On the Winter Solstice I got this question from a Facebook friend:
Recently, I’ve been made aware of several Catholic friends militantly praying to various saints and the Christian God for my reversion to Catholicism. They are aware of the fact that I now follow a Pagan path. My question is, can their prayers adversely impact my spiritual practice? Do the powers to whom they are praying have any hold over me, since I was formerly a devout Catholic?
In order to get a complete answer to that question, we need to approach it from three different perspectives: psychologically, magically, and theurgically.
I have some Pagan friends who like to say “they can’t do anything to you that you don’t let them do.” From a psychological perspective that’s true – in a black or white understanding of the matter. In the rainbow-colored world in which we actually live, it’s not that simple.
If you’re self-confident enough that criticism from others doesn’t bother you, then the “prayer warriors” can’t touch you. If it doesn’t bother you when people criticize your intelligence, your judgement, your work ethic, or your appearance, criticism about your religion will be meaningless.
Few of us are that strong – I know I’m not. Even when you know the criticism is factually incorrect or motivated by a desire to control you, it still hurts. And it plants doubts in your head.
We can’t keep “prayer warriors” from impacting us, but we can keep them from stopping us. We can keep being Pagans and practicing Paganism day in and day out. Keep praying to our Gods, keep meditating, keep making offerings, keep spending time in Nature, keep working magic. Over time, our confidence will grow and the impact of those working against us will fade.
When people ask “can someone else’s prayers or magic affect me?” this is usually what they’re talking about. To draw on Crowley’s definition of magic, can the application of someone else’s will cause changes in me? If you believe in the efficacy of magic, your answer must be “yes.” But as with the psychological perspective, it’s not a black or white thing.
Just as a witch can work a love spell to interfere with someone’s free will and coerce them to be attracted to someone, “prayer warriors” can work their magic to interfere with the free will of their target and coerce them to practice a different religion. But remember – magic doesn’t control anything, magic shifts the odds. The stronger and more focused the magic, the better the odds the spell will work. But if the target is stronger, more shielded, and more entrenched, then even the best magic may only shift the odds to an inconsequential amount.
I can only imagine how many Christians are praying for Richard Dawkins to abandon atheism. It isn’t working and it’s not going to work. Dawkins is entrenched in his atheism. And that’s fine with me – as a Pagan, I have neither the need nor the desire to convert anyone to my way of thinking and practicing. Some people just can’t see the reality of the Gods. I’d rather they be good, kind, ethical atheists than disgruntled Pagans.
I don’t worry much about witches and other magic users (which include Christians practicing “imprecatory prayer”) harming me with spells. Very few people with ill intent are willing and able to spend the years of practice it takes to develop that level of skill and power. I can pretty much guarantee a handful of average Catholics (or Evangelicals or Satanists or anyone else) don’t have that kind of skill.
Meanwhile, if you keep praying your own prayers and working your own spells, sooner or later you’ll develop the level of strength and skill that will allow you to handle whatever challenges come your way. And you wouldn’t think of using that strength and skill to try to change someone’s religion, because your ethics are better than that.
Then there’s the question few ask but most wonder about at one level or another: can the Christian God force you to change your religion?
Understand that as a polytheist, I have no trouble believing that Yahweh and Jesus are Gods. They’re just not the only Gods, like Their followers claim. I’m not particularly fond of Yahweh – He’s jealous, insecure, and killed too many people for the flimsiest of reasons. I’m on better terms with Jesus – my ordination traces its lineage through Him.
Can They force you to change your religion? While I do not buy the Calvinist argument that their God can do anything, Gods in general have immense power, and They can use that power in ways we may not like – just ask Prometheus or Hercules.
I’ve heard a few Christians talk about how their God dragged them kicking and screaming to Their worship. But all of those people were Christians to some degree in the first place (as a Pagan, I make no distinction between nominal Christians and “true believers”). And that makes me wonder how much of their so-called conversion was theurgy and how much was psychology. I’m not sure you can completely separate the two.
My experience with Gods is that They don’t waste Their time with those who aren’t interested. Until someone brings me a clear, non-psychological case of deity-forced conversion, I’m not worried about this.
Protecting Yourself Against “Prayer Warriors”
The Christian myth of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus gives all of us living in Christian-dominated areas the idea that religious changes are dramatic, sudden, and permanent. Occasionally they are. More frequently, they’re slow, gradual, and in constant danger of reversal. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church. I was a Christian universalist by my teens and a Pagan by my early 30s. I was well into my 40s before the fears and insecurities created by fundamentalism were gone for good.
Here’s a link to my guide for escaping fundamentalism. It’s relevant to making any major religious change. The process isn’t quick and it isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort – the prize is your soul. This post tells more of my personal story, and emphasizes the fact that religious fears can’t be reasoned away. They have to be crowded out by positive religious experiences in your new religion.
The process is long, but there are some things you can do to make the situation better right away.
Ask them to stop. You’ve made a choice – if they care anything about you they need to respect your decisions and your spiritual path. The vast majority of my family and friends are Christians, but they respect my Paganism. We mostly don’t talk about religion, and if I bring up many Gods some of them get defensive, but we’re still family and friends. That says more about them than it does about me, but most people value relationships more than opportunities to proselytize.
Stop the bleeding. Stay off websites, Facebook groups, and such dedicated to your old religion. Stop debating with your friends. And absolutely stay away from their religious services and their TV and radio preachers. Going over that material again and again just reinforces the long tentacles you’re fighting to remove.
Increase your shielding. I don’t think I have a single post on shielding – so much as been written about it I’ve seen no need to write something myself. It’s part of most Wicca 101 books, and some Googling should turn up something useful. I do a shielding meditation every morning – if I’m experiencing difficulties, or if I’m expecting difficulties, I do a bit more.
Increase your spiritual practice. Be especially diligent about doing something every day.
In a perfect world everyone would respect the religious choice made by others. You might feel sadness if a good friend left your religion, but you would value their friendship enough to accept their decision without resorting to coercive magic.
We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where some people practice religion as a competitive sport, where many try to use the power of government to advance their religion, and where some force conversion through violence and brutality.
Yes, “prayer warriors” can harm Pagans and folks of other religions. But knowledge is the greatest power, and since we are aware of the risk we can take steps necessary to protect ourselves while we are vulnerable. Through diligent practice we can learn and grow in skill and power, and in dedication and devotion to our Gods and our paths, until we reach the stage where even the strongest imprecatory prayers bounce off of us like raindrops off an umbrella.