Apparently there are people objecting to prayers being said on behalf of the community.
I cannot directly respond to these objections since I personally haven’t seen any of them yet, nor do I have any intention of wading through the muck of Tumblr and Facebook, their most probable place of origin, to seek them out. I was made aware of their existence by this eloquent and thought-provoking rumination on the subject, which I highly recommend everyone read.
I didn’t have such a high-minded rationale going into it, myself; it just seemed like the right thing to do, being something that our ancestors did.
I’m actually glad that these objections are circulating, as it provides us with an opportunity to have a serious conversation about our traditions and practices. Not having read the posts, I can only attempt to anticipate the nature of these objections — which will probably result in a higher level of discourse anyway, natch.
To begin with, let us imagine that our interlocutor asks why the community needs prayers said on its behalf at all. Certainly a person should be able to pray for themselves, right?
Yes, absolutely, they should. From the cradle we should be surrounded by the sounds of prayer and the motions of domestic cultus so that this becomes second nature to us. As toddlers our parents should begin including us in the worship of the household gods and make a big deal of involving us in the series of monthly holy days, annual festivals and regular seasonal observances of our family. We should be taught songs and dances and the stories of our ancestral gods and heroes, how to make special foods and crafts, how to interpret signs and hear omens — all the countless threads that weave the rich tapestry of our line’s traditions. This is our natural birthright, but today even the Christians are struggling to preserve the remnants of their own folkways under the press of secular “progress,” so I do not automatically assume that everyone knows the proper way to pray.
And even if one does, it is not always possible or appropriate to pray for one’s own self. After all, an individual may be ill or in a state of ritual impurity or feel that it is a matter best taken to a divinity that they have no prior relationship with or it may just be too painful, too personal to speak the words aloud before a shrine. In all such instances I feel that it is proper to turn to someone from the community, a friend and brother who will speak to the divinities on their behalf.
Much good may come from such an outreaching. First it solidifies the bond of fellowship between them and that is necessary to create a strong community. Secondly it ensures that the prayer is said, even if the individual is not able to say it on their own, and prayer opens a channel through which the blessings of the divinities may flow. This also gives the person who prays an opportunity to exercise virtue — the virtue of practicing their religion, of offering hospitality by extending a hand to one in need, of giving selflessly of one’s time and resources.
And when a community all pray the same prayer — wow! There is a powerful efficacy when many voices rise up harmoniously and with uniform intent. We are all better, stronger when we work together.
Are the hearts of the divinities moved by prayer and sacrifice?
This is an area where Plato diverged from the Orphikoi, who otherwise influenced a great deal of his thought — and I’m inclined to side with the sons of Orpheus on this one, for I have experienced precisely this more times than I can count. (I’d elaborate but you’d accuse me of bragging.)
Taking this much further than Plato did — he diverged from them primarily on ethical grounds, not theological ones: the man was sound in his polytheism, however much certain ideologues would like to spin it otherwise — if one holds that the divinities are indifferent to our words and deeds, I believe that one does not have true religion at all. It is precisely their agency, their ability to respond to us and act in the world that distinguishes a proper divinity from the products of the human imagination. Though “ability to” is not the same as “does” — a deus otiosus is still a deus, just not one I see any point in honoring. Conversely, show me miraculous intervention by Bruce Wayne and I will not disparage your cultus of him.
Moving along, we can all agree that prayer either yields results or it does not.
If it does, why object to someone praying for the good of the polytheist community? Certainly everyone can use an increase of good things in their life. And if it does not produce results then the only one who is harmed is the one who prays, thereby wasting their time and squandering their material resources. However I would counter that mumbling pretty but empty words at a lifeless statue is still a better choice than playing World of Warcraft or watching one of those shitty reality tv shows.
Of course one may believe generally in the efficacy of prayer but have perfectly valid concerns over what is being prayed for on their behalf or who is doing the praying.
Many people in our interlocking communities have taken up this practice over the last few years. I cannot speak about why or how the majority of them pray, but I can explain my own practice.
First I make offerings to Dionysos and his retinue and then to all of the divinities who wish to partake, leaving it up to them to determine the appropriateness of the worship given. Then I ask general blessings of wisdom, creativity, health, luck, protection and material abundance for all of those who are doing the work of their divinities. I ask that the divinities guide and strengthen everyone’s efforts to restore our sundered ancestral traditions. I ask especially that the dead step forward as teachers and defenders of tradition, for their involvement is necessary if those traditions are to be rooted in the real and possess the vitality to be passed down to future generations.
And that’s it.
If you’re not involved in this work, I’m not praying on your behalf. You’re not one of my people. I don’t care about you.
Next I recite specific petitions that members of the community have sent in to me, making separate offerings to the petitioned divinities, for it is Greek custom never to come before the divinities wineless and with empty hands.
And then I perform any divination that people have requested of me.
See, nothing scary or invasive about it.
As for the question of whether I’m in any sort of proper spiritual condition to be serving the divinities and my community in this capacity — well, I’m probably not. But who the fuck else is gonna do it?
Sure, the work I do with Dionysos and his retinue precludes deeper involvement with a number of other divinities, but I believe that those divinities take into consideration things like situation and intent. While I’m normally not even going to register on their radar (and would most certainly repulse them if I did) I suspect in this one limited context they may look past that to receive an earnest supplication presented on behalf of a member of their community. And if they are bothered by it, I suspect that they will take their displeasure out on me and not on the one I’m praying for, especially if that person is just included in the general prayers for the community. I mean, for the most part divinities are not malicious, capricious pricks. Many can even be described as gracious and benevolent.
As a priest, it is my intent to do good for my community, therefore if there are signs that others are experiencing adverse effects as a result of my praying for them, I will most assuredly cease.
Though phrased theoretically, one should not assume that I’m just jumping in this half-cocked. (I do everything whole-cocked.) I’ve put a lot of thought into the ramifications of hiera — I have also been doing it off and on for close to twenty years (gods that makes me feel so old) before I was recently pushed to make it a central focus of my praxis.
And finally, despite what many of you may naturally assume, I have thus far managed to refrain from praying for the harm and obliteration of individuals and elements within the community that I dislike.
Besides, Hekate’s deipnon is when you make arae. Everyone knows that.