The Use of Prayer in the Occult
The Webster definition of prayer is “an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought.1”
Let us assume there are two general categories of occultists: those who work with or rely on only themselves, and those who work with or rely on some Other in their work. This Other could be a God, Goddess, spirit, guide, or other entity. What could prayer mean to the former occultist? What could it mean to the latter?
Going by the definition above, a prayer may seem irrelevant to the occultist who works alone, but I think of it along these lines: If he is self-reliant in magick, then he would be praying to himself, whether the prayer is addressed to his conscious Self specifically or to his Higher Self/ Guardian Angel. This might be seen as a kind of self-deification, but seeing oneself as God/dess can be powerful in and of itself, because the self-reliant occultist must accept responsibility for the consequences of his prayer, for good or ill. This promotes responsibility in general, personal growth, and self-confidence.
Petitioning himself for help may not only make the occultist mindful of his requests, but may also put those requests into a practical context, allowing reevaluation and/or the setting of attainable goals. It may enable an honest dialogue with his Highest Self, or Holy Guardian Angel, or help in Kundalini release and other such practices. In accepting his own prayers, he not only becomes God and takes the driver seat, but the prayer, like a spell for the same, can push him to greater heights or encourage him to go down avenues he may not have otherwise considered.
Of course, it may just as easily send the occultist in question into a cycle of ego and self-gratification, one that does not get him any further ahead in his studies, practice, or life in general. This potentially harmful cycle could continue for a week, or throughout his entire life. It’s entirely dependent on the occultist. If the person catches his error quickly, the damage can be relatively minor and no more than an embarrassment, one that he will hopefully learn from. If he goes on to teach others his ways of doing things, that instruction could range from useless to a psycho-spiritual hazard, perpetuating the teacher’s ego to harmful ends and spreading the attitudes into successive circles of influence. Look no further than the “I am the One who Knows All That Is!” cult leaders for examples of this.
To the latter occultist, prayer would mean he is achieving the same ends as the other, but with the aid of outside entities, such as a God/dess or Spirit. In this case, prayer could be a relationship builder or a boost to the path of the occultist, helping him gather strength or resolve he might not be able to find within himself. Prayers to a spiritual aide for help in contacting the magician’s Higher Self/ Holy Guardian Angel can be every bit as powerful, transformational, and revelatory as going solo. The spirit or God aiding the occultist provides a glimpse of the potential available to the devout, setting an example for personal evolution and providing support for efforts made toward his growth.
Taken down the harmful path of ego gratification, however, the latter occultist uses God/dess or Spirit(s) in the place of self-worship. Instead of taking on the role of avatar, self-as-God, or deity incarnate, the devotional occultist takes on the role of the Mouthpiece. An occultist who takes his role from the point of guide to the point of Mouthpiece tends to overstep the restrictions of personal boundaries into the realm of dictating people’s lives, bullying, and brainwashing. When people come to Priests and Priestesses of Neopagan walks of life, I find they are often looking for someone to be that guiding voice, or to temporarily provide it. Those who take on this role of guide can fall into ego-stroking at the least, or at worst, can turn the relationship between the Priest/ess and the individual into a using-used relationship rather than a giver-receiving relationship.
I feel the easiest way to avoid these and other downfall is to have a consistent check on what I am actually praying for and to be focused in that prayer. I tend to break this up into about four steps:
1. Identify the reason for the prayer.
If you don’t know what you want, why throw out the energy to request it or to make it manifest? Further, I see that knowing the reason for your prayer can better focus you and connected energies for the request, whether you’re requesting it from your Holy Guardian Angel or deity of your choice. The most important part of a prayer is the reason I pray in the first place, then what I pray for. I won’t get into ethics, like those of Kant, here, but the point is to exercise critical thought. For instance: praying for a new computer is fine, under the definition of prayer as a petition, but do I need one? Would a new computer be a worthy use of my time and energies? Why should my Deities fulfill or help me fulfill this request? Is it worth their time and energy to do so?
While the reason a thing is prayed for and what is actually prayed for may look like the same thing, in my experience they seldom are. Case in point: during the hunt for my last job, which I kept for almost four years, I prayed for help in finding a job that fit the criteria of: paying at least $7.50/hour, good hours, a positive work environment, and a convenient or flexible schedule that would allow me to attend class. I got what I asked for; however, it was not the company I had been hoping for at all, but turned out to be the company I needed at the time. It was also the only company that called back, and would not just “make an effort” but would make sure that it did not conflict with my college courses.
My prayer went something like this: “Goddess, God, please help me find a job that won’t interfere with my courses, that has a good environment that pays me what I need to do the things in life I’d like to, like live on my own. So mote it be.” Was I too nebulous? I like to think I was open to what came my way, since in part I didn’t know for myself what I needed. Being vague with the request, in my experience, can open up the doors to different paths that will get you to where you want or, more importantly, need.
2. Decide on what kind of prayer you would like to perform.
Almost as important as why you do a thing, is how to do it. The function of the prayer needs to be served by its form much in the same way you might craft a spell or any other ritual. I see this as doing what feels right to you, or in working out a prayer format between you and your Self, or you and deity, depending on which prayer path you’re working with. After all, if the flow of the prayer doesn’t keep your focus, how effective will it be?
3. Critically think about the reason for the prayer.
Now that you have the “what” and the “how” of a prayer down, this is the point to delve into the “why.” Why are you really praying? What do you hope to get from it? How long do you think your desired result will take to manifest, and will it deeply affect you if the request is not answered in the way you need or want? Is prayer an appropriate means to accomplish your goal? Is prayer what you need? Is the kind of prayer appropriate or what you need in the context of your desire, or deity’s request(s) of you?
4. Perform the prayer and any needed follow-up.
When you actually do the prayer, do whatever following up is necessary. I tend to adopt an open mind with a skeptical bend since I need to be open to the answer for petitioning prayers, but not so open that I lose my critical thinking. I advocate a similar stance for those who pray, regardless of whether it’s to their Higher Self or a deity. I feel you need to be open to the way in which your answer could come to you. If, for instance, you pray for help in getting a kind of job, then you not only need to have your resume, cover letter and so on into companies and databases, but also know that the job you are looking for simply may not come from the direction you are expecting.
While shortcuts might get me to where I want to be, the Gods may choose to ignore a prayer request, and that may be better for me in the long run. The same could be said of your Higher Self; what may benefit you in the short term may get may be outstripped by what you avoid by an unanswered prayer. How many of us have prayed, even in jest, for the death of someone? Or maybe that whispered intonation of “I hope they get fired. Please, please let them get fired.”
For hypothetical argument, we’ll say that you work in an office setting doing paperwork. Let’s say your prayer is answered: your workload increases because you have to take up their slack, the supervisor looks at you more closely because she has one less employee to look after. The person leaving may have had friends in the office who miss him and thus, their productivity suffers, shunting all the wasted energy of those around him down to you and others who have to pick up the collective slack. If your prayer had not been answered, maybe your life would be easier, the workload lighter and the eye of the supervisor less weighed on you.
Then, there is the counterargument: If you had not prayed for their firing, you could have been worse off. The man in question may have been dragging the entire department down with his attitude, lousy work ethic or by passing the buck. Maybe the supervisor needed that extra push to get rid of him, and make a decisive action, even if the push was minuscule. Like ripples from a pebble thrown in a pond, it may be hard to divine how our ripples affect others’, but at least if you have a ripple working for you the emanations of others’ pebbles may be more in sync with your own.
Another way to look at unanswered prayers could be like this: I pray for more money after not checking my checkbook for a week. If I take it as a lesson, an unanswered prayer may teach me better financial responsibility. An unanswered prayer for a computer could make me more self-reliant where my skills are concerned, like how to make my own computer from generic parts, or networking via finding someone who can get me a good deal. Or it may simply teach me that not all prayers are answered, and that I may not be ready or may never know the reason why. There is an opportunity for a lesson, regardless of the outcome and regardless of how you relate to the Divine or your Higher Self. Perhaps that’s one of the best things to pray for.
- Prayer. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved December 10, 2008.
Edited by Sheta Kaey