I don’t often discuss religion on my blog, but today I’m breaking my own rule. By and large, I tried to keep things as secular as possible around here not because I’m not personally religious (I am) or because I think there’s anything wrong with religion (I don’t) but simply because my students come from an incredibly varied background and doing so allows me to teach all of them without exclusion.
I teach students who are atheists, who are tried-and-true pagans, who are Wiccans, who are Christians, who are Muslims, who believe in Heathenry, who worship ancient gods, and so many more. Witchcraft is a practice that transcends the limitations of religion. It is, at its core, simply a craft. It is a practice and an action, not a system of beliefs. This means that regardless of belief or creed, anyone can practice witchcraft and see results.
Today’s topic dips much more heavily into the religion side of this equation, though. I am often asked how prayer factors into witchcraft as both a spiritual practice and a craft. In the course of speaking to these students and answering their questions, I realized that prayer involves a few core tenets that can be applicable across a broad spectrum of religious and spiritual beliefs. This is what we are going to be discussing today. We’re going to take a look at what prayer is, how it fits into witchcraft as a whole, and how you can incorporate it into your practice if it feels right to you.
What Is Prayer In Witchcraft?
While prayer can be very strictly defined within the context of religion, in the context of witchcraft we’re going to have to take a bit of a broader view of prayer. Prayer is the act of speaking to, petitioning, or expressing gratitude to spiritual entities. These entities run the gamut from individual gods and deities to angels, ancestors, the higher self, source, or the universe, or any other spirit that works with you and helps you. Typically prayers are aimed at a specific entity and they often have a purpose to them.
For example, many Wiccans use morning and night prayers to connect to their god and goddess. The purpose of these prayers is usually to express gratitude and to feel a connection with the divine. Catholics might pray the rosary, which is a set series of prayers that are used to ask the Virgin Mary for her help to petition their god for something. A devotee of Hermes might pray to Hermes for safe travel or luck. You might pray to your ancestors, petitioning them for help in some part of your life.
Prayer is simply a way for us to communicate with the spiritual entities that we are close with. These prayers can be long or short, they can be pre-written or off the cuff, they can be very structured or very loose, they can happen at a set time and place or they can happen anywhere and anytime in your day-to-day life. There is no single way for prayer to be done “right”. It’s all about what allows you to feel connected with the divine or with the spirits who help you.
How Is Prayer Different From Chanting Or A Mantra?
Now let’s talk about what prayer is not. Prayer is not an incantation. Often these two words get mixed up and we use the word incantation when we should be using the word prayer. If the incantation is directed at a specific being or entity and it isn’t a command or demand, it’s a prayer. If the incantation is a command or a demand, that’s an invocation. An incantation is a statement of your will. It is a way for you to use your voice and language to solidify your magical will during spellcasting. An incantation does not request help, it does not make petitions, and it is not directed at a specific being.
Prayer and chanting also differ in some ways, although they have much more overlap than prayer has with an incantation. Chanting is simply the repetitive vocalization of a word or phrase. This is usually done to shift the mind and the energy into alignment with that phrase or intention or to center the mind. A chant can also be a prayer if it is directed at a spiritual entity or divine being. A chant can also be an incantation if used during spell work as a statement of magical will. Chanting is simply one format that you can use when praying or performing incantation.
A mantra is usually a phrase or a statement that is repeated regularly to focus the mind on an intention or idea. This concept has quite a bit of overlap with affirmations as well. A mantra or affirmation is not usually said in the context of spell work or as a means of communication with a spiritual entity or divine being. These are typically said to create internal changes in the mind and belief system of the individual using them. Unlike chanting, which is the repeated use of a word or phrase over and over in a short time frame, mantras and affirmations can be used over a long time period. For example, you might choose to use an affirmation that you repeat to yourself once every morning. Again, a mantra or affirmation is not typically a type of prayer.
How To Use Prayer In Your Craft
Okay, now that you understand what prayer is and is not, let’s look at how you can use it in your craft and your spiritual practice. Keep in mind that this is all going to be very general because I’m writing this for an incredibly diverse audience. You will want to take what I tell you here and experiment with it. See what you do and don’t enjoy using in your spiritual practice. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Try things out and if you don’t like the way I’m telling you to do it, then find a way that works better for you! Remember that as a witch, you are your own high priest or high priestess. You are the one who holds the keys to the kingdom. You decide what is right in your spiritual practice for yourself, no one else. This should be a source of empowerment and greater connection with the divine, not a box that you have to squeeze yourself in to feel like you’re doing your spirituality “right”.
1. Who or what are you praying to?
The first thing you have to know is who or what you are praying to. For some of you, this is going to be a super straightforward question to answer, you’ll have one primary deity or god that you work with and obviously, your prayers are going to be directed at them. For others, this might be a bit of a nebulous question. You might even have more than one entity that you want to pray to!
The first thing I want you to keep in mind is that you should not pray to a spirit or a deity simply because you think you’re supposed to. I hear this with people who found their way into neo-Wicca a lot. They’ve just gotten into witchcraft and they’re trying to do everything the way they’re supposed to and the lines between witchcraft and Wicca are very blurry in most places so they think that to be a witch they have to worship the Wiccan god and goddess. They jump right into trying to pray to these entities that they have no relationship with and no connection with, and inevitably, the vast majority of them feel very disconnected through this process. Because they did not choose these gods, it feels forced upon them and there’s no time for learning about these beings, getting to know them, and deciding whether they feel like a true representation of the divine to the individual.
This is a surefire way to feel like your prayers are going nowhere. Often, when a person picks up a relationship with a deity or God because they’re “supposed to”, praying feels very stilted and forced. Usually, they’re using pre-written prayers that were just given to them either in a book or by a mentor, and they’re expected to recite this and then somehow feel a connection to the divine. What really happens is they recite the words, they feel nothing, they feel bad about feeling nothing, and end up feeling like they’re a bad witch or like this particular god hates them. There’s no personal relationship with the entity and no prior experiences with the entity. For many people, the deity or spiritual entity that they’re trying to contact in this way may not even feel real to them!
If you’ve found yourself in this situation, stop what you’re doing. Stop trying to pray to a god that you know nothing about. Stop trying to force a relationship with a divine being that doesn’t even feel real to you. You do not have to believe in any god or deity, you can believe that god isn’t even real and still be a witch. If you’re going to pray to a divine being, you need to feel like that god or divinity is a good fit for you. They need to feel real to you. They need to feel as though they’re pertinent in your life. You need to feel like you could truly build a genuine connection with them.
For those of you who are not interested in working with gods or deities, you can pray to all kinds of other spiritual entities. You can pray to angels. You can pray to your ancestors. You can pray to your guides. You can pray to your higher self. You can pray to the universe. You can pray to the divine masculine or the divine feminine. You can pray to any spiritual entity that feels right to you! The one thing you should always aim for with your prayers is a sense of connection and a feeling that this entity is right for you. Whatever that looks like for you is okay.
2. What’s the purpose of your prayer?
Next, you will want to determine what the purpose of your prayer is. This will depend on your situation and your life at the moment, and it will probably change from day to day, from month to month, and from year to year. Here are a few purposes that your prayers might have.
- Expressing gratitude
- Asking for guidance
- Making petitions for help in your life
- Petitioning for help in your magic
- Asking one spirit or god to help you with another spirit or god
- Expressing how you’re feeling
- Talking about something that’s bothering you
- Seeking clarity in a situation
3. How will you pray?
Finally, you will need to choose how you’re going to pray. We often think of prayer as being a single thing. In the western world, we imagine someone kneeling with their hands clasped, speaking out loud or in their mind to god. Prayer is much more than this, though. Prayer can be done verbally or in the mind, it can be written in a prayer journal, or it can be chanted or sung. Prayer can be structured or it can be very loose. Prayer can be pre-written or you can just speak from the heart. Prayer can be done at a specific time, or at any time that you feel you need it.
You might also take inspiration from traditional methods of prayer if you are praying to a well-known god or deity or sometimes even spirits. There are many traditions around how you can pray to ancestors or angelic beings. You might choose to use prayer beads, prayer books, or write your own prayers for daily use.
How you choose to pray is entirely up to you and your personal preferences. What makes you feel connected to the divine or to the spirit or entity that you are trying to connect with? What allows you to express what you need to say best? How do you feel most comfortable communicating? There is no right or wrong answer here! Prayer is a completely personal process, and the only thing that matters is that it allows you to connect with the gods or spirits that you work with in your spiritual practice.
Do You Have To Pray?
When it comes right down to it, whether you decide to use prayer in your magical practice or not is a personal choice. You do not have to use prayer if you don’t want to! You don’t have to work with gods or spirits or even believe that these entities exist if it doesn’t feel right for you. No one can tell you what is right or wrong for your spiritual practice. As a witch, you are the priest or priestess of your spiritual life. You are the one who connects to the spiritual world. You are the one who connects to gods or spirits or doesn’t connect to them. You get to decide what feels right to you. Do not let anyone tell you that you have to pray to this being or that you have to pray in that way. This is your spiritual practice, you make the rules, period.
Prayer can add an incredible element of spiritual connectivity and support to your spiritual practice, but only if it is truly what’s right for you. And don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out right now. You may find over time that your relationships with spirits or gods change or develop or dissolve completely. Your spiritual journey is yours, no one else’s, which means that no one can tell you what is right for you and what isn’t. Follow your intuition, follow your heart, examine your spiritual beliefs deeply and explore any aspect of prayer, spirit work, or the divine that truly appeals to you and makes you feel more spiritually connected. That is what prayer is really about!