While I spent some time mulling over which place this post would best fit, ultimately in discussing necromantic matters, prayer is not so much a “useful necromantic tool” rather the foundation and basis of the praxis itself and as such I figured it would be appropriate to inaugurate its my introduction into a lived necromantic practice. While I can’t presume to cover the centuries of ink and spoken wisdom about prayer across time, culture, and place, what I can talk about is my approach to prayer and why it is so integral to my lived experience as a gentleman necromancer. As a caveat, while I do aim to be as broad as possible in my analysis, ultimately much of my practice owes to my catholic background and as such will be reflective of that continuum of religious expression and belief. I acknowledge that prayer isn’t exclusive in its domain and has been practiced since the dawn of human religious expression, so I encourage those who have been harmed by institutional religions to be patient with me here.
At its most basic, prayer is a form of communication, an application of the mind, body, and spirit to that of the divine however one may choose to perceive it. It is a universal expression of the human drive to seek connection, to communicate, and to have our beings likewise known by others apart from or in proximity to ourselves. This, I think, is fundamental as all prayer aims to establish some rapport or relationality with forces that are perceived as external to the self. For me specifically, it is the elevation of my mind, spirit, and soul with other divine beings either in supplication or dialogue as a way to elevate my spirits and the spirits of those around me. By engaging in conscious, and continual processes of prayer I ensure that I have an established relationship with God and the powers whom I serve and whom are under my employ.
When discussing prayer, one frequently may be intimidated by the many techniques that may be available to them – I’ve found this especially true in individuals who convert from one religious tradition to another or take up a magical practice while coming from a previously non-religious background. In many occult communities, many are impressed by the technical terms of “invocation” or “evocation” and even “exorcism” while forgetting – or possibly avoiding – the reality that all these themselves are forms of prayer. In chapter twenty of the Rule of Benedict, however, I find the advice of the famed founder of Western monasticism best reflects the attitude required for prayer: “If we want to ask a favor of any person of power, we presume not to approach but with humility and respect. How much more ought we to address ourselves to the Lord and God of all things with a humble and entire devotion? We are not to imagine that our prayers shall be heard because we use many words, but because the heart is pure and the spirit penitent.” This will become increasingly important to consider as a foundation of spiritual relationality and establishing relationships with the spirits as well as a personally therapeutic practice of self-knowledge or gnosis.
In Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians, the early Christian community is advised to “pray unceasingly” (I Thess. 5: 16-18), a sentiment so important that it is found in various different forms across religious traditions, and so transformative that it couldn’t even escape an iteration by the mystic and occultist Aleister Crowley who admonishes us to, “inflame thyself in prayer.” While the object of this type of prayer may vary, this type of prayer is what is frequently called by the technical term latria meaning adoration, naturally in the Christian traditions being directed toward God alone or the Trinity. It is a form of prayer that is meant to connect the faithful into closer relationship with Godhead, though is not limited to that tradition conceptually as it may also find cognates with the Vedic concept of bhakti, meaning variously “attachment”, “participation”, “fondness for”, “homage”, “faith”, “love”, or “devotion” toward one’s vision of the ultimate expression of the divine.
For my personal practice, the constant practice in which I engage to “pray unceasingly” with the divine is one that owes its prominence to my childhood proximity of the Benedictine Order called the divine office. The Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours was first formulated in one form or another by the early monastic communities in northern Africa – likely the Scetes desert of Egypt – which was then brought into Europe through the influential rise of monasticism by Saint Benedict. With the divine office certain prayers to be recited at fixed hours of the day or night by priests, religious, or clerics, and, in general, by all those obliged by their vocation to fulfill this duty. Much of the language and even formulation of prayers used in the grimoire practices owe their expression to familiarity with the divine office. In the formulation I practice, prayer in the form of contemplative reading of Psalms and other prayers at fixed times helps to keep my mind in constant devotion to God as well as establishes a contemplative element which fortifies my mind by reflection on the prayers and themes of the day.
Personal prayer, outside of rigid formulaic approaches, is also vital and becomes a form of communication with the powers with whom one interfaces. Those who may be inspired to work with a particular saint or holy figure, even one’s ancestors, engage in this form of prayer technically termed dulia and is a theological term signifying the honor paid to the saints, inclusive in my estimation the Communion of Saints understood to be any of the baptized dead, but can be extended to one’s non-Christian and pre-Christian dead. In his Geosophia, Jake Stratton-Kent borrows a Spanish term from Latin American practices that also fit this description, mis labores, meaning “my labors” and which he uses broadly to be inclusive of his goetic and necromantic work in discussing the cycle or prayers, offerings, devotion, and maintenance of his sacred spaces. At its most basic it’s simple verbal communication, material offerings such as food and drink, lighting candles, and so forth; at its most intricate it can include the making and maintenance of pacts.
The beautiful aspect for me of the divine office is that frequently aspects of dulia find their way into the regular office in the form of prayers to specific saints such as my patron Saint Cyprian of Antioch on a daily basis or on days commemorating other saints, including the Virgin Mary; the dead, and specifically in my case the spirits and divine figures with whom I interface. In Scot’s Discoverie we also see an element of this type of practice in his spell to obtain a familiar spirit from a dying person for utilizing the deceased’s spirit as a psychopomp in exchange for praying for the repose of the dead’s soul. In Kardecian Spiritism there are whole litanies that are also prayed during séance that are offered to God, the guardian spirits of individuals and the community, as well as specific spirits – incarnate and discarnate – that have found their way into numerous New World African diasporic traditions which is better left to discourse by members of those respective traditions.
Apart from the functional elements of prayer as a means of obtaining one’s desires directly or through the intercession of various divine powers, it also has a fundamental therapeutic value as mentioned in my series on miasma in that it helps to raise our consciousness toward the divine, purifying our complexes, and acts as a vanguard against inimical energies and powers. This is nowhere evidenced as clearly in Western practice as in the writings of the Desert Fathers who developed over the centuries a complex theological and psychological analysis of devotion which has a direct relationship to late antique neoplatonic philosophy and thus the pre-Christian religious precursors to our contemporary practitioners of western esotericism and can provide a language for contemporary occultists in “rediscovering” or “reconstructing” an archaic model of embodied religious and magical praxis.