In my previous entry on revisiting the Lyon Ritual of the Cathars, I mentioned one of the things that drew me to the ritual itself beyond being a historical example of a gnostic method rite of initiation is the direct method of transmitting the knowledge of prayer. Many may question why the transmission or instruction in prayer is necessary – shouldn’t it come naturally? Well, despite the fact that we live in a culture in which prayer is often taught at a young age and demonstrated in public and private spheres, now as in the past, very few people actually know how to pray.
As I was composing my previous entry last night, by an act of synchronicity I received a Facebook message from one of my sisters in my fraternity asking about my feelings and observations of various religious systems relating to the topic of prayer. She writes:
“For example, as a Thelemite, I personally have complete respect for other religious practices (prayer included) and on occasion participate in. My best friend has been a Christian for many years, and now more recently, a Mormon. When we would have meals, depending on who is present, we either do Will, or I ask that her and her Husband lead us in prayer (as this is their custom). I definitely have the intention present in mind of blessing the food as well the well wishes and intent of the particular prayer they speak.”
To this I responded in all sincerity, that this is a topic very dear to my heart and that it is something I’ve struggled with and am still very much exploring myself. As we exchanged correspondence via Facebook and text messaging, I was moved to write this essay to outline an enchiridion on the way of prayer from a Western perspective, although exploring other examples when appropriate.
Simply defined, using the Wikipedia entry on the topic:
“Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creed, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and worship/praise. Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one’s thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others.”
In the West, but also in other cultures, prayer is primarily a conscious effort to make contact with intelligence beyond that of the person performing the prayer and can be performed either singularly by an individual or as an expression of corporate religiosity. Broken down, according to traditional Roman Catholic teaching there are five essential types of prayer:
- Prayer of Praise and Adoration
“Praise to a higher power or powers as an act of devotion. In Vedic practice, this could also encompass the most basic type of bhakti.”
“Prayer aimed to a higher power or powers in recognition of personal fault or misdeed. In Jewish, Christian and Muslim practice, it typically manifests as a form of individual confession aimed at removing or absolving sin. In Buddhist and Vedic practice, this form of prayer may also conditionally encompass expatiatory prayer aimed at removing the harmful effect of misdeeds.”
“Prayer aimed at petitioning a higher power or powers to bring about some kind of spiritual, emotional, or physical assistance. By far the most common type of prayer across different cultures. “
“Prayer aimed at thanking a higher power or powers for bringing about some kind of fortune or provision.”
“Prayer aimed at a higher power or powers on behalf of a third party or parties for the purpose of bringing about some kind of spiritual, emotional or physical effect.”
The five types of prayer exemplify the most common aims individuals have during the act of prayer. In practice, many prayers involve one or more of these elements. In ritual or liturgy, it is often common to use all of these types of prayer at varying intervals to help connect the individual or group consciousness with their agreed upon or recognized definition of a higher power or power.
From the perspective of applying a magical theory to these types of prayer we can create the following table of correspondence:
||Type of Prayer
||Power of the Sphinx
||Prayer of Praise and Adoration
||Prayer of Penitence
||Prayer of Petition
||Prayer of Intercession
||To Keep Silence
||Prayer of Thanksgiving
The above list is largely speculative, but I feel represents from a certain Gnostic perspective the elements of prayer in an esoteric perspective. In the course of my discussion with my sister, we came upon the interesting point which would have made penitential prayer seemingly useless from a Thelemic perspective unless we considered, alchemically, that penance as a correspondence to elemental earth is also connected to the alchemical element of Salt which, in chapter four of Book 4, Crowley considers the following attribution:
“The Christian idea that sin was worth while because salvation was so much more worth while, that redemption is so splendid that innocence was well lost, is more satisfactory. St. Paul says: “Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound. Then shall we do evil that good may come? God forbid.” But (clearly!) it is exactly what God Himself did, or why did He create Satan with the germ of his “fall” in him?
Instead of condemning the three qualities outright, we should consider them as parts of a sacrament. This particular aspect of the Scourge, the Dagger, and the Chain, suggests the sacrament of penance.
The Chain is Salt: it serves to bind the wandering thoughts; and for this reason is placed about the neck of the Magician, where Daath is situated…
The Scourge keeps the aspiration keen: the Dagger expresses the determination to sacrifice all; and the Chain restricts any wandering.”
Even though Thelema (and presumably some schools of Gnosticism) outright decry the ontological nature of “sin” as commonly understood by exoteric Christianity, it functionally exists and could be understood to represent the point from which we wander away from our connection with our understanding of the Divine.
It is also worth considering that these five methods of prayer may also have a correspondence to the “orthodox” sacramental system mentioned in the gnostic Gospel of Philip:
“The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. [...] he said, “I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place.” [...] here through types [...]and images.”
The sacramental pentad of presented in the Gospel of Philip could be considered in the following way:
||Type of Prayer
|Praise and Adoration
How this all ties into the Lyon Ritual is my profound interest in the Pater Noster, or Lord’s Prayer which was the central mystery (if it could be called such) of the Cathar sacramental system. Unique among the some of the various Gnostic schools the Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church.
The organization of Cathar religious hierarchy bears a very strong resemblance to later evangelical and Anabaptist schools and seemed, primarily, to be focused on prayer and evangelism in addition to the administration of two primary sacraments: the traditio, or transmission of prayer in which the postulant to the Cathar faith would be instructed in prayer and become a credent (believer), and the consolamentum which functioned both sacramentally and sacerdotally whereby the credent would become a parfait (perfect, or elder) who could function as a minister among Cathar communities and would often preach and administer the sacraments to others. Among the perfects, were also regional bishops; but their role varied from Catholic bishops, not relying on apostolic succession but instead was relegated to being functional overseers of other perfecti.
The rite of traditio mirrors in many ways the origins of Christianity as a dually exoteric and esoteric religious tradition. Exoteric in that Christians, as early as the apostolic age, were recognized distinctly in many ways from mainstream Judaism of the first and second centuries, and esoteric in that certain rites would only have been engaged in by members of the early Christian community. This is already apparent in the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus in the synoptic gospels when Jesus is asked by his apostles about the method of Prayer:
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Immediately, he continues with further instructions:
“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
The Lord’s Prayer, as I have previously noted, is perhaps the best known Christian prayer and is frequently the first prayer that children raised in Christian cultures are taught. It is unique on many levels, not the least of which is that in fifty two words (in English, not including the doxology which raises the word count to 66) it fulfills all five types of prayer and encompasses so much of the Christian experience that it has inspired theologians for centuries to the present day.
For me personally, it is one of the primary prayers that I personally pray throughout the day after I had been taught to pray it without knowing that when I received it as the only act of penance one day, I was being taught how to pray in a way that, I imagine, would have been similarly meaningful to Cathar postulants. All that was required of me was that I, “pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly”; effectually turning the Lord’s Prayer into an act of lectio divina. For this, I would take each line and contemplate it individually, slowly adding on the other verses up until I would reach the doxology – the “eucharist” of the prayer – and have inflamed myself in prayer. It is a cathartic, and purifying experience and has brought me much pleasure and inspiration and it is for this simple fact I am a proponent and student of prayer.
A Cathar coin
 As the inspirer of scripture.