Prayer Ritual Basics

Since posting about my upcoming Prayer Ritual I’ve gotten several requests for a how-to guide. I figured the best place to start would be an explanation from the one who inspired me to do this, Stevie Miller over at Feathers in Amber. She graciously provided the below explanation and photos of her techniques. One of the things I most like about her practice is that she’s not afraid to experiment with different approaches, so you’ve quite a few examples to start with!

Starting an Open Prayer Ceremony
Stevie Miller

If you have spent any amount of time on social media–and really, who hasn’t?–you’ve probably seen a surprising amount of people asking for prayers. It might not occur to you, as it didn’t for me, until you start looking for it, but these requests are everywhere: sick and injured friends and family, job searches, hurting relationships, house fires, cars breaking down. In a circle of just a couple hundred people, things like this can be going wrong every day.

As a spirit worker, I seem to have something of an “on duty” sign that lights up when people specifically ask for prayer. Even if the people making the request are from different traditions than mine, or outside of polytheism altogether, I often feel moved to help. But since I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on others, I wanted to come up with a way to figure out who wanted that kind of help from me, and how I could offer it on a regular basis without it taking over my life.

A simple prayer ritual to Odin with an offering of mead and incense.

A simple altar layout for a prayer ritual, featuring an offering of mead and incense.

Enter the weekly open prayer ceremony. I let people know that I will be lighting candles and reading out petitions once a week and that I’m open to requests. Suddenly, those requests came flooding in from every direction–more than I even had candles for! People loved the idea, and I even got asked if others could pray for me in return, and if I wanted donations to be offered to any charities in return for this sacred work. I was also asked to write the article you’re reading now.

I also found that this practice has benefitted me. The routine is fantastic for ensuring that I’m offering to and talking to my Powers regularly. Social accountability–that is, other people expecting that you’re going to do something, and your posting evidence of it–is great for establishing and maintaining a good habit. It has also made me feel much more connected to others. Spirit work, especially when you serve a really niche tribe–and in my case, a discarnate, non-human tribe–can be an extremely lonely path. But with this, I’m using my skills to do good for others, and hearing back about how it has helped them. It has been starting to make me feel like I really do have a community, and they need me.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made. She kept the cord on the altar for a week so that the Gods could watch over everyone’s intentions.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits seem to enjoy being needed too. I’ve consistently gotten messages over the years, both intended for myself and intended for others, along the lines of “Ask Us! Come to Us when you are in need! We want to be a part of your lives and your works. You don’t need to do this all alone.” Calling on the Powers regularly for the people has strengthened my bond with Them too.

I wholeheartedly believe the world will be a better place when more of us are praying for each other and offering to the Powers. So if you’d like to start an open prayer ceremony of your own–which I would strongly encourage!–I’d like to offer some tips.

Define your community: Maybe you just want to open your ceremony to people close to you, or maybe you want to make it public. I post publicly on social media about it, and, odd exceptions aside, accept every prayer petition I receive. You may want to do it differently. Whatever you choose, figure out who you’re offering this service to and how you will let them know about it. An alternative is to simply gather up the prayer requests you see and hear in day to day life. You’ll be surprised how many you encounter once you start looking for them.

Set your boundaries: What Powers do you want to work with? Will you let people request prayers to a specific deity or spirit? What kinds of prayer requests will you accept? When will you accept prayer requests? What is your maximum capacity? These are all things you will need to define for yourself and your audience if you’re going to do open prayer ceremonies.

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A beautiful altar layout utilizing nine candles to represent the collective prayers said. Note the rune stones in front of the candles – she drew a general omen for everyone she prayed for and shared the results.

Create your ritual: I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to deal with open requests if I keep my ritual format simple. I do a simple invocation, I make offerings to the Powers I have invoked, I read the petitions of the people while lighting candles, and I thank the Powers for Their blessings. Sometimes I will add a component where I take an omen, such as a three rune pull or a card draw, or a component where I meditate and listen to see if the Powers have any messages for just me personally or for all the people being prayed for. That’s it.

Distance offerings: Since I’m praying for people who are scattered all over the country, I took up a practice that seems to be gaining popularity in polytheist circles: I promote offerings to charity in the name of the deity being honored that week. For example, the last couple times that I have worked with Odin, He has made it clear that He would like offerings in His name to be made to Alzheimer’s research. This allows people who are not present at your ceremony to take part if they feel so moved by giving something in exchange. Reciprocity is important in many traditions. It also helps you work on causes your Powers find important, which can only improve your devotional relationships, right?

Simplify: I keep the whole process simple because it’s easier for me to focus on the petitions, and to keep this process going without getting burnt out. For example, you don’t have to light an individual candle for every single petition. I sometimes use 9 which is a symbolically important number in my tradition; for many 3 is also a sacred number.

An image of nine tealights arranged in a pattern centered on an Odin jar candle.

Miller’s use of nine candles during a prayer ritual.

Offerings can be low key, like a nice beverage or some incense. I use Wednesday as my day of the week because that day is named after my Patron Odin (“Woden’s Day”). Keeping it on the same day each week makes it easier for me to remember (I’m lucky if I know what day it is!) and also makes it easy for people to know when their prayer requests need to get to me by.

After my prayer ceremony is over, I usually share a quick snapshot of the lit up altar just to let people know that their petitions have been spoken. I’ll share any commentary that I have from the rite itself, especially if I took an omen and want to share my reading of it.

In the future, I plan to work with different Powers and offer prayer ceremonies focused on particular intents, such as healing and abundance. I’m hoping to foster connections between people and deities or spirits they may not be as familiar with too.

I hope that this has been helpful and that you are inspired to start your own open prayer ceremony! Blessings to you and your communities.

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Eclipse/New Moon Prayer Ritual

I’ve been inspired by Stevie Miller over at Grundsau Burrow. She’s been holding regular formal prayer rituals of late and I think that’s a damn fine idea. I’m hopping on the bandwagon and joining in. In these trying times we need all the help we can get!

That being so, when better than the coming solar eclipse? I’ll be continuing this practice on every new moon for the foreseeable future, but this seems like a great time to start!

solar-eclipse-clouds

This is an open call for prayers to be ritually made on your behalf on August 21st. If you would like to participate, please let me know your name and what you’re praying for so I can add you to the list and do the prep work. You can comment here, tag me on Facebook, PM me, email me, whatever makes you comfy. And feel free to share! I’m taking the whole day off to make this happen, so let’s get it rolling!

I will stop accepting prayer requests at 5:30a EST, August 21st.

*Note: I reserve the right to refuse prayers for anything I find ethically dodgy. Thank you for your understanding.

The Acolytes of Beltane: Re-examining the Sabbat Through the Tarot

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

Beltane is the last of the three Planting festivals. In the old days these festivals revolved around the agrarian year, and for some they still do. However, my urban self relates to all the festivals in a slightly different way. For me these are more personal festivals, encouraging and celebrating more personal types of growth.

Beltane is usually the hardest of all the sabbats for me to find personally relevant. I’ve written about it before, and every year it’s still a bit of a struggle.

However, this year I took a new approach and examined Beltane through the lens of Tarot. It works for almost everything else, right? The most obvious Tarot card to start with for Beltane is the Lovers, but as you’ll see my examination rapidly expanded out from there.

 The Lovers

Beltane is almost always associated with love and marriage. The union of the Lord and Lady (as seen through any number of sacred marriage stories) is perhaps the single most common symbol of the holiday. The aptly named Lovers card perfectly encapsulates that whole concept.

However, no card of the Tarot exists in a vacuum. The Lovers is linked, by both image and theme, to other cards too. In fact, it’s one of six Acolyte Cards.

So I had to wonder. If one of the Acolyte Cards relates so well to Beltane, could the other Acolyte Cards somehow relate too?

The Acolyte Cards

In addition to the Lovers, the Acolyte Cards also include the Devil, the Hierophant, the Chariot, the Six of Pentacles, and the Tower.

The Acolyte Cards are called that because, in all six cards, we have two “acolytes” at the feet of a larger figure or archetype. The visual composition of each card is almost identical, and their meanings are similar too. In all six cards the two figures in the foreground are submitting to whatever the figure behind them represents. The only difference lies in what precisely that happens to be.

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

In the Lovers, the figures commit themselves to each other under the eyes of an angel, making this a sacred marriage. By so doing they collectively place their relationship above their individual desires, submitting to its influence in their lives. While it depicts a sacred marriage, this card can refer to any great love to which we commit ourselves.

The Devil. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Devil. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Devil is often called the shadow card of the Lovers, and it’s easy to see why. The figures in this card don’t submit to each other, but to the worst parts of themselves. The chains represent the attachment of the figures to fears, addictions, self-serving behaviors, and hedonism. They’re wholly committed to that which holds them prisoner, but they retain the ability to free themselves from bondage any time they choose. The Devil is ultimately a helpful card, because it points out that which holds us back and encourages us to pursue self-improvement, independence, and true freedom.

The Hierophant. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Hierophant. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The monks of the Hierophant submit to the leader of their faith, and by so doing commit themselves to a higher purpose. I also think it’s significant that, out of all six cards, the monks of the Hierophant are the only figures with their backs to us. Part of their devotion is a rejection of the world, while the other five cards are of the world and face it more directly.

The Chariot. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Chariot. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The sphinxes of the Chariot submit to their princely driver, who is completely focused on worldly conquest. Since the world can never truly be conquered by one person, the drive to succeed is never-ending. Total success isn’t really the point, though. The sphinxes are committed to the journey itself and carry the driver onwards regardless.

The Six of Pentacles. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Six of Pentacles. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

As befitting the only Minor Arcana of the set, the Six of Pentacles shows a more scaled-down version of the dynamic seen in the other cards. Here the two acolyte figures submit to their need for aid from a wealthy benefactor, who is committed to helping them. Unlike the other cards, though, the benefactor isn’t a larger-than-life archetypal figure. He’s human too, and a quick reversal of fortune could cause the acolytes and the benefactor to switch places. This unites the acolytes and the benefactor in a way not permitted by the other cards.

The Tower. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Tower. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Tower is also considered an Acolyte Card, but it differs from the others in two fundamental ways. For one, the archetypal figure in this card – the Blasted Tower – represents the destruction of commitment. The figures in this card were dedicated solely to their own egos, and that is the sin that could not be borne. That’s why the lightning physically removed them from their high station and returned them screaming to the earth below. None of us are immune to natural law or natural forces, and the figures of this card were required to submit to that if nothing else. And that leads to the second fundamental difference between this card and the others: the lightning didn’t ask for or require the consent of the figures in the card.

If the other cards are facets of life we’re invited to explore, the Tower tells us that the worst thing we can do is ever think we’re done exploring.

The Acolytes of Beltane

As a culture, we’re kind of obsessed with the values represented by the Lovers card. It makes total sense that the type of submission and commitment explored there is the one that gets its own holiday, especially when we consider the history and focus of modern Paganism.

However, maybe this singular focus is unnecessarily limiting. The Acolyte Cards invite us to explore love, self-improvement, faith, drive, and a recognition that we’re all in this together. They also caution us against the idea that we’re ever done growing and provide an ego-check when we need it.

All of the Acolyte Cards, even or maybe especially the Tower, provide us the tools we need to grow into our best and most authentic selves. That sounds like the very definition of what Beltane is supposed to be, and to my mind makes this holiday much more interesting and personally relevant.

Now I’m eager to see what kind of light a similar study might shed on Midsummer!

Candles for an Uncertain Spring

I am an American.

I am also Polytheist and queer. My queer roommate is here in the US on asylum. My sister, who also lives with me, has a Hispanic last name. Of the two children in our house, one of them is disabled. Two of the above-listed people are trans.

We are 11 days into the Trump presidency, and while I am American I am also scared.

The dawn of this year’s Imbolc illuminates what is for many of us an uncertain spring. It’s challenging, I think, to appreciate the growing light when so much appears so, so dark.

sunrise

Sorry, I couldn’t find a picture as apocalyptic as my Facebook feed.

Maybe it’s just me, but Imbolc feels more poignant than it usually does. I find that I desperately need candles, and torches, and even bonfires to beat back the dark. I need purification and renewal, illumination and inspiration.

So I will take my inspiration from the following and let it define my Imbolc ritual:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Soon I will take a long cleansing shower, washing away the tension I’ve held since November. I will then go to my altar, and light candles, and invite the Powers to attend.

After that, I will stop compartmentalizing and burying my sorrow and fear. I will instead sit with them, and honor them, and then let them pass away. I will acknowledge that I could have maybe done more, and done better, but I will also recognize that the time for regrets is done now. It’s time to look ahead. Despair and hopelessness are luxuries that we can ill afford. I will do my best to leave them behind in this passing winter as I step into the coming spring refreshed and renewed.

And when I light a candle to honor a new dawn, I will do it with purpose. I will take the energies of this Imbolc and become a candle. I will commit to holding my small, fragile flame against the coming darkness. I will pay attention, and speak out, and help my neighbor as best I can, because only by combining all of our candles together will our light be bright enough to show a better path.

I will do these things. I Will these things. I WILL.

So mote it be.

New Year’s Eve Ritual — Gangleri’s Grove

This is a rather lovely New Year’s Eve ritual that I thought my readers might enjoy. Of particular note is the use of sound to cleanse a space. It’s highly effective – I use sound myself, although usually of a different type – and it’s always nice to see that utilized rather than the more common smudging.

This

A few days ago, someone asked me about the New Year’s Eve ritual that I typically do for the House. I promised I’d post it here, so here it is. I alter this a little every year, but the barebones scaffolding remains intact: New Year’s Eve Ritual I don’t usually share House rituals, but I’m […]

via New Year’s Eve Ritual — Gangleri’s Grove

Clytie and Solstice Reflections

I think it’s appropriate that, on the day of Solstice, I taught the myth of Clytie to an 8-year-old. As with all myths there are several versions, some much less kind than others, but this is the one we talked about:

Clytie was a beautiful water nymph with golden hair and big brown eyes. One day she walked outside, looked up, and was utterly captivated by Apollo as He drove the sun chariot across the sky.

For nine days she stood on a rock, not moving or eating, and simply stared at Apollo as He traversed the heavens. She was so obsessed that her only sustenance was dewdrops. She didn’t even rest at night – she simply stood there waiting for Apollo’s return, so she could watch the sun move across the sky again.

Her adoration was absolute, but she suffered for it. Her health and beauty faded. She grew weak, and pale, and wan. Yet still she did not move, so captivated was she.

On the tenth day the Gods looked down and saw Clytie, still standing, still mesmerized, still wasting away. They were touched by her selfless adoration, but concerned for her too. This was no life for a woman or a nymph.

So, taking pity on her, They turned her into a sunflower.

clytie

Modern versions of the myth say the flower was a sunflower, but originally the flower was a heliotrope. Just FYI.

Now her health and beauty are enhanced by the sun, instead of destroyed. She is nourished and sustained by the ground on which she stands, instead of weakened. And to this day the Sunflower is free to stare at the sun to her heart’s content.

Last night, while at my altar, this myth resonated with me on a deep level. First, of course, is the sun aspect and how that relates to Solstice. But it goes deeper than that.

Clytie was so obsessed with the sun she couldn’t function in the rest of her life. That wasn’t healthy, and the Gods knew that. But They also knew that turning her away from the sun completely – by, say, blinding her – would have been equally damaging. They came up with an unorthodox compromise that maintained her health while letting her heart go where it willed.

I found myself focusing on Clytie’s need for balance.

My life has been tumultuous this year. My Lady is the Lady of Change, and I have been living in Her realm since May. I have moved several times. I went from being a single woman working a full-time job to sharing a house with four other people, co-parenting two children, and homeschooling six days a week.

I’ve been so busy adjusting to all the changes and trying to keep my head above water that my spiritual life took a backseat for a bit. And I was so focused on all the day-to-day craziness that I didn’t realize until very recently that the lack of time at my altar – and by extension with the Powers – was affecting me as deeply as it was. It wasn’t just my spiritual life that suffered. Everything else did too.

In a way, I’ve been doing what Clytie did. I’ve neglected essential things I need to be healthy and happy in favor of the things at the forefront of my attention.

I need to learn from Clytie’s story and get some of my own balance back. It’s up to me to restore that which I lost, though. No Gods are stepping in to turn me into a flower!

I took the need for balance to my altar, along with the beginnings of a plan to fix it, and asked the Powers for help. My Lady has been patiently waiting for me to see the problem and step it the fuck up. Now that I have, She’s of course totally willing to help. She always is, but requires a request – and my very best good faith effort – to act. And even then She’s careful not to overstep. How will I learn if I simply go where I’m led?

I don’t yet know what being totally balanced looks like in this new situation, with all the new things going on now and coming up in 2017 (oh yes I have plans!), but after spending some one-on-one time with Her last night I know where to start. That’s the best Solstice gift I could ask for.

It’s the Most Uncomfortable Time of the Year*

Out of all the holidays, Beltane is by far the weirdest for me personally. Over the last few years I have developed my own way of conceptualizing it that works for me, and if I’m going solo or running a group ritual with that in mind it’s fine.

However, this year I’m attending a group ritual run by someone much more traditional, and I’m honestly kind of dreading it. Not because I don’t enjoy ritual, or even this person’s rituals, but because Beltane itself is all kinds of awkward for me. It kinda feels like I’m back in Christian church.

I am well aware that’s not a common response, especially to this holiday in particular, so I figured an explanation might be handy.

First off, what’s Beltane?

Beltane, or May 1st, is the absolute favorite holiday of a ton of people. Traditionally it’s the day when flocks and herds were returned to the fields after being cooped up all winter, and that aspect of things does play a part in the season. However, these days Beltane is more commonly considered the day the Goddess and God get together, or the day the Holly King fights the Oak King for the Goddess’s hand. The emphasis is heavy on sex, fertility, and marriage.

This type of image sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?

This type of image sums it up nicely.

Sure, there are other associations too – protection, community engagement, sensuality and self-appreciation – but most public rituals bypass them in favor of the sex/fertility/marriage triad. Makes sense, really, as it’s so easy to work with that in a ritual setting. It’s also a way of declaring, loud and proud, that sex is a holy thing and not something to freak out about in the dark. For many of us from more puritanical backgrounds that kind of reminder is incredibly welcome.

Like I said, it’s all perfectly understandable. I simply don’t really relate to it.

Why not?

I promise this isn’t just me being difficult. There are some pretty fundamental disconnects between me and the way Beltane is commonly celebrated.

Sex

The sexual focus of Beltane is fairly lost on me. *shrug* I’m asexual.

“Asexual” means I am rarely if ever sexually attracted to someone. I can appreciate pretty people, but it’s like appreciating a sunset or a piece of music. I have no visceral “damn I’d like to bang that!” going on. That doesn’t mean I’m celibate – orientation is based on attraction and not action, which is why a gay man having sex with a woman while fantasizing that he’s banging Channing Tatum is still a gay man – but it does mean that who I choose to have sex with is based on other factors. (Usually, for me, it’s either because I’ve seen them have sex with someone else and thought that looked like a good time or because they’re awesome people and I like their skin on mine.)

While sex is fun, it’s by no means required for my health and happiness. Roller coasters are fun too, and I don’t see many rituals devoted to those. Sex is the same way. Awesome if I can get it, but if not? Eh. Not exactly a crisis.

Touch my damn wifi, though, and we'll have issues! *growl*

Touch my damn wifi, though, and we’ll have issues! *growl*

A whole ritual focused on something I can take or leave honestly isn’t all that meaningful to me.

Fertility

The fertility of people and the land has been important for the entirety of human history. I absolutely get that. And I can appreciate the latter – it’s part of my own observance.

However, I am personally childfree. Militantly so. I have no children, I have no desire for children, and I find my life perfectly fulfilling without that. The idea of being pregnant makes me physically ill. I know I’m in the minority with this, and that’s fine, but just thinking about it is horrifying. I am unspeakably grateful, every day, that I am infertile (thanks PCOS!).

While I realize that fertility in all areas is part of this holiday, and that “all areas” includes things like my creativity, the ritual emphasis is almost always on physical fertility. Even if it’s not, that is still the metaphor most rituals run with. In order to relate to that personally I have to do a whole Cirque du Soleil routine in my head, mentally overcoming my revulsion at the idea of physical pregnancy and then substituting that idea with something I actually want fertile.

How many ways do I have to contort my brain to make these ideas relevant?

How many ways do I have to contort my brain to make these ideas relevant?

That, frankly, is a lot of damn work.

Marriage

Marriage and handfasting, the romantic union of self with another, is a large component of the traditional Beltane. And, again, this isn’t really my thing. I’m aromantic.

“Aromantic” means I have no desire for a romantic partner. None. I have close friendships, and I’ve had some cohousing situations where queerplatonic dynamics ruled the day, but no matter how intimate those friendships get they’re never romantic in nature.

That is wonderful when it comes to my spirituality and my creative projects. As I’ve discussed before, there are only so many hours in the day. All the time I’m not spending with a partner – and that is a lot of time – I can instead spend on other priorities. I can fall into a project for an entire weekend, as I am wont to do, and that’s fine. If someone calls me and needs my counsel I can take whatever time they need without short-changing the other people in my life. I can travel on a moment’s notice, and as long as I’m meeting my work obligations I don’t need to check in with anyone else about it.

I’m not saying that this is the best thing for everyone, because it’s not. But it is absolutely better for me.

There isn’t a lot of room for this viewpoint in a traditional Beltane ritual, though, and that’s a problem.

Observance vs. Ritual

So far I’ve covered how the three main ritual focuses of Beltane – sex, fertility, and marriage – are just not for me. But how those things are focused on is an issue too.

The “observance vs ritual” concept just came to my attention as that pretty recently. It figures in to all the sabbats I celebrate with more traditional Pagan people, and the issues I already have with Beltane just make it worse.

I approach each sabbat as an observance, and Beltane is no exception. For me Beltane is all about the Land. I invite the local land spirits (and anyone else who wants to honor Them) to attend a meal in Their honor, as an act of appreciation and connection, and that’s as far as it goes. If other people are present conversation stays focused on the land, on the seasons, on the physicality of our lives. The spoken invitation to the Land at the beginning of things and my farewell at the end are as formal as it gets.

Not exactly crying out for heels and a ballgown here.

Not exactly crying out for heels and a ballgown here.

That’s quite intentional on my part. I am a purpose-driven person, and I don’t often do something if there’s not a clear reason for it. That’s why nothing I do for a sabbat resembles a typical Pagan ritual. I’m not doing magick or raising energy because that’s not what I’m there for, so it doesn’t happen. Casting Circles and calling Quarters is completely superfluous, so I don’t do it. Beltane is not about honoring the Gods or the Ancestors (They have Their own days), so there are no invocations for Them (although my Lady is always welcome where I am, of course). My altar rarely has the traditional altar tools on it, and never has all of them, because they’re not being used. Since the entire thing is a picnic with offerings, Cakes and Ale has no point. Add that in with my complete lack of focus on sex and marriage, and fertility only being referenced as a seasonal energy increase for the land, and the disconnect between what I do and a more traditional Pagan ritual becomes blindingly obvious.

That’s why I find attending a Pagan Beltane to many times feel like attending a Christian church. I attend, I say the things, I do my best to engage, but it feels very “not me” when I do it almost all of the time. That’s what makes it uncomfortable. Of course, a traditional Pagan is likely to be just as uncomfortable attending my observance as I am attending their ritual. *shrug*

I’ll be doing both my personal observance and a much more traditional group ritual this year. After which this day passes for another year, and I can turn my focus to Midsummer – much more comfortable all around.

*For those who were wondering – yes, I sang the title. I’m not even a little bit shamed, either. *grin*