Hellenic Polytheist Practice While Disabled 2: Prayers and Offerings

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Alex:

Rebecca, you mention morning and evening offerings. Are you willing to describe those practices as you perform them, and in what ways you designed those practices to be accessible to you?

I have been attempting to establish a somewhat more elaborate routine of daily prayer for some time. I have almost given up, to be honest. There’s just some sort of road block in my mind, especially if I want to do the prayers on a cycle rotating by the day of the week or of the month. And then I yell at myself for forgetting, and all the little voices that proclaim my incompetence and unworthiness start up. It’s more in line with self-care to just…not obligate myself to perform daily prayer.

That said, though, I seem to have a problem with prayer generally speaking. It’s ever so much easier to light a stick of incense in offering to Athena Paionia, Athena Zosteria, Athena Sophia, than it is to write or recite a prayer of any description.

Now, there’s things to be said in favor of offerings, certainly: Sarah Kate Istra Winter, in Dwelling on the Threshold, has a brief essay entitled “Sacrifice Bridges the Worlds”, which contains the line “When we make an offering or sacrifice to the gods, we are in essence parting the veil and connecting the worlds.” And there’s power in that, there’s strength, there’s caring and the opportunity to reciprocate caring. I give that you may give. (Read Winter’s whole essay, if you can. Read the whole volume!) But there are also things that offerings are not. Communication, for one!

If I light a stick of incense to Athena, well, I’m sure She accepts the offering? But there’s a difference, I think, between Her accepting an offering I make and Her listening to my prayer, that is, Her paying attention to me—between me making an offering to Her and me praying to Her, asking (if nothing else) for the gift of a moment of Her attention. I don’t feel as though I deserve such a gift, so I don’t ask for it. Now, I understand a lot of mystics feel this way: the Deity Who is touching the mystic’s life is so much vaster than the mystic personally, and the world itself is so much vaster than the mystic personally, and the mystic is just not that special. But at the same time, there is a lot I feel I don’t deserve that people keep telling me I do, and I imagine my anxiety and depression have a lot to do with why I feel I deserve none of these things—and perhaps the gift of a Deity’s attention, even for a moment, is such a thing. After all, mystics spend a lot of time in prayer.

Rabia of Basra, an eighth-century Islamic poet, once wrote—her words here translated by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West—that “Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.” I think it’s important that I pray more often—that I find a path around the road blocks in my mind, that I work out how to make this fundamental part of polytheistic practice accessible to me. I’m simply not sure how to do that.

Rebecca:

Rebecca, you mention morning and evening offerings. Are you willing to describe those practices as you perform them, and in what ways you designed those practices to be accessible to you?

Of course!

My offerings always come with prayers, although my prayers don’t always come with immediate offerings.

Both morning and evening offerings are of incense and water. Sometimes in the winter, I make hot tea and offer that instead of water. My central altar in my ritual room is simple, with an offering bowl, a pitcher for the water, and my prayer book. I also have a lustral altar which doubles as my altar to Okeanos.

In the morning, I empty the bowl back into the pitcher. I pour the pitcher down the bathroom drain and refill it from the tap. Spring water would be preferable, but tap water is what I can manage now—like many disabled people, I have little money. I pour a little of the water into the cup I keep on my lustral altar. I wash my hands and face in the bowl of water and sea salt there, the toast the Three Realms of which Hekate has a part: Ocean, Earth and Starry Heaven, pour part of the water into the lustral bowl, and drink the rest.

Then I go to my central altar. I say my morning prayers of praise to the Starry Bull pantheon or retinue, whatever is scheduled for that day of the week. I say my prayers of praise to my household gods. (All of the prayers I use can be found on my website, and all were written by me.) I light incense and pour water into the offering bowl while reciting my daily petitionary prayers. Praise prayers are four lines each, while petition prayers are only one line—I feel praise should always be at least a two-to-one ratio to petition. I add any other prayers I might have promised to say for others. I bow and am done. The entire process takes under five minutes. If I cannot stay standing for that long, I sit on a yoga ball instead.

In the evening, I again empty the offering vessels, this time including the cup and bowl on my altar to the Dead, pour the water down the drain, and refill the pitcher. I again wash my face and hands, but do not toast the Realms. I say that day’s prayers to a Heroine of the Purple Thread, one of the Hyades (nurses of Dionysos and nymphs of rain), and to one of the monsters of Hekate’s retinue. I say three verses of prayer to Hekate, who is my matron. I pray to Agathos Daimon and Agatha his wife. I then light incense and pour out water, petitioning heroes, the Dead, Agathos and Agatha, my familiar spirits, and the Monsters. Then I begin my ritual for the Dead.

I turn to my altar to the Dead. I invoke the Many Dead with a lit candle, incense, and water in the glass. I pray to my Beloved Dead, the Blessed Dead, the Kindly Dead, and the Restless Dead. On some days, I perform divination with a prayer to the Speaking Dead, but not every day. I make offering to the Thirsty Dead, pouring out more water, give thanks to the Many Dead, and then dismiss them by blowing out the candle that formed their path to me. If I have any further divination to do, for myself or others, that’s when I do it.

Evening offerings take longer than morning, but are still under 10 minutes, and again, I sit if I need to.

Doing daily prayers and offerings is itself an accommodation for me. I need a certain amount of structure, and these help to provide it. However, my disabilities also keep me from being able to do it every day, and sometimes I fail to perform them for weeks at a time. I find that the key is to not blame or get upset with myself, but to treat it like I treat being distracted from meditation. In meditation, if you find your mind drifting, getting upset only takes you further out of the meditative state. So the thing to do is simply to brush off the distraction and bring your mind back to focus. I treat my daily practice the same. Sometimes my attention wanders, and all I can do is bring it back when I can. I consider myself to be doing well at it in a week where I perform morning and evening offerings five days each. Someone just starting such a practice, though, should consider themselves to be doing well if they manage offerings three days a week.

I am very lucky to have a room I can keep as dedicated ritual space. Many people can’t do that, but offerings and prayers like these can be done anywhere, at an altar or not.

Check back tomorrow for discussion of meditation and self-care!

This series is being posted simultaneously at Bacchic Underground, Never Unmindful, and Delmarva Nikephoros.

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