Prayer Structure

Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen basics, Heathen worship, Heathenry, Reconstruction

Prayer structure. What is it? As the name implies, it is the structure of prayer. Many religions have a prescribed prayer structure. Christianity has several of the them, two of the most popular forms being A-C-T-S (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) and the You-Who-Do-Through format. We do not have any surviving prayers from the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, so we can’t be certain how they structured their prayers. However, we can make a pretty good guess based upon how other Proto-Indo-Europeans1 did it. As Larhus Fyrnsida notes:

This tripartite division of prayer composition is inherent within Indo-European cultural prayers. Studies of Homeric hymns, Skaldic texts, local magcial and medicinal charms, and other similar writings. This indicates an important tradition of commonality in such things as meter and format, irrespective of the “level” of divinity being approached.2

The author of that article3 has come up with a tripartite prayer format for use by Heathens, based upon the works of C. Austfeld and H. S. Versnel. (The former studied ancient Greek religion, whereas the latter studied ancient Roman religion4.) This prayer format has spread beyond Fyrnsidu and into the wider Heathen community. It seems to be the default prayer format among the Heathens I’ve encountered online5.

So, what is prayer? Prayer is talking to the gods (or other divinities; in Fyrnsidu, we also pray to our ancestors, house wights, and land wights) with the intent to build a relationship with them. In Fyrnsidu, prayer is the main component of ritual, though it’s not the entirety of ritual. Prayer structure, then, is a microcosm of ritual structure. I recommend treating this blog post as a follow up to my blog post on ritual format.

The three parts of the tripartite prayer format is the Calling, the Purpose, and the Offering.

  1. Calling- As the name suggests, this is where you call upon the god you are praying too. Since the number three seems to have been significant in Proto-Indo-European spirituality, I like to do this in three parts: Hail [name], [kenning/epithet], who [action]!

    For example:

    Hail Hreðe, the victorious goddess, who defeated Winter to make way for the return of Summer!

    The Calling is important because, as a polytheistic religion, there are plenty of gods in Fyrnsidu. We specify which deity we are addressing in this section. In the Latin, this was called the invocatio, so you may see it sometimes called the invocation.

  2. Purpose- In the Latin, this is called the the pars epica. It is generally represented in academia as the argument. While Larhus Fyrnsida calls it the Petition, this does not fit my practice very well as most of my prayers are prayers of thanksgiving as opposed to petitions. This is the why of the prayer. Why are you addressing this deity, both the reason why you are praying (for example, to thank the deity for something) and the reason why this deity specifically. This is also a good place to put the reasons why this deity should listen to your prayer. To continue the example prayer we started in the last section, let’s consider a purpose for our prayer to Hreðe:

    With your help, I have overcome many obstacles, and been given many victories. I come before you today in thanksgiving, asking for nothing except that you accept my gratitude.

  3. Offering: This is the climax of the prayer, the action or task that was the whole reason for the prayer. Since reciprocity is fundamental to Heathenry, this is usually an offering. Let’s conclude the prayer we have been working on:

    I offer you this bread to say thanks for all the victories that you have given me. May it be well received. [place the bread in the offering bowl] A gift for a gift!

You may be wondering, What’s the importance of this prayer structure when we have no evidence the Anglo-Saxons made use of it? To be honest, I see it more as useful than important. If you are one to whom prayers come naturally, then feel free to use those prayers. However, many Heathens have no idea how to compose a prayer when they first become Heathens. The tripartite prayer format gives these people a starting point for writing their own prayers instead of having to rely upon the pre-written prayers of others.

The tripartite prayer structure isn’t just for writing prayers. I have used it to much success for making up prayers on the spot. Since there’s only three parts, it’s easy to memorize (Calling, Purpose, Offering). After you’ve done your cleansing and hallowing, just recall the first part, Calling, and call upon the deity you are praying too. Then recall the second part, Purpose, and tell that deity why you’re praying to them. Finally, recall the last part, Offering, and make your offering to the deity. “A gift for a gift!” is how I generally conclude my prayer after the offering, but another popular option is “So may it be!”

I will now present a couple examples of prayer to further demonstrate the tripartite prayer format. (Please keep in mind that I’m not a poet, nor am I very eloquent, so please don’t judge these prayers on the grounds of their simplicity.) First, let’s put together our prayer to Hreðe from above. I will place a horizontal line to separate the three parts.

Hail Hreðe, the victorious goddess, who defeated Winter to make way for the return of Summer!

With your help, I have overcome many obstacles, and been given many victories. I come before you today in thanksgiving, asking for nothing except that you accept my gratitude.

I offer you this bread to say thanks for all the victories that you have given me. May it be well received.

place the bread in the offering bowl

A gift for a gift!

Prayers can also be made to groups, as opposed to individual deities. For example, here’s a prayer to the gods:

Hail the *Ese6, the gods of our forbearers,
Who from the chaos brought forth order.

Many are the blessings that you bestow upon us,
Far too many to ever list them all.
We are extremely grateful for your generosity,
More than words could ever express.
Humbly we come before you today,
To express our gratitude the best that we are able.

We bring to you these gifts, to thank you for all you have done, and will do.
A gift for a gift!

Finally, here is an example not by me. You will notice how it’s different in style, yet still follows the same structure. Notice that each part doesn’t have to be in its own paragraph, and how the Offering is much longer than mine are. To visually differentiate the three parts without messing with its structure, I will put the Purpose (the middle part) in bold.

O stalwart Thur
Defender of Humanity
Friend of the People
Please grant me your protection.
Ward me from illness and evil.
Swing your mighty hammer
And smash the forces
That seek to do me harm.

O kind Thur,
I give you this gift of [offering name].
Though humble it might be,
I give it gladly and freely
That it might honor you.
That it might find you well.
With this gift, I ask you to
Grant me your blessings.
Smile upon me
This day and always.7

I hope you found this post informative. As usual, feel free to leave any questions or comments in the comments section below!

  1. The Proto-Indo-Europeans are the hypothesised ancestors of the vast majority of cultures from Europe and India, including the Anglo-Saxons. Other cultures in this group include (but are not limited to) the Romans, Greeks, Norse, Celts, and Hindus. Using comparative methods, the religion and language of the Proto-Indo-Europeans can be reconstructed. For more information, see the Wikipedia article

  2. “Prayer” in a Heathen Context, from Larhus Fyrnsida. There is also a follow up article called “Prayer in a Fyrnsidu Context

  3. Marc is also the author of the blog Of Axe and Plough 

  4. Given that the tripartite prayer format originated in studies of the Greek and Roman pre-Christian religions, it should come as no surprise that tripartite prayer format is also used in Hellenism. See, for example, Aliakai’s video How to Pray in Hellenism (Expanded!) 

  5. For an example, check out Ocean Keltoi’s video How do you pray to the Norse Gods? 

  6. *Ese is a reconstructed Old English cognate of the Old Norse Æsir. It is pronounced AY-zeh

  7. This prayer is taken from A Beginner Ritual from It was written by one of the mods of our Discord server known as Barbatus.