Category Archives: Prayer

A Brief Intro to Greek Hymns, Part 1: The Homeric and Orphic Hymns

While I am a big fan of writing your own prayers to the gods, you absolutely do not have to do this. Maybe you don’t feel called to do it, maybe you just don’t care to, maybe you prefer using prayers with some ancient history. In any case, you have other options.

Probably the best known sources of ancient Greek hymns and prayers are the Homeric Hymns and the Orphic Hymns, both of which have been collected and made available in a number of different translations. They are lovely and there are quite a few of them, so here I’m going to provide just a little context.

The Homeric Hymns
The 34 Homeric hymns were not (as is often assumed) written by the Homer who is said to have authored the Iliad and the Odyssey during the 8th century BCE, although many are believed to have been written not long after those epics in the 7th and 6th century BCE, while others appeared hundreds of years later. They are called “Homeric” because they use the same poetic metre.

Some are very brief (as short as 3 lines) while others are quite lengthy, ranging from 293 to 580 lines. The shorter ones tend to be prayers of praise while the longer ones often include the telling of myths of the gods. They are believed to have been used to introduce longer pieces (or, in the case of longer hymns, as stand-alone works) during performances and competitions.

What that means is that these prayers were intended for an audience, not generally for use in what we would consider a religious context, and certainly not for use in personal prayer. That doesn’t mean that we can’t use them that way–just that it’s something to keep in mind. The shorter prayers in particular are often a lovely choice.

The Orphic Hymns
By contrast, the 87 Orphic Hymns were not only written for religious use but in a very specific religious context–that of Orphism, a mystery religion practiced as early as the 5th century BCE.

They are quite beautiful (I am especially fond of the Orphic hymn to Athena); they also come with incense recommendations for each, which underlines the religious context.

The Orphic hymns reflect the Orphic religion; they thus include prayers to gods not a part of the “mainstream” Greek religion, as well as references to a specifically Orphic mythology that diverged from what we may be familiar with in a number of ways.

What this means is that while we can certainly use Orphic hymns in our own worship even if we don’t subscribe to that particular belief system, it’s probably a good idea to learn a bit about the Orphic religion first because some of what is in the hymns does have a different meaning in the Orphic context.

To be continued!

Five Reasons to Write Prayers

While I am a writer of prayers and (like most other prayer-writers, I think) I am happy and honored whenever someone uses one of my pieces* in their practice, I am also greatly in favor of people writing their own devotional works for the gods. I don’t think it’s something you have to do, but if it is something you are at all drawn to, there are excellent reasons to give it a try.

1. They are personal.

When you write a prayer to your gods, you write it from your own point of view. It will reflect the relationship between you and the deity, and you can say things with it that just wouldn’t be there in a piece written by someone else. It can be as subtle or as direct as you want it to be.

2. They are unique.

The prayers that you write are new to the world and to the gods. The words you speak heve never been spoken before. The gods have never heard them before. A prayer you write is an entirely brand-new creation!

3. They add to the accumulated honors paid to the gods.

The gods may not need our praise and recognition, but I think that most of them like it. And I think that we need it, not just on a personal level but as a community–the more we give to the gods, the more we love and worship them, the more we are all enriched.

4. They (may) add to the resources available to the community.

You don’t have to make your writings available to others, either widely in public or on a one-on-one basis. Most people don’t. The gods receive and are honored by them regardless. But if you do choose to share your writings with others, it is a real gift to the community.

5. You learn so much!

There’s something about the act of writing that brings understanding. It is rare that I come out of a writing session without some insight into the nature of the god or gods I am writing for; writing, to me, is not only a devotional act but one that connects me to the gods like little else can.

* My prayer blogs are online and include writings for Greek, Celtic, and Norse gods.

Praying on Autopilot

Ideally we do all things mindfully and with full awareness.

Less ideally but perhaps more frequently, we sometimes do things without that full awareness, particularly things that we do often.

Like when you’re driving along a route you often drive and suddenly realize that while you did indeed end up where you intended to go, you don’t in fact remember this specific trip. You were, for lack of a better term, on autopilot. Maybe you were daydreaming, maybe you don’t even remember what you were thinking about, but in any case you weren’t quite all there on your journey.

Or like when you’re reading a book, and suddenly notice that you’ve just read a page and a half with no idea whatsoever of what you read and you have to read it again.

Maybe you’re tired. Or distracted. Or preoccupied. Or nervous. Or worried. Maybe it’s one of those times when your brain insists of going in one particular direction regardless of what you ought to be (or want to be) thinking or doing instead. Maybe it only happens on rare occasions. Maybe it is an ongoing effort to hold your focus steady.

And yes, prayer and devotion is something that, ideally, is done mindfully and with full awareness. It’s something you want to be fully present for. Ideally.

It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis. Keeping focused on prayer can be hard, is hard. My mind wanders, it goes everywhere except where I want it to be. Irrelevant thoughts intrude, they sometimes overwhelm the thoughts I mean to be having.

And I’ll find myself well into my devotional routine, just as when I am driving a familiar route, knowing where I am but also knowing that I haven’t really been paying attention to what I was saying. And there I am, two and a half prayers later and not remembering having prayed those prayers, although surely I did, surely the words were there, the names of the gods were there, they passed through my mind but I wasn’t watching when they did.

And while I try to do better, I eventually had to become okay with this.

Partly this is a matter of simply not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If the only acceptable devotions were those that were perfect–that were done with perfect and complete concentration, with no brain-flutters off in random directions whatsoever? I would have given up on the whole deal years ago.

Partly, though, it is a matter of recognizing the inherent worth of the imperfect, on its own, as it is. The prayers are said. The gods hear them. The names of the gods echo in my mind, regardless of how much conscious awareness I have of it. The words of devotion are spoken and meant, regardless of how much conscious intent is in the act.

How to pray so that the gods will hear you

If you say your prayer out loud, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer silently, in your head, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer standing or kneeling or lying motionless at your altar, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer while you wash the dishes or fold the laundry, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer slowly and mindfully, each word hanging in your mind like a leaf on a tree, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer quickly, with the words racing through your head so fast you are barely aware of them, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer calmly, with precision and measured meaning, it will be heard.

If you say your prayer desperately or in a panic, with no sense or coherence, it will be heard.

The gods will hear you when you call, they will listen when you pray.