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Happy Walpurgis/Beltane

This past weekend (April 30/May 1) saw my Household celebrating a major holy tide (as we call our key holy days), one of the eight major ones that make up our year: Walpurgisnacht and Beltane. It’s the final transition from the dark enclosure of winter into the growth and fecundity of summer. It’s also the same holy day, it’s just that part of the celebration takes place the night before. I had to explain this to one of my students—not an academic student but a woman that I’m training for the clergy. Within my religious tradition, we train our clergy one on one and this year she is focusing on following the cycle of holy days and really learning what they’re about (yes, I have major seminary envy of all my Jesuit friends lol). Little by little, I’ve been giving her a larger role in each liturgy and the Deity to Whom she is dedicated, Freya, has a particular association with this holiday. 

Anyway, on Walpurgis, we usually start our religious revels at twilight. First divination is done to make sure we are doing what is desired and correct in the eyes of our Gods. Then, if that looks good, we get to work. I’ll go out before everyone else, make offerings to all the local spirits of land, mountain, tree, and town. I’ll light a fire. We have two ritual spaces in our home, the first our indoor ritual room and the second, a space behind my house with a huge fire pit. All safety precautions, like fire extinguisher and hose are set up earlier in the day and checked before I begin ritual prep. Walpurgisnacht is a day for shamanizing, for meeting the Gods and spirits joyously on Their own ground. In larger groups who are fortunate enough to have a spirit-worker, vitki, or “shaman,” this spiritual technician garbs in sacred garb and takes his or her drum, mask, and staff and begins calling the spirits. We invoke our Gods, we call to the spirits, we make offerings into the fire but most of all, we dance and pray moving into a deep and potent altered state. We dance and pray to shake the threads of our communal wyrd free of stagnation, free of malefica, free of anything out of alignment with the order of the Gods. We restore and realign ourselves and our community so that we may move into the time of growth and planting cleanly. We dance so that nothing may remain embedded in our community’s wyrd (threads of fate) that might twist us out of true, or cause us to grow wrongly with respect to our Gods in the coming season. We dance in praise of our Gods and all the spirits that serve Them. The shaman works that drum while others keep the fire burning until there are no more prayers left to be said, no more praise songs left to be sung,  and any spiritual brambles and trash occluding the way forward in the sacred cycle of the year has been burned away. 

The next day is a community celebration. The Gods and spirits are honored and there is (in larger communities – we try, but we are a small House) mumming and a maypole. Beltane is about the land coming back to green and bursting life. It’s about fertility and pleasure, joy, and growth and the blessings these things bring to the community. We don’t have enough people in our House to do a proper Maypole but there are other rites we do and there is always a ritual and then a communal feast. In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I also note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”   

So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy. Here is one of the prayers to Freya that I really like (and Freya is not the only Deity invoked. It varies from House to House, and I tend to emphasize Her when writing about Beltane because my key apprentice at the moment is a Freya’s woman). 

To the Boar-Rider 

(prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis*)

Hail victory-bringing Goddess
with braids of electrum, eyes like ice
and a countenance even colder,
clever Freyja of snaring schemes
and snaky stratagems
whose beauty is stern,
severe, indomitable
and utterly Hyperborean
when you stand firm
in the war-council of the Gods
with your Giant-dispatching ash-spear,
your handsome boar tusk helm,
and your gleaming sun-bedecked linden shield as well.
You speak far-seeing words,
hard words and brutal,
which the Gallow’s God, Borr’s son,
the High One approves of.
Oft have you sparred and oft fought as allies; 

of the two, Óðinn much prefers the latter. You won his respect, O Freyja;
he knows your worth,
and will never again underestimate 

the one who is mighty with mead.
For once you roared out onto the field
astride your gold-bristled charger
and there appeared nothing cool,
calm or collected about you.
No, your eyes rolled back
and your body seethed and shuddered
as violent cantrips tore themselves
from your lovely throat
like the call of crows or wolf’s howl,
and fearful frenzies lashed your foes,
driving them shrieking
before you and your violent kin.
Glad is Sigþrór and Glapsviðr
to have one so heiðr to fight beside
with the dire day of doom,
darkness, damnation and desolation
drawing ever nearer.
Help me to meet my own
trials, obstacles and antagonists
with will unwavering and mind unfettered as your own, O Mistress of the Battle Din and Delight of Soldiers. 

* Used with permission – he’s my husband. I looked over and asked him if I could share these lol. This isn’t a regular Walpurgis prayer, but comes from our household prayer book. I like it because it focuses on Freya as a protector of soldiers and Goddess of war).

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Guest Piece: Prayer to Mani by Sparrow

My friend Sparrow recently wrote this lovely prayer to our moon God Mani. She was kind enough to give me permission to share it here.

Readers, feel free to share your own prayers to Mani in the comments. I’m prepping for exams and don’t have the mens rea atm to run an agon for Mani, but I promise that once my exams are completed, I will do just that. In the meantime, let’s praise Him with prayers and poems and inspire each other as we do.

Thank you, Sparrow, for sharing this prayer with us.

This is a photo of a moon at over 98% full. The image was taken one day prior to the supermoon, or a moon that appears larger due to being the closest to earth in its elliptic orbit. Photo by Mimi Ditchie, credit: Getty Images.

He Knows Me by Sparrow

You know me in my pain
You know me in my joy

You know me battered and broken
You know me as a conquering Hero

You know me at my worst
You know me at my best

You know my public face
You know the real me

You know my dark Shadow
You know my bright Self

You know my ancient history
You know my unknown future

You know my complexity
You know my simplicity

You know my hard edges
You know my soft places

You know the tears I’ve cried in private
You know the secret longings in my heart

You know me and for that I will be forever grateful

Hail to you Mani!
Sacred Watcher
King of the Night Sky
Protector of Midgard
Friend to our Ancestors
May you forever be praised
Hail Mani!

In Our House, Iðunn Rules the Year

(I’ve been meaning to post this since New Year’s Day). 

Every January, usually on New Year’s Day, our household does divination for the coming year, a ‘reading of the year’ if you will. We seek several things: which Deity “owns” the year; are there any taboos we must follow; what are the key influences over every month? This, then, guides our entire year. One of the most important of those questions is which Deity governs the year and we were all [happily] shocked by what our div showed. 

I won’t go into the particulars of the divination itself. That is for our House; but I will share that our divination showed that Iðunn governs the year. I was shocked and delighted because the last couple of years have been so intensely grueling, so exhausting and in the face of that, Iðunn’s promise is that what was old will become new again. She offers joy and renewed inspiration and excitement in those areas that have become rote and stale. With this Goddess stepping forward for the year, we are told that it will be a year of transformations and surprises. We are counselled to expected εκστασις and breakthroughs, creatively and spiritually. Essentially, regardless of what else this year brings, it is time to shake off the dust and depression and fill our celebrations with joy and love of the divine.  

Prayer to Idunna

Goddess of regeneration,
Bearer of the Blessed Apples,
Wife of the God of Poetry's Fire
I hail You. 

The Sweetness of growth, 
the tartness of change,
the crisp tautness of eternal balance:
these are Your mysteries, 
These the fruits of Your blessings. 

Bless me, Sweet Idunna. 
Tend my heart, and mind, and spirit, 
that my love for the Gods may never wither.
That is the apple whose bite I would beg, 
that is the gift I would cherish the most, 
from Your hands alone. 

Gracious Goddess, 
to You, I pray. 
hail, Idunna. 

(by G. Krasskova)


Likewise, for each month, we drew a rune to interpret what influences would guide that month. I share them here, without further comment.

Runes for each month:

January - Laguz
February - Kenaz
March - Inguz
April - Algiz
May - Isa
June - Eiwaz
July - Raido
August - Ehwaz
September Nauðiz
October - Sowilo
November - Hagalaz
December - Thursisaz

  

Good luck!

My own shrine to Idunna, last year when I first put it up.

Prayer to Sunna in Kenaz

I know this is a little belated, Sunwait having ended last week, but I just realized I’d forgotten to post this. This is the prayer we offered to invoke Sunna in our ritual last Friday.

Prayer to Sunna in Kenaz

by G. Krasskova

Tonight, on the last night of Sunwait, Mani gleams brightly in the sky, 
Luminous and bright. The air is chill, portending the coming of winter. 
The world glistens adorned with lights and greenery, a reminder
Of the blessings of yule to come. Tonight we hail Sunna. 

She comes awash in beauty, powerful, radiant. 
She comes with open hands showering Her blessings 
On every heart willing to receive them. 
She comes, generous and proud, joyous and fiery
Filled with the wisdom of a Goddess Who has seen
The worlds themselves created. 

Kenaz crowns Her, weaving itself through Her light, 
Opening the way to knowledge, wisdom, and well-being, 
Strengthening our hearts with courage,
Our minds and souls with devotion. 

Sunna is our guide and kenaz the fire She bears. 
It is illumination, sacral understanding, 
And the capacity to carry Mystery into the world. 
It is our light through the darkness, the dark night of the soul,
The darkness of our world. May we tend it well and joyously 
Knowing that no matter how grim the night
Sunna and Her retinue will always come
And Her presence alone, drives back  darkness. 

Hail to You,  Gladness of the Heavens. 
Hail to You, Oh Sunna, on this, 
The sixth week of Sunwait. 

Sunwait week five: Sunna in Raido

I realized today that I had forgotten to post about week five of Sunwait. It’s gone quickly this year — I can hardly believe we’re less than two weeks away from Modranacht. So, before I let this go any longer, here is the prayer we used in Friday night’s ritual. We spent a great deal of time sitting in the ritual space during this rite, sharing a horn, and praising our Gods and ancestors and reaped the fruit of that, I think, in the beautiful Lussanatr rite in which we participated last night. Truly our Gods are so incredibly good to us and never cease bestowing Their blessings.

Prayer to Sunna coming in Raido

(By G. Krasskova)

Hail to You, Glorious Goddess of the Sun, 
Coming with fiery momentum,
Driving back darkness
Driving back entropy
Driving back fear. 
We praise You, 
And Your shining retinue. 

Hail to You, Sunna, 
A mighty force, 
Against which no malefic power may stand. 
You are our pace setter, 
And under Your guidance, we shall not falter. 
You sustain us, Great One, 
When all hope seems lost. 
You open the way for us, 
When we cannot move forward. 
In love and praise we bow our heads before You,
For You sustained our people age after age. 

May Your blessings fall upon all right minded people, 
Blessings of protection, ferocious love, abundance, and health. 
May we never doubt that we live nestled in Your protection, 
For Your skills are mighty, and the equal of many a battle god. 

Hail to Sunna, riding and unstoppable, in raido. 
Hai Goddess of the Sun. 


Reader Question: Do You Say Grace Before Meals?

Yes, I do. I think it’s important on a number of levels to bless our food and to give thanks. In my home, there are a few preparatory blessings of cooking ingredients that I do: all salt is immediately poured into a large salt jar and blessed and that is the only salt we use in the home. So, anything made from scratch, uses blessed salt. Then, as I cook, I’m usually praying over the food. For anything we order, I bless it as I’m unpacking it and usually again when I plate it. Pretty much any meal I eat, I first say grace over it, and I do this for two primary reasons. 

Firstly, I think it’s important to give thanks to the Gods and spirits that nourish us, and building that habit with respect to the food we take into our bodies is a good place to start. It keeps us mindful. It connects food and nourishment with the Gods and puts us in a receptive headspace of gratitude and respect. Those are good things. This also connects the mundane task of nourishing our bodies with something holy and properly elevates it. Food is sacred after all. It is key to the connection between Midgard, Vanaheim, and Helheim. Our physical bodies too are part of our soul matrix and giving them proper nourishment then becomes a sacred task. Cooking is also a powerful connection to our ancestors. So, there’s a lot bound up in food. Plus, we are blessed to be able to nourish ourselves and our families and the Gods pour Their grace into the very food we eat always. 

Secondly, as a culture we pollute our food: GMOs, pesticides, and all sorts of unnatural things. Sometimes these things damage the spirit of the food itself, and I think praying over our food restores a natural balance, inasmuch as it can be restored. 

Whenever and whatever I eat, I will put my hands over and it ask for blessings. I’ll say something like, “I thank you Frey, Freya, and all Good and Gracious Gods for the food I’m about to eat. Please bless it and fill it with Your odhr that it may restore and nourish both my body and soul. Blessings on this food and the hands that prepared it.” If I’m feeling the Roman Gods more strongly, I might include Pomona and Ceres in the prayer as well. Then I’ll make the hammer sign over my food and eat up. It’s that simple and I do it whether I’m alone or eating out. 

If anyone else here says grace, do you have particular prayers that you like to use? Please feel free to share in the comments.

country kitchen – I adore the sink!

A Prayer to the Marsh King

You lurk in the marshlands, a pale and ghostly figure. 
It is Your treasured abode. The creatures there know You well. 
They heed Your will and do Your bidding, carrying Your messages 
far and wide. 

Once, before creation truly was, 
You stood with Your Brothers: Fury and Fire--Frenzied inspiration and Holy Power--
at the moment You all slaughtered Ymir, thus becoming Architects of creation, 
erecting the pristine structure of the worlds. You were the will that held it all together
in those first crimson-encrusted moments. Before it was done, You saw it all unfold.
Wyrd is a flicker of light on Your bone-slender hands, and You weave it as You will.

You are the silent Watcher, often overlooked and under-estimated. 
That is fine. Nothing escapes Your notice and silence won You freedom once. 
You save your incantations for moon drenched nights in the fens. 
Then You willingly unleash Your power. 

You are a God of strange and liminal places,
and the mind is the most liminal threshold of all. 
You gave us this gift, cognition, worlds unfolding within us, 
divine in their potentiality, imprinted the senses on our souls,
when Loður gave us our physical sensorium. It is both a grace and blessing. 
Thanks to you, we may walk in many realms, tasting the savor of the liminal,
and that is Your gift to us too. 

Everything is full of meaning. Three Gods made us. 
Three Gods loved us enough to carefully craft us into being. 
The persistence of Their regard holds us all together. 
May I ever see with the eye of my understanding, 
and hear with the ears of my soul, all the glories
You and Your Brothers have wrought. 

Hail to You, Hoenir, Wili, Lord of the Marshlands. 
Hail Great God Who blesses the work of my mind. 
Ever and always will I praise You.
 

(by G. Krasskova)

Reader Question on Prayer

This is actually a multi-part question, so I’ll take each one in turn. Here we go:

Question 1A: “I was reading your article on prayer but and a question came to mind…”How do you determine who to pray to?” Say for example a person wishes to do so in reference to a research paper they have been working on. What determines whether they should pray to Thoth, or Athena, or Hermes or Saga, or any God or Goddess of Knowledge/Wisdom?”

You know, it seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t. This is definitely a “polytheist problem!” I have my set of household Deities, Gods to Whom I’ve been dedicated to for years and I pray to Them regularly – I aim for nightly but I’ll admit I do miss days. Sometimes I or my household are just too tired to do it properly. Then the morning prayers, which are brief, have to suffice. Sometimes though, I’ll just get a feeling that I’m entering into another Deity’s house, sphere of influence, so to speak. Then, as a matter of what used to be called “guestliness” (the hospitality and grace owed by guest to host) in some of the Heathen groups in which I worked, I will reach out to that Deity. Sometimes, it will come up in our regular household divination that one of us should approach a particular Deity. Sometimes one prayer just leads to another. There’s no formula or rule for it. If one has a fulltrui, a patron, a particular Deity or family of Deities to Whom one pays regular devotion, I would always start there. You can always ask the Gods to Whom you usually pray, ask for insight and be patient. 

Question 1B:  “Another question I have is…does a particular place affect one’s connection to the Gods? I have read a few articles where people have moved to different places due to work or personal relationships (significant others), and in their original place they had a good communication with the Gods, but in the new place, it’s like the communication seems to be cut off. Does the “God Phone” tend to get bad reception in different places?  I wonder if there is something to it because I felt more receptive to the Gods when I was in [state redacted] but since moving to [state redacted] I’ve had difficulties…”

 Yes, (though it’s not that the the ability to sense or hear the Gods is cut off, but something else). This is why regional cultus is such a powerful thing. We see the same Gods being venerated in different ways, manifesting in different ways, carrying different bynames in different areas. For instance, my primary God is Woden in Old English territories, Odin in Scandinavia. Sometimes He is Gangleri, sometimes Oski, sometimes Wotan, sometimes Allfather, and so on and so forth.  Not all of these heiti depend on the land, but there are reginal manifestations of His power. To give a second example, there is Dionysos of Mount Beacon – how we honor Him here– and Dionysos of Nysos and a thousand more iterations of this God. The Gods have Their own business, I think, with all the spirits of these places completely unrelated to us and our relationships and They wear different…”clothing” so to speak, accordingly). I’ve often said that the polytheistic triad is Gods-Ancestors-Land and it may be, and this is my speculation here, that some sort of conversation between the Gods and the spirits of the land is occurring. After all, They have relationships not just with us, but with multiple families of spirits (like land spirits) too. This applies to Gods and ancestors too – those are unique relationships. To get back to your question,  there are definitely regional expressions or currents through which our Gods work. 

I would suggest making offerings to the land spirits in your new home and also to your Gods (and ancestors too –never hurts). When you move to a new place, or even if you’re visiting for an extended time, greet the land and make offerings. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn to see your Gods through new eyes. It’s not that They can’t hear your prayers, or aren’t present, rather I think that it’s a matter of us sometimes struggling to catch the… “frequency” for lack of a better term, of one’s Gods in a new place, and of one’s Gods in conversation with new land spirits. Also, we do like our preconceptions and those can be a powerful block to new experiences of our Gods, all without us ever really being fully aware of how much this is the case. 

It really takes time (and sometimes, it becomes easier after moving to a new place – this is not always a problematic thing). Just be patient and continue your practices. I asked my friend who is a land worker and she said she thinks there’s some kind of negotiation between the Gods and the land that happens and how they come to you is different because of that. Also, you need to get to know the spirits in your new place. Sometimes the Gods will even step back a bit in Their presence because it can overwhelm the sense of the land spirits or one’s ancestors in a new territory. There’s important work rooting oneself there that should be done first, grounding yourself in this land and developing those relationships, that all needs to happen before the Gods express the fullness of Their presence again. 

You have to acclimate. You can’t really do clean work of any sort, including devotional until you acclimate. The space needs to be met, greeted, honored. Then it needs to be cleaned, ordered, blessed, and protected. Otherwise, there will be interference, distractions…and some of this can simply be the interference of chattering spirits who are curious about the new person. Even if we can’t hear or sense this (no one is in the state of perfect receptivity all the time no matter how good their general abilities are!), on some level it gets registered as interference or blockage. It’s not though. The process of moving, involves acclimating on both sides: you, your Gods, the land…sometimes rituals of formal introductions for all parties can help. But in the end, just give it time. It’s always easier when you make friends with the land. 

Finally, here is Question 1C: “Also I can point out with these articles I glanced at, no mention was made of cleansing practices so perhaps that’s an important way to “boost the signal”. Are there other ways?”

Well, the first and most important thing you can do is establish a regimen for cleansing and purification. That is rule one when it comes to discernment. Rule two is to be consistent in your prayers and devotions. If you’re not cleansing regularly, of course your discernment and ability to accurately engage with your Gods will be severely impinged. 

Hope this helped. There’s nothing worse than moving to a new place. My land worker friend said moving is one of THE most traumatic things for her personally! Psychological studies that I’ve read, put it right up there with the death of a loved one and divorce. So, be kind to yourself and soldier on. 

Prayer To Be Said Before Bed

I’ve decided to share a nightly prayer that we do in my House. I hate only posting aggravating material. it’s not good for the soul. I try to balance each and every polluted thing about which I feel the need to write (like my previous post), with something spiritually nourishing. While it’s good to be aware of the negative, it’s so much more important to cultivate that which is good and holy. Prayer, among those things, is the most crucial of all.

Prayer to Niorun to be said before bed

Niorun of the fire,
Niorun of dreams,
Protector of home and hearth, 
Warder against evil,
Please hear my prayer. 

Your sanctuaries are beneath the earth,
in places hidden and filled with power. 
The duergar and Svartalfar know them well.
Please, I pray, 
make my home a sanctuary too. 
Fill it with Your holy fire, 
the fire that destroys evil, 
the fire that hallows 
and renders us spiritually clean. 
Drive out all pernicious, malicious wickedness, 
every evil spirit large and small, 
every bottom feeding creature
that might prey upon me
as I sleep and dream,
and at other times too. 
Drive out all wicked powers 
seeking to do me harm, 
Wise and unyielding Goddess, 
I pray, protect me from the malice of others.

You, great One, Who roams the night, 
Please guard the boundary of my world: 
my home, my body, my sleeping consciousness, 
my hame should I travel as I sleep. 
Let me dream good and prosperous dreams. 
Let me return to wakefulness safely, 
that I may serve the Gods well, 
and thoughtfully all the days of my life. 

Gracious Niorun, 
let me sleep restfully. 
Let me wake refreshed.
Surround me in the dark and soothing cloak
of Your protection. 
This I humbly pray, oh Goddess. 
Hail to You, Niorun, 
Goddess of dreams and darkness. 

(by G. Krasskova)

A Reader Question on Prayer

Question: I have a copy of your little booklet of polytheistic prayers, several of which, you say, come from your personal prayerbook. I was hoping that one of these days you might write about the process of creating that prayerbook. Is it a handwritten book, a Word file, printouts and clippings, organized, disorganized? How did you start and how did it evolve over time? Anything you’d be willing and allowed to share.”

I do have a handwritten prayer book that I illustrated myself. It’s pocket sized and I made it when I was traveling quite a bit. I’ve since typed up most of those prayers, added quite a bit more to make it useful for all the rites and rituals that we customarily do as a House, and printed that up in larger format for myself and other members of the House. It contains all the prayers in the two small prayer books I sell on etsy, other prayers that we use for protection, exorcism, and cleansing, prayers and rituals for the holy days, funeral prayers, birth/blessing prayers, daily prayers like a couple that I’ve posted here (like the four-fold Adorations to the House of Mundilfari) and so forth. For awhile, I was printing up each set and stapling it as it became something we began to use more and more, but I got tired of having multiple print outs all over the place. So, once I collected everything in a single file, I had it printed in a little book with 25 blank pages at the back so we can all add personal prayers we like or make notes. Every six mos or so I reprint it with new material added as well. It’s a work in progress. I’ve shared some of the prayers on my blog but that book is not something I’m willing to share publicly. 

We use this book and then Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheistic Household for our regular day to day, as well as any prayers we might say extempore. Then I have a separate book with all my divination systems and prayers for those. 

I DO recommend creating your own handmade prayer book if you can. It’s a lovely devotional offering. It doesn’t have to have every single thing in it. You can make small, very focused prayer books.  I made one with just a few prayers as an offering to Mani. You don’t have to learn bookbinding either! You can stitch the pages together and stitch fabric covered squares of cardboard onto that as a cover. Decorate it as you will. There are many, many tutorials on youtube or just online in general that will give you plenty of suggestions. If you do know bookbinding, go to town. It’s on my list of things I want to learn but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. 

My prayer practice has certainly evolved over time. I was really lucky to have grown up in a religious family. I think for those who didn’t have good devotional models when they were small, this whole thing of prayer, devotion, and praxis can be really difficult. One’s default isn’t piety if one wasn’t raised in a household – be that religious upbringing good or bad – where piety was practiced (again, however well or poorly; though if it was a religiously abusive household, that causes problems all its own beyond the scope of discussion in this particular blog post). It’s like working a muscle: if the muscle wasn’t worked as a child, it atrophies. This isn’t insurmountable. It just means that one has to be aware of one’s default state-of-being a little more than someone raised religious. Don’t worry, those raised religious have other issues that they have to guard against. No none gets any type of free ride with this stuff. 

So, I was lucky to have grown up in a religious household and also to have had really good devotional models available to me from the time I was small. I was surrounded by people who prayed in some form or another. I didn’t give that up when I became a polytheist. In fact, if anything, my prayer practice became stronger. I’ve seen the results of that in my own devotional life. I think prayer is crucial. It’s the single best starting point one can have and I often suggest shrine and prayer work simultaneously when one is starting out as a good place from which to begin. I would go so far as to say there isn’t a more important tool in our arsenal than prayer. By that I mean set prayers, formal prayers, extempore prayers, informal prayers and everything in between. One of my former students once brought me a quote (I don’t recall at this late juncture where she found it): “Pray as though your hair were on fire.” I like that image. Of course my more literalist readers had to point out how illogical the saying was, but it’s the intensity, the need, the frenzy of the thing that appeals to my Odinic heart. Pray as though it’s the most important thing you will ever do, because it is. 

It never occurred to me until quite recently that not everyone grows up learning to pray. I’ve taught within my religious community for over two decades and usually, during that time, I would be meeting quite regularly with students and holding regular rituals and they’d be seeing prayer in action all the time they were around me or others in the House. It’s only recently, when I acquired an apprentice who was raised atheist (in a communist country to boot), one who wasn’t shy about saying, “how do you do that?” (because she wanted to know and learn!) that I realized I can’t take this as a given. Should it be? Yes. I think ideally we should all be raised in communities where we pray to the Holy Powers as easily as we breathe, but we’re not there yet. In fact, in our society these days, prayer is actually quite often viewed as something negative. At least if it’s treated with indifference, you can start with a clean heart, a clean/blank slate. Many coming into our religions don’t even have that these days. 

I realized that if one didn’t grow up doing this, prayer of any sort can be anxiety-inducing (one wants to do it correctly!), embarrassing (one never sees others praying in the mundane world), confusing (am I doing it right?) and a plethora of other things. I tell people that prayer is talking to the Gods and giving Them space to answer (maybe not in words, but in ways that fill and transform a life). It’s communication and just like communication is key to building strong human relationships, so too it is key to building strong devotional ones. I usually recommend time spent extempore in front of one’s shrine, but balanced with a few simple set prayers (like, for instance, “Sigdrifa’s Prayer”). I also give a handful of meditational exercises to help still the mind and begin teaching discernment in one’s practice. 

Over the years, there have been certain books that have reinforced or helped to shape my prayer practice today. Most of them are Christian since I study early Christian theology academically. That’s ok. Prayer is the thing that crosses all religious boundaries. The earliest known recorded prayers were, I believe, by a Sumerian priestess Enhenduanna. This is a practice that belongs to neither polytheism nor monotheism but fills every religious tradition with life. Recently, I read “Courage to Pray” by Metropolitan A. Bloom and George Lefebvre and I recommend it without reservation. Yes, eventually you have to filter out the specifically Christian scriptural material but so what? Do it. The information on prayer in this book is extraordinarily helpful. Likewise Evagrius “On Prayer” and Cassian’s “Conferences.” The latter is much more monastic in its focus so read it and take what you can use. I have cannibalized libraries like this in order to learn to love my Gods better. 

Prayer is also the thing that provides the best and most essential protection from the gaping entropic evil that pits itself against all that is holy. If you don’t pray, if you can’t pray, if you refuse to pray, you are a weak link, and a danger to pious people around you. You’re also a danger to yourself and you can fix it so easily by actively reaching out to the Gods. It doesn’t matter how falteringly you pray. Just do it, fumble through it. We all fumble. We all feel awkward sometimes with it. But prayer shapes and forms the mind, the heart, the soul in ways that make us receptive to the Gods, the Good, and the Holy. It’s essential. It is a spiritual vaccination. Take the shot. 

Formal prayers often trip people up. By formal, I’m thinking set prayers like the Catholic “Hail Mary.” There’s a set text that doesn’t vary and one says that text whenever one says the prayer. It’s very, very easy for these set prayers to become stale or even worse: mindless repetition rattled off at the speed of light. This isn’t their purpose. Rather, they serve three purposes (and maybe more, but three come to mind at the moment I’m writing this). Firstly, they’re a good baseline. When you can do nothing else, when your exhausted, your brain is fried,  you’re pissed off at the Gods, you’re having a bad pain day or any other reason that might make it hard to pray freely, you can reach for one of these prayers (hopefully committed to memory through regular use) and it’s *something*. There is that. Secondly, in a ritual setting, a set prayer allows everyone there to participate, hitting the same devotional groove. Songs are like this too, which is why we should all probably envy the Catholics for their hymnals! We really should be upping our game there. Thirdly, set prayers allow the mind to constantly be filled with prayer, which keeps the whispers of evil out. It allows one to contemplate the Gods’ mysteries, Their sacred stories, to wander off in the heart of a word, a byname that opens up an entire devotional universe. Each word is a window, each whispered syllable the turning of a key in a lock opening wide the gates of this world, our world, our interior world to our Gods. Informal, extempore prayers can do this too but there’s something really helpful in having a verbal scaffolding, rooted in our cosmology, already prepared within which the contemplations of our minds might unfold. 

I find there can be a great deal of push back against the idea of prayer in Heathenry. This is partly because too many Heathens allow atheists to take up space in their kindreds, and worse, to take up leadership positions. Get your Houses in order.

This is partly because some have been raised in abusively fundamentalist households. This is sad. This type of religious abuse doesn’t just damage heart and soul, but it also makes it very, very difficult to develop a loving devotional relationship with any holy Power. I wish for those in this situation compassion and that they find teachers, mentors, elders, and therapists who know how to help them through the pain and into the joy of clean, healthy devotion. 

Sometimes, though, this is partly because people claim to be Heathen but just don’t want to deal with the Gods or ancestors. These things make nice abstractions, nice stories in a book but the reality scares the hell out of them (or for many does what’s worse: inconveniences them) and they just don’t want to be bothered. Shun these people like the plague. We choose devotion every day. It’s a conscious choice. It is a willing, often difficult choice that has to be made again and again and again and if someone isn’t willing to make that choice, or is consistently hostile toward the even the idea of making that choice, they’re not Heathen, they’re not devout, and they’re sure as hell not spiritually healthy. In fact, they are spiritually ill in a way that is polluting and contagious to everyone around them. We make spiritual choices about everything we do, everything with which we fill our minds, and everyone with whom we associate. They count. Part of developing devotionally is learning to make healthy choices. We need to have the courage to do that even with the small things. 

Someone asked me once if we’re really meant to be praying 24/7. Um…yeah. I think so. That is the goal. What does that mean? Well, for me, part of my mind and heart is always reaching out to the Gods in devotion. I may not be murmuring prayers, but part of me is always thinking about Them, engaging in some way devotionally. When I’m not doing that, I try to center everything I do, even the small tasks through the lens of my devotional world. I fail at this a lot but it is the goal and when I fail, I pick myself up, center myself, and start again. When I can pray more obviously (say I’m sitting a home or on the train) I’ll use prayer beads or sometimes just do so extempore. I’m nowhere near 24/7 but I hold it up as a goal. It reminds me to strive. I may not reach that goal, but by aiming for it, I’ll go far more deeply into devotion than I otherwise might have done. That’s the thing with devotion: aim high and just plug away consistently at it. It’s the consistency that matters, not whether we reach the goal (and as an Odin’s woman who is very results oriented, that just about kills me to say, though it’s true). Some days will be better than others but the one thing that costs nothing, that is fully within our power no matter where we are or what we’re doing is prayer. We need only the will or maybe the courage to do it, the desire to reach out. Beyond that, there’s a lovely Baltic proverb with which I’ll end this piece: “The work will teach you how to do it.” One could say, as the Havamal does, “one word leads to another word, one deed to another deed.” The best starting point is prayer. 

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