Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: When a Pagan Prays

Prayer is a controversial topic for many pagans. It has such Christian connotations that some pagans simply do not do it. Even those Wiccans and Druids who use specific formal prayers as part of rituals, might not use prayers outside ceremonies. In my experience pagans are more likely to say that they honour, invoke or evoke, petition, celebrate or "work with" their gods and goddesses than that they pray to them.

This is the subject Nimue Brown tackles in her new book When a Pagan Prays.

But before discussing the book, I want to talk a bit about my own experiences with prayer - which are rather different from those of Nimue.

My father was a Catholic - albeit a rather New-Agey Catholic who was a keen dowser, fascinated by the supernatural and so good at palmistry that he did it at summer fetes for charity from time to time. Nevertheless, he raised me as a Catholic and taught to say my prayers. Catholics say prayers a lot - grace before meals, prayers before going to bed and Hail Marys and Our Fathers when required to atone for sins, or even as a kind of ward against bad stuff happening. So, as a Catholic child I prayed to Jesus or Mary and at times felt my prayers were answered, or at least listened to.

When I decided to follow a pagan path - honouring the Earth Mother as much as any Father who art in Heaven - the only way I knew to worship when on my own was to pray. Later, after reading more about what pagans do and training with pagan groups, I learnt to celebrate the God and Goddess through circlework. But I never lost the desire to pray - and often felt that for me prayer was the simplest and most direct route of communication with the divine. All you have to do is start by saying: "Dear God/Goddess, please listen to my prayer..."

However, Nimue comes from a very different background. She was not raised in a religion where prayer was an everyday activity. Although she is a pagan - a druid who honours nature and the ancestors - she is not a god or goddess worshipper. She says in her introduction: "While I am not an atheist, I’m not very good at belief either."

Prayer did not come naturally to her. She states: "When I first started thinking about prayer, it was very much from a position of intellectual curiosity."

That intellectual curiosity has resulted in a book that is part academic writing featuring comparative religious studies, psychology, sociology and a bit of research, and partly an experiential tale of what happened to Nimue when she started to explore prayer as a personal practice.

Publisher Moon Books says on its website: "When a Pagan prays, there are many uncertainties - who we pray to, what we pray for, and what might happen to us as a consequence. Not having the same structures as other religions, Pagans can't frame prayer in the same ways, and our experiences are likely to be wilder and more personal. This book is both a wide ranging exploration of what prayer means in different faith and cultures, and a personal journey into a spiritual practice."

When a Pagan Prays is an extremely well researched and thought-provoking look at how prayer works, what prayer is and how pagans who are not used to praying can start to incorporate it into their practice if they want to try. It is also a moving account of Nimue's soul-searching efforts to find a method of prayer she could relate to - from tentative steps of saying, “Anybody there?” and hearing only silence, to the end of the book when Nimue states: "I am willing to say that prayer has had real and discernible effects on me." She goes as far as offering a final prayer of thanks: "Dear universe, I am bloody grateful."

I have to say I found this book captivating and fascinating and would recommend it to any pagan - whether they pray or not.

When a Pagan Prays: Exploring prayer in Druidry and beyondcan be ordered from Amazon. Nimue Brown's previous books include Druidry and the Ancestors, Druidry and Meditationand Spirituality Without Structure: The Power of Finding Your Own Path.

Links and previous related posts.
When a Pagan Prays: Exploring prayer in Druidry and beyond

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