things the Gods and a religious community can give without the potential inconvenience of having to show basic respect. How do you build a tradition on that? Better that we aim to emulate Ottar. In the Lay of Hyndla, Freya praises him for making so many prayers and sacrifices to Her, that the altar upon which he sacrificed turned to glass from the heat and overwhelming number of the offertory fires (stanza 10). Even the lore sometimes gets it right.
Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe the problem with prayer isn’t general laziness and impiety, a desire to take and not return even the most basic courtesy to the Gods. Maybe it’s lack of comprehension about what prayer is. Therefore, allow me to clarify.
Too many people define prayer solely as asking for something. I’ve always balked at this. If you only pray, after all, when you want something from the Gods, then you’re like that relative that only shows up for holiday dinner or worse, bail money. If this is what constitutes prayer for most Heathens, then don’t pray. I totally support your lack of prayer because this is not piety.
A more accurate definition of prayer is (to quote Merriam-Webster dictionary): “an address to a God in word or thought.” That’s it, end of story. It’s some form of communication, of verbal address to a Deity. It’s an act that lays the groundwork for any type of relationship with our Gods. It’s what raises up our awareness of our religion to something other than role playing. It is a reaching out, with the petition being that we are heard. It is taking the time to put yourself in Their presence, taking the time to reach out, to step away from mundane consciousness and acknowledge that there is something more. It is acknowledging moreover, that the Gods are more than capable of engaging with us and affecting our lives. Maybe that’s why so many pseudo-Heathens have an issue with it: it acknowledges that the Gods are real and that we can be in relationship with Them. Moreover, it reifies our place in that hierarchy.