Category Archives: prayers
In addition to Ostara (Eostre), there is another Goddess once honored at the beginning of spring: Hreðe. She is mentioned once by the chronicler Bede and Her name likely means “fierce.” There’s also an Old English adverb hraðe that means quickly. Because of this, I tend to think of Her as ‘fast and furious!’ After all, of those who honor Her, many see Her as a warrior Goddess and I certainly don’t dispute that. She has a Presence at once joyful and ferocious. For me, She really is the quintessential March Goddess – Her nature that of an Aries all the way. The Anglo-Saxon Hreðmonath – basically March/April—was named after Her.
I wish we knew more than that, but having so very little yet tantalizing information allows us the freedom to build Her cultus anew. Just this year, devotion to Her is really starting to become part of my personal practice. I look forward to deepening that practice as we move into Spring.
Here are three prayers that I’ve written to Her over the years. I’m sure more shall come.
I say hail to Hreðe, Mighty Goddess!
With explosive force, You banish winter.
With enervating drive, You push us
into the rejuvenating arms of Spring.
Cleanse me, Glorious Goddess,
of all those things that hold me back.
Unfetter my mind, heart, and will,
that I might set my feet unswervingly
on the road to victory.
Hail, Hreðe, ever-victorious in every struggle!
You come feral and joyous,
laughing and dancing with the winds,
playing tag with Mani
under the sweetness of a sugar moon.
Herald of Eostre, unfettered, unbound,
You roar across our world,
with the lion winds of march.
Our flags and chimes whip and sound
with the force of Your passing.
You surround us as we move,
our offerings in hand,
across our rightful land.
Make the fields flourish.
Make the earth fertile,
The delight of Your voice
urges us on;
and we cry Your name
driven forward by the irresistible gusts
of Your whirling exhilaration.
Hail, Hrethe, now and always,
ebullient, fierce, unmatched in exuberance.
(By G. Krasskova)
My Adorations to Hreðe may be found here.
I offer this prayer to Thor and to the Goddess Sif.
Hail to You, Holy Ones.
Hail to You, Protectors of Midgard,
Hail to You, Son of Odin and Hail to You,
His gleaming Bride.
You hallow and drive out all pollution.
You are mighty. There is no malignant force
that You cannot banish. There is no threat,
You cannot overcome.
You are magnificent and Your grace
protects me in the face of evil.
Mighty Thor, wise, compassionate Friend of humanity,
look upon us and wield Your hammer for our protection.
Gracious Sif, You Whose gentle touch causes the grain to grow,
please nourish us, restore us, and grant us the fortitude
to walk in alignment with the Holy Powers always.
Through Your blessings, may we grow strong in faith.
through Your blessings may we grow strong in devotion.
Through Your blessings, may we always resist impiety,
may we be nourished as the grain is nourished
under Your caring hands.
In times of peril, come to our aid, I pray.
In times of desperation, I place myself under Your care.
Hail Thor, Son of Odin.
Hail Sif, His Gracious Bride.
Christians call him the apostate. We – many polytheists across traditions—consider him a saint, and some, a martyr. Julian (331-363) was Roman emperor from 362-363. While raised a Christian, he returned to some type of Hellenic polytheism (one deeply steeped in Platonism) very early on, and during his all too brief reign, attempted to drive back the encroaching dominance of Christianity. (1). My particular favorite bit of legislation, which he did not live long enough to really see play out, was forbidding Christians from teaching classical texts. This would, had it been allowed to come to fruition, have barred them from the corridors of power, and more importantly from evangelizing and instantiating Christianity in those corridors of power (2).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Julian today and it occurred to me that I have a prayer card for him. To honor him, through Monday 9pm, I will give a free prayer card for Julian to anyone who emails me at Krasskova at gmail.com asking for one. Include your name and a mailing address. One per person.
May our sancti, sanctae, and martyrs ever and always be remembered.
What is remembered, lives.
- For Christians, this was not a good thing, but I would point out that whereas Christianity can exist, practice, and for the most part be left alone in polytheistic theology, the opposite has never been true.
- Christians understood this well. I think it’s rather comparable on a certain level to the way so many theology departments (I exclude Fordham, which has consistently been wonderful and welcoming) won’t even consider polytheists for their grad programs, often instead pushing them into religious studies (if they’re mentored at all).
Oh Gods, may I praise You always. Grant me this boon, I pray, today and every day: May I walk fearlessly in devotion to You. May I never refrain from veneration. May I never refrain from reverence. May I never refrain from righteous acts, and the cultivation of virtue and courage. If today be my final day upon this earth, may my last breath be the ecstatic utterance of Your names. Hail to You, Holy Ones.
They are so incredibly good to us in ways large and small! Sometimes it really does take my breath away, and it is so incredibly humbling to know how keenly we are held in Their sight. This was really driven home to me yesterday in the most prosaic of ways. Let me set the stage for my tale.
My husband injured his back not too long ago and I’m disabled (in part due to spinal damage accrued when I was dancing professionally. Ballet is brutal). Our housemate recently tore her rotator cuff gardening. (Nature is brutal too). We had close to eighteen inches of snow dumped on us very late Wednesday night, so when I woke on Thursday, there was a beautiful, glittering blanket of white all across our yard. Usually Sannion would shovel, but while he heals up, that’s not possible (not without the risk of reinjury). I’m not supposed to shovel (doctor’s orders, due to my own back issues) but I figured, well, someone has to do it, and I’m a tough bitch, so I thought I’d give it a shot. That was quickly a no go as I realized if I continued, I was going to seriously hurt myself. I know my body and I know when it’s sensible to push ahead and when I need to back the fuck off and sit down and at my age, I’m smart enough to listen.
So, I spent about an hour calling around town and posting on local groups to find someone who could shovel our drive, but that was a completely fruitless endeavor. In the meantime, we’d had groceries delivered quite early, or at least we were supposed to have had them delivered. The delivery woman hadn’t bothered to let us know she was at our door, though I provided my number, and rather than wear boots like a sensible person and bring the groceries to our door as we’d paid her to do, she shoved them under my car. Yes, you read that correctly. She put three bags of groceries in the snow *under* my car and left. (She told her supervisor that she put them on top of my white van. Mind you, I don’t have a white van). We thought that they’d not been delivered (even going out and looking around, we weren’t able to see them – she put them under the car on the street side of the car) so the part of my morning that wasn’t spent trying to find someone to shovel was spent on the computer with the delivery company getting a refund and filing a complaint about the delivery person. (If you take a delivery job the day after a blizzard and don’t have the sense to wear boots, I have zero sympathy for you). They were good about making restitution – more on that in a bit.
I had awakened in a good deal of pain (I’d pulled a muscle badly the day before) and none of this helped. It was shaping up to be a really awful day. We gave up, did a few informal prayers (I have started doing a brief morning ritual, but that didn’t happen yesterday), ending with an unspecified plea for help. Things immediately turned around. It was really kind of stunning.
Our lovely mailman, who is just an angel, came two hours earlier than usual, found the groceries and carried them up to the house for us. He didn’t have to do that, and the kindness almost made me cry. (I contacted the delivery service to cancel my refund since I had my groceries). We had pretty much given up getting our drive shoveled (and ok, it’s not like we are going anywhere, but I’d still like to be able to take my garbage down to the street and get to my mailbox, plus, if there’s any type of emergency, we need that mobility) when the doorbell rang. It was a young man whom I’d never seen before. He told us, a little dazedly, and he repeated this several times, that a voice told him to come to our house, and he asked if we’d like him to shovel. He did a marvelous job and we told him quite frankly that he was literally the answer to our prayers.
The rest of the day was quiet and uneventful. The bad energy and unpleasantness of the morning was completely gone.
All of this reminds me of something that happened to me seven or eight years ago. I had promised to make steak and offer to it Hermes. The day I owed the meal, we had another blizzard. I’m an uncertain driver in such weather (it was really bad), so I went to Hermes’ shrine and prayed and told him, “I’m sorry but I don’t think I can safely drive to get your steak.” (There were no grocery delivery services in our area then). “I’ll go out as soon as the weather clears up.” I made a liquid offering and went about my business and less than ten minutes later – no joke—a dude rings my bell. He’s a traveling salesman selling…steak. I’d never seen him before and haven’t seen him since. He wanted to get one more sale before calling it a day and heading home before the weather got worse. I bought a ton of steak and Hermes had His offering.
The moral of this story, my friends, is that the Gods do listen to our prayers, large and small, and sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes it’s a yes so loud and unsubtle that we can’t help but be knocked on our butts. Hail to Them all.
With this week, we move into the week of Ansuz, thank every God that is. The week of thurisaz was rough, even though it brought many productive and fruitful epiphanies. It was really, really rough though and while I work very well with the rune thurisaz, and consider him one of my primary runic allies, I must admit with all respect, that I am breathing a sigh of significant relief as we move into ansuz. I will say though, with thurisaz at the helm, I got quite a lot of work done! He really helps to focus one’s energy and intellectual might. I’m grateful for that.
We began our rite as we always do, with an Anglo-Saxon fire cleansing, then offered the following prayer (which I wrote –Tatyana and I have been trading off, but thurisaz and ansuz were my weeks).
Prayer to Sunna Havamal verse 148. A fourth I know: if men make fast in chains the joints of my limbs, when I sing that song which shall set me free, spring the fetters from hands and feet. And so it is. You Sunna, come with ansuz. You wield it like a mighty spear, a battle cry, a flight of ravens in Your brilliant light. It is the incantation with which You open all roads before You. This then, is my prayer: Come with the power to loosen the fetters that bind us. Come with the power to open the way before us. Come with the power that causes all roads yield to Your command. Obliterate all obstacles that keep us from clean devotion. Your words have power. Speak the runes that restore creation, and teach us the prayers to support You in this work. Hail to You, Sunna, Shining Glory of the sky, Blessed Power of the House of Mundilfari.
After the prayer, I galdred ansuz, and while this is a rune that I consider a particular ally, it was difficult to find the rhythm appropriate to ansuz and Sunna. It came through – I asked the rune to show me – and the galdr was very productive. We shared a horn of a lovely grapefruit flavored rose (I usually have much more high brow taste in wine but damn the rose was good! I’ve never seen the horn empty quite so quickly lol), offered more prayers and finally concluded with pouring out offerings and Sigdrifa’s Prayer. Yule is one more week closer!
(the idea liberally stolen from Aleister Crowley)
- Facing east upon rising (which ain’t gonna be dawn, Aleister).
Hail to Dagr, herald of the Sun, Who storms across the sky paving the way for Sunna’s light. Hail to Glenr, Husband of the Sun, Who parts the clouds to show Her glory. Hail to Mani, Glorious Moon God, Who cedes the sky to His sister’s command. Hail to Sunna, wondrous Power, Whose blessing makes the world anew. From the Abode of Night I greet Thee. From the Abode of Night, I pay homage.
- Facing south at Noon
Hail to Sunna at the height of Your Power. Hail to You, Who triumphs over darkness. Hail to Your strong hands, oh Mighty Goddess, to Your mastery of Your fire, to Your force and the luck You bring. Hail to You as You instantiate order and rightness in our world, and all the worlds upon which Your blessings fall. From the Abode of Morning, I pay homage.
- Facing West at Sunset
Hail to Sunna in joy and power. Hail to Sunna, and Her mighty steeds. Hail to Sunna, ceding the sky to Her brother. Hail to the Sun Goddess and Her duty rightly done. Hail to Mani, riding out gleaming and glorious. Hail to Mani, Who intoxicates and teases. Hail to Mani, sharp-edged fighter, ensuring divine order as fiercely as His sister. From the Abode of Day, I pay homage.
- Facing north, at midnight
Hail to Nott, Whose wise beauty blankets the sky. Hail to Sinthgunt Who orders the stars in Their gleaming. Hail to Mani, wondrous Power, radiant splendor. Hail to this God, generous with His blessings. Hail to the House of Mundilfari. From the Abode of evening, I pay homage.
I have a new prayer card (in progress) for the Kemetic Goddess Nephthys (Nebet-Het). She is the wife of Set, Mother of Anubis, Sister to Isis and a lovely Goddess Who cares for the dead. I have the image for the card, but I do not yet have a prayer.
So, for the next week, until November 10 ( at 9pm EST to be exact), I am running a little agon. I am inviting readers to submit prayers to Nephthys. Prayers should be between 25 and 30 lines long (they can be shorter but they need to fit on a 2 1/2 x 4 inch prayer card, so longer is often problematic) and can be submitted to me at krasskova at gmail.com. Just put “Nephthys” in the subject line.
Once the agon closes, I’ll use divination to determine which prayer is the “winner” and the author of that prayer will receive a copy of my Sekhmet novena book (if you already have it, you can request a different novena book, but that is the only one I have to One of the Neteru) and a dozen of the cards once they’re printed. Each contributor will receive a prayer card of his or her choice (include mailing address and let me know which card you want when you submit your prayer).
I don’t have a devotional practice to Nephthys, and I always feel it’s best when prayers for these cards are written by people who do have a relationship with the Deity in question. So, I’m reaching out to you for help. Here is the card, originally mixed media on Arches Watercolor Paper.
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I occasionally will write prayers on commission for folks. It’s one of the services I offer at my etsy shop. I want to share several of the more recent ones that I have done, though none of these Deities form part of my own personal devotion. I also want to share a little bit about my process in preparing for and writing these devotional pieces, especially those Deities to Whom I don’t have any personal devotion.
It can take me some time to write these prayers. First, I like to spend a few days reading up on and meditating upon the Deity in question. Sometimes insights will come to me through this – often through contemplation of particular epithets of the Deity—that I’ll later work into the finished prayer. I usually set up a small, temporary shrine and make nightly prayers, not rushing but taking time as I would with any prayer cycle. I make small offerings – nothing excessive but usually flowers or incense, fresh water, or alcohol where it is appropriate. I make sure to cleanse before approaching the shrine – especially if I do not know the traditional protocols around that Deity’s cultic practices. Some Deities desire stronger purificatory protocols than Others. Usually that takes about two weeks and then I will look up as complete a list of the epithets of that Deity as I can find and I’ll pray for inspiration, make another small offering, sit down and write the prayer.
Over the past month, I’ve had several commissions so I want to share the last three that I wrote. I like the way they turned out, and the first, to Imhotep, reminded me of one of the first Kemetic Deities that I ever honored after Sekhmet. I had forgotten how intrigued I once was by Him but it’s only now, writing for someone devoted to Him, that the devotional connection opened up. I am grateful for the momentary grace. (If any one of my readers honors Imhotep, feel free to comment below. I would love to hear a bit about your practices).
Prayer to Imhotep
By Galina Krasskova
(For C. for personal use only)
[Before praying, cleanse yourself ritually, even if only by a token washing of the hands and face. If you can, set out a glass of water in offering, to be discarded later respectfully. Water is the most basic of offerings and almost always appropriate).
Hail to You, Architect of Peace.
Hail to You, great and wise Physician.
You, Imhotep – come in peace, I pray!
Great servant of Ra,
You are a conduit for His healing rays.
You good God, restore balance and health.
I pray You turn Your benevolent gaze upon me,
my household, my land, and those dear to my heart.
Restore us and protect us from all iniquity,
as You ever restore the richness of the red and black land
Oh, Wisest of Physicians,
both firm and gentle in Your counsel,
hear my petition I pray.
Restore my ka.
Protect my ka.
Ward me from all evil.
Refresh my soul with Your healing waters.
Stretch Your hands over me, oh sweet and gracious God.
Bring my soul into alignment with Ma’at.
Bring my will into alignment with the will of the Gods.
Bring me, heart and mind, body and spirit
into the true health of reverence,
and let me never falter in my devotion.
You, Who are patron of scribes,
teach me to write the names of my Gods
immutably and always on the walls of my heart.
You, Who are patron of architects,
may my heart ever be ordered and aligned
to the ways of goodness, industry, and virtue.
You, Who are patron of mathematics,
teach me to know my part,
in the harmony of creation.
You, Who are patron of medicine,
may my hands bring healing to my world.
Beloved of Thoth,
Beloved of Ra,
Beloved of Ptah,
Beloved of Sekhmet,
Friend of Asklepios,
Counselor to Kings,
Bless our growth as You bless the rising of the Nile.
You Who were the best of temple priests,
guide us in our devotions.
That which comes from Your hands is good.
Please lay those healing hands,
upon the body of our souls,
that we may learn always,
to walk in reverence.
You are preceded by the ibis bird
and holiness follows in Your wake.
All the souls of those buried
at the holy land of Saqqara praise you.
Always, I will praise You too.
Come in peace, oh great and wise God,
Come in peace and please, I pray,
bring peace to my world too
Hail to You, Imhotep.
Hail, mighty Healer.
Now, I had never before honored Tawaret. I’m not a mother. I’ve never wanted children (though I like them well enough). I had erroneously thought that was all She was about. Instead, when I began to honor Her now, preparatory to writing this, I discovered a Deity who, like Sekhmet drives back evil, drives back pollution and protects with a fury and fullness of power that nothing unholy would dare to challenge. I may actually be integrating Her into my household veneration, I found myself so moved by the power of Her presence.
Prayer to Taweret By G. Krasskova (for C. for personal use only) copyright 2020 Hail to You, Life-Giver to Gods! Hail oh Goddess, Who nourishes humanity, Hail oh Goddess, Who nourishes us in our humanity. You are the richness of the Nile, the fertility of the rich, black soil, the promise of the endless waters rising and falling, filling the land with abundance. You are fullness: of blessing, of grace, of glory. Please hear my prayer now. You, oh Great One, guarantee the fertility of the land. You are ferocious, even as You nurture and protect. Oh Mistress of the Horizon, Goddess of the Northern Sky, You Who protect the vault of heaven, Who clears the way for the passage of Ra, He Who drives the dawn forward in His boat of Millions of years, raise high the ankh, the symbol of life, above our heads and rain down Your blessings, I pray. Oh terrifying One, You Who take the form of the lion and of the hippopotamus, great horse of the waters (1), You Whose name means ‘Great,’ protect us from evil. Drive out wickedness. Protect us from peril. Wield Your gleaming knife in our defense, and keep us clean of all pollution. You are mighty, and under the great shield of Your protection, no malignancy may find purchase in our hearts. Protect us, I pray, I and my friends, my family, and household, protect our world too from evil in all its forms. Grant us the space, the opportunity, to go to our Gods clean. Grant us the grace that we may always walk rightly in reverence. Oh Great and gracious Taweret, You are the Protector of all young and vulnerable creatures. You protect pregnant women. You protect laboring women. You protect their children too; and where You have turned Your gaze, no evil spirits may enact their evil intent. When you are present in the birthing room, You are a guard and a ward to the laboring woman. The birthing bed is Your sanctuary. You protect us now, and Your care ensures our next generation too. Offerings of milk, I shall bring you, offerings of figs and bread, incense with my head bowed low, for You restore and connect the circle of being, bridging the passage into life and death into life again. As You protect the living, so too You protect the dead. You assist souls in their journey to the gentle embrace of Osiris. You guide their way in rejoining the ancestors, --may they eat honey from the hands of their dead. You restore the soul, --may You wash us all in Your refreshing waters. I praise You as Taweret, (2) Great Lady of the heavens. I praise You as Ipet, and as Reret, for You are the ever-birthing One, restoring the order of heaven and earth through Your labors. Friend of Isis, Friend of Hathor, Friend of Sobek, Preserver of all that is holy, Make us holy too. Let nothing impure or wicked twist the integrity of our souls out of true. May we always be guided in the best ways to honor You and to honor all the Gods in ways pleasing to the heavens. Mistress of pure water, Lady of the birthing house, Lady of heaven, Yours is the power to ward off evil. Friend of Hedjet, Yours is the power to protect the household. Grant us peace, great Goddess. Let us rear our children in peace. Guard our house against evil, and always, turn our hearts to the ways of devotion. Hail to You, Taweret, now and ever. Notes: 1. Hippopotamus is from the Greek for ‘river horse.’ 2. From this point on can be taken out and used as a smaller, shorter, prayer of praise. Two for the price of one. Lol.
Finally, I was asked to write a prayer to Artemis (this was actually the first of the latest three, though I have a few more in queue to do, which I hope to get to this coming week).
Prayer to Artemis (For T., for personal use only). Copyright 2020. I pray to You, most gracious Goddess, and I ask that You hear my prayer. Daughter of Zeus, Daughter of Leto, born radiant with Your prophecy-loving Brother, You are fierce, and none may equal You in the focused fury of the Hunt. Under Your watchful eye, babes are birthed, children thrive, girls grow to adulthood, woodland creatures are nourished, and those who celebrate Your mysteries are protected. May I be nourished too. These things I know: You brook no offense toward Your pious Mother. You brook no violation of Your sacred groves, Your grottos, Your wooded glades, and sacred places. To gaze upon You is a privilege granted to few, yet Your protection is offered to any young girl who needs it, and You guard their integrity like a She-bear with Her cubs. In this, You are unswerving like the arrows You wield so keenly. None dare trespass the boundaries You fiercely lay. Rightly, it brings only woe. You are called Aeginaea, huntress, Weapons-wise with javelin, bow, and every killing tool. You are called Agrotera, blessing the land with the grace of Your hunt. You are called Amarynthus, Apanchomene, and Aristo, because You are supreme in all the arts that are Yours to govern. You are called Astrateia, greater than any amazon; Brauronia, most ancient Goddess, Receiver of Sacrifices, Diktynnaia, the huntress whom none can escape. You are called Chrysaor, golden armed Goddess, and You receive victory dances. You are called Phoebe, Cynthia for the moon, Delia and Limnaea for the land upon which You were born, and a thousand other names drawn from places where You were venerated by those wiser than we. You are the leader of the woodland hoard, Hegemone, and You take maidens and married women alike into Your service, Hymnia, Glorious, You are celebrated throughout Arcadia. You are celebrated throughout the world. You are called locheia, Upis, and women cry Your name when giving birth. Your blessing falls on every child, and woe betide those wishing them harm. You are called always Parthenia, because You will never yield Your liberty to any man. All Who have recourse to You call You Soteira, savior, for Your hand preserves and carries us away from harm. By these and many other names are You known, but today, in this place, and in the secret bower of my heart, I call You Artemis, for this name is sacred, and rings like a trumpet’s blast through all the rough places of my soul, bringing renewal. I thank you, Great and Holy Lady, and ask only this in return: may I serve you well and better each day. May I never do that which would make me ashamed, to place myself in Your presence. May I learn and do all that You would have me do; and in the end, may it be enough. Hail to you, Artemis, Holy One, Child of Zeus, Favored of Your Father. Child of Leto, Beloved of Your Brother. Hail Great Goddess, Beloved by me too. I thank You.
I enjoy doing this type of work. Even if it’s a Deity that I don’t personally venerate, it gives me an opportunity to enter into devotional headspace more carefully than I sometimes do – it’s easy to get into a rhythm with one’s own Gods and that can sometimes lead to cutting corners or becoming careless – taking it for granted. Having to approach a Deity Whose protocols I don’t know keeps me on my toes. It makes the experience fresh again, and that in turn highlights the areas that I need to better in my practice with the Gods I do regularly venerate.
Yesterday, my friend Elise asked me if I prayed in the mornings and if so, whether I used formal, set prayers, or prayed extempore, in a more conversational format. I thought it a very good question and asked her permission to recap her question and my response here, which she generously gave.
I am not, in any sense of the word, a morning person. My natural bio-rhythms ideally have me waking at about ten am, working till two am or so, and then going to bed. I can make some adjustments for work, but it tends to have an immediate and largely negative effect on my health and mood (1). I’ve learned to accommodate diurnal scheduling to a degree over the years but I hate it. Years ago when I lived in Queens, the majority of my kindred all lived within walking distance and for about six months we met every
bloody morning at six am (we all worked in the city mind you, so we had to catch the train in) to do a morning liturgy. It was lovely, nourishing, and damn near killed me. So, while I would like to keep monastic hours, treating my day as an interlocking circle of prayer in which I exist constantly praising my Gods, it is a goal and hasn’t happened yet. I do pray when I awaken, but it tends to vacillate between a garbled “arrrrrrgggghhh, gah, consciousness, grrrr…hail to the Gods and my dead” or a formal prayer like “Sigdrifa’s Prayer.” My more intensely focused prayer happens later in the day, and then before bed I usually pray for an hour or sometimes two (2). I feel bad about that though, and more and more, I’ve been trying to at least make a prayer the first thing out of my mouth when I wake, if not “Sigdrifa’s Prayer,” than this one that I wrote:
Hail to the Gods and Goddesses!
Your grace illumines all things.
Your gifts shine forth
making fruitful nine mighty worlds.
Blessed are those that serve You.
Blessed are those that seek You out
Holy Powers, Makers of all things,
bless and protect us in Your mercy.
Lead us along the twisting pathways of our wyrd,
and when it is time, guide us safely along the Helroad (3).
I really would like to develop the discipline of greeting the day with more fully formed prayers and even a ritual though – it’s a life goal. That being said, when I told all this to Elise, it led to a discussion of what is better: formal or informal prayer. She did not grow up in a religious family (nor in fact, in this country where we are exposed to religion somewhat simply by virtue of the nature of American culture) and formal prayers (set prayers, like the one above, or in Catholicism, the “hail Mary” or “our Father” prayers), she said, felt stilted and awkward. For her, praying was sitting in front of her shrine and immersing herself in the Presence of the Deity in question and …talking. That is lovely. That is what many people who practice prayer aspire to achieve. But, the two forms of prayer (formal and extempore) are not mutually exclusive. They reinforce each other, the formal prayers providing a scaffolding around which one weaves conversation, meditation, contemplating, and direct experience (4). Eventually, they should both lead to the same place: immersion in the presence of the Gods.
Each type of prayer has its pros and its cons. With formal prayers, the pros involve having this baseline that is easy to drop into regardless of what’s going on with one’s life. You know what to say and that it is going to be appropriate and respectful. This type of prayer often re-articulates and reifies our cosmology and the divine order undergirding it, so it is a word-act, a volitional articulation of and alliance with the Gods and the order They have created and that They sustain. It’s a means for us to participate in sustaining it too. Because one isn’t having to think about what to say, it allows the mind to focus on the Gods and Their mysteries, and from there, it is possible to have a powerful contemplative experience. Formal prayers also serve to remind us that there is an implicit hierarchy here, no matter how friendly a relationship with the Gods we may have in our devotional lives: this is not a relationship of equals and that’s a good thing. What a wondrous thing that we can have a devotional relationship with one of the Holy Powers, what a transformative thing!
Finally, for newcomers, particularly those who don’t know how to pray, formal prayers are excellent teaching tools, both for conveying some level of doctrine, but also for teaching one how to do this thing called prayer. I often find that those just learning to pray are often afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, or they feel awkward, or they don’t know how to pray and just stall themselves not knowing where to go or what to do. That’s all normal. Even people raised in religious households may experience this and all of us can use a refresher on how to pray well. With formal prayers, one can hit a groove that in the best case scenarios, represents a prayer prayed by generations of the devout. (We’ll get there, never fear).
The cons to formal prayer is that it can seem boringly repetitive and it’s easy for it to just become rote verbal repetition. The key is to train the mind to look at each word, each sentence as a word-knot to be untangled by the mind, to look at the prayers as a rhythm aligning us with the will and architecture of the Gods, carrying us into direct contemplation. It takes discipline and practice and there are days where it’s more of a struggle than others. Like working any other muscle, one will become better at praying over time, but learning to enter into a receptive headspace, to use the prayers as an opportunity to contemplate the Gods and Their mysteries, and to allow that to open one up more fully to those Gods takes time and ongoing practice. Try not to be discouraged if it doesn’t happen all at once. Devotion is an art form, a craft and like any craft, it’s something we’ll be honing and developing our entire lives.
The pros to informal, extempore prayer are that they allow a freer expression of one’s inner mind, heart, and soul to the Gods. It often feels more natural, and it allows for one to express oneself without the constraints of any external scaffolding. The cons are that it can elide the protocols and respect or even an awareness of the extant hierarchy between us and the Gods and this can lead to disrespect. Also, for those unformed in prayer, informal prayer may seem as awkward as its more formal brother. The important thing is to understand that these two types of engaging devotionally with the Gods are not opposites. They are not in opposition to each other. Both types of prayer are important, even necessary for the devotee, and each one complements the other. I often advice my students – as I did with Elise when she asked me about this – to continue with the extempore prayer (Because that is a good and lovely thing, something to which, at its best, we can all aspire) but perhaps end the prayer session with a set prayer like the one I offer above. She liked that because then the prayer becomes like a knot tying off a string of pearls, or a door carefully and respectfully closing. I often begin and end my times of extempore prayer with a set prayer myself.
I also think that it’s important to think about ways that we can pray throughout our day. Most of us are not monastics. We don’t have the benefit of living a life centered around ongoing prayer hour by hour. Even so, it is possible to move throughout one’s day consciously centered, mentally and spiritually, in an awareness of our devotion to the Gods, and of Their grace and glory. I look for ways throughout my day that I can slip in a prayer, or turn my mind, for however brief a time toward the Gods. Working from home due to Covid (my university moved most of its classes online this term), it’s been particularly easy. I walk past a shrine, I take a second or two, to thank that Deity or group of Deities for Their blessings. Sometimes I will quickly recite a prayer. Sometimes I’ll make an offering (yesterday I was passing Sigyn’s shrine with a couple of scones in hand that I’d just bought while out on errands, so I stopped and gave Her one). It doesn’t have to be a big, huge, formal ritual, nor even a formal prayer. Sometimes a ‘thank you’ is enough (5).
So, what questions do you have about prayer? What prayers do you particularly like, and what inspires you throughout your day to turn your attention to the Gods?
- A colleague told me in passing a couple weeks ago that he read an anthropology article (I don’t have it – didn’t think to ask him for it) postulating that different sleep cycles evolved when we still lived in caves: so someone would always be awake to protect the tribe. Maybe. It’s as good a reason as anything else, I suppose.
- This is not including feast days or ritual days when there is some type of religious service.
- Helheim is not a land of punishment in Heathenry. “hel” means “light” and refers to the Goddess Hela as well. It’s a land of comfort and peace for the dead, a place where our ancestors dwell. There may be parts of Helheim where the wicked and foul are punished, but Helheim itself is not a land of punishment like the Christian Hell.
- I think formal prayers also form a solid base line, the low bar that at the very least, even when we’re struggling to get in the right headspace, distracted, sick, sad, etc., we can do. If nothing else, we can do this. It’s always better to be in appropriate and receptive headspace when one prays, but sometimes we’re just not going to be able to do that.
- My adopted mom used to say that the single most important prayer one could ever utter to one’s Gods is “thank you.”