Heathen Spirituality: Do Heathens Pray?
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Yes, although this too has come under unfounded attack from certain quarters in Heathenry. Once again, it is because these people come up with unnecessary measures to distance our religion from Christianity. They seem to think that only Christians prayed, but this is simply not true at all. Prayer is a form of psychic communication with our gods. The prayer of Sigrdrifa from the Sigdrifumal (part of the Poetic Edda, one of our main textual sources) exemplifies this in Eddic Prose form:
“Hail, Day! Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here, with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.
Hail to the gods! Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom, and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long!”
There is also mention of prayers in the sagas, such as in Olafs saga Helga:
"That fall, the tidings were told to King Olaf at Thrandheim that the freeholders had held a feast attended by many at Winternights. There was much drink there. The king was told that there was minni-ale blessed to the Aesir according to the old custom. The story continued that cattle and horses were killed and the altars reddened with blood and blot made, and the prayer performed that should be made for good seasons.”
Magick can in a sense be said to be “amplified prayer”, and ours is a tradition steeped deeply in the practice of Magick. This is why, apart from simple, spontaneous expressions of bidja (meaning “to ask for”) we also see examples of prayers incorporated to deities like Thor in skaldic poetry (which is a form of magic as well as an verbal art form) and prayers that form part of the working of magick spells, such as we find in Anglo-Saxon and other sources. It was not considered perverse or disrespectful for merchants to pray to the gods for success in their business dealings, but we must also remember that we do not always pray just to “get stuff” (like the Christians do.) In fact, we operate under the “gift for a gift” principle embodied in the sacred rune “Gebo.” It is understand that what we ask for and receive, we will exchange for something that we give back to our gods. This is usually done at blots and fainings (two of our religious rites.) We can also give our gods thanks and praise at sumbel (a sacred drinking rite.) We can also pray to express admiration for our gods, or even just to talk to them (and it is even better and more fulfilling if you have developed your psychic senses and can hear their responses!)
Heathen prayers take “salutation and request” formats. The first part is done by “hailing” our gods in order to get their attention and show our respect: “Hail Odin, Father of the Slain, Raven God, Wolf God, Wielder of Gungnir!” Then second part is a respectful and sincere request for aid: “Ride Swiftly on Sleipnir to Aid me, Wheresover Thou Art.” It is important that strong emotion be a part of the process, but the wording can be as complex or as simple as you desire it to be (however, using more rousing words and expressions can help to convey your emotions outwards and deliver the meaning of your prayer with more psychic force.) Hailing the gods to invoke their presence does not need to be fancy or complex; you can repeat their names at rhythmic intervals or sing a small “calling song” of your own devising to get their attention.
As you get to know the lore, it also helps to include episodes or deeds of the gods in your prayers. This is sometimes called the “epic formula” and the idea is that the god or goddesses’ success in a similar situation to the one you are facing will result in success or conflict resolution as it had in the past. An example could be “Thor, Slayer of Etins, Hear my Call. As you shattered the whet-stone, the Giant’s Weapon, and Slew Hrungnir With a Well-Aimed Throw, Come to My Aid, Mjollnir’s Wielder, Help me avert my enemies’ blow!”
A well-known example of a prayer used as part of magic is the “Second Merseberg Charm”:
[It starts with a recital of successful deeds of the Gods:]
“Phol and Wodan Went to the Wood
Then Balder’s horse sprained its foot
Then chanted Sinthgunt, Sunna her Sister
Then chanted Frija, Folla her sister
Then chanted Wodan, as well he knew how to.”
[Then it connects the deeds to a present injury:]
“Thus be the bone-sprain, thus be the blood-sprain
Thus be the limb-sprain,
Bone to bone,
Blood to blood,
Limb to limb:
Thus be the binding.”