About Me

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I am a seeker of meaning, truth, and the Divine. I have been a practicing polytheist since 1997 and a lover of philosophy and theology since even before then. Most of this time I have been a Germanic Heathen, but I have also slowly taken to the practice of Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism. I am happily married, a hobbyist musician, a poet, pyrographer, sports fan, and pretty darn good cook. This blog will contain poems, rants, and musings relevant to my ever winding spiritual journey.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Prayer and Worship in Asatru

Prayer and Worship in Asatru
By Shawn Rowland

Prayer and worship are two key issues in any and all religious traditions. It is the way that we connect to the divine within us in order to commune with the divine outside of us. It is our speech, our praise, and our poetry given to a higher power in order to thank them, ask for their blessings, or maybe simply to rant about something we don’t like. Prayer and worship is an art form and a science.

From thefreedictionary.com website, prayer is described as:

prayer 1 n.
a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.
2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving: One evening a week, the family would join together in prayer.
3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.
4. prayers A religious observance in which praying predominates: morning prayers.
a. A fervent request: Her prayer for rain was granted at last.
b. The thing requested: His safe arrival was their only prayer.
6. The slightest chance or hope: In a storm the mountain climbers won't have a prayer.
7. Law
a. The request of a complainant, as stated in a complaint or in equity, that the court grant the aid or relief solicited.
b. The section of the complaint or bill that contains this request.
[Middle English preiere, from Old French, from Medieval Latin prec ria, from feminine of Latin prec rius, obtained by entreaty, from prec r , to entreat; see pray.]

From the same website, worship is also described:

wor•ship n.
a. The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
b. The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.
2. Ardent devotion; adoration.
3. often Worship Chiefly British Used as a form of address for magistrates, mayors, and certain other dignitaries: Your Worship.
v. wor•shiped or wor•shipped, wor•ship•ing or wor•ship•ping, wor•ships
1. To honor and love as a deity.
2. To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion. See Synonyms at revere1.
1. To participate in religious rites of worship.
2. To perform an act of worship.
[Middle English worshipe, worthiness, honor, from Old English weorthscipe : weorth, worth; see worth1 + -scipe, -ship.]

When most people are confronted with the ideas of prayer and worship, they immediately are flooded with images of long and droll Catholic masses, or wildly complex and colorful Hindu pujas, or maybe even the swaying back and forth of chanting Hasidic Jews. All images which, to the modern western mind, can be overwhelming, awkward, and perhaps a source of embarrassment. We become so wrapped up in logic and rationality that we forget about the sublime forces behind the moving cells and chemical reactions. We forget about the unexplained like ghosts, visions, miracles, and even love. Many faiths even call “God” love and it is in this frame of mind that we have to consider our approach to the divine.

In Vaishnavism, the Hindu faith that places Vishnu as the supreme being, they have several ways to relate to God. They may relate as friends, students, slaves, parents, or lovers. Each of these frames of mind can open up the worshipper to a whole range of emotions towards the divine. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam the relationship one has with the divine is typically relegated to only the master/slave model. A model of approach that, according to the Asatru mindset, is psychologically and sociologically unhealthy for any and all well adjusted human beings.

Before I go on, I must make a comment that while it is not my intent to defame any particular religion, I can’t sugar coat my own research and experience in this article. Some religious practices, in fact and quite unfortunately, many religious practices, simply do not nourish the human spirit or lay down the necessary building blocks for a strong and healthy spiritual belief.

Giving the quick and dirty, Asatru is the modern rebirth of the ancient ancestral folk religion(s) of the Germanic people of Europe. These people include the English, Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders, and many more. Our heritage, both purely Heathen and thinly veiled with Christianity is a proud and deeply spiritual heritage. All of our modern holidays like Easter, Yule(Christmas), May Day, and Midsummer are direct descendants from their original forms found in what is now called Asatru but in elder times had no proper name. Asatru is a polytheistic, animistic, and for some, a panentheistic or monistic religion. We worship many Gods and Goddesses and hold all life sacred and endowed with a soul, or what we call in Asatru, the Ond(eternal spirit breath).

Within the halls of the Asatruar(practioners of Asatru), worship is viewed in its original Old English context, that of “giving praise to one’s worth”. It is seen, much like how the Hindus, Shintoists, and other tribal religionists see it, as a direct and heartfelt outpouring of appreciation and love for the Ordering Powers(Regin, Gods) and our ancestors. In Asatru our worship can be done as friends, relatives, students, and lovers. We never worship our Gods in a parental role, like some Hindu women do with the baby Krishna, and we certainly never worship the Gods in the master/slave relationship. To the Asatru world view, such a relationship denotes a weakness in spirit and a lack of understanding as to the nature of the gifts given to us by the Gods; these largely being an evolved physical form, evolved brain, and mental capacity to not only be rational, but also to dream and create. It is generally agreed on that the “meaning of life”, which every faith seeks to answer, is that it is our sacred gift and duty to co-create our reality with the Gods who have given us the basic building blocks and make sure the world runs the way it supposed to run(which inevitably also means that if we screw up, we have only ourselves to blame, and while the Gods may grant us with visions and help, it is ultimately up to our own selves to “save the day”). Asatru does not approach worship on bended knee, but rather standing upright, alongside our creators, as lights against the darkness. We are enjoined with them as opposed to purely relying on them. In Asatru, we just simply want to make the Gods smile!

So, how can we ensure that the Gods smile on us and keep the roads well-traveled between Heaven and Earth? Prayer! Asatru prayer however, like Asatru worship, is vastly different from the typical. Our prayers are done in poetry, sometimes lengthy and epic, song, verse, and simple heartfelt “hails!” to the Gods and/or Goddesses being celebrated. Like all religions, we do praise their deeds and qualities and why they do what they do. Unlike other religions though, we have a personal relationship that can be akin to the kind you have an elder family member or a deeply respected teacher or public official. We literally feel their presence and interact with them in a way that few other religions also practice. Most of those other religions tend to also be polytheistic or at least monistic and life embracing.

Asatru teaches that each man and women is potentially their own priest. Groups of worshippers, known as Kindreds, Blotguilds, Fellowships, and the like tend to have a priest(Godhi) or priestess(Gydhja) purely for functional reasons. Each household has their own altars(ve, stalli, horg, harrow or weohfod) and own traditions for worship and no one is needed to bridge the gap between the holy and the human(How could there be? The holy is within us, always and eternally.) and we believe that any faith which proposes such is unwholesome and seeks to suppress the human spirit and expression of the holy. As such, while there are prayers and songs that become standard or popular, every Asatruar, at least once, writes their own prayers, poems, or songs. There is a wealth of modern religious expression in the world of Asatru.

In the major monotheistic faith traditions, on the other hand, the same songs are always sung, the same prayers are always said, and there is in general a grand malaise of and even dread for, going to church. This is typically followed by a feeling of distance from God and an unhealthy belief in trying to live perfectly or being “natural sinners” that need “saving”. These philosophies fall under a “world denying” category. It is no doubt that their representation of the afterlife is a tasty jewel of hope, but is the possibility of an eternal heaven of blissfully(and mindlessly some might argue) worshipping God worth living a life of denial and emotional stress? This author thinks not. In Asatru, any deity that would care enough to make you, would naturally make you with all the qualities needed to fully enjoy and respect your life. In Asatru, while we have heavenly destinations as well, none of them involve slavishly worshipping a God, or even mind numbing bliss or a loss of self as you find in many Eastern religions. In Asatru, what is important is the life you live and how well and decently you lived it.

Prayer and worship, to some readers shock, is a big part of this. Can you say you have truly appreciated the life or lives(as we, like Hindus and Buddhists, Voduns and Shintoists, believe in reincarnation or as well call it, aptrborinn, usually within the same family or tribal line) given to you if you don’t recognize the seasons, enjoy them, enjoy the fruits of the earth and enjoy the fruits of your own deeds and pure enjoyment you can get out of life? The other side of this is also when the going gets tough, can you dust yourself off and get back to it without blaming God or the Gods or seeing all despair and defeat claim that it is all a fantasy? Can you take the punches and still praise the Gods for the sun and the moon and ability of speech or talent to draw? This is what worship and prayer in Asatru is all about. Giving due reverence and utilizing those Gods-given gifts to not deny our lives, but rather embrace and celebrate them. When we worship the Gods, the source of our precious souls, we give worship to our own selves and our powers of co-creation as another link in the chain of a long and grand river of spiritual truth and joy.

In conclusion, no matter what faith you practice, the real important thing is to be able to honestly say that yes you do have a sincere connection to the holy. The important thing is not whether or not there is one God or many, or if you have churches and pews or temples and oak groves. The important thing is, are you whole? Are you complete? Are you living your life as a true human being and doing the holy justice by your deeds? That is what this life is all about. So sing to the holy, pray to the holy, drink deep from the horn of memory to the holy and remember that in a universe so vast, our little tiny lives truly are big and grand events.


allen said...

Dude this made me feel so much better, i dont know why but i have been shunned and pushed aside for my asatric beleifs but reading your article made me feel so much bett :D

Allan said...

Thanks for sharing the explanation, it has been very interesting for someone new to Asatru