I came into the living room one day last week and my wife was watching a documentary on the Black Plague. I heard just a bit of it: they described how the pope at the time (Clement VI, if I remember correctly) offered special prayers for the end of the plague.
I didn’t need the documentary to tell me that his prayers did not produce the desired result.
Immediately afterward, I stepped outside for my evening prayers, which for the last few weeks have included a special prayer for the end of the Coronavirus.
I’m a Pagan – I do not pray to Clement’s God. I pray to Cernunnos, Danu, and the Morrigan. I pray to the spirits of Nature, and to the spirits of the place where I live. I pray to my ancestors of blood and of spirit.
I’m a polytheist. I believe in the reality of Clement’s God, I just don’t believe he’s the only God. So I do not expect my prayers will be efficacious because my Gods are real and his God isn’t. I do not know if my Gods cannot stop the virus or if they will not or if they will but have not yet. In any case, that’s not my primary concern. Theodicy is a problem for monotheists, not for polytheists.
I don’t know what impact my prayers will have on the efforts to contain, treat, and eventually eliminate the Coronavirus. Certainly nowhere near the impact of doctors, researchers, or even ordinary people practicing social distancing.
But still I pray for the Coronavirus to come to an end.
I pray because it is good to express the desires of our hearts
Too many people – Pagan and Christian alike – pray like a four-year-old sitting on Santa’s lap. Or we wait until things get desperate and we beg our Gods to bail us out.
When we pray regularly and mindfully we pray more deeply. When we understand that we’re speaking to divine beings who are listening to us, we consider more carefully what we really want to request… and what we need to be doing on our own.
It is always good to speak the desires of our hearts. And right now, an end to this plague and the death and disruption it’s bringing is my most sincere desire.
I pray because it draws me closer to my Gods
When done with focus and intent, prayer is not one-way communication. It draws our minds and souls toward the Gods and spirits to whom we pray. Even if they do not respond directly (in my experience, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t) the act of praying to them brings us into their presence and enables us to bask in their virtues.
These virtues include strength and resilience, compassion and kindness, determination and loyalty – all things I need as my life is disrupted and the future is uncertain. Prayer fills me with what I need to keep going.
I pray because it reminds me that my ancestors also lived through plagues
The Black Death killed perhaps half the population of Europe, plus millions more in Asia and the Middle East. But the other half survived. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed perhaps 50 million. But many more survived – including all four of my grandparents. Because they lived, I am.
When I pray to my ancestors, they whisper “We lived and so can you.” “We did what we had to do, and so can you.”They also remind me that someday I will be an ancestor. I have no physical children, but I have family of blood and family of choice. I have an obligation to take care of myself so I can be here for them now, and so that during some plague in the far distant future I can whisper “I lived and so can you.”
I pray because it reminds me that I am part of Nature
Praying to my Gods draws me closer to them. Praying to the spirits of Nature does not draw me closer to Nature – it reminds me that I am already part of Nature. It pulls down the barriers that say Nature is something “out there.” Nature is what we are.
When I pray that the virus will end, I remember that Nature is not only tasty fruits and cute animals. Nature is grizzly bears, fire ants, hurricanes… and killer viruses. Like all of Nature, I want me and mine to survive and succeed. I respect the parts of Nature that occasionally try to kill me, but if one of us has to die, better them than me.
At the end of the day, praying to end the Coronavirus reminds me that humans are not the center of Nature, nor are we its pinnacle. We are simply one part of a greater Whole – a part that is far more vulnerable than we like to think.
I pray because prayer is part of who I am
I heard the voice of history proclaiming the ineffectiveness of prayer in the face of a pandemic. I immediately continued to my prayers, because I am a Pagan and a polytheist and praying is what I do.
At some point, a practice – any practice, not just a spiritual practice – ceases to be an action trying to precipitate a reaction. We stop asking “what will this get me?” and instead we do it simply because we can’t imagine not doing it.
It becomes part of our identity.
Why do painters paint? Why do singers sing? Why do climbers climb?
I’m a writer. There are practical, transactional reasons why I write. I have principles I want to promote and ideas I want to discuss. I make a tiny bit of money writing blogs and books. But mainly I write because I have to write. I have physical files of hand-written papers and computer files of diaries, notes, and explorations that will never see anyone’s eyes but mine. I have to write – it’s part of who I am.
And I have to pray. It’s also part of who I am.
For some of you, not praying is part of who you are. I respect that, as I respect the identities of people of all religions and of no religion. I simply ask that same respect from you. Not for a practice you believe is useless, but for an element of who I am at the core of my being.
Please join me in prayer
For everyone else, I ask you to join me in praying for the end of the Coronavirus and this pandemic.
Pray to Cernunnos, Danu, and the Morrigan. Pray to Asclepius and Hygieia. Pray to the Gods who speak to you, who call to you, who are part of your life.
Pray to your ancestors: those you knew in this life, those you know through pictures and stories, and those whose names are lost to you. Pray to the spirits of Nature, and the spirits of the place where you live.
Pray that this pandemic and its related suffering will end.
Will it work?
I don’t know. But that’s not the point, is it?
I’m a Pagan and a polytheist and praying is what I do.