Thinking About – Prayer

I recently watched a program on the BBC called The Sacred Wonders of Britain. It was presented by Neil Oliver and had guests like my friend Ronald Hutton, 800px-Iona_Island_-_View_of_Baile_Mòr_and_the_abbeyall talking about aspects of Britain’s past, and the relationship to its sacred sites. The first episode looked into prehistory, exploring the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the second was about Iron Age Britain, and third was about the coming of Christianity. I loved them all, although I was a little disappointed that the Iron Age episode fell into the trap of saying that every site had something to do with sacrifice…ho hum.

The last episode focussed on an age of Christianity that fascinates me – that of Columba, Cuthbert, and the holy people of the islands of Iona and Lindisfarne. I’ve been to both islands and they have the most amazing atmosphere. There is certainly something special about them, and I can completely understand their attraction. Maybe it’s my Cornish roots, but the idea of being cut off from the mainland, and being surrounded by water, brings me a great feeling of peace. I’m sure the life was hard, but again that seems to have been part of the requirement of living the lifestyle of the hermit. Being cut off, out of touch, away from everything, is something I need in my life at least once a year.

One of the main parts of this monastic lifestyle was prayer. Much of the day was spent in communion with God. They never describe it as silent contemplation or meditation.

Those hours were spent in prayer.

DSC_0053I remember visiting St. Ninian’s cave on a beach in Dumfries and Galloway (incidentally it’s the cave and beach used in the film The Wicker Man when Rowan Morrison is revealed to Sgt. Howie, and the chase through the caves begin) and sitting in the confines of the rock. Here it is said that St Ninian felt that he could talk directly to God, and then hear his replies in the sound of the sea waves as they rolled onto the shore. I prayed there too, to Manawyddan, the Spirit of the Sea as I see it, and sure enough that echoed sound of rolling waves contains words and a voice I will always remember.

Prayer doesn’t seem to be spoken about very much in modern Paganism. I know that theologically we are all very diverse, but I still wonder why that might be. I know that some see Deity in the plants, trees, and animals of the natural world, and don’t see how they can pray to them. Others feel that Deity is more akin to the Jungian concert of the archetype. Some Pagans find the whole idea of prayer to be too Christian, too fluffy, whilst others see their relationship with the Old Gods to be on a very equal footing. All I know is that, when I have taken times of prayer, I have felt that connection and direct dialogue extremely moving. To me there is something more than just the I. This is probably not the post to explain my own theology, let’s just say that within my own beliefs there is certainly room for prayer.

Do you pray?

What to?

And if so, are you looking for an answer to those prayers, or a deeper connection, and conversation with the divine?

18 Comments

  1. Mel January 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    I like to begin my day with prayer when I can grab a few moments of solitude. Generally, I pray to Brighid or sometimes Dagda, but sometimes it’s just a prayer from me to Other, if that makes sense? Communion, conversation…I try to pray at least as often in gratitude as I do in need, and everywhere in between. It settles my soul in a way that little else can. 🙂

    • Damh the Bard January 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm - Reply

      Thanks Mel. I love that – “Pray at least as often in gratitude as I do in need, and everywhere in between”.

      • Tamayra January 22, 2014 at 9:06 pm - Reply

        That’s how I feel too equality of gratitude & need
        I feel that prayer is is an expression of the hearts compassion rather than an expression of the desperation of the mind

  2. Ruthie January 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I find that some places and experiences move me to prayer as with your experience at St. Ninian’s cave. As a pagan I have never had an issue with prayer and communion with deity, to me it’s an important part of my faith and spiritual understanding. I tend to pray to whichever deity feels right for at the time. When I say I will pray for someone’s healing I do just that.. Sometimes I’m looking for an answer, sometimes its a petition for someone else,, other times its gratitude for the overwhelming beauty of the world around me..sometimes its on a deeper level, to still my mind, listen and just be with a particular deity. For whatever reason I pray, I can’t imagine not having that space and communion with deity in my life. xxx

    • Damh the Bard January 22, 2014 at 3:17 pm - Reply

      I knew both you and Gary would pick up on this post. Loads of love your way xxx

  3. alison beer January 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    I dont think I pray as such, when i was a Christian I found my prayers were always about asking, so now I talk, discuss, commune and Listen, xx

  4. John Willmott January 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    I get the feeling that the word “prayer” is not ‘cool’ to many people as it has memories of unwanted discipline, such as something that was commanded to do at school and maybe by parents.

    The ‘alternatives’ people pick up seem to be ‘meditation’ and more recently ‘mindfulness’ – but even these can be disciplines where a leader or facilitator tries to command where we go in meditation as a group just as those early abbots seemed to with the monks.

    I’ve often heard ‘work is prayer’ and I think a lot of us do engage in this, especially men who seem to isolate themselves more in their work so that they and their work become totally at one and a journey into that dreamtime timelessness to craft away at something with pride whether its is with a sculpture, leatherwork, garden or even a model railway.

    I know its ‘not of our time’ to generalize gender but I feel a lot of women find prayer through service and find this much more through being a team tending to a garden, tending to some kind of healing place, tending to those lost and displaced and perhaps through campaigns to preserve our earth such as through the fracking and anti-GMO groups today and such things as the Land League in the past.

    Prayer to me is that surrender to that unseen genderless, timeless, infinite, what we may call ‘spirit’, guide that takes us on a journey, and when we do this somehow everything seems perfect again, and its amazing what seems to materialize to us.

    I feel all of the woes, the greed and the way we imbalance the world is through denial of prayer. I tend to feel all other animals and plants are in constant prayer. Why is it we are not?

    P.S. Apparently, Neil Oliver was born and raised neat St. Ninian’s Cave. It was there that started his fascination for archaeology, anthropology, history and mythology as a reaction from he and his mates playing around St. Ninians and nearby as a child.

  5. Kate January 22, 2014 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    We pray a lot at the Midwinter Bear Feast. We use the same prayers that have been used in these rituals for thousands of years. You should come one day, Damh. The prayers are the same every year, but they have a timelessness and beauty worn smooth by hundreds of generations, and touch me like no other prayers have ever done, at any ritual, pagan or christian or otherwise except perhaps sanskrit mantra.

  6. Brian January 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Is not ‘to pray’ to have a conversation (albeit one sided at times) and keep a connection with the gods and elements in gratitude, need and sometimes anger.

    I tend to pray daily, in the morning before work and sometimes before bed while stood looking across the fields from my backdoor. Like Mel’s comment I tend to, “Pray at least as often in gratitude as I do in need, and everywhere in between”.

    The act of pray as a connection to the gods may be a natural thing to me, having been brought up in my younger years as a Catholic (I have followed a pagan path since I was a teenager).

    For me personally, I find It keeps me connected to the gods and my beliefs and can be as simple as thanking them for a good night’s sleep and asking for protection for the coming day. It is also my acknowledgement to them that they are there and stood with me.

  7. Stanley Lee January 22, 2014 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Yes, I pray. I believe that prayer and meditation is part of Pagan Practice. Prayers of thanks, to the Goddess and God, for keeping us safe, Prayer for healing both for myself and others who ask for help, surely, this is part of who we are and what we do. Prayer to other Deities is also important. Light a candle, meditate, pray. Is this not magick ?

  8. Lorna Smither January 22, 2014 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    If by prayer you mean communion with the divine, then yes it is absolutely fundamental to my daily practice- I commune with my patron every morning after getting up and try to spend time in communion with the spirits and deities of my local landscape every day. Sometimes I expect answers, although often my questions become their own undoing. Mainly I seek conversation, communion and deeper gnosis of the divine.

  9. Mariah Dawn Shepherd January 23, 2014 at 5:43 am - Reply

    When I start my day, I always ‘pray’ to the Life that I’m experiencing. I ‘pray’ for the Highest Good of the Plant, Animal, & Mineral. For All My Relations. I bless the Mother & the Father. I then go about my day as I choose to make it, with blessings throughout when needed.

    Shalom,
    Mariah Dawn

  10. Jayne January 23, 2014 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Yes I pray every morning. I pray to ‘The Gods & Spirits of the East, then the South, then the West, and then the North. To me A ‘God’ is either male or female – a deity sort of, so ‘tight’ language doesn’t matter to me.

    I pray to the East first and usually it’s as the Sun rises so I’m talking to the sunrise and the West where sometimes now the Moon is still visible. Most of you will recognize the elements too associated with each compass point and I try to think about these too. What I don’t do is pray to a specific God or Goddess. I was brought up by Catholic nuns and I no longer go the Church or confession and haven’t for many years – not sure if this is why I use the words I do but I think it is.

    When I face each point I say ‘To the Gods & Spirits of the East, thank you for you help yesterday. Today I give you my blessings’. (I say this to each of the 4 points). Then as it’s the East, I ask to have help that day to stay on my path and to look after well those who are part of my life. I ask to be mindful of those I encounter on my day and to treat them and myself with respect. (sometimes I completely fail to be able to put this into practice, but I do try…)

    I say different things to the South, where I ask to keep alive the memories of my family both two & four legged who are no longer here, the ancestors I did not meet, and others I knew who are now dead. Then I turn to face the West.

    The beginning part is the same but then I ask for health and support of my current family my horses, dogs, my husband & other family members so they may be safe and healthy.

    Then I face the North where I ask for my friends and those who are special to me to be safe and well.

    The words change a bit and sometimes I mix then up as I’m tired or fed up, but in essence this is what I do outside every day when I’m feeding my horses in a now muddy field near trees, a stream and birds and the wind, rain, sun or whatever….NAMASTE.

  11. Pól January 23, 2014 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Damh,

    This is something current for me in my life. Thanks for posting it. I’m an OBOD member, identify mostly as pagan, and recently I’ve been going to Quaker meetings. I’m noticing in myself that prayer is as much about just listening and centreing as about anything else. Rather than pleading/cajoling the divine to make something happen, I find it more satisfying to say “this is what’s happening, this is how I’m feeling” and just listen.

    Blessings

    P

  12. Pete Quinan January 23, 2014 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    I do pray mainly to get a deeper connection with my Goddess and God, I say pray its more like talking to them, communing with them. I feel closer to them doing so. I agee with you Damh prayer is a term we dont as Pagans connect with, but I feel we should do so. BB.

  13. Christine Hasan January 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Yes I do pray. Mainly I ask for healing and blessings for others. I think that I can count on one hand the times I have asked for something for myself.

    I find prayer to be very powerful both in what it appears to achieve, ( not always by direct results) and how much better and connected I feel afterwards.

  14. Bridget January 26, 2014 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I still use prayer ties. (Not flags). They focus my body, mind and spirit. Usually it is for healing or blessings. Communication with my Patroness has never come because of anything I do. She does suprise me. I also use music. As a child I thought the best prayers were done through choirs and musicians. They are always prayers of thanksgiving and bringing me closer to Her.

  15. Pete Quinam May 15, 2014 at 9:08 am - Reply

    I do pray to my Deities. Sometimes its to ask for their help, sometimes its too ask their advice, to thank them for my life etc. More often than not its just to “talk” to them, to feel that connection/bond with them. Prayer enhances my connection to them and I can feel their Devine presence with me. As pagans I feel we should pray more, talk more with our Goddess and God BB.

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