For our monthly installment of De Natura Deorum, where we explore the beliefs of Naturalistic Pagans about the nature of deity, B. T. Newberg shares why he prays to the goddess Isis.
If there is no Isis outside my mind, why do I pray to her?
For me, there are two reasons that I’ll highlight here, out of the many that could be said.
Motivation to act
First, motivation to act is not always at the beck and call of our rational decision-maker. Often we know what we *should* do, but can’t get over the fear or laziness to do it. Prayer seems to help me focus my motivation, so that I can actually manifest intention into action. So focusing motivation is the first reason.
The second reason I do prayer is for my own psychological well-being, which is indirectly related to the well-being of others with whom I interact. For whatever reason (I could go into a very long scientific discussion of possibly-related factors, but we’ll skip that for now), I respond well to verbalizing aloud my thoughts and feelings to an image that embodies qualities I consider highest and best in humans. For me, that image is the goddess Isis. I sit before the statue of her, light a candle, chant to enter a relaxed and ever-so-slightly-altered mental state, then tell her what’s bothering me. It’s a kind of self-talk, but more effective than just sitting down and talking to myself because the technique seems to get around certain blocks thrown up by the rational ego. Very frequently this kind of prayer leads to creative new ideas, new insights, or just a sense of emotional release. I usually leave with a new sense of strength and clarity. So it is clearly therapeutic for me.
Then, when I go from there to interact with my wife, my friends, or anyone else, I am in a better emotional place to relate to them and give them what they need, since I’m no longer as muddled with my own unresolved emotional muck. I would like to think that whatever good behavior we achieve around others is also contagious, so that the influence of my better behavior spreads to those around me, which spreads to those around them, etc. So the second reason for prayer leads to direct benefit for me, and indirect benefit for others.
It just works
There is no particular reason why prayer must specifically be engaged to achieve these same results, except that for me it has proven effective and I like it. It does seem to have certain powerful advantages as already alluded to (getting around ego blocks), but I can only speculate on the science of it so I’ll leave it out for now. To make a long story short, it works for me. Other people coming from different experiences and contexts may not find it as effective as another means, but for me it has proven by straight-forward empirical results to be highly effective.
This is a case of “whatever works”, as goes the common Neopagan dictum. Often that phrase can be a smokescreen for lazy thinking, but if we are specific about what it means for something to “work”, it is a powerful maxim to follow.
About B. T. Newberg
B. T. founded HumanisticPaganism.com in 2011, and served as managing editor till 2013. His writings on naturalistic spirituality can be found at Patheos, Pagan Square, the Spiritual Naturalist Society, as well as right here on HP. Since the year 2000, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective. After leaving the Lutheranism of his raising, he experimented with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism. Currently he combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth. He headed the Google Group Polytheist Charity, and organized the international interfaith event The Genocide Prevention Ritual.
In 2009, he completed a 365-day challenge recorded at One Good Deed Per Day. As a Pagan, he has published frequently at The Witch’s Voice as well as Oak Leaves and the podcast Tribeways, and has written a book on the ritual order of Druid organization Ar nDriocht Fein called Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites. Several of his ebooks sell at GoodReads.com, including a volume of creative nonfiction set in Malaysia called Love and the Ghosts of Mount Kinabalu.
Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language. He also researches the relation between religion, psychology, and evolution at www.BTNewberg.com. After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, B. T. Newberg currently resides in St Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and cat.
B. T. currently serves as the treasurer and advising editor for HP.