No matter how much I may wish to, I will inevitably leave out certain reasons why polytheists pray, and I’m not nearly confident enough to claim that the following reasons behind prayer apply to anyone outside myself. As such, I would love to hear from other polytheists why they pray and what role it plays in their lives!
Prayer benefits the gods – This can be interpreted a few ways. The way I’ve seen it most commonly meant is that the gods need our offerings and prayers to stay ‘alive’ or powerful. While I do think that gods can fall out of knowledge, though, I don’t believe that they will disappear or fall into ruin if we cease to offer our worship to them. But prayer can benefit the gods by keeping them in touch with us, establishing communication and connection, creating a conversation. I believe the gods can care about us (but not all gods do so by default), and that by inviting them into our lives by praying to them we are benefiting them. Perhaps I humanize the gods too much, but being spoken to and interacted with is a joy and usually fosters healthy lives. I think many of our gods need this interaction.
This also includes purely devotional prayers as well as just talking to the gods (which can be praying as well).
Prayer benefits us – Or, rather, it can. Consistent, regular prayer can help us feel closer to our gods or keep us going during rough times, whether those are directly tied to our religion or not. For mystics or those involved in direct communion with the gods, consistent prayer can also keep us grounded and rooted where we would otherwise get spirited away. Even outside of such woo practices, consistent prayer can be helpful and keep us focused on our religion and living it in daily life. Some people enjoy praying and are benefited in that way. Some prayers may ease homesickness or loneliness depending on what our personal experiences with them have been. It can benefit us by keeping us in communication with our gods and, doing so, close to them, letting them know what is happening in our life or that we wish for them to be involved in our lives.
Petitionary prayers can fall under this as well, though those can become sticky situations and discussions among various polytheists who hold different ideas of what the gods are and/or how the gods function.
Of course, these two are not mutually exclusive. I pray because I believe my gods want to be spoken to and interacted with and I believe it makes them happier, and I pray because it makes me happier and helps me walk aligned with my religion.
When Inspired – We can pray when we feel moved to do so, close to or influenced by a god, or when we suddenly have the perfect words. Though this is usually under spontaneous prayer, if we have sayings or words that we consistently use when close to our gods or inspired by them those phrases can gain power.
Consistently – Whether daily, weekly, monthly, or once a year, praying consistently is one of the most helpful practices I’ve found. This, for me, includes the prayers I am saying. There isn’t anything wrong with not praying consistently, but having some sort of schedule can help keep you aware of the gods and in communication with them when life might otherwise take you away from your religion. Keeping in contact with your gods when you forget or are unable to pray with them is important, too, as our gods aren’t aware of all the little hectic details that distract us. This can also include praying on specific holy days.
When In Need of Aid – Petitionary prayers are a huge part of most people’s religious lives. Asking for help with any manner of problem. With thousands and more gods to call to, we need to remember that just because we have a close relationship or prefer a god does not mean they are actually suited or able to help us with a problem. Even if we approach a god who has dominion over or focus on a certain issue we are petitioning for, though, we can’t expect that our prayer will be ‘answered’. It may well be heard – but the gods are not all-powerful. This is also an area where one can get in hot water with other polytheists depending on how they relate to the gods.
After Receiving Aid – Saying thank you is polite. And usually incurs good will for if you ever ask for another favor. Though some people believe that the gods should not be approached for aid unless a relationship has already been established, I’m of the mind that just as humans have different relationships with each other, humans are going to have different relationships with different gods. Gratitude, however, is rarely amiss. These prayers often go along with offerings of the physical kind.
Again, these are not exclusive – people who pray consistently may also pray for help and likely do. It’s far less likely to encounter someone who sticks to strictly one kind of prayer.