Do Wiccans pray and worship?
Yes. It’s really that simple. And yet it’s not because of what we usually have been conditioned to think of prayer as, and many Wiccans have a very negative attitude towards prayer because of that. Many say almost scornfully that they don’t pray. However, there is nothing in Wicca that is opposed to prayer and in fact, I would argue that prayer is an important part of Wiccan spirituality.
To start with, let’s look at the bare-bones definition of prayer:
(1): an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Seems pretty simple, right? We thank the God and Goddess for our meal. We ask them to be with a dying friend as they pass over. We light a candle and pray for protection for our children as they go to their first day of school. But many of us have grown up with prayer as a way of lowering ourselves. A common acronym to teach people about prayer and worship in Christianity is ACTS- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (request). In other words, the first two parts of prayer are us telling God how wonderful he is and how lousy we are, and then telling him all of our sins and begging forgiveness. This is what many Wiccans are rebelling against and they are absolutely right. This is the Judeo-Christian-Muslim way of approaching deity; to bow before an all-powerful, transcendent God who wants you to lower yourself before him before he will listen to you.
This is not what Wiccans believe about our deities. The God and the Goddess have no need for you to tell them how horrible you are and how you’re nothing without them. That is not how they see you and that is not how they wish for you to see yourself. They want you to stand tall. They are immanent as well as transcendent- they are a part of you, you carry a spark of the Divine. They are a part of everything around you. They are not separate from the world you live in.
But these are gods. They are Divine in a way we are not. They are the force that created this universe, the energy that runs through everything. They exist on a whole different plane. They hear our requests and answer our prayers. So they are certainly worthy of worship and gratitude.
I can almost see people cringing at the use of the word ‘worship’. So let’s check it out.
- To honor or show reverence for as a divine being or supernatural power. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Not bad, right? Nothing in there about groveling in the dirt or denying your own strength and worthiness and even your own link with the Divine. I think even people who have never been an Abrahamic religion (since I live in the United States, I’m thinking particularly of Christianity) and who have never believed it don’t necessarily realize how much the Christian definition of words is the standard to which we hold ideas, like the idea of worshipping the God and the Goddess. I include the definitions of prayer and worship, not because I think the dictionary is some infallible guide to the meaning of words but to get across the idea that a lot of baggage has often been attached to certain words and ideas, and if you strip them down to the bare minimum, to the starting point, the words and definitions and ideas are often totally different.
In modern paganism, I don’t think worship comes attacted with any sense of shame or self-degradizing. To me, it means acknowledgment and partnership…Worship is the act of inviting the gods into your life, acknowledging their life force as the cycles of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth change, and celebrating in their love. It’s not about sacrifice or martyrdomChristopher Penczak, The Outer Temple of Witchcraft
We have become increasingly aware of the psychological and even physiological benefits of gratitude. Expressing gratitude to the God and Goddess for the blessings in your life- the food you have, the home you have, the health you have- is not only spiritually beneficial, but it’s beneficial in other ways as well. In a time where COVID is still sweeping the globe and climate change is causing disaster after disaster we should realize more than ever how fragile life is and how blessed we are to have the things we have. Natural disasters, war, or even just the right combination of circumstances can cause you to lose all those things. Many Americans live one to two paychecks away from homelessness. Ancient pagans offered prayers and offerings of thanksgiving when their prayers were answered not only because they understood gratitude but because they understood that praise pleased the gods, just like you and I like to be praised! Prayer helps us keep our perspective.
And in keeping with perspective, prayer helps keep us humble. Humility is another term that has got a bad rap and has been taken to mean putting yourself down and thinking of yourself last. Humility is simply truth. It assesses things are they are, even when they are painful to us. It credits our successes, but it doesn’t let our weaknesses and failures slide either. Humility is uncomfortable, but it is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. By opening your soul to a power higher than yourself, and yet also part of yourself…that takes humility. It is not groveling to recognize that we are not a God or a Goddess. But it is humble. It is not ego to recognize that the Divine is not separate from you at all, that it is in your very DNA, so to speak. But it is humble because humility is truth.
In her book “Philosophy of Wicca”, Amber Laine Fisher makes a statement about self-knowledge that is exactly what true humility is. ” Self-knowledge is the ultimate goal of mystery traditions… to know ourselves, we must strip ourselves of titles, degrees, and all other accomplishments and examine the core of what and who we are. we must face up to our fears, our concerns, and our flaws. We must become Inanna, we must descend into the Underworld, strip ourselves of the worldly clothing that protects and makes us presentable to the world, and become naked, our souls and selves exposed. When we stand before ourselves, everything exposed, we see ourselves for what we are and not for what we present to the world.”
If you only speak to the God and Goddess in ritual, you aren’t going to have much of a relationship, and to have a relationship with them is the primary reason we are Wiccan. “The God and the Goddess, the holy interplay between them and Their love for all creation are the whole reason for Wicca. They are the ground of our being, the soul of our souls, and the music of the dancing celestial spheres. (Dianne Sylvan, The Circle Within).”
Wicca is supposed to be lived out in your daily life. It’s not a religion where you can go on Sunday, fulfill your obligation, and be done. We don’t pray out of a sense of obligation or fear, but because we want to deepen our connection to the Goddess, the God, and the universe in general.
So how to pray?
In general, there are two kinds of prayer- structured and spontaneous. Both have their strengths.
If you have never prayed before, or if you are still uncertain about how exactly to approach the God and the Goddess, structured prayers might work well for you. It gets you used to praying without pressure. It is also something easier to fall back on in “dry” periods. When you don’t know how to pray, the structured prayer provides you a framework to fall back on. There are many beautiful invocations and hymns and chants and prayers. For some ideas, I would highly recommend checking out both “Living Wicca” and “The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Devotional Practice”. Google will give you lots of examples. There are also exercises such as prayer beads or a pagan daily prayerbook that would fall under the category of structured prayer.
Then there is spontaneous prayer. This is the prayer you pray just because, or because you have set aside a devotional time and want to talk to the God and the Goddess in your own words. Just like spells you write yourself are often more powerful than following someone else’s because of the energy and intent behind them, so prayers you pray from your heart and in your own words are often better for reaching the Divine. I believe that this kind of prayer is what is most important for truly building a relationship with the God and the Goddess. This is not to say you can’t build a relationship with them using structured prayer, but it is easier when you approach them on your own level with your own thoughts and words.
There is no reason why the two cannot be combined as well. An example might be meditation. It’s not uncommon to start meditation with a particular opening prayer, and that is usually structured. However, during the meditation, if you use meditation to communicate with the God and the Goddess, chances are the words are going to come from your own thought and mind. Sometimes it’s easier to have something concrete to start out from, and then as you get further into the prayer you can add in the unstructured part- that’s what makes it unstructured, after all!
I hope some of the below ideas can get you started in your prayer life. While Wicca is not an obligation-based religion, that doesn’t mean that self-discipline and regulation aren’t part of our spiritual lives. Just like meditation, just like skills such as visualization, you have to do it regularly and often for it to be effective, and that can be hard. Most people say they don’t have time to do this, and yet I am inclined to think that is untrue for the vast majority of people. If you have time to watch the newest show on Netflix or to browse Facebook for an hour a day, you have the time to pray. I am preaching to myself as well as anyone else. Far too often the day goes by and I realize I did nothing devotional; nothing that I wanted to do. This is a weakness on my part that I need to work on. I am not nearly disciplined enough. Yet, whenever I have been, I have noticed the difference almost immediately. If you give generously, you will get generously back- the God and the Goddess aren’t stingy.
Some links to prayer ideas: