"Prayer" is a concept with which many Pagans have some trouble. The commonly-held attitude amongst members of mainstream religions about prayer is that it is a means of petitioning, praising, and thanking God, and many Pagans do not believe in an exoteric Deity from whom come blessings. Most Pagans’ attitudes about the Universe fail to consciously contain a concept of a Being “out there” who hears and answers, or refuses to answer, prayers. Therefore it is sometimes surprising to those of Pagan persuasions to find out that indeed they DO pray, and to examine closely what that prayer consists of.
Concepts Of Prayer
Prayer in the form of communication with Deity is probably the most common type of prayer found amongst Pagans, whether or not they use the term “prayer”, or even the term “Deity,” for that matter. Despite the fact that most Pagans have a diversity of belief about the nature of Deity, we are all aware on some level that there IS a difference between “The Goddess” and “the Goddess Within”, for example. As a former teacher of mine pointed out to me, “Yes, ‘Thou Art Goddess,’ but you didn’t make the sun come up this morning, and I KNOW those mountains were there before you moved to Utah.” Most of us do not believe ourselves to be the final authority on the entire Universe, and whether we call it Goddess and God, Spirit, energy, the One, or many another name, most of us find, or postulate, or hope, that the Unseen Force of Existence is one which is personal and benevolent. Whether or not we feel that we have a parent-child relationship, or see ourselves more as Seekers, Scientists or Shamans, we feel a need to ask the questions and contemplate the vastness of the many possible answers. That questioning, or meditation, or contemplation, or ecstasy, or focus, or wish, is akin to what members of other religions term “prayer.”
One Pagan’s perspective on prayer was rendered thus, in an article on Witchvox in 2000:
*quote* What is prayer? Webster's dictionary says "1)a) (1) an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought (2) a set order of words used in praying b) an earnest request or wish. 2) the act or practice of praying to God or a god"
My understanding of prayer fits this definition and goes beyond it. There is that wonderful moment when a breathtaking vista of undiscovered beauty opens before you on a hike, when thoughts of praise and thanks fly out to the Goddess even before I am conscious of doing so. There is the discipline of focusing my mind and spirit as I write new rituals for our coven, silently seeking guidance as I work. Then there is the not so silent prayer for patience as I negotiate rush hour traffic. And the sharing of energy as the coven raises power in ritual and celebration. As you can see, for me, there are many types of prayer, many moments of prayerfulness, ranging from serious to humor-filled, all of them a means of connecting with the God and the Goddess in my daily life. *end quote*
"Connection" seems to be the most significant element in what this woman refers to as prayer. It may not be obvious at first glance how the focus of such a prayer differs from that of many in mainstream religions, but another source states this more directly:
*quote* Do I pray? No, I do not feel that I pray. Prayer is a plea in my opinion, and my Gods to not need me to plea, beg or whine. They just need me to talk to Them. So I talk with my Gods daily. I do not take the role of supplicant, I take the role of what I am, a child talking to a very patient Parent.
Prayer is overrated. At some point, someone decided that in order to speak with a god, it was necessary to bend your knee in supplication (either physically or mentally) and make a plea to that god. This was supposed to be the only way that you could get your god to listen. Then it was labeled as prayer, and it only worked if you showed the proper amount of respect while doing it.
I show my respect by actually talking to my Gods. They are the original Mother and Father, we are their children. I do not expect my children to speak to me in pleading tones in order for me to answer and assist them, so I do not think the Lady and Lord expect that from us, their children, either. So talk to your Gods, make it known that you have not forgotten them, you love them, and they will do the same for you. *end quote*
To "connection", this writer adds "mutual respect and a feeling of intimacy and entitlement", almost an egalitarian relationship. This idea is not as alien to Pagans as it may seem to members of other religions, as many Pagans hold to an idea that the Gods are created by those who remember and respect and worship them, so there is a mutual need there.
Most Pagans refer to what Christians think of as prayer as “sending energy.” They have within the concept that there is an Energy in the Universe that responds to their connecting with it, in ways often beyond the power of spoken or written language to convey. They may call this Energy Goddess, God, or Spirit…but they do communicate with, respect and sometimes attempt to interact directly with this Energy. Most Pagans also consider that the Christian custom of petitioning, thanking or praising God is as much an attempt to manipulate Energy as is what a Pagan does, only by a different name. Incidentally, the whole idea of prayer, even the word, has the same implication of giving responsibility over to Deity for what happens to one, whereas the Pagan idea of manipulating Energy seems to imply more personal responsibility for the results. Perhaps this is one reason why most Pagans pursue the concept of, and action of, prayer, whilst disavowing the name thereof.
Occasions of Prayer
Most Pagans do not think of what they do as intercession, but as cooperation, with Deity. For this reason, “praying for” someone is probably far more rare in a Pagan’s life than it is in that of a Christian. Part of the reason for this is the belief on the part of many Pagans that we “choose” our experiences in this lifetime, and that someone may be experiencing illness or hardship by their own pre-life choice, to enable them to grow in some specific way. Some one outside the experience would consider it unethical to interfere with that. Another part of the feeling of not “praying for” people has to do with the kinds of ideas expressed below:
*quote* To me “bad prayer” is when the intent is to change or fix the person being prayed for. When fundamentalists tell me they will pray for my soul, it feels like an attack on my soul. These kinds of prayers aren't honoring me as a human being, they are not offered in love (at least not in what I consider a reasonable definition of love). They are manipulative and controlling. I relate prayer like this to casting a spell without someone's consent. Trying to force an individual to behave differently. This kind of prayer is often used as a threat - "I will pray that you find the light and be saved from the torments of hell to which you are surely headed." My translation - "I want you to abandon your uniqueness and connection with the divine because it does not match mine and I feel it is a threat to my world and therefore evil, not just different. If you don't change you will suffer" also can be translated as "I'll have my god beat up your god!" This is the type of prayer that makes Pagans reluctant to use the word prayer. This is the kind of prayer I could do without. *end quote*
A Different View
And yet, we DO pray, even if we do not call it that. At every ritual we “call” or “invoke” the Elemental Beings or Guardians, the Lord and Lady, and sometimes other non-corporeal beings. At least in the Medieval sense (as in “I pray you” or “prithee”) we are then praying, no matter what we call it. When we send energy for healing or for spellcraft, we are praying, even if the prayer is directed at the Universe, our Selves, or has no designated object. When we sing or chant in praise of the Beauty of Life, we pray. When we touch for healing, and call upon Spirit to bless, we pray. When we say “So Mote It Be” as a Pagan form of “Amen!”, we pray. Whether we dance in active ecstasy or silently fall into contemplative or oracular trance…yes, we pray. When we share with one another invocations, "spells", chants and songs, and other ways of making magic in words, we are, perhaps, creating the "Pagan Book Of Common Prayer", whether or not we choose to call it this.
The next festival in the Northern Hemisphere which is celebrated by a diversity of Pagan paths is Beltaine. The festival of Beltaine is one of the Great Fire Festivals of the Celts, since it marks a seasonal change rather than an astronomical event. For each of the seasonal festivals, a particular energy is invoked. For Beltaine, that energy is “fruition”. Many may still use the word “fertility,” but in our more PC environment people are conscious of things like GLBT Pagans, people who neither have nor desire children, people too old to have offspring, un-partnered people. In order that such folks may participate fully in the energy of the Sabbat, the concept of sexual fertility has been developed into all kinds of fertility, that of ideas, of creativity, of personal growth and development, of human progress, etc. In ancient times the fire, thought of by the Celts as a living Being, was thought to actually contain the “seed of life.” For this reason, cattle and sheep and hopeful parents passed between the twin Beal-teine fires in order that they might be actually doused in the Seed of Life by way of spark or smoke. Today this custom has become “jumping the Beltaine Fire” which people do hand-in-hand with spouse, fiance, family members or friends, or any other one with whom one wishes a relationship of any kind to “bear fruit.” The prayers said at Beltaine include invocations of health, fertility, consummation of projects or artistic endeavors, or any other kind of invocation or spell that can be said to have anything to do with bearing fruit of any kind.
And so, in the spirit of sharing, I would like to give here the texts of some "prayers" that are in harmony with the seasonal energy. Here are some Beltaine prayers from the Ord Brighideach, other Pagan sources, and some of my own composition. Should you choose to use these in ceremony, you are welcome to do so. Should you choose to copy them in print somewhere, please attribute as necessary. All my work is subject to copyright, and I appreciate the ethical stance of those who acknowledge this. So--Pagans, let's pray!
From the BrighidsFire Beltaine rite, 2002
In the name of the One
which has ever been
and shall ever be
anima and animus
chaos and thaos
the first and last breaths of life…-
In the name of the One
which is within us all
In the names of the Ancient and Holy Ones
The Lady of the Moon and the Lord of the Sun
Mother Earth and Father Sky
Goddess and God
In the names of the Mighty Ones of the Four Quarters
The Watchtowers of the directions
The Kings and Queens of the Elements…
Blessed be this time
which is not a time
and this place
which is not a place
and we who dwell within
as well as without.
Invocation for Beltaine
by Caitlin Matthews
Maiden of Flowers, open the door,
Smith of souls, come you in.
Let there be welcome to the growing strength,
Let there be welcome to the Summer of the Year.
In bud and blossom you are traveling,
In fruit and fragrance you will arrive.
God and Goddess we are calling,
Grant us thy blessings by joining us here.
May the blessed time of Beltaine
Inflame the soul of all beings
Bringing energy and effort ablaze
From the depths to the heights
From the heights to the depths
In the core of every soul
So mote it be.
She of the stars dancing,
She of the hawk soaring,
She of the moon glowing,
Come to me.
He of the wind sighing,
He of the Raven crowing,
He of the Sun shining,
Come to me.
She of the rain falling,
She of the bird nesting,
She of the lava surging,
Come to me.
He of the deer rutting,
He of the seed planted,
He of the danger answered,
Come to me.
He who stands with feet planted firmly upon the Earth,
Wings stretched across the heavens,
a jar of Thunder pouring from His shoulder:
To You, my dear God, I send my love.
She who Rises up from the womb of the Earth,
Arms embracing the four winds,
the streaks of moonlight tangling Her hair,
with Stars in Her eyes:
To You, my dear Goddess, I send my love.
I stand firmly upon the womb of the Earth,
my wings spanning the horizon,
moon beams catching in my hair.
I am embraced between Earth and Sky.
My spirit is expanded by Love.
And Stars shine in my eyes.
You who fill the Air with Radiance,
Glowing heat of Nature’s forge,
Bringer of light and life to the weary,
Break us free of the chains of winter
Kindle now the Fire Flowers!
You who dance in the flame of the Wind
Petals blowing as they blossom,
Fragrance bursting into sunlight
Break us free of the chains of winter
Light the Summers Flowers of Fire!
Dance, oh, dance, beneath the sunlight,
Garlanded with fire and flowers,
Lift your eyes to heaven’s glory,
Breathe the sweet intoxication,
Throw off winter,
Aisling the Bard, 2002
(The word “teine” is Irish Gaelic for “fire”, and the Irish or pan-Celtic Deity Bel or Beal, the Roman Belinus or the Hebrew Ba’al, is the ancient Teutonic Sun God also spoken of as the Good Father of the Gods. Therefore a Bel-fire is a “bright fire” or a “good fire.” And hence, for me, the spelling "Belteine" rather than "Beltane")
So, then--do Pagani pray? Well....I think I do. And if you ever talk to the Gods, or a tree, or a Spirit, or the fire, or to anyone or anything that is not another human being--well, I think maybe you do, too.