Prayer is a loaded word. Our childhood memories of prayer are sometimes unpleasant. Even the pleasant ones can cause problems for Pagans if they bring up Judaeo-Christian images. But remember two things. First, prayer is a perfectly Pagan thing to do. Don't limit your religion in reaction to your childhood. Second, your children don't have any childhood memories yet. It's up to you to make sure the ones they develop are good ones. Don't limit their religion in reaction to your childhood.
It's worth looking at some of the objections raised to prayer. Perhaps if they are understood, prayer can be redeemed not only for our children's sake but for ours as well.
For instance, prayer is often criticized as a rote activity. We all remember praying almost mindlessly, without paying attention to the meaning of the words. But what is wrong with that? Isn't that what we do when we chant? Is it really so much better to consciously dwell on the meaning of every word? Even a superficial glance through techniques used by the world's religions, including the Pagan ones, will turn up a variety of rote techniques -- mantras and rosaries, for instance. The lack of conscious effort allowed by memorized prayers can shut our minds up long enough to allow the sacred in. Further, rote prayers are uniquely consoling in tragic circumstances. When something terrible has happened to us, it is a great comfort not to have to think of words to express our emotions. A well-worn prayer comes to our lips, and we start to feel better.
Another common objection is to petitionary prayer. "Our relationship with the Gods shouldn't include the word 'gimme'." Or "They turn the sacred into a cosmic Santa Claus." Well, perhaps they do. But you grew out of it; trust that your children will too.
Of course, sometimes children get into the habit of using prayer as a shopping list. Then, when the prayers are not answered, they turn off to religion, without even asking whether their prayers were appropriate in the first place.
The old Pagan concept of petition was expressed in the Roman "do ut des" -- I give that you might give. The Pagan doesn't say "gimme." She says, "Here I am, doing what is right to do. Now you do what is right to do." And after the prayer is fulfilled, she thanks the Gods. So a Pagan petitionary prayer teaches personal responsibility and gratitude, not cosmic materialism.
Petitionary prayer can be a wonderful thing for a child. Children often feel helpless when loved ones are suffering. They are often too young to help by either material or magical means. But if they can pray, then they can help. Prayer can also reinforce caring for others, if they do not pray only for themselves.
Prayers of praise and presence are an introduction to what may later become mysticism. Prayers to sacred spots, trees, rocks, animals, and other natural features teach respect for the world. They say, "The world does not belong to humans alone."
So all in all, prayer is not only beneficial, but a very Pagan thing to do. The ancient Pagans did it; they must have been on to something.
Prayers for children are best short and poetic. If they rhyme or have a strong meter they are easier for children to memorize. A sing-song effect which might repel an adult is often loved by children.
Here are some sample prayers:
To establish sacred space:
Here in the center of the world I stand,
earth is before me,
air on my right hand,
fire is behind me,
on my left water lies,
as I stand here between
the earth and the skies.
To the Goddess:
Mother of All
Queen of the Earth
Here I am,
One of your children.
Help me to be the best I can be
so that people will know
the wonder of you.
She's with me
and hugs me
and loves me
and keeps me
as safe as can be
my Goddess, my Mother.
I'm with Her
and hug Her and love Her
and keep Her
inside in my heart
my Goddess, my Mother.
Thank you, dear Mother, for giving us birth.
Thank you, dear Goddess, the Great Mother Earth.
The bright moon above me shines her soft light
and kisses me standing here hugged by the night.
Good morning, world, and good morning, sun.
I greet the new day with my arms spread wide
and thank the Gods for the dreams they sent.
It's daytime again, and time to get up.
Look down on me, Sun,
as I go through my day.
Help me to learn
and be good
and be kind
to all of the people
I meet on my way.
Eating is a sacred act. By eating we take part in the mysteries of life and death. It is especially incumbent on meat eaters to remember those that have died to make their food, but even vegetarians take lives in order to live. That is the way it is. And the life of a lentil is a sacred as the life of a lamb.
Prayer before meals is thus always appropriate, although you may wish to have a short version for everyday use and a longer one for special occasions such as festivals, moon observances, or a weekly family night meal. Some simple mealtime prayers:
We thank the spirits of the land who gave us this food.
We thank the women and men who grew it and prepared it.
We thank all the Gods:
We bless this food in their names.
Food is the gift of the Earth,
Warmed and lit by the Sun
Coming from the Goddess
by the power of the God:
We are blessed by eating it.
We thank the plants and animals
whose deaths make our lives.
We thank all the Gods
Who bring death and life.
Here before us on the table are great gifts.
Born from the Mother
Shaped by the Father
Prepared by human hands to be our food.
We thank those who brought them to us.
Isn't it wonderful?
Look at this food.
Where did it come from?
How did it get here?
The Earth gave birth to it.
The Sun fed it.
The waters filled it.
People cared for it.
And when it was time,
it was harvested.
People prepared it and now it is here for us.
Thank you, Earth.
Thank you, Sun.
Thank you, waters.
Thank you, people.
It is indeed wonderful.
Blessings to the Spirits of the Land.
Blessings to the Guardians of our family.
Blessings to all the Gods and Goddesses.
Blessings upon the food we will eat tonight.
For special occasions a more complex grace might be desired. Before the meal, prepare as much of the food as possible as a family. Set the table with special dishes and linens. Put candles in the center, with a bell next to them. When everything is ready, ring the bell (a child can do this) to mark the beginning of sacred time. (If you have decided on a different system to set apart sacred time, use that.) When the sound has died away, light the candles, saying:
In the light of these flames there is peace.
May all on whom they shine be blessed.
Follow this with one of the short prayers. Put a small portion of each food on a plate to be put in the family shrine later as an offering. Alternatively, one of the children could bring the plate to the shrine at this time. As you place the food on the plate, say:
We share our fortune with our household guardians.
At the end of the meal, blow out the candles and ring the bell again to signal the end of special time. Then everybody should help clean up.
The Great Horned Lord, the bringer of dreams,
rides through the night on roads of moonbeams.
Please give me your gifts of visions and sight
as I lie in my bed, asleep in the night.
Lord of Dreams
I pray to you at the end of the day.
Lady of Sleep
I pray to you at the start of the night.
Send me sleep and send me dreams
restful and sweet till I wake up again.
Lord of Dreams send me sweet dreams
Lady of Night send me sweet sleep.
Lord and Lady, hold me in your arms
until morning comes and I wake up again.
Mother of Everything, wrap me in your arms,
and carry me off to the land of dreams.
As I go to sleep I think of all the others with whom I share this world
and I ask all the Holy Ones:
the Gods and the Goddesses, the spirits, the ancestors,
all who watch over my family,
to bless them all and make them happy.
Blessed be the Goddesses.
Blessed be the Gods.
Blessed be all their children everywhere.
Bedtime is also a good time to bless a child. This can be particularly helpful if the child has been having nightmares. Simply trace a protective symbol (see appendix) on the child's forehead with water or olive oil while saying something like:
May the Holy Ones bless you
and your dreams be pleasant.
When a member of the family is leaving the home, whether to move out or just for a long trip, he should be blessed by the parents. This extends the protection of the Gods and the household guardians over him while he is gone. The blessing may include the name of a deity of travelers such as Woden or Hermes, or one who is a protector, such as Isis or Mithras.
Someone moving out will need to tell the guardians and leave an offering. The person giving the blessing holds her hands over the head of the person receiving the blessing while saying the words. These should be suited to the person and the occasion. Some examples:
May She bless you while you are far from home
May He guide you on your way
May you return in safety to your home
to those who love you and wait for you.
The blessings of Woden upon this traveler.
May he make your path clear before you
and smooth out difficulties before they arise.
Our Lady Isis wraps her wings around you:
Rest securely in them, and know you will be safe.
You go on your way to see many new things.
Do not waste this chance to learn of the world.
Keep your eyes open
Keep your ears ready
And return better than you left.
You go under the protection of the Gods
and the hands of the guardians will be with you wherever you go.
I bless you with the blessing of our Lady.
I bless you with the blessing of our Lord.
I send you on your way marked with their sign
that all who meet you might know of their power.
Remember, you are their child:
Do nothing to shame them.
They will not forsake you.
I call upon the guardians of our family to keep their protection over this family member who will be away from our home.
He may go far from the shrine of the guardians, but they will continue to watch over him.
No matter where you travel it will be on the Earth.
No matter where you travel it will be under the Sky.
They will watch over you
They will care for you
They will not forget you
They will love you with a parent's love
as we love you with a parent's love.
Our blessing goes with you.
You are going into the place of another people,
a place with its own guardians, its own spirits, its own Gods.
Yours will go with you.
Greet theirs with respect and reverence.
May they be your friends even as the Gods of this place are.