I want to share what my daily practice is. Basically, it involves four short prayers in the morning to the air, Sun, water, and earth. Then I have a prayer over meals. And finally I have a ritual at night with candles. The prayers are all taken from different sources, words that I have come across over the years that have moved me, most of them not Pagan.
When I first wake up, I say to the Goddess:
When I breathe in, you breathe out; when you breathe out, I breathe in.
I then breathe in deeply and out three times, imagining this. It helps me feel connected to the world.
I heard these words recently on an ADF Podcast. I don’t know the MC’s name. This prayer helped me round out my morning practice. Breath is very important to my experiencing the world intensely.
Next I go into my bathroom where there is a small octogonal window that faces east. If the sun is rising, then I address the sun. If not, I light a candle. I then say these words:
Scaling heaven, splendor encompasses you. Chariot-borne, sun-bright, and truly potent, you pour forth, bursting the clouds, giving life to Sun and Dawn.
These words are from the Rig Veda, which relates how Indra rose up and threw down Vritra, the flood-encompassing darkness. The Sun is so important to my sense of well-being. I have to deal with “seasonal affective disorder” every winter, and I am very conscious of the length of the days.
Then I get in the shower, turn on the water, and recite these words:
Eager for their course, forth flow the life-fostering rivers. Along steep slopes their course tumbles, inundating the deserts. The torrent makes a roaring sound like rushing rivers. The fairest courser of them all, you drive on the flood. And the mountains tremble at the birth of your effulgence.
These words are also from the same part of the Rig Veda. I like this prayer because it evokes more than one of the senses: sight, touch, and sound. It may seem strange to say a prayer to the the water coming from the shower head, but water is such a primal element, and we are so dependent on it. What’s more, water is an essential part of my coming alive to the world each day. I am one of those people who doesn’t feel right if I haven’t showered in the morning, even if I showered the night before.
Last, when I leave the house, I make sure to squat down in a secluded spot next to my house and touch the ground, making sure to get my fingers down to the dirt. I recite these words:
The god of earth came up to me many times and said, “Now” … and “Now” … and “Now”. And never once mentioned forever.
This is from a Mary Oliver poem, and it helps me quickly get grounded and be present.
That’s it. In all, it probably doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes, but I have found it really helps orient me. I didn’t set out to construct a ritual around the four Empedoclean elements. I actually just started with the Sun and water rituals. And then I felt a strong need to sometimes go outside and just touch the ground. So I decided to incorporate that practice. And then finally, I heard the ADP podcast mentioned above, and the fourth element just fit right in.
Experiencing the real world
I would emphasize that these are not abstract elements to me though. They are not Watchtowers corresponding to the cardinal directions.
They are the actual elements that I experience as I move into the world: the air I breathe, the Sun I feel on my face (or an effigy in the form of a candle if it is overcast), the water flowing out of my shower head, and the earth I walk on outside.
John Halstead is a former Mormon, now eclectic Neopagan with an interest in ritual as an art form, ecopsychology, theopoetics, Jungian theory, and the idea of death as an act of creation. He maintains the website American Neopaganism and the newly-minted blog The Allergic Pagan.
Check out John’s other articles:
I really enjoy the simplicity of them and how each are intimately engaged with their own space and time for your full attention as you naturally encounter them in your day – beautiful. They certainly are great at getting that sense of connection. I particularly enjoyed how the water is simply from the shower head and not having to be in a ‘sacred bowl’ or ‘prepared’, water is what it is and is sacred as is. We require it on a very basic level and should take the time to appreciate the fact that we have such easy access to it – we are very wealthy for it.
The beginning mentions a prayer before meals which isn’t mentioned again.
Thanks Rua. The most effective rituals for me are those that come to me without thinking too much about them.
My prayer over meals is not as simple though — which is probably a reflection of the complicated relationship I have to food. It comes from Heraclitus and an exegesis on the Heraclitus fragment by Simone Weil — who also had a complicated relationship to food, as she may have starved herself to death. Her’s the prayer:
Gods are mortals,
Mortals are gods,
Living each other’s death,
Dying each other’s life.
To live the death of a being to eat it.
To die the life of a being is to be eaten.
We eat God,
And are devoured by Her.
Wow, I think I just found a new favorite mealtime practice.
Could you provide the specific reference for where you found this?
I say a similar prayer before meals (not as elegant though). Basically giving thanks for the food about to be eaten, and expressing hope to one day join the circle and be eaten myself — by bacteria and whatnot — after I die.
Thanks for sharing your elements ritual. I like the simplicity and consistency of it and how you hit all four every morning. I do thank them when I remember — like when I’m splashing cold water from the faucet on my face in the middle of a hectic day, or the cool air in my lungs when I’m out for a walk — but your systematic, daily approach seems very beneficial. Very grounding.
Thanks for your comments Lynn. I feel very much the same way about water and air. I encounter them viscerally in the course of my life, instead of as abstract Empedoclean “elements”. This is what Paganism is to me … feeling the sun on my face, cool water pouring over my hands, sinking my toes into the soil between the blades of grass, and remembering to breathe deeply.
>This is what Paganism is to me … feeling the sun on my face, cool water pouring over my hands, sinking my toes into the soil between the blades of grass, and remembering to breathe deeply.
Beautifully put, John.
I’d be interested to hear how others would sum it up.
What does Paganism mean to you?
Here’s where I first came across it — an article in Cross Currents in 2001: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_2_51/ai_77674977/
The original source is Simone Weil’s Oeuvres completes VI.2, 454 (Paris: Gallimard, 1997
I blogged about the meaning of the prayer for me here: http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/eating-god-eating-us-2/
Thanks for all this. I particularly like the actions described. Words only get me so far. Touching the earth for grounding — I will have to try that.
Pingback: Pagan ritual as an encounter with depth, part 1, by John H. Halstead « Humanistic Paganism
Pingback: Pagan ritual as an encounter with depth, Part 2, by John Halstead « Humanistic Paganism
Pingback: A tropical rainforest ontology: In search of a non-reductive naturalism, by John Halstead | Humanistic Paganism