Trickster's Daughter (lokis_dottir) wrote,
Trickster's Daughter

prayer in Asatru

I realize I've been rather quiet of late. After a long day of work, I'm just not tempted to spend more time on the computer and write. But a recent comment doubting the place of prayer in historical and modern Heathenry (Asatru, odinism, etc.) on one of the mailing lists I'm on, prompted me to put together some thoughts, and so since it's the first thing of any substance I've written in a while, I shall share with those of you so inclined to read on for more.

I think it’s such a disservice when this attitude is perpetuated. Heathenry, Asatru, Odinism, whatever you want to call it is very much today--and far more importantly--was very much historically shaped by prayer.

First, I think many people have cultural ‘issues’ with the word prayer from some of our Christian roots or background, so let’s take a look at some of the definitions:

1. a devout petition to God or an object of worship
2. a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship
3. a religious observance, either public or private
4. converse with God

Now, I’m assuming from the rest of your email that you do in some way honor Them. If you’ve ever given a libation or offering to Them, then please understand that could be construed as an act of prayer. If you’ve ever attended a blot or sumble, guess what that’s a type of prayer too. Whenever you’ve done anything that in some way to you meaningfully connects yourself with Them then that constitutes an act of prayer.

Prayer is simply a conversation with the Gods, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about worshipping Them, praising Them, petitioning/asking/entreating Them for anything. It can be, “Thor I’m having one of those days where I wish I had a mjollnir of my own so I could go smite me some idiots.”

While you are correct that virtually without exception almost all of what we deem to call ‘the lore’ was written by Christians after the time of conversion, that doesn’t negate the fact that we have historical evidence as well as instances in that lore of prayer. Within our lore we have 2 specific occurrences of prayers (at least within Norse texts I have only passing familiarity with things like Anglo-Saxon and other sources). I am rather inclined to think these are more than likely representative of the historical roots of our religion, as the Christian church wouldn’t want to promote prayer to “pagan” Gods. Their texts were written to show the Gods in an euhemeristic process (i.e. making them more tales about extraordinary men), afterall there’s only the One True God in Christian theological belief. So, I personally tend to accept sincere displays of devotion as little kernels of truth that survived the Christian penning in our lore.

The first prayer we have is from the Sigdrifumál,

Hail Day, Hail, Sons of Day!
Hail Night and New Moon!
With kind eyes look hither and grant us
Victory while we live.

Hail Gods! Hail Goddesses!
Hail bountiful Earth!
Grace us both with the gift of speech
And leech hands while we live.

(Translated by W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor)

Let me point out that Night (Nott) and Day (Dagr) here, are not just terms, but embody Gods and Goddesses of our tradition. Earth derives from this tradition, as it is formed from the body of Ymir. In this sense Ymir is like a vast ancestor, and our dead, our ancestors are buried in the earth (burial mounds).

The other prayer we have is in Gisli’s Saga if I remember correctly, but I can’t find my copy to verify that, or to quote it. (I’m rearranging my bookshelves currently, and it’s a disaster at the moment. ^^;). I also seem to recall that Snorri quotes in Skaldskarpamál portions of prayers from skaldic poetic works. (I’m not so sure about this one, my memory is a bit fuzzy).
We have eyewitness accounts penned by traveling merchants that describe prayer as a practice, as well as altars being utilized, and offerings made to representations of the Gods on those altars. (Ibn Fadlan, Tacitus’ Germania). And beyond this we have multiple occurrences and references to practices of devotion, ritual, and prayer (Heimskringla, Lácunga, Helgakvida Horrvoardssonar, etc.)

Some of the Healing Charms & Rune Poems… if carefully examined suggest prayer. Grimm’s chapter on Worship had some rather fascinating analysis of ancient word origins and how they applied to acts of devotion. Really a number of well-respected scholars (Lindow, Turville-Petre, etc.) have some great analysis on things that well, are obscure to the average Heathen. Our lore is nuanced, and very rarely does any line of text mean just one thing, but rather means many, many things that most miss.

If you ever want to suffer through accounts of conversion or “confessions” of the Christian faith in old church records, you can see in it that they distance themselves from pagan practices, including prayer to the our Gods. Some of these documents, if not written by the person in question, were written under their supervision. So some of these accounts are concurrent testimonials to a still living, though dwindling Heathen practice in the Viking Age. Yes they’re heavy with Christianity being praised, but by the fact they are renouncing old practices, it adds a certain level of validity to there being a tradition in place that they’d need to renounce so specifically.

We do have a pervasive amount of information surviving that does satisfactorily to my mind allow me to state that prayer and other acts of devotion, worship, ritual and sacrifice were very much done in historical Heathenry. What we cannot know clearly, is if there was a specific way for doing so, or how widely that ‘formula’ varied from one community to the next.

Tags: asatru, musings, prayer

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