[Today The Wild Hunt welcomes its newest columnist Clio Ajana. Coming to us from the upper midwest of the U.S., Ajana is an educator and caregiver with a master’s degree in writing and a doctoral degree in literature. She is also a Hellenic Orthodox High Priestess and member of the House of Our Lady of Celestial Fire, E.O.C.T.O. Ajana has been published in the blog Daughters of Eve and contributed to the anthology Shades of Ritual: Minority Voices in Practice, and Bringing Race to the Table. Her column will appear here the first weekend of every month.]
At the beginning of February, in the cold northern hemisphere, we celebrate the return of the light. In my home tradition, we call the sabbat Brunalia. It is all about the spark, the creation, the renewal, and dedication to the transformative fire. Yet, at the point, we are also currently in an uncertain times, and prayer, whether for this Sabbat or not, is needed and almost required.
Devotion to the gods begins with devotion to the self and to the communities in which we live, work, play, serve, and enjoy the resources. To be a mageia, a witch, a pagan, a Druid, a Wiccan, a magical practitioner or wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, takes courage. It takes stability of mind, of will, of body, and of spirit. Wherever and however you choose to land is aided by prayer.
However, sometimes it seems that we, as Pagans, do not speak of prayer as much as other communities do, and perhaps we should.Several years ago, at a ritual to celebrate the ancestors and to remember and revere those who have passed from our lives and the earthly plane of manifestation to what lies beyond, a woman asked me to recommend some books. She had been very moved by the ritual and wanted to continue. After I responded, she gave me a strange look.
I probably explained it poorly. Ritual is experiential. We pray. When someone comes to our classes or to our circles, and wants to know the best way to start, I always recommend grounding, centering, listening to the Gods, and prayer. I saw the surprise and almost fear in this woman’s eyes: she had come from an area and a part of the country where a specific type of Christianity was the norm and a close personal relationship with the Christian god was a given. She presumed that in Paganism prayer was not a thing.
This made me think about how prayer is viewed in our overall community.
I asked myself how often do I hear other Pagans speak of the need for prayer outside of ritual, daily, or otherwise. We hear about it when there are tragedies, and we respond in unison on Facebook when someone posts requests for healing energy and prayers. We also see it in person at rituals and ceremonies.
However when a Seeker, someone who has been a solitary for a few weeks or a few years, comes out into the light to participate in public ritual, the term “prayer” might be a strange and unwelcome creature. Perhaps the understanding of the practice needs a public relations face-lift.
Prayer is not just for monotheists. A solid relationship with prayer and the Gods, individual or collectively, helps to enhance the magical experience.
Now I must confess that when I entered the community in 2004, I presumed that prayer was an unmentioned given. I saw ritual as a gathering for those of like minds, and those who wished to experience the communal nature of the Gods. I certainly went through enough direct encounters with Hecate, including her toga pulls and falling on the floor, that I knew she was real.
My communication with Her was a through prayer; this was our conversation. Outside of my daily prayers, she also spoke to me when I needed to be grounded; hence, there were those toga pulls. Without prayer, I would not have grown in closeness with Hecate as a goddess, nor with those other people in my community.
My personal background in the black Baptist and A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopalian) churches had forged a sense that if “God” was around, then a conversation would be just fine. I left Christianity for good at the age of twenty, but that understanding of prayer remained.
Since then, I have met many who have fled Christianity and other monotheist paths for a Pagan tradition, some under the guise of hating organized religion and some due to hurt feelings caused by the God of their original tradition or by how worshippers of that tradition treated those who were not 100% like them.One of the not-so-hidden gems within Paganism, as a large and glorious umbrella, is that the role of prayer does not change across practice. We call upon the Gods to help us in so many ways: to find a home, a job, friends, money, a partner or multiple partners, occasional sexual companions, world peace, a group similar in beliefs to one’s own, and so many other important things. There are those who don’t call it prayer, but they will still light a candle and call upon the Gods at the full moon or dark moon or at any time.
This brings up the question of why an aspect vital to the religious life of Pagans is kept in the closet more than almost any other? Are we so deeply scarred by past religious experience that stating the word is anathema? Is the concept of prayer being tied to a monotheist tradition, specifically Christianity, so deeply ingrained that it is impossible for those under the Pagan umbrella to speak as openly about how important prayer is to the individual here as it is for a monotheist?
In the coming year, which began in turmoil and with uncertainty, my personal pledge has been to explore and to hold onto prayer. Ironically, when we are seen by the outside non-Pagan world, in some parts of the country, it is the acknowledgement that we do pray (by whatever term call it) that makes those who would otherwise shun us begin to acknowledge our goodness as people.
Our community as a public face may be now shrink in the United States during the term of the next President; however, this is exactly the time to bring a most open acknowledgement of prayer to all of our communities. Our religions will potentially be challenged by those who do not like people who are “different”. If you do it but haven’t called it by that specific term, that works too. As a black, lesbian, overweight witch, I stand out like a lush green cactus in the desert sands. I cannot hide. But I can pray and believe.
Due to the uncertainties surrounding the past few months, the closed nature of human reaction, whether positive or negative, has meant the circle of those with whom we worship may have shrunk. In the realm of Paganism and various groups, this type of “internal cleansing” has lead me to question whether the very foundation of prayer in any religious tradition can withstand the outer currents of political and personal change. If those in your group feel or think differently than you do, does that make large public group prayer in ritual or smaller private gatherings more exclusive? Or do you choose to act one way outside of ritual circle and accept without comment those who enter circle with you?
I’ve discovered that behind the faint smiles, the grimaces, the gulped silence, and the hasty ending of conversations, there is an awkwardness that challenges those who are torn between accepting and working with those whom they cannot tolerate on a political or personal ethics level. Why is this important when it comes to prayer? If our specific religious traditions under the umbrella of Paganism are to survive, should we consider whether we are able to accept those practitioners who turn out to be different in a way that is not appealing to us? If so, how?In the context of prayer, this means that you might find yourself in a situation where you disagree vehemently with the person standing next to you in circle. You may have found out that the person holds opinions, political or otherwise, that would make you question the value of your friendship or association. Is disagreement and disharmony enough to dictate the circle of those whom you allow into your religious life? Sometimes the answer is absolutely yes. And, in other cases, it is more complicated.
During these complicated times, I think about how the use of prayer as a repair agent is similar to Restorative Justice. One thing that can be agreed upon, in our community and in the United States, is that our family lives, our religious lives, and our social lives have been irreparably changed and in some cases damaged through the smashed barriers of the 2016 election cycle. I have clung to prayer and ritual as a means of getting through the waves of deep emotional grief, anger, confusion, and despair seen in some of those around me.
This competes with the surprise, joy, excitement, and anticipation that I see from those few who tentatively admit that they were desperately unhappy before the election and now find that any change is a release from pain. I do not pretend to understand these currents; however, the best first response I could find at the time has been prayer.
I was reminded of this response while walking on a very slick parking lot this morning. The asphalt shone through the sheen of white that appeared clear at times and slushy in other places. After slipping a few times, I remembered that black ice plays no favorites and to tread carefully would get me across the parking lot faster than falling multiple times. When times are uncertain, prayer in the regular world is like walking across fractured ice, black ice. We do not know where we are going or if we will make it; but we have faith that we will.
As Pagans, we give solace to each other by remembering the world that some forget. If nothing else, it is okay to say, to believe, and to be a bit more open about the “P” word – prayer. To say that one prays does not mean that an individual is a monotheist and that prayer is the dominion of such traditions. Prayer is for all of us. It is free. It is convenient. It is one of the most Pagan of practices: we are calling to the Gods. We are sharing who we are. We are letting the Gods in. As we go through these uncertain times, I believe that we will survive as a community. We will make it across the ice and thrive with the help of each other and of prayer.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.