Veiztu hvé biðja skal?
Veiztu hvé blóta skal?
These lines from the Hávamál are particular favorites of mine. The first of these two lines often has biðja translated as “invoke” or “ask” instead of “bid.” What is often left out is the contextual meaning of “pray.” Oðinn is asking if we know to pray properly. We see cognates in the Anglo-Saxon word bede, which is more commonly used by Ásatrúar than the modern English “bid” to describe the act of prayer, if they even know the word at all. I imagine that this has to do with modern context of “bidding” as a command rather than a request.
When it comes to blóts we often do include a prayer to the gods as an invocation and we may even include additional prayers, depending on style and personal preference and need. We pray to the gods when we offer up gifts but one thing I see little discussion about is the role of prayer in daily life. In volume 2 of Our Troth there is some discussion of daily behaviors that makes mention of ways to include prayers in our daily lives, and for as much as I find these books to be some of the best works on our faith, an in depth discussion on this subject is lacking. I have a couple of hypotheses as to why this might be.
First, I believe there is a resistance to the idea of “prayer.” I suspect, based on conversations I’ve had but no actual study of opinion, that the idea of prayer is something that “Christians do” and this resentment leads to shutting the door to the idea altogether. Heck, even the word “prayer” is foreign. The sad thing is, we have our own words for it and few people actually know them. It is clear from the Lore that our ancestors did pray. They might not have prayed the way the Christians do, but they prayed. In truth, we have so little record of daily religious life that we must often speculate on the matter.
My second hypothesis is that we don’t see much of it because we don’t know how to pray. We have so few examples of prayers, many of which are translated in ways that they don’t seem like prayers to our modern way of thinking. There have been formulas for creating prayers presented by authors like Diana Paxson, and others, that contain elements of the poetic structures we see recorded and I believe these are a good place to start when developing our own method of bidding.
Some offered formats are read as prose and others, mostly in the Theodish community from what I’ve seen, that follow poetic verse structures. While I’m not Theodish, I do have a preference for verse over prose. I’ve even taken my lead from Piparskeggr in how my biddings and I’ve been influenced by his poetic style. I aim for something that is a mix between free verse and fornyrðislag or ljóðaháttr styles. My long term goal is to know those verse forms well enough to use them completely instead of a mix of styles that makes my current hybrid.
Whatever method people choose to use, I believe we need to have more discussion on the role of prayer in our modern practices and we need to move forward on educating our folk on how to pray. We’ve made a lot of advancements on how we sacrifice and I look forward to the day when we have as much understanding of biðja as we do blóta.