Considering the Nature of Prayer

This is an excerpt from the start of my book When A Pagan Prays…

When I first started thinking about prayer, it was very much from a position of intellectual curiosity. In many ways, my prompt was Alain du Bottan’s Religion for Atheists, which explores the social benefits of religious activity. Prayer was notable in its absence from the book. However, the idea of considering religions in terms of what they do in this world, appealed to me. While I am not an atheist, I’m not very good at belief either. In many ways the atheist position seems too much like certainty to me, but nonetheless I find a lot of atheist thinking appealing. Demanding that things make sense on their own, immediate terms rather than with reference to unknowable, ineffable plans, is something I have to agree with. Looking for rational approaches to religion led me to write Spirituality without Structure in one of the gaps while this book was being wrestled into submission.

There isn’t really a fixed modern tradition of Druid prayer. Some groups and Orders have defined approaches to praying, but my impression is that the majority do not. Early conversations on the subject indicated to me that many Druids feel uneasy about what they see as being a practice we can only borrow from other religions. Petitioning the gods for things feels both pointless and wrong. Looking further afield, I found that people generally take prayer to mean petition, unless they are deeply involved with a spiritual path that includes a more involved understanding of the subject. This seems to be true of
people of all religions.

My thinking at this stage was: other religions use prayer extensively and apparently we don’t. Why is that? Are there good reasons to reject prayer, or are we missing a trick? I admit that I thought the question could just be tackled intellectually. Being the sort of person who defaults in all things to getting a book on the subject, I set off to read around.

When I was first looking for books to read about prayer, I poked about online and in bookshops. Books of prayers are plentiful, but not what I wanted. Books that consider prayer as a process are relatively few, although I did eventually track down some excellent ones, and you’ll see scattered references as we

In a Christian bookshop, a generous woman spoke to me about her own prayer practice. She viewed the urge towards prayer as innate to the human condition. She also found me some books, and did not blink too much when the subject of Druidry came up. “I pray to God as if I was talking to my father. He is my
father. I can go to him and ask him for things,” was the gist of her description. I did not learn her name, but remain grateful for her help. She spoke to me about prayer as something intrinsic and natural, and found it odd I should want a book examining how and why we pray. The shortage of such books suggests that many religious people would agree with her perspective.

From that first book (How to Pray, John Pritchard) a new way of thinking about the idea of prayer began to open up before me. “Essentially it is about entering a mystery, not getting a result.” I found this resonant. The author is an Anglican Christian, but the sentiment struck me as being totally compatible with Druidry as I practise it.

My next read was a Catholic book (Ways of Praying, John C Edwards) by which time it had become plain to me that in some quarters, prayers of petition are considered to be the least important form of prayer, at least by the people for whom praying is a professional and serious business. After that, my reading took me into works from other traditions and I wondered if I would be writing a comparative religion text. However, that would have largely been a rehashing of other people’s work, and I’m not convinced the world really needs something like that.

I had considered surveying the modern Druid community in a more formal way to deepen my understanding of what we do and how we do things. However, my initial enquiries had raised the issue that a significant percentage of the Druids I had talked to were not praying at all. There are some who admit to occasional petitions, and several groups with much more involved approaches. I could get figures for the praying and not praying, I could ask nosey questions about who people pray to, and what they think they get out of it, but how much would that help? This was my first inkling that intellectual research might not be able to shed enough light on the subject. It could easily be like scraping the paint off pictures and weighing it to make judgments about the value of art works. That leaves the anecdotal, and self-reporting, neither of which constitute good science – not even in softer subjects like psychology. I don’t have the kit to study what happens inside people’s brains when they pray.

Why was I fearful of writing a spiritual book about a spiritual subject? It was a question I did not know how to ask myself at the time, but looking back it seems significant.

More about the book here –


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

One response to “Considering the Nature of Prayer

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Most of my prayer, which is very informal, seems more a case of reporting in about how I think things are going, and how I feel about things.

    Being Wiccan. when I think that I need something, I am more likely to do a spell, though even that gets rarer as I get older as I have most everything that I appear to need, in my own estimation.

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