Yes, the Norse prayed: Why we should stop shunning prayer and worship

Many of us in the pagan community (though not all) found our way here after living around, and leaving behind, some form of christianity that was harmful. Even those who weren’t raised christian or in conservative christian locations, still have had at least one encounter with the “you’re going to hell”, “you’re an evil sinner” statements. So it is understandable that many of us would not want to go back to chrsitanity. However, we constantly ignore the fact that  Christianity does not actually teach that kind of hate, and the ones who are hateful and cruel aren’t following their path correctly either. Not only has this caused more tension than needed, but most importantly, it has also caused an issue with many pagans teaching false information about our own paths in an effort to not appear “too christian”. This seems to be especially the case with a lot of members of the Norse/Heathen community. This was mentioned a bit in my blog about clergy. But what concerns me even more, is trying so hard to stay away from being “too christian” to the point of convincing people that this path didn’t do things that actually were, and are, some of the most important parts of the practice. Or any practice that believes in deities for that matter. That is the claim of worship and prayer not being a part of the Norse path. Now, before you fly off the hinges and start commenting, please understand that I mean this as in what the words actually mean, and not the way some practitioners of one religion do it or claim it. And yes, I am stressing “claim it” here instead of “what it actually teaches” on purpose, and that needs to be remembered. One of the things I hear most when people mention prayer or worship in Heathen groups is “The Norse don’t actually pray”, “We don’t worship”, and “Those are christian concepts”. And yet, every one of those statements is a falsehood based on misrepresentation and stolen terminology. Religions from all over the world (both modern and ancient) have been praying to and worshiping their gods and goddesses and other higher beings since long before anyone ever even heard of the Christian god. And that’s what we still do today. The problem is, we have let ourselves believe that, because Christianity talks about those things often, somehow that means they are the only ones who do it and it’s only done their way. And usually we only view “their way” as the way of the ones mentioned who also aren’t following christianity the way it says to either. Worship does not mean groveling. Prayer does not mean begging or taking the easy way. The meaning of the word worship is, as a noun, “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for (a deity, higher power/being)”. And in the verb form, worship means “to show reverence and adoration for a deity” or “to honor with religious rites”. So, if you hail the gods, give offerings, hold blots, thank the gods, or any of the other things that are showing reverence to or honoring the gods, You are worshipping. So if you tell someone “we don’t worship” you are either misinterpreting the term, lying, or not practicing the path you’re claiming. And that also leads to the idea outsiders have about heathens and pagans not having any real beliefs or being “godless”. But what about prayer? That one is the one that I see misconstrued more than anything. 

One of the oppositions to prayer that I hear and see often is “we don’t bow down to our gods”, “we don’t cower”. Well, my answer to that is, technically nobody does. Bowing does not mean cowering. We also bow and kneel to show respect. When a player is injured on a sports field, we kneel out of respect until they are off the field. When someone is knighted, they usually kneel or bow to receive the knighthood. Bowing used to be a form of proper or polite greeting. And the short knod of the head we give to passing strangers on the street is actually a modern version of that bow. So if we can do that for people we don’t even know, why would it suddenly be seen as weak to do it toward your gods? It’s not. This is, again, a matter of misrepresentation. Another statement I see and hear a lot is “I don’t pray, I just talk to them”, or “I don’t pray because I don’t ask for things, I just thank them and talk to them”. That is, by definition, praying. Prayer is “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to god or an object of worship”. And another definition is simply “communion with one’s personal god”. So once again, people who say they don’t do this particular thing are describing themselves as doing that very thing. Now consider those of us that practice magik. If you call on your deity to help you with your spellwork, guess what you’re doing. That’s right, a fancy prayer with extra steps. Now, the final thing I want to address is the idea commonly stated in the Heathen community about not asking the gods for anything. 

One of my biggest concerns in this topic is the number of people who actually believe and teach that the gods do not give us things or help us with things and that we are supposed to do everything ourselves. They say that the most the gods give us is the strength and wisdom to get through trials and to earn whatever we’re trying to get for ourselves. And some even say the gods don’t give us anything or even acknowledge us. For starters, this theory primarily comes from ideas based on the old “nine noble virtues” that were written and codified by fascists claiming the path and were very much problematic. It is from those ideas of “man-up” and practice total self-reliance, in those so-called rules that pushed this idea of no help from the gods. Those rules were made by and for them, and are not actual lore. On the other hand, the lore actually does talk about prayer and even encourages it. We know that quite a few of the texts and sagas give examples of these kings and warriors hailing the gods and giving praise. But what people seem to ignore is that it shows people ask for things too. Not only that, but in Gylfaginning from the Prose Edda it actually tells us which gods and goddess are good to pray to for what things. Gangleri asked who the gods and goddess are that humans should know about. And the high-ones list them out for him along with what they do and what some of them are good to pray to for. They tell him Ull “is a good one to pray to in single combat”. They tell him Tyr has “great power over victory in battles” and that “it is good for men of action to pray to him”. Notice how they say it is good to do this? They also say that “Gods and men go to Forseti to settle disputes”. So how do men go to him if not by prayer? We know that Lofn is one that blesses unions between lovers even when the union had been forbidden. But it also says that the reason she gets leave to go and do this is because she “is so kind and good to pray to”. And when they mention Njord and  how he controls wind and sea and fire, they say “It is to him one must pray for voyages and fishing” and also that ”he can grant wealth of lands or possessions to those that pray to him for this”. None of this says that they’ll help you think your own way through it. It says Njord can grant wealth and land, etc. And again, they are clearly encouraging prayer. Now yes, I do agree that we should do all that we can on our end to make things work. We don’t use gods as vending machines. But the idea that the Norse didn’t pray, and that the gods don’t do things for us or give us things, is the opposite of what the lore tells us. And honestly, why would you give offerings and thanks if you truly believe they don’t listen to us or give us anything? Wouldn’t that be a waste of energy? Not to mention making “a gift for a gift” meaningless, or even a lie. Isn’t praise and offering for nothing but keeping them happy more like that “groveling” you’re worried about than actual communion is? Now, if you honestly didn’t know these things were mentioned, maybe it’s time to go back and reread and refresh your knowledge. We do often stress in our path that one is never truly done learning. And there is no shame in that. But if it is the case that you did know it was there and just chose to chuck it out the door for being “too christian”, then you really can’t say anything to those false Christians out there for their “cherry picking” either (save for when its a threat and hate speech). Comparing notes between text is one thing. But choosing to toss what almost all accounts and findings agree on for pride sake is another entirely. Most importantly, it is time we stop shunning everything that sounds like another path to the point that we hinder our own growth and the growth of others seeking to learn. There are many similarities found among multiple religions. This happens to be one that they almost all share. And we need to embrace those common bonds, or else we are no better than the ones we claim to not want to be like. 

That’s all for now. See you soon.

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