My introduction to spirituality came in the form of the Catholic church, and let’s just say it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I loved the hymnals, the smell of frankincense at mass and studying the stations of the cross depicted around the perimeter of the church while the priest recited the homily. The message, however, never resonated with me. It didn’t help that I had a nun as a teacher who publicly humiliated me and a principal who would call us into assembly just to yell at us while her contorted face blistered into the color of a ripe tomato.
Given the circumstances, I understand why I drifted away from prayer–if my elbows were on the pew in front of me or my butt touched my heels while I was genuflecting, the chastising that resulted completely pulled me out of the moment. Roughly a year after I transitioned out of Catholic school and stopped going to church altogether, I stopped chatting with God before I feel to sleep. A year after that, I stopped fearing the repercussions of my sinful behavior and I began my slow voyage towards adopting an atheist paradigm.
Being an atheist is still pretty freaking taboo in my culture. I remember telling others my age and having them gawk and grow silently uncomfortable. I remember being told I was going to hell at the bus stop and telling the girl who “damned” me that she didn’t know what she was talking about. It was even worse when others tried to convert me–no, I’m not really interested in talking about your God, thank you very much. Was there a time where I thought that believers weren’t as bright as the average bear? Of course. In hindsight, I think I chose this view to compensate for my lack of spirituality, of connection, of community.
It wasn’t until five years ago that I began to reconnect with the idea of prayer as a sacred act. First, I had to identify an energetic force or deity I actually felt comfortable praying to, and once I convinced myself that the concept of deity wasn’t in and of itself foolish, I used pathworking as a gateway to the psycho-spiritual plane where I first met the Morrighan. It was liberating to a) speak to a goddess for once, and b) to finally hear back from the divine. My prayer was defined less by worship or request, and more by insightful and honest conversation. My archetypal approach to witchcraft helped greatly in this–I considered the godhead a manifestation both of my psyche and the collective unconscious, and so invited myself to play an active role in my relationship with deity. As such, The Morrighan didn’t exist on high; she was a part of me, and easily accessible whenever I wished to visit her.
Since then, how I pray has expanded and evolved. I use the tarot to tap into messages from the collective unconscious, and I consider this a form of prayer. I meditate and slip into an alpha state and pray silently and unconcerned whether anyone or anything hears me. I pray in fits of fear when I’m too anxious to be grounded and the esoteric and ethereal are the only channels through which I can direct my nervous energy. I pray through joyful, immersive experiences like listening to music and hugging my daughter. I pray when I’m sad and static. When I’m angry and I scream an obscenity filled truth to myself and the cosmos, I’m praying. Whenever I’m holding space for someone (and it’s difficult for me) and whenever I compromise for love and whenever I read the tarot for myself and someone else, I’m praying.
Prayer, to me, is being honest with myself. It’s speaking truths (however upsetting and heartbreaking) and acting on behalf of those truths and striving to be kinder, better, and more compassionate everyday. It’s less of a structure, and more of a feeling, and I know I’m doing it when I’m doing it.
By expanding my understanding of what prayer is, I was finally able to do it. And now that I’ve unlocked that ability within myself, I feel more in touch with my fellow humans, the world, and the cosmos.