May my love and prayers to You, my Gods, turn this altar to glass in their passion.
Today I’m discussing prayer as a Heathen because there is, sadly, a constant and ongoing issue within our communities wherein some very loud people declaring themselves heathen neither honor nor pray to the Gods. I wouldn’t care if it were not for the fact these same people not only seek leadership positions in the community but also try to insult, argue with, and “correct” pious Heathens. I have seen several instances in the past week – impious role-players (for that is what these people truly are) come into comments of various posts created by Heathens and tell them they are fools or worse for having devotion for the Gods. It is disgusting and incites rage in me. If you are one of these viking LARPers invading my religious communities – you are foul and have no place among us. Real Heathens Pray. Real Heathens Venerate the Gods.
Real Heathens Pray
Before I go on, I want to draw this line in the sand. I plan to do another post about what Heathenry is, its modern history, and why I am a Heathen on another day. For now I want to state what a Heathen is in plain terms – A Heathen is a person who venerates the Northern Gods, honors their ancestors (no matter where they came from geographically), honors the spirits of land and home, and honors the community. Its simple and yet those who state this are called gatekeepers. Perhaps I am. Perhaps we should all be guardians of our communities – if we were, then we wouldn’t have the impious among us with racist, misogynist, pop culture, and ego-centered focus instead of Gods-centered, community lifting actions.
Low Excuses for Impiety
The biggest argument against prayer and veneration of the Gods are 2 textual references:
Tryggdarmál stating that only women and slaves bow before their God and Master, that real men remain standing.
The Havamal stanza 147
“Better no prayer | than too big an offering,
By thy getting measure thy gift;
Better is none | than too big a sacrifice,”
The first is, as Galina says, merely proof that there were assholes in the past just like there are now. No everyone of our spiritual ancestors (the so called original Heathens) were devout or pious. There were atheists among them as well. Atheists are fine actually – so long as they STOP forcing their bullshit on Polytheists and forcing themselves into Polytheist spaces because they want to play viking.
The second is not telling you not to pray. Its saying don’t offer too much, don’t ask for too much. Its saying all things in moderation – the theme of the Havamal.
References of Heathen Prayer
Here’s the thing. There are MANY MORE references of our ancestors and heroes praying than there are of them not praying or admonishing prayer. I’ve gathered just a few of them and welcome you to comment more and share your favorites.
In the tale of the Langobards, retold in Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and the Sagas by H. A. Guerber we see prayer to two deities:
“Odin gazed with satisfaction upon the Vandals, who were loudly praying to him for victory; but Frigga watched the movements of the Winilers with more attention, because they had entreated her aid.”
We see more examples in this text of prayer:
“In their distress the twelve jurists called upon Forseti, begging him to help them to reach land once again, and the prayer was scarcely ended when they perceived, to their utter surprise, that the vessel contained a thirteenth passenger.”
“The rule of Rerir was marked by every sign of prosperity, but his dearest wish, a son to succeed him, remained unfulfilled for many a year. Finally, however, Frigga decided to grant his constant prayer, and to vouchsafe the heir he longed for.”
Then there is the famous Sigdrifa’s Prayer
Hail to thee Day, hail, ye Day’s sons;
hail Night and daughter of Night,
with blithe eyes look on both of us,
and grant to those sitting here victory!
Hail Aesir, hail Asynjur!
Hail Earth that givest to all!
Goodly spells and speech bespeak we from you,
and healing hands in this life!
This is a great example of how to pray and is used in that way by many Heathen mentors and teachers.
One of my favorite references to prayer is in the Lay of Hyndla. Galina references in her blog post on this topic as well
“Better that we aim to emulate Ottar. In the Lay of Hyndla, Freya praises him for making so many prayers and sacrifices to Her, that the altar upon which he sacrificed turned to glass from the heat and overwhelming number of the offertory fires (stanza 10).”
(This is where I got inspired for my opening prayer in the first paragraph of this post, btw.)
Let us Odin pray
Into our minds to enter;
He gives and grants
Gold to the deserving.
He gave to Hermod
A helm and corselet.
(Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).)
Learning to Pray from the Gods
In fact, humans are not the only ones who pray to the Gods – the Gods pray to each other! They build temples to each other and entreat each other. It is reasonable to assume this is how we humans learned to pray and honor the Gods in the first place – monkey see, monkey do.
Again we look at the tale of Ottar (though I do admit that in this instance, pray could be used as a synonym for beseech or ask – I don’t know how to translate the original and welcome correction of that is the case):
Freya further compelled Hyndla to brew a potion of remembrance, which she gave him to drink.
He shall drink
All the gods I pray
To favour Ottar.
(From Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).)
This is a great lesson to Heathens. If you are worried that you do not have the right words, beseech the Gods that have an interest in humans – Odin and Freya among others. Ask them for the right words (there are runes for this as well). If there is a deity or situation that you do not have authority in and need help with, ask Them to go forth for you, giving appropriate offering. This is what Ottar did when beseeching Freya who then went forward and got for him the blessings of Hyndla and all the Gods.
Real Heathens Pray Today
Bringing it back to the current era, I am more interested in discussing modern Heathen prayer and devotion. Recently I shared my most common prayer on Twitter and asked others for their favorite prayers. Here is mine:
Nothing may hurt me
Except what the Gods and beloved Ancestors
Send my way
To hone me like a blade
To better suit Their purposes.
Diana Paxson shares in her article on Worshipping the Gods a great template for formal prayers.
Hail (best-known name), (descriptive epithet),
Child of (parent), lover of (spouse)
You who dwell in (name of hall),
You who (summarize several relevant deeds)
With your (characteristic tool or weapon)
Come swiftly to aid me
As I (summarize problem being addressed)
She also shares about offerings and the like. I highly recommend this article.
For more devotional inspiration there are MANY books of modern prayers to the Gods available. You can check some of them out over at Asphodel Press. I submitted to their Njord anthology and hope to get my Frigga devotional anthology published there soon.
Please feel free to share your favorite prayers and/or stories/references of prayer in the comments. Also ask questions if you have them.
Remember that Real Heathens Pray. Real Heathens Venerate the Gods. Anyone who says otherwise – ask them why they consider themselves Heathen. If they are not Heathen, why do they feel called to comment on a community they have no part in? If they call themselves Heathen because they “like the lifestyle” recommend a local creative reenactment group or tell them to go back to watching Vikings – they have no place in our communities. Real Heathens Pray!
Thank you for reading and may your Gods bless you.