Author: Ceisiwr Serith
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: June 2002
Price & More Info: Click Here
Finally, a serious book for modern Pagan devotional practices! More akin to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer than a "how-to" or "what-is" book, A Book of Pagan Prayer has an attractive, understated cover to match its content.
The book has two parts, called "How and Why we Pray" and "Prayers". Although most of the theology is in Part I, there is still some commentary sprinkled around the prayers in Part II. I'd recommend reading the whole book all the way through, before leaping to particular sections of prayers. One read thoroughly, the book is easily structured so that a reader can go directly to the appropriate section to find a prayer.
The first chapter focuses on the role of prayer, both in ancient and in modern times. There is a short description of what we can infer from historical sources of prayers, blessings, and oaths. This is followed by some interesting, although short, description of the "whys" of prayers and offerings, with some particularly good material in the sections, "Why do we make offerings", and "The 'politics' of giving". For newer Pagans who may worry that making offerings is merely an attempt to bargain with the Gods, there is some excellent theology here.
The second chapter discusses how to pray. It discusses prayer through words, posture, motion, dance, music, and gesture. Although there are other, more expanded texts on prayer through dance, in particular, the second chapter of this book does an excellent job of causing the reader to be aware of the whole experience - not merely one aspect of the prayer.
The third chapter discusses preparations for prayer, such as self- purification and creation of sacred space. What I particularly enjoy about this chapter is the refreshing lack of recycled liturgy found in too many Pagan books -- there are no descriptions for how to cast a circle, open the gates, or any other "opening framework" from particular Pagan religions. Instead, short statements place the worshipper in an appropriate frame of mind -- statements that are concise and adaptable for daily solitary or family worship.
The fourth chapter is the crown jewel of Part I of the book - the discussion of how to create your own prayers, litanies, mantras, or rosaries. It features many useful suggestions, both in the structure of a prayer, and in its content. For example, it suggests the use of alliteration in prayer, something that is easily done by a novice writer, and avoids many of the pitfalls of attempting rhyming poetry.
The rest of the book focuses on prayers -- for calling and praising deities, for the family, for times of the day, for times of the month, for times of the year, for important events in life, for thanksgiving and grace, for petitions and blessings, and for litanies and mantras. The prayers are to a variety of deities, and in a variety of styles. In particular, I found in his book one of the best Pagan graces I've ever seen -- one that I liked enough to regularly begin using at meals.
Some people may find the style of the poetry too sparse -- it lacks some of the flowery phrases that seem common in other Pagan poetry. However, in general, the short and elegant phrases are more suitable for saying aloud than more elaborate poetry. I do wish there were some rhyming prayers, though.
The book concludes with a table of offerings for different types of spirits, a glossary of deities used in the book, and an annotated bibliography.
One minor criticism of the book is of the endnotes. In general, endnotes are acceptable if they mostly contain citations. For actual new content (such as in this book), footnotes are preferable to endnotes, as they can be read without knowing the current chapter number and the page on which endnotes begin. Without chapter numbers listed in page headers or footers, and with the endnotes included in a whole host of back matter in the book, it is often the case that finding a note requires significant effort.
Even with this complaint, the book is one of the best Pagan books I've seen; it makes an excellent start at filling a gaping hole in Pagan literature. It does a particularly good job of straddling the boundaries of different Pagan religions -- something rarely seen by Pagan literature. In short, I would unabashedly recommend it to any Pagan wishing to improve their personal worship habits.
I'll end with one of my favorite prayers (so many to choose from, including a quaint one about tomato season), a prayer for morning:
In the morning, everything is new.
Copyright © 2002 Jonobie Ford. All rights reserved.
The day's blank slate lies before me,
ready for my writing.
May it be words of beauty I write.
May it be deeds of grace I do.
May it be thoughts of joy I think.
All the Holy Ones, listen:
this is what I pray.
May be reposted for non-commerical use as
long as the attribution and copyright notice are retained.
Reviewed by Jonobie Ford