In my last post I talked about what prayer is through various definitions that I hope broadened the understanding of those curious. Today I continue this series and talk a little about examples of prayer Modern Paganiso. This post will focus primarily on the practical aspect of prayer as I believe everyone’s spiritual experience is different, and so I cannot talk for everyone. Part three will be about prayer in Shinto, and part 4 will be about what prayer means to me personally, and my own experiences.
Prayer in Modern Paganism
There are many excellent posts already out there on prayer in Paganism, so I am not going to go into great detail here. If you would like to supplement your reading, I have included some links at the bottom of this page.
Not all pagans pray, but many do and the act is usually a devotion to a deity, element, ancestor or energy that the pagan associates with or is attempting to develop a relationship with. Prayers are also done as a part of rituals and spells to invoke energies for magic work, depending on the path and the individuals preferences.
In Paganism, prayer is often done as a solitary act of devotion at ones altar or shrine. Many prayers exist from self-written personal writings, to published prayers in prayer books and those passed down through covens or other groups. Prayers can rhyme, be poetic or even just spontaneous.
Group prayers are common paths. In these prayers, certain members of the community will often recite particular lines (such as the initial invocation) or play roles (such as the masculine or feminine, God or Goddess) depending on tradition and the purpose of the prayer.
The Difference Between Prayers, Spells and Ritual
I am aware that for people new to Paganism, there is a lot of information out there and much of it is confusing and conflicting. A particularly confusing topic can be the difference between various terms like ritual and spell, and how they relate to prayers.
Rituals refer to any act that is seen as sacred, but is most often used to describe a set of actions done in honor of a deity. Rituals are often done for sabbats, on full moons and as an act of devotion. Rituals can contain both spells and prayers within them so can be thought of as the framework for further actions – though both spells and prayers can also be done separately.
Spells are a set of actions done to bring about a particular desired result. A pagan will often use corresponding items such as colours, incense, crystals and plants to aid the spell. Spells are often performed as a part of a ritual.
Prayers are when we speak to a deity, ask for their guidance and express gratitude to them.
A sample pagan ritual could look something like this;
Casting a circle: Ritual
Invoking deities and elements: Prayer/Ritual
State our purpose: Prayer/Ritual
Raise energy: Spell/Ritual
Cakes and Ale: Ritual
Release energy: Spell/Ritual
Thank deities: Prayer/Ritual
Uncasting the circle: Ritual
As you can see, rituals, spells and prayers all kind of combine into one act a lot of the time. But a prayer is the particular times we address a deity directly.
Altars and Offerings
Many pagans keep some kind of altar or shrine that is used as a focus for prayers, rituals and spells. The difference as I have been taught is that an altar is primarily used for working spells and rituals, whilst a shrine is more a focus for prayer and a sacred space to a particular deity. Shrines are often decorated with images of said deity, candles, incense and other objects deemed sacred.
Offerings can be made at an altar or shrine and can be anything from burning a candle to freshly baked goods, a deities favourite food or even monetary offerings. I have met pagans who never make offerings and some who do twice a day, it seems to be very much up to the pagan’s personal beliefs and preferences.
The purpose of offerings is hospitality and gratitude towards the deities. They can be made daily (such as in Shinto), monthly on a full or new moon, or even just on sabbats (the sacred days of many Pagan paths).
Daily Prayers and Prayer Routines
There is not really any rules or guidelines on when to pray in most pagan paths. Instead it can be up to the practitioner when and how to pray. Again, not everyone even prays! Some people may only pray on special occasions while others may find it impossible to start or end their day without a prayer to their patron deity.
One thing I think is important to state is that you shouldn’t be influenced too much by what others do. If a person decides they want to pray to their chosen deity 3 times a day complete with offerings, does that mean you have to as well? Absolutely not. Do what feels best for you. You don’t have to do it on a particular day or time either. If prayers begin to feel like a chore, they are losing their meaning and it’s time to take a step back.
What is important is that you find a prayer routine that works for you. I’ll be talking a bit more about prayer routines in part 4.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look into prayer in Modern Paganism. In the next post I’ll be talking about prayer in Shinto.
The Pagan Practice of Prayer by John Beckett
Beginning a Devotional Practice by John Beckett