Question 2: Prayers, Rituals and My Son
From James Two Snakes:
Tell me more about the rituals and prayers you do with your son.
When I first became a Dad I determined one thing I really wanted for my son was the gift my parents gave to me: an active, living religious tradition. A good part of this was prayers for meals, and especially bedtime prayers. Before he could do prayers, before he could speak I would pray with him. In the last three we’ve really come together and now, they’re a daily part of our life.
The first prayer is usually the morning breakfast prayer. Our meal prayers are all the same at this point, and rote, so that he connects on a regular basis with all the Gods, and is mindful of Them, the Ancestors, and the spirits. From what he has told me, he says this prayer at school, and it makes me very proud. All the prayers used to be call and response, but as he has learned them, my son has grown into saying them alongside his Mom and I on occasion. Sometimes, when he is in the mood, he will ask to lead the call and response. This latest development has happened recently, and I find it a good thing to lead as it is not just a prayer, but a time for him to take charge and do without having to follow his Mom or I. He tends to have this huge smile on his face when he does it, and sometimes it is good to hang back and let someone else take the lead. After all, I want him to have a relationship with the Gods, not just to do it because Mom and Dad are.
The Mealtime Prayer
Thank You Odin
Thank You Frigga
Thank You Freya
Thank You Freyr
Thank You Gerda
Thank You Loki
Thank You Angrboda
Thank You Sigyn
Thank You Brighid
Thank You Bres
Thank You Lycrous
Thank You Lupa
Thank You Bast
Thank You Anubis
Thank You Spirits
Thank You Farmer and Field
Thank You Animals and Plants
Thank You Landvaettir
Thank You Ancestors
Blessed Be, and Ves Heil!
At first it was just the Norse and Germanic Gods, but then slowly included all the Gods we worship. Once he started memorizing the Norse and Germanic Gods They slowly had Themselves included. At first he struggled remembering, but now, two years or so from when we started to say prayers together, he likes to lead prayers sometimes.
Before my girlfriend and I came back together, around the same time we started formulating the meal prayer, we made a bedtime prayer. We lived in separate homes then, so around his bedtime they would call or I would call, and we would say the prayer together over the phone. Back then this was call and response because of delays in the phone. It was hard, at first, because sometimes our son did not want to say the prayer either because of shyness with the phone, or he had a rough day. Still, it was good for her and I to pray, and it was a way for us not just to connect, but to share in prayer to the Gods.
Now that we live together the night prayers are huge. Our son loves them, and asks as he is getting ready for bed what kind of prayers we’ll be doing. There are three kinds of prayers we do at night: The longest we call Full Altar Prayers, the next is Sigdrifa’s Prayer, and the last, Night Prayers. Before I go further I need to explain the altar situation in our home.
My son and I live in a room together on the upper floor of my folks’ home, and his Mom lives across from us upstairs. All of the altars are in our room, as, until recently, the cats were not allowed in. We were afraid they would knock the altars about, knock statues down, etc. The one casualty we’ve had so far was an older wolf statue that I had too near an edge that was knocked over when one of the cats went exploring. Aside from that, the altars themselves were undisturbed despite being left completely alone for four to six hours.
Our son helped to set up all the altars except the Earth, House Spirit, and Military Dead altars which are too high for him to reach. That alone is powerful, connective Work, and a good experience for me too. Between learning to just hang back and let the Gods tell him where to place Their representations (and leave Them there!) to gently guiding him on why we put things like the Brighid crosses together, we get to learn and teach hand in hand, at times he guiding us, and vice versa.
The Gods’ Altar: An altar to all of our Gods that sits before a window, behind which are growing two plants from a ritual with the Church we circle with. There are things like a statue for Odin, Anubis and Freya, keys big and small for Frigga, a Sun disk for Sunna and a Moon disk for Mani, two Brighid’s crosses for Brighid and Bres with bottles of healing water blessed by Her behind them, and a Green Man for Freyr. If I have forgotten anyone/anything I’ll update it.
The Ancestor Altar: An altar to all of our Ancestors, including the Elements. There is a bottle of rainwater and Florida Water for Water, a glazed clay bowl of stones and willow leaves for Earth, a harmonic from my Great-Grandpa and an incense holder for Air, a granite square with a pillar candle and a bowl of matches, lighters, and a sparking fire-starter for Fire, and for the Ancestors in the center is a four-person circle crafted out of clay holding one another, with a stone in the center in the offering bowl, and behind it on either side are tree-shaped candle holder for Ask and Embla. When I am not wearing them I place my Ancestor necklaces on either side of the altar for the Disir and Vatter (Alfar), and my Ancestor prayer bead necklace before the four-person Ancestor circle statue.
The Earth Altar: An altar to the spirits of Earth, with three stones representing Gebo, the Earth, and the Landvaettir (with a stone from the property we live on), a representation of the Earth Dragon made out of ceramic, a Gnome similarly made out of ceramic, the moneyvaettir with a plate of money from different places and times and a large jar in the middle of the play containing spare change and change we felt should go in it. On this altar is a tied off bunch of wheat that forms the bed for a representation of Ramses II, who, when I was a bit younger and mainly working with Anubis as His priest, after I saw his place had been desecrated, knowing what it meant that his bones lay out in the open and his rest disturbed, wrapped up a doll into muslin and did rituals, and invoked spells from the Book of the Dead. He now has a place on the Earth altar, and it is my goal to eventually get him a gold-leaved box to put him in.
The House Spirit Altar: A simple altar with what was a wooden birdhouse, and an incense holder on a granite square.
The Military Dead Altar: An altar that sits on a filing cabinet for now, with an incense holder, a large vase-shaped candle holder, an earthenware pot of graveyard dirt, taken with Their permission, from Veterans’ graves.
Full Altar Prayers
Full Altar Prayers are usually done on the weekends, as it takes anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes start to finish. We start by kneeling at the Gods’ altar, taking the selenite and cleansing our energy bodies with it, doing the front of our bodies starting with the crown, then handing off the crystal to someone near and allowing them to get the back of our energy body. Then, our son and I cover our heads with bandanas, he with a black one and I a white one. He’s asked to get his own set, so when we get the opportunity next we’ll do some shopping for him so he can have his own white bandana rather than borrowing my black, all-purpose one. The white bandana is specifically saved for night prayers, the red for Ancestor Work, the blue for Landvaettir, and black is, as mentioned, all-purpose.
After we cover we do the Negative Confession. While this is not the version we use, it gets the point across. We read the Confession in the call-and-response style. After this, we perform Sigdrifa’s Prayer. Again, this is not exactly the prayer we use, but these are excellent sources, and for song music and the prayer in both the English and Old Norse available, they are available here.
When we say “Hail Day! Hail Day’s Sons!” we open our hands and upraise our arms to Daeg, God of Day. When we say “Look with love upon us here and bring victory to those sitting here” we bow to the window, to Nott, the Goddess of Night. When we speak “Hail to the Gods!” and “Hail to the Goddesses!” we bow to each of Them in turn. When we stand to hail the Earth, we go to the Earth altar, and say “Hail to the mighty, fecund Earth!” and then, turn to the Ancestor Altar which is next to it, and say “Eloquence and native wit bestow on us”, and return to the Gods’ altar, saying “And healing hands while we last!” We end with “Blessed be, and Ves Heil!” At the end of all this, we go to each of the altars, bowing, and say “Ves Heil!” to each, hailing all of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that work with us.
These are a lot like the Full Altar Prayers in that we do all the ritual actions for Sigdrifa’s Prayer described above, and we may or may not do the selenite cleansing, and we may or may not cover. It’s a hard and fast thing that our son and I cover, though his Mom does not, for Full Altar Prayers. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we do not for Sigdrifa’s Prayer. The biggest change between these is that we do not do the Negative Confession.
This is a prayer his mother and I made together. At first it was a lot like the Mealtime Prayer and it branched out from there. In it, we address each of the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits we worship, thanking Them for Their blessings on us, and our lives.
The Bedtime Prayer
Thank You Odin and Frigga for the World around us
Thank You Freya for the Love in our lives
Thank You Freyr and Gerda for the wonderful Food
Thank You Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn for Laughter, Protection, and Perseverance
Thank You Brighid and Bres for Inspiration and Truth
Thank You Lycrous and Lupa for Ferocity and Kindness
Thank You Bast and Anubis for Pleasure and Opening of the Ways
Thank You Spirits for Your Friendship
Thank You Landvaettir for our Home
Thank You Ancestors for our Lives
Be with us when we sleep,
Be with us when we wake
Blessed be, and Ves Heil!
Other Prayers and Rituals
Prayers and rituals otherwise are rather spontaneous, things like taking out offerings to oak tree, and hailing the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits tend to happen about once a week. If it is too cold we pour water offerings down the drain, and if they’ll go in the compost, that is where we put food offerings. If we have nothing else we can afford to get for offerings we at least leave water on the altars and light incense. Little prayers, like “Thank you Odin for wisdom” or “Thank You Freyr for this food” and similar prayers are said when the occasion hits us. When we walk around the local parks, or we go to a new place, we hail the Landvaettir with a small prayer, such as “Hail Landvaettir; thank you for letting us walk on You and with You.” We might walk up to a nearby tree, one that sticks out or is an oak or ash, bow, and give an offering of some kind. Even if we have no offering to give right then, or if we’ve already given one, we’ll pick up trash as an offering to the landvaettir and the local spirits.
When I was first trying to communicate to my son why we hailed the Landvaettir, I had taken him to a park. I did not know at the time that he had come out for our day (well before his Mom and I came back together) after watching My Neighbor Totoro. So when I asked him if he knew why we hailed the Landvaettir, why we bowed, and prayed, he suddenly piped up “Because every tree has a spirit! Just like Totoro!” I damned near cried on him. “Yes, son, that’s right, every tree, every rock, every thing has a spirit.” He grinned ear to ear, and we bowed low to the large tree in front of us, and he, in his little voice called out and said “Hail Tree SPIRIT!” So if you are having a hard time communicating a concept to your kids or to someone else’s, look at kids’ media. My Neighbor Totoro, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and several amazing movies and shows communicate our concepts in a way that I have struggled at times to teach.
Every small prayer, every ritual, especially those done day after day, night after night, build up the foundation our children have in their religion to carry this special relationship into their lives. Each and every day, each and every moment, I have found, is teachable if you let the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in. Giving this gift was the best thing my folks did for me, and I pray, fervently, it is the same for my son.