Highway to Hel
On Prayer: A Heathen Perspective
Hel, or Hella, is the Norse Goddess of the Underworld who watches over and cares for all those souls who come to Her hall, Helheim, a peaceful realm where the dead are give a chance to rest and reunite with loved ones prior to possible reincarnation. The "Highway to Hel" is something that every person walks from the moment they're born. It is the care with which we cultivate our souls, and the gratitude and courage with which we live each day of our lives.
Over the past few weeks, I've been receiving a number of questions about prayer: Should we pray? Do Heathens pray? How does one pray? Why should we pray? Apparently, prayer is a contested practice within the contemporary Northern Tradition. Part of that stems from converts who grew up in households where prayer was used as punishment, and part of it from 20th-century arrogance and lack of humility. (How many of you cringed or balked at the very thought that humility before the Gods might be a positive virtue?) Whatever the reasons, prayer has been on my mind of late and on the minds of many of my clients. For that reason, I decided to co-opt my own column this week and plagiarize myself, reprinting an extended excerpt from my book Sigdrifa's Prayer. If I had to write on prayer today, I'd say the same things: it is essential and it sustains.
I have a friend who maintains that there are only four prayers: "Thank you," "I'm sorry," "Please" and finally "I love You."  To that, I would add prayers that simply rejoice in the fact that the Gods are there, that we are Their kin, and that They care for us and take an active role in our lives. Prayer is a celebration, a joyous outpouring of the reality of the deepest, inner chambers of the heart. It forges connections, acknowledges kinship, and grounds us consciously in our spirituality.
I have never seen it as something rigid and lacking in meaning. Even the most formulaic of prayers, like the dancer's tendu and plié, form necessary building blocks to spiritual expression. In many respects, the comparison to the discipline of a dancer's daily practice is quite apt. Prayer, as any mystic knows, is a discipline that trains the mind, heart, and spirit in attentiveness, mindfulness, and devotion to the Gods. Anyone can move to music, but very few people if any, can suddenly, without any practice or training, put on a pair of pointe shoes and pull off a flawless Swan Lake (though watching the attempt might be amusing in a sick, sad sort of way)!
In many respects, it is the same with meditation and prayer -- these things pattern the soul to the touch of the Gods in the same way daily ballet practice develops a kinetic memory in dancers. It provides structure and language, place and an expansive vocabulary by which we can express those experiences of the spirit that often resist the clarification of language. This is especially important given that we live in a host culture whose values, mores, and ideals are antithetical to Heathenry. There is very little that we shall encounter in our day-to-day work that calls our Gods directly to mind. We do not live in a time and a place where our spirituality may be reinforced however unconsciously by family, community, workplace, or culture. It is, unfortunately, the exact opposite.
The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.